What Does the Frog Say? …Koaks, Koaks

Aristophanes, Frogs 209-219

“Brekekekeks koaks koaks
Brekekekeks koaks koaks.
Let us, the water’s marshy children
Raise the common cry of hymns,
My sweet song, koaks, koaks
Which we let echo at the Marshes
For Zeus’ son Dionysus
When the drunken-party
The mob of the host came
To the Festival of the Jars
In my precinct.”

Βρεκεκεκεξ κοαξ κοαξ,
βρεκεκεκεξ κοαξ κοαξ.
Λιμναῖα κρηνῶν τέκνα,
ξύναυλον ὕμνων βοὰν
φθεγξώμεθ’, εὔγηρυν ἐμὰν
ἀοιδάν, κοαξ κοαξ,
ἣν ἀμφὶ Νυσήιον
Διὸς Διώνυσον ἐν
Λίμναισιν ἰαχήσαμεν,
ἡνίχ’ ὁ κραιπαλόκωμος
τοῖς ἱεροῖσι Χύτροισι
χωρεῖ κατ’ ἐμὸν τέμενος λαῶν ὄχλος.

 

Aristophanes, Frogs 250-251

Dionysus: “Brekekeks koaks koaks”
I learned this from you.”

ΔΙ.                    Βρεκεκεκεξ κοαξ κοαξ.
Τουτὶ παρ’ ὑμῶν λαμβάνω.

 

From the Suda:

“Brekekeks koaks koaks: a repeated line in Aristophanes’ Frogs, an imitation of frog voices.

Βρεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ: ἐφύμνιον παρὰ ᾿Αριστοφάνει ἐν Βατράχοις. μίμημα φωνῆς βατράχων.

 

In the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Athena complains that Athenian Frogs annoy her with their sound and keep her from sleeping. Similarly, in Aristophanes’ Frogs, the eponymous chorus is depicted as “croaking” both during the chorus and the stichomythic exchange. Dionysus complains “I wish this “croak” would go to hell! There’s nothing left but croaking!” (᾿Αλλ’ ἐξόλοισθ’ αὐτῷ κοαξ / οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστ’ ἀλλ’ ἢ κοαξ, 226–227). Is it likely that frog-noise was a common complaint in Classical Athens?

There may be a hint to the etymology of the frog cry in the Batrakhomuomakhia’s later name-epithet Βρεκαίκιγα ἐσθλὸν (“noble Water-leaper”) The novel compound here may be an echo of Aristophanes’ frog call (brekekkex koax koax; Βρεκεκεκεξ κοαξ κοαξ from the Frogs) or it may be a compound of the root βρέχω (“to moisten, or to be wet”) and ἀίσσω (“to leap”) giving a meaning something like “Water-Darter”. For the call brekekkex koax koax, see Dover 1993: 219 who draws on Campbell 1984 in proposing that the frog species in question in the Marsh Frog, Rana ridibunda.

 

This is their sound:

Here is a delightful scene from an episode of the original Star Trek called “Plato’s Stepchildren” (sent to me by twitter correspondent @ScienceGaGa today):

 

 

 

 

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