A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 17: Lines 260-275

This is the seventeenth installment of our working commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”.

259 ῏Ην δέ τις ἐν μυσὶ παῖς Μεριδάρπαξ ἔξοχος ἄλλων,
260 Κναίσωνος φίλος υἱὸς ἀμύμονος ἀρτεπιβούλου·
261a μεριδάρπαξ ὄρχαμος μιμούμενος αὐτὸν ἄρηα
261β ὃς μόνος ἐν μύεσσιν ἀρίστευεν καθ’ ὅμιλον
261c Κναίσων μέν, βρατράχοιο βέλει πληγεὶς κατὰ χεῖρα
261 οἴκαδ’ ἴεν, πολέμου δὲ μετασχεῖν παῖδ’ ἐκέλευεν·
262a αὐτὸς δ’ ἑστήκει γαυρούμενος κατὰ λίμνην
262 οὗτος ἀναρπάξαι βατράχων γενεὴν ἐπαπείλει·
263a στεῦτο δὲ πορθήσειν βρατράχων γένος αἰχμητάων
263 ἀγχοῦ δ’ ἕστηκεν μενεαίνων ἶφι μάχεσθαι
264 καὶ ῥήξας καρύοιο μέσην ῥάχιν εἰς δύο μοίρας
265 φράγδην ἀμφοτέροισι κενώμασι χεῖρας ἔθηκεν·
266 οἱ δὲ τάχος δείσαντες ἔβαν πάντες κατὰ λίμνην·
267 καί νύ κεν ἐξετέλεσσεν ἐπεὶ μέγα οἱ σθένος ἦεν,
268 εἰ μὴ ἄρ’ ὀξὺ νόησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε.
269 καὶ τότ’ ἀπολλυμένους βατράχους ᾤκτειρε Κρονίων,
270 κινήσας δὲ κάρη τοίην ἐφθέγξατο φωνήν·
271 ῍Ω πόποι ἦ μέγα θαῦμα τόδ’ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶμαι·
272 [οὐ μικρόν με πλήσσει Mεριδάρπαξ ὃς κατὰ λίμνην ]
273 ῞αρπαξ ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀμείβεται· ἀλλὰ τάχιστα
274 Παλλάδα πέμψωμεν πολεμόκλονον ἢ καὶ ῎Αρηα,
275 οἵ μιν ἐπισχήσουσι μάχης κρατερόν περ ἐόντα.

259 This line is left out by several MSS.

ἥρωας: In early epic poetry the term “hero” can be marked to refer to the race of heroes who perish at Troy. In Hesiod’s Works and Days the race of heroes (ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, 159) are those who perish fighting around Thebes and Troy (159-165). From Hesiod’s perspective, the word Hero is restricted to this generation (see Nagy 1999, 159). In the Iliad, all participants are referred to generically as heroes, see Iliad 1.3-4. Obviously, this is parodic because the mice are being depicted as heroes in a mythical—even Homeric sense—but there is another possible level of meaning. More than once in this poem, the combatants are compared to mythical beasts such as Giants (line 7), Centaurs (170-171) or kosmic threats like the Titans (280-283). Here, they are compared to men: this may indicate interpolation (insofar as it doesn’t conform to the earlier strategy) or amplifies and complicates the parodic move.

ἥρωας κρατερούς: The adjective κρατερούς in the masc. accusative plural is not found typically in Homer (but is in later authos such as Ap. Rhodes and Quintus Smyrnaeus). One MS preserves κραταιοὺς.

ἔδυνε: from δύνω (cf. δύω; the former is a parallel formation with the present infix –n- ) lit. “to put on”, but used frequently in Homer to describe putting on clothing (e.g. Il. 11.19: δεύτερον αὖ θώρηκα περὶ στήθεσσιν ἔδυνε) but also of entering water (cf. Od. 4.425: ὣς εἰποῦσ’ ὑπὸ πόντον ἐδύσετο κυμαίνοντα·).

βένθεσι λίμνης : “in the depths of the pond”. This is a Homeric formula, see Il. 13.21: Αἰγάς, ἔνθα δέ οἱ κλυτὰ δώματα βένθεσι λίμνης .

261-268: The Pseudo-Aristeia of Meridarpaks has several MSS variants and difficulties in sense. The basic narrative is that this young, exceptional hero threatens to wreak such destruction that Zeus takes pity on the frogs and sends crabs to defend them.

260 ῏Ην δέ τις: The phrase ῏Ην δέ τις recalls the language and style of fable.

παῖς Μεριδάρπαξ ἔξοχος ἄλλων: The conjunction of παῖς and ἔξοχος ἄλλων, as well as the terror which Meridarpax instills in the frogs, may be a parodic joke on the overwhelming awe and fear which young warriors such as Achilles and Neoptolemus could inspire among a host of battle-hardened veterans. For the sense of ἔξοχος ἄλλων, cf. αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων, Il. 6.208 and τῆς ᾗ μιν παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτίομεν ἔξοχον ἄλλων, 9.631).

Μεριδάρπαξ: μερίς (from μερίς, μερίδος) + ῞αρπαξ: A scholiast glosses this name as “the one who seizes the portions” (ὁ τὰς μερίδας ἁρπάζων).

261 Κναίσωνος: perhaps from κνάω, “to scrape or grate”, an appropriate name for a rodent. A scholiast glosses this as “one who eats meat” (τοῦ τρώγοντος τὰ κρέα).

ἀρτεπιβούλου: The epithet ἀρτεπιβούλου is unique, found only here in Greek literature. It is compounded from ἂρτος (bread or cake) and ἐπιβουλεύω (to purpose, plot, or design); this recalls the charge which Physignathos laid against Psicharpax that he thought only of eating.

Three variants for this line present different difficulties. 261a (μεριδάρπαξ ὄρχαμος μιμούμενος αὐτὸν ἄρηα) replicates the naming in 260; 261b (ὃς μόνος ἐν μύεσσιν ἀρίστευεν καθ’ ὅμιλον) may expand excessively on his description, but such expansiveness is both in accord with epic description and with the parody; 261c, however, seems thoroughly out of place, insofar as it describes the wounding of the character named as Meridarpax’s father (Κναίσων μέν, βρατράχοιο βέλει πληγεὶς κατὰ χεῖρα). Nevertheless, 261a echoes line 7 (μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων) and repeats the sense of 256 (δῖος ᾿Οριγανίων, μιμούμενος αὐτὸν ῎Αρηα).

262 οἴκαδ’ ἴεν: The beginning of the line is a typical position for οἴκαδε in Homer (13x Iliad; 20x Odyssey) and at times with forms of εἶμι as at Iliad 1.170 (οἴκαδ’ ἴμεν σὺν νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, οὐδέ σ’ ὀΐω). ἴεν occurs in the Iliad and the Odyssey; it is the epic imperfect third singular of εἶμι where Attic has ἦ̣ει(ν).

μετασχεῖν: “To join in” (from μετέχω), taking a genitive direct object (here, πολέμου)

The sense of this line is off: it seems to describe the father (Knaisôn) going home and ordering his son to join the battle. This is a bit of a strain for a Homeric parallel—the arming is a bit late, and the motif of having a father order a son to go to war is out of place. This scene is similar both to Nestor’s encouragement for Patroklos to go to war in Iliad 11 and his tale of his own father’s command that he not join battle in his youth (618-804).

In addition, the syntactical link with the earlier lines is unclear. In the abrupt and compact style presented in the battle section, it is possible that a subject change is implied by the δὲ. However, it is likely that 262 is an interpolation. We suggest reading 260, 261,261b, 263 for the following logic:

῏Ην δέ τις ἐν μυσὶ παῖς Μεριδάρπαξ ἔξοχος ἄλλων,
Κναίσωνος φίλος υἱὸς ἀμύμονος ἀρτεπιβούλου·
ὃς μόνος ἐν μύεσσιν ἀρίστευεν καθ’ ὅμιλον.
αὐτὸς δ’ ἑστήκει γαυρούμενος κατὰ λίμνην
οὗτος ἀναρπάξαι βατράχων γενεὴν ἐπαπείλει·

262 is most likely an addition that makes sense with the inclusion of 261c (Κναίσων μέν, βρατράχοιο βέλει πληγεὶς κατὰ χεῖρα) where the father becomes part of the narrative and goes home to encourage his son to go to war. The final line is missing any sort of connective.

263-269: Several MSS omit some or all of these lines.

263 ἀναρπάξαι: “To extirpate, eradicate”. The mouse declares his genocidal intentions. This infinitive only occurs here. The verb ἀναρπάξαι is a play on the verb which forms Merdiarpax’s (as well as Psicharpax’s) name. The noun ῞αρπαξ appears below at line 274.

ἐπαπείλει: “to threaten”

264 ἀγχοῦ δ’ ἕστηκεν μενεαίνων ἶφι μάχεσθαι: Only one MS has this line, but it is in the finest shape (Ludwig)

ἕστηκεν: intransitive perfect of ἵστημι

μενεαίνων ἶφι μάχεσθαι: “eager to fight with force”. This is a Homeric phrase (e.g. Il. 5.606, εἴκετε, μηδὲ θεοῖς μενεαινέμεν ἶφι μάχεσθαι), although the nominative participle always ends the line in Homer.

265 καὶ ῥήξας καρύοιο μέσην ῥάχιν εἰς δύο μοίρας This line is ommitted by a handful of MSS. Its tone is certainly humorous if not a bit odd: “he breaks the middle spine of the chestnut into two portions” for the mouse version of brass-knuckles.

ῥήξας: from ῾ρήγνυμι, “Break”.

καρύοιο: “chestnut”, from καρύα.

ῥάχιν: “spine or outer edge”, from ῥάχις. A form occurs in Soph. Ajax 56 on which a scholiast comments: Cleaving the spine” (rhakhizon) is a word which comes from a rather extreme cut through the back (rhakhis). Metaphorically, then, we call those who do terrible things “spine cleavers.” εἴρηκε δὲ ῥαχίζων διὰ τὸ τὴν πρώτην καὶ μεγάλην διακοπὴν κατὰ ῥάχιν γίνεσθαι. ἐκ μεταφορᾶς καὶ τοὺς μεγάλα κακουργοῦντας ῥαχιστάς φαμεν.

εἰς δύο μοίρας: “into two parts”; in Archaic Greek, μοῖρα can denote “portion” as when the night is split into three segments (Il. 10.253: τῶν δύο μοιράων, τριτάτη δ’ ἔτι μοῖρα λέλειπται).

266 Meridarpax is the only character to be treated in an entirely individual arming scene, in order to highlight his importance as the greatest warrior on the field. It is not clear, however, why he was not armed and engaged in battle before this point.

φράγδην: “piece-by-piece”

κενώμασι: from κένωμα, a later noun related to κένος, “empty parts”

267 οἱ δὲ τάχος δείσαντες ἔβαν πάντες κατὰ λίμνην· Some MSS omit this line.
τάχος: the normal adverb ταχέως is supplanted by this adverbial neuter. Cf. Il. 406: νῦν ὤρεξε τάχος καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ κῦδος ἔθηκεν·

δείσαντες: aorist from δείδω “to fear”

ἔβαν: from βαίνω, occuring in this position with some frequency in Homer (cf. the similar structure of Il. 7.432: ἐν δὲ πυρὶ πρήσαντες ἔβαν κοίλας ἐπὶ νῆας).

268 Several MSS omit this line.

ἐξετέλεσσεν: aorist of τελέω. One manuscript has ἐξετέλεσσαν instead, but the plural would not make sense here. This is similar to Od. 11.317 (καί νύ κεν ἐξετέλεσσαν, εἰ ἥβης μέτρον ἵκοντο). In that case, the antecedent of the action “and they would have completed it” is the previously described act. Here, the verb’s notional antecedent is the extirpation of the frogs threatened at line 263 (οὗτος ἀναρπάξαι βατράχων γενεὴν ἐπαπείλει).

ἐπεὶ μέγα οἱ σθένος ἦεν: ἐπεὶ can be used temporally and causally as here: “since he had great strength”. These contrafactual scenes are typical in Homeric These moments are called “if not-situations” by de Jong 1987; “pivotal contrafactuals” by Louden 1993; and “reversal passages” by Morrison 1991.

269-303 The gods take notice at the demise of the frogs and Zeus pities them. He convenes another council and considers the options. Ares is afraid to face a threat as dangerous as the frogs, so Zeus himself decides to intervene. When even his intervention appears in vain, he sends in an army of crabs to relieve the beleagured frogs. The absurdity and hyperbole in this section is obvious. There is, however, a good deal of imagination and poetic skill in the final segment.

269 εἰ μὴ ἄρ’ ὀξὺ νόησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε. This line is repeated entirely from the Iliad (e.g. 8.132 εἰ μὴ ἄρ’ ὀξὺ νόησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε·) from a scene prefacing divine intervention.

270 ἀπολλυμένους: “in the process of being destroyed”

ᾤκτειρε: from οἰκτείρω, “to pity”.cf. Iliad 7.27: δῷς; ἐπεὶ οὔ τι Τρῶας ἀπολλυμένους ἐλεαίρεις.

271 κινήσας δὲ κάρη: “moving his head” see Odyssey 5.285: κινήσας δὲ κάρη προτὶ ὃν μυθήσατο θυμόν· cf. line 92 above: ὕδασι δ’ ὀλλύμενος τοίους ἐφθέγξατο μύθους·

272 This entire line is repeated from Iliad 13.99, 15.289, 21.344, 22.54; cf. Od. 19.36.
῍Ω πόποι: The phrase ῍Ω πόποι, like many Greek exclamations, does not admit of direct translation into English; the sense to be conveyed is one of anger or vexation. Cf. Odyssey 1.32 , where Zeus angrily complains of the accusations which humans make against the gods: ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.

μέγα θαῦμα: “A great wonder”. Some MSS have πένθος or ἔργον, either of which might constitute an interesting variation on the formulaic line.

273 [οὐ μικρόν με πλήσσει Mεριδάρπαξ ὃς κατὰ λίμνην ]
This line appears in most MSS but is questioned by Allen. Some MSS omit the με; to preserve the line in this form με needs to be scanned as a long syllable and μικρόν needs to be two shorts. Ludwig presents Baumeister’s emendation οὐ μ᾿ ὀλίγον πλήσσει, which preserves the sense of the line.

274 This line is difficult to construe unless we take ῞αρπαξ as referring to Meridarpax (either as a nickname or as a predicate) or we take the rather bland translation of ἀμείβεται as “take turn” as at Il. 15.684 (θρῴσκων ἄλλοτ’ ἐπ’ ἄλλον ἀμείβεται, οἳ δὲ πέτονται). So, we suggest: “He is taking his turn as a destroyer among the frogs”. There are several variants for the line, including ἐνναίρειν, ἐναίρων, αἴρειν, and ἤλασε for the beginning of the line.

῞αρπαξ: The scholia gloss this as φθορεύς, “destroyer”

275 πέμψωμεν: hortatory subjunctive (aorist).

πολεμόκλονον: see on line 4 above The epithet πολεμόκλονον (“raising the din of war”) while perfectly suited to both Athena and Ares, is ironic in this context, since their purpose is to detain Meridarpax from the battle.

276 οἵ μιν ἐπισχήσουσι: “they will restrain” something in the accusative from the genitive. This form is not well attested in early poetry

κρατερόν περ ἐόντα: “though he is strong”. ἐόντα: uncontracted, epic form. This particular phrase does not appear in Homer, but κρατερόν περ appears in the same possition (Il. 21.63) and ἐόντα typically ends a line (cf. the similar phrase ἀγαθόν περ ἐόντα. 9.627 or ἴφθιμόν περ ἐόντα, 16.620)

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