A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 18: Lines 277-302

This is the eighteenth (and final) installment of our working commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”.

277 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη Κρονίδης· ῎Αρης δ’ ἀπαμείβετο μύθῳ·
278 οὔτ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθηναίης Κρονίδη σθένος οὔτε ῎Αρηος
279 ἰσχύει βατράχοισιν ἀμυνέμεν αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον.
280 ἀλλ’ ἄγε πάντες ἴωμεν ἀρηγόνες· ἢ τὸ σὸν ὅπλον
281 κινείσθω· οὕτω γὰρ ἁλώσεται ὅς τις ἄριστος,
282 ὥς ποτε καὶ Καπανῆα κατέκτανες ὄβριμον ἄνδρα
283 καὶ μέγαν ᾿Εγκελάδοντα καὶ ἄγρια φῦλα Γιγάντων.

284 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη· Κρονίδης δὲ βαλὼν ἀργῆτα κεραυνὸν
285 πρῶτα μὲν ἐβρόντησε, μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν ῎Ολυμπον.
286 αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα κεραυνὸν δειμαλέον διὸς ὅπλον
287 ἧκ᾿ ἐπιδινήσας. ὁ δ᾿ ἄῤ ἔπτατο χειρὸς ἄνακτος
288 πάντας μέν ῥ’ ἐφόβησε βαλὼν βατράχους τε μύας τε·
289 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς ἀπέληγε μυῶν στρατός, ἀλλ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον
290 ἔλπετο πορθήσειν βατράχων γένος αἰχμητάων,
291 εἰ μὴ ἀπ’ Οὐλύμπου βατράχους ἐλέησε Κρονίων,
292 ὅς ῥα τότ’ ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀρωγοὺς εὐθὺς ἔπεμψεν.
293 ῏Ηλθον δ’ ἐξαίφνης νωτάκμονες, ἀγκυλοχεῖλαι,
294 λοξοβάται, στρεβλοί, ψαλιδόστομοι, ὀστρακόδερμοι,
295 ὀστοφυεῖς, πλατύνωτοι, ἀποστίλβοντες ἐν ὤμοις,
296 βλαισοί, χειλοτένοντες, ἀπὸ στέρνων ἐσορῶντες,
297 ὀκτάποδες, δικάρηνοι, ἀχειρέες, οἱ δὲ καλεῦνται
298 καρκίνοι, οἵ ῥα μυῶν οὐρὰς στομάτεσσιν ἔκοπτον
299 ἠδὲ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας· ἀνεγνάμπτοντο δὲ λόγχαι.
300 τοὺς δὴ ὑπέδεισαν δειλοὶ μύες οὐδ’ ἔτ’ ἔμειναν,
301 ἐς δὲ φυγὴν ἐτράποντο· ἐδύετο δ’ ἥλιος ἤδη,
302 καὶ πολέμου τελετὴ μονοήμερος ἐξετελέσθη

277 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη: An answering formula, see on line 65

῎Αρης δ’ ἀπαμείβετο μύθῳ: Part of an answering formula cf. Il.24.200 (…καὶ ἀμείβετο μύθῳ). Essentially just “Ares answered”.

The conversation between Zeus and Ares (with Athena present) may recall Iliad 5.871-899 where Ares tries to complain about Athena’s behavior to their father only to have Zeus express his hatred for his own son.

278 οὔτε ῎Αρηος: It be a little strange that Ares refers to himself in the third person. Some MSS take issue; Ludwig offers the conjecture ἐμεῖο. The form may in part be conditioned by the position (῎Αρηος) ends the line over 20 times in the Iliad alone).

Κρονίδη: vocative, “Son of Kronos”.

279 ἀμυνέμεν αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον: “To ward off dread ruin”; cf. Il. 18.129 (τειρομένοις ἑτάροισιν ἀμυνέμεν αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον). On ἀμύνω see on 234 above. It can take a dative of advantage as it does here.

ἰσχύει: Here “to be able”; the verb ἰσχύω (from ἰσχύς) appears in Classical poetry and prose,but is comparatively rare with an infinitive.

280 ἀλλ’ ἄγε πάντες ἴωμεν ἀρηγόνες· ἢ τὸ σὸν ὅπλον
ἴωμεν: “Let us go”; Homer typically has the short-vowel subjunctive ἴομεν. The short-vowel form would not work here metrically. The lengthened form ἴωμεν is typical of tragedy and classical prose.

ἀρηγόνες: “helpers, aids”, from ἀρηγών (ἀρήγω).This is typically used of gods helping mortals. This line may draw on Il. 4.8 (δοιαὶ μὲν Μενελάῳ ἀρηγόνες εἰσὶ θεάων / ῞Ηρη τ’ ᾿Αργείη καὶ ᾿Αλαλκομενηῒς ᾿Αθήνη) .

281 κινείσθω· οὕτω γὰρ ἁλώσεται ὅς τις ἄριστος: In some MSS this line occurs at 284. There is a variant for it: κινείσθω τιτανοκτόνον ὀβριμοεργόν (“let him send in the Titan-killing, strong-worker”). There is also an additional line recorded by some MSS:

281a: ᾧ Τιτᾶνας πέφνες ἀρίστους ἔξοχα πάντων (281a): “with which you killed the best of the Titans”. This makes some sense with the examples given below of the Giants and Capaneus. But the syntactical flow is awkward.

ὀβριμοεργόν: In the Iliad ὀβριμοεργόν is an epithet for Diomedes (5.403) in Hesiod, it is applied to Pelias (Th. 997).

κινείσθω: This imperative does not appar in Homer but the verb κινέω does appear in Homer (e.g. Il. 10.158; 16.298)

ἁλώσεται: from ἁλίσκομαι, a defective verb that overlaps with αίρέω. The meaning here seems close: “Whoever is best will be destroyed”. This form does not occur in Homer and the meaning implied here “to be killed” seems postclassical. The same form is used by Demosthenes (On the Crown 45.5) and Herodotus (7.102.4) to mean “caught” in the sense of “detected”.

282 ὥς ποτε: Language anticipating a comparison or story from the past.

Καπανῆα: Capaneus is the father of Sthenelos, Diomedes’ friend in the Iliad. He is one of the leaders in the traditional tale of Seven against Thebes. During the battle he was struck by Zeus’ lightning as he boasted that not even the gods could stop him (see Aeschylus, Septem 440 ff.; Pausanias 9.8.7).

κατέκτανες: “to kill”; the sense is similar to Od. 22.29 (καὶ γὰρ δὴ νῦν φῶτα κατέκτανες, ὃς μέγ’ ἄριστος)

ὄβριμον ἄνδρα: “powerful man”; the diction, from the divine perspective, may signal impiety or hubris. In the Iliad ὀβριμοεργόν is an epithet for Diomedes during his aristeia (5.403) in Hesiod, it is applied to Pelias in his treatment of Jason (Th. 997).

283 ᾿Εγκελάδοντα: Enceladus was one of the giants. According to Vergil (Aen. 3.578-583) his entombed body after the Gigantomachy formed Mt. Aetna. This may be one of the earlier mentions of the figure, but cf. Euripides, Herakles 908. Both Kapaneus and Enceladus are appropriate figures for Ares to mention here since they exhibut hubris. As in other mythical comparisons in the poem, this is obviously parodic.

ἄγρια φῦλα Γιγάντων: Giants are mentioned as well at lines 7 and 171 in this poem. In the first instance, the narrator of the poem anticipates that his traditional tale (ὡς λόγος) that has the frogs “mimicking the deeds of the Giants, earth-born men”. In the latter instance, the narrator has Zeus contemplating the gathering of the armies and there describes them as “like the army or Centaurs or Giants” (οἷος Κενταύρων στρατὸς ἔρχεται ἠὲ Γιγάντων). Cf. Od. 7.206: ὥς περ Κύκλωπές τε καὶ ἄγρια φῦλα Γιγάντων.

ἄγρια φῦλα: “savage tribes”, see Il. 19.30-1 where Thetis promises Achilles that she will ward the “savage race of flies” (ἄγρια φῦλα / μυίας ) from Patroklos’ body.

284 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη: See above on line 277

βαλὼν ἀργῆτα κεραυνὸν: “silvery lightning”, cf. Il. 8.133 (βροντήσας δ’ ἄρα δεινὸν ἀφῆκ’ ἀργῆτα κεραυνόν). Cf. Aristophanes Birds 1747

285 ἐβρόντησε: “To thunder”, see Hesiod Theogony, 839 (σκληρὸν δ’ ἐβρόντησε καὶ ὄβριμον, ἀμφὶ δὲ γαῖα ).

μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν ῎Ολυμπον: “he shook great Olympos”; this line is from Homer (Il. 1.530: κρατὸς ἀπ’ ἀθανάτοιο· μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν ῎Ολυμπον)

286 αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα κεραυνὸν δειμαλέον διὸς ὅπλον: This line is considered an interpolation by most editors. Ludwig supposes that it was answered so that the αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα could answer the πρῶτα μὲν of 285. The appositive string “Lightning, the frightening weapon of Zeus”, is a bit repetitive (cf. ὅπλον in 280; κεραυνὸν in 284) and rather unpoetic.

δειμαλέον: “frightening” or “horrible”, a post-Hellenistic Greek adjective.

287 ἧκ᾿ ἐπιδινήσας: “he threw it, whirling it down”). This combination begins a line in Homer, cf. Il. 7.269: ἧκ’ ἐπιδινήσας, ἐπέρεισε δὲ ἶν’ ἀπέλεθρον,
αἰχματάων: Uncontracted genitive plural, “spear-men”

ἔπτατο: Aorist from πέτομαι, “it flew from the hand of the god”. The subject changes awkwardly to the lightning bolt and then in the next line back to Zeus (clear from the active particple βαλὼν. This form is used of a missile in motion in Homer (θώρηκος γύαλον, ἀπὸ δ’ ἔπτατο πικρὸς ὀϊστός, Il.13.287).

288 πάντας μέν ῥ’ ἐφόβησε βαλὼν βατράχους τε μύας τε: This text is superior to the alternative which ends ἐπὶ τοὺσδε τε μύας instead of βατράχους τε μύας τε. Apart from the unwieldly number of particles, the sense of the demonstrative here is unclear. Only one manuscript presents our preferred reading, however.

289 οὐδ’ ὣς ἀπέληγε: This occurs at Il. 7.263 (ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἀπέληγε μάχης κορυθαίολος ῞Εκτωρ).

ἀπέληγε: imp. “the army of mice was not relenting” from ἀπολήγω.

ἀλλ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον: This combination ends the line in Homer, cf. Il. 9.678: κεῖνός γ’ οὐκ ἐθέλει σβέσσαι χόλον, ἀλλ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον.

290 ἔλπετο πορθήσειν: “the army of mice was expecting/hoping to uproot the race of spear-bearing frogs.” This is not the first time a genocidal wish has been expressed by the mice: see 263a and 264. The mass-noun subject for ἔλπετο is somewhat strange, but the meaning construes well enough. For the sense of expectation of future outcomes see Il. 10.355-356. Cf. Aeschy. Fr. 99.19: α̣ὐχεῖν δὲ Τρώων ἄστυ πορθήσειν βίᾳ.

αἰχμητάων: “spearmen, warriors”. Uncontracted general plural; this form occurs only at the end of the line in Homer and Hesiod.

291 ἀπ’ Οὐλύμπου: “down from Olympos”. The description makes sense (Zeus is pitying the frogs from the vantage point of Olympus) but in Homer (e.g. Il. 1.532) this combination of preposition and adjective nearly always describes motion. The metrically lengthened form appears in Homer in this metrical position (16.364:῾Ως δ’ ὅτ’ ἀπ’ Οὐλύμπου νέφος ἔρχεται οὐρανὸν εἴσω )

ἐλέησε Κρονίων: this combination appears in Homer too, cf. 17.411 (Μυρομένω δ’ ἄρα τώ γε ἰδὼν ἐλέησε Κρονίων). ἐλέησε is from ἐλεέω (“to pity”). Many MSS have ὤκτειρε instead. See above ᾤκτειρε Κρονίων for line 270.

292 ἀρωγοὺς: “helpers”; see above on line 172 (ἡδὺ γελῶν ἐρέεινε· τίνες βατράχοισιν ἀρωγοὶ) in Homer, the gods can be “helpers” to men Il.8.205 (εἴ περ γάρ κ’ ἐθέλοιμεν, ὅσοι Δαναοῖσιν ἀρωγοί , cf. 21.428). Mortals can be helpers too (οἵδε κακὰ φρονέοντες, ἐμοὶ δ’ οὐκ εἰσὶν ἀρωγοί, 18.232).

ἐν βατράχοισιν: “among the frogs”; some MSS have instead ῥα φθειρομένοισιν (“he send helpers to those who were being destroyed…).

293 For the next six lines we have a somewhat absurd listing of epithets for the crabs who are sent out as defenders for the mice. The image, without the elaboration, is humorous enough, for, certainly, crabs would be cataphracts among the lightly armored frogs and mice. But the accumulation of epithets—most of which are neologisms foreign to hexameter—might amount to a type of artistic gaming as the singer/composer stretches the meaning and the conventions of epic poetry. (We imagine that performers and even amateurs might have competed in composing humorous and absurdist hexameters. Even at this extreme, the performance attests to a type of virtuosity.) Parody is often excessive; the excessive excess here marks the end of the poem with a vivid, memorable, and humorous deus ex machina. The scholarly tradition attributes something analogous to the poet Lykophron who took very seriously the play of integrating obscure diction, references and possible innovations into his poetry.

νωτάκμονες: νωτ-άκμονες “anvil-backs” (LSJ prints “mail-backs”, i.e. “armor-backed”; because the key idea is that surface can take a pounding.)

ἀγκυλοχεῖλαι: “with twisted claws (or lips) ” χεῖλος means “lip” (often used metaphorically for “lip of a drinking vessel” while χηλή means “hoof”. Aristotle uses the later to describe to a crab specifically (HA 527b5); in astronomy χηλαί. This epithet is used in Homer of vultures in the same position (Il. 16.428).

294 λοξοβάται: “side-ways walker”; “walking at a slant” cf.λοξός “sideways” ἀεροβάτης (“air-walker”).

στρεβλοί: “twisted or crooked”, sometimes “squint-eyed”. Many crabs have eyes on the end of antennae, so “squinty” may seem an odd epithet. Some species, however, have eyes or eye-like holes on the main part of their bodies. The freshwater crab Potamon Fluviatile—whose eyes are situated thus—is native to rivers and lakes near the Mediterranean basin in Europe and still found in many islands in the Aegean. Nevertheless, the epithet here may be more apropos of the contour of the crabs’ eyes, cf. the ankulotoksoi (“curved bows”).

ψαλιδόστομοι: “”scissor-mouthed”; ψαλίδον: “scissor”. The word can also mean “vault or arch” but in line 298 the crabs use their mouths to dismember the mice.

ὀστρακόδερμοι: “pottery-skinned”; “hard-shelled”.

295 ὀστοφυεῖς: “boney”

πλατύνωτοι: “wide-backed”

ἀποστίλβοντες ἐν ὤμοις: “shining in the shoulders” ἀποστίλβοντες appears in Homer, see Od. 3.408 (λευκοί, ἀποστίλβοντες ἀλείφατος· οἷσ’ ἔπι μὲν πρὶν)

296 βλαισοί: ”knock-kneed” or simply knees that knock together. Aristotle describes the Egyptians and Aithiopians in this way.

χειλοτένοντες: “holding mouths-out”; a hapax legomenon some MSS have χειροτένοντες instead, but the next line describes the crabs as “handless”.

ἀπὸ στέρνων ἐσορῶντες: “They see from their chests”. This confirms that the species of crab imagined most likely did not have eyes on antennae (see note 294 above).

297 ὀκτάποδες:”eight-footed”.

δικάρηνοι: “two headed”. Cf. Nonnus at 13.131 where he uses the epithet to describe Parnassus.

ἀχειρέες: “handless”.

οἱ δὲ καλεῦνται : “who are called”.

298 καρκίνοι: “crabs”, note the extreme postponement of this noun.

οὐρὰς: “tails”; the crabs immediately strike at the unarmored, exposed extremities of the mice.

στομάτεσσιν: dative of instrument. Early Greek poetry would be far more likely to use the shorter form, seee στόμασιν (see Theognis, 240 ἐν πάσαις πολλῶν κείμενος ἐν στόμασιν).

299 ἠδὲ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας: After disfiguring the mice, the crabs now immobilize them and render them defenseless. It is not clear how the mice were able to flee after the crabs deprived them of their appendages, unless we are to understand that the phrase δειλοὶ μύες in 298 refers to those who had been holding back from the battle, in contrast to the πρόμαχοι.

ἀνεγνάμπτοντο δὲ λόγχαι: “the spears were bent back”, i.e. they were bent and broken on the armor of the crabs. The mice struggle against their mutilators, but their weapons fruitlessly founder on the crabs’ natural defenses.

300 ὑπέδεισαν: (Aorist, third person plural of ὑποδείδω “to cower before”, “shrink in fear” , a not un-mouselike thing to do (from a human perspective). This appears in the same position in the Iliad (1.406 τὸν καὶ ὑπέδεισαν μάκαρες θεοὶ οὐδ’ ἔτ’ ἔδησαν).

δειλοὶ: “cowards”, prior to the advent of the crab cataphracts the mice were certainly not cowardly. This is an early pejorative in Greek poetry, see Il. 11.816 Od. 10.431; cf. Theogn. 58.

301 ἐς δὲ φυγὴν ἐτράποντο: “They were routed”; “They turned to flight”, a common phrase in historiography, see Herodotus 3.13.1 (Οἱ δὲ Αἰγύπτιοι ἐκ τῆς μάχης ὡς ἐτράποντο, ἔφευγον οὐδενὶ κόσμῳ. “After the Egyptians were routed from battle. They were fleeing in disorder.”)

ἐδύετο δ’ ἥλιος ἤδη: “the sun was already going down”; the image is possibly Homeric, see Il. 7.465 (δύσετο δ’ ἠέλιος, τετέλεστο δὲ ἔργον ᾿Αχαιῶν; “the sun went down and the work of the Achaeans came to an end”).

302 μονοήμερος: “single-day”, “of a day”. This may be the earliest instance of this compound. Early Greek does use compounds like this (cf. Theogn. 52 μούναρχοι δὲ πόλει μήποτε τῆιδε ἅδοι; and Hes. Th 426: μουνογενής). Μοῦνος ( the Ionic form of Attic μόνος) is preferred in early poetry.

πολέμου τελετὴ: “end of the war”; the form τελευτή appears in Homer (e.g. 16.787: ἔνθ’ ἄρα τοι Πάτροκλε φάνη βιότοιο τελευτή; “There then the end of your life came clear, Patroklos”). This shorter form occurs as early as Herodotus.

ἐξετελέσθη: “was completed, was effected”; this form appears at the end of the line in Theocritus, Idyll 17: ὧδε καὶ ἀθανάτων ἱερὸς γάμος ἐξετελέσθη (“In this way too the sacred marriage of the gods was completed”)


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