Mouse Meets Frog: Both Die Terribly

Aesop, Fabula 302

“There was a time when all the animals spoke the same language. A mouse who was on friendly terms with a frog, invited him to dinner and led him into a storehouse of his wealth where he kept his bread, cheese, honey, dried figs and all of his precious things. And he said “Eat whatever you wish, Frog.” Then the Frog responded: “When you come visit me, you too will have your fill of fine things. But I don’t want you to be nervous, so I will fasten your foot to my foot.” After the Frog bound his foot to the mouse’s and dragging him in this way, he pulled the tied-up mouse into the pond. While he drowned, he said “I am being mortified by you, but I will be avenged by someone still alive!” A bird who saw the mouse afloat flew down and seized him. The Frog went aloft with him too and thus, the bird slaughtered them both.

A wicked plot between friends is thus a danger to them both”

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα, μῦς βατράχῳ φιλιωθεὶς ἐκάλεσεν αὐτὸν εἰς δεῖπνον καὶ ἀπήγαγεν αὐτὸν εἰς ταμιεῖον πλουσίου, ὅπου ἦν ἄρτος, τυρός, μέλι, ἰσχάδες καὶ ὅσα
ἀγαθά, καί φησιν „ἔσθιε, βάτραχε, ἐξ ὧν βούλει.” ὁ δὲ βάτραχος ἔλεγε• „ἐλθὼν οὖν καὶ σὺ πρὸς ἐμὲ ἐμπλήσθητι τῶν ἀγαθῶν μου. ἀλλ’ ἵνα μὴ ὄκνος σοι γένηται, προσαρτήσω τὸν πόδα σου τῷ ποδί μου.” δήσας οὖν ὁ βάτραχος τὸν πόδα τοῦ μυὸς τῷ ἑαυτοῦ ποδὶ ἥλατο εἰς τὴν λίμνην ἕλκων καὶ τὸν μῦν δέσμιον. ὁ δὲ πνιγόμενος ἔλεγεν• „ἐγὼ μὲν ὑπό σου νεκρωθήσομαι, ἐκδικήσομαι δὲ ὑπὸ ζῶντος.” λούππης δὲ θεασάμενος τὸν μῦν πλέοντα καταπτὰς ἥρπα-σεν. ἐφέλκετο οὖν σὺν αὐτῷ καὶ ὁ βάτραχος καὶ οὕτως ἀμφοτέρους διεσπάραξεν.
ὅτι ἡ τῶν φίλων πονηρὰ συμβουλὴ καὶ ἑαυτοῖς κίνδυνος γίνεται.

Note 1: ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα, “common animal language”: It is unclear whether, in these halcyon days before the fall from linguistic harmony, a Frog would squeak or a Mouse would croak when in the other’s company.

Note 2: ἐμπλήσθητι τῶν ἀγαθῶν :”you will have your fill of good things”. If the Mouse knew his Pindar (῎Αριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, 1.1), he would suspect that the Frog will do what in fact does, which is to fill his lungs with water. This illustrates that good things are in fact relative. A Mouse and Frog will hold different things dear.

This fabula (and more!) appears in our book on the Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice. This is a periodic reminder that it exists: Here is Bloomsbury’s Homepage for the book.


Zooglossia 4: Sheep Go “Baa” and an Absurd Etymology

My new ‘serious academic obsession’ has been Greek representations of animal sounds. So far, we have had goats, donkeys, and pigs. Now, sheep.

Aristophanes, fr. 642

“He is about to sacrifice me and he is telling me to say “baa”.”

θύειν <με> μέλλει καὶ κελεύει βῆ λέγειν.


Aelian, On Animals, 16.16

τῶν δὲ οἰῶν βληχή, “The bleating of sheep”


Hermippus, fr. 19



Suda, s.v. Βή (beta, 240)

Baa: This is the imitation of the sound of sheep—since Attic speakers do not say bai. Cratinus in his Dionysalexandros says “the last one walks forward saying “baa baa” like a sheep.”

Βή τὸ μιμητικὸν τῆς τῶν προβάτων φωνῆς, οὐχὶ βαὶ λέγουσιν Ἀττικοί. Κρατῖνος Διονυσαλεξάνδρῳ: ὁ δὴ λοίσθιος ὥσπερ πρόβατον βὴ βὴ λέγων βαδίζει.

Image result for Ancient Greek sheep


Perhaps one of the reasons the metonymic name probata stuck for sheep is that they “baa” in front (probata means to “walk in front”, from bainô).


Here’s Beekes on baaing and bleating:




Zooglossia 2: What’s With the Donkey’s Bray?

This is a second entry in a totally unnecessary series of posts about the representation of animal sounds in Ancient Greek.


Ongkêthmos: the cry of a donkey”

ὀγκηθμός· κραυγὴ ὄνου

Earlier today I tweeted about this

I have been thinking about the ‘reconstruction’ of animal noises from verbs that represent them–here ὀγκάομαι, like many alpha-contract verbs is denominative. So, I figured I could just reconstruct a ὀγκ- ὀγκ to represent donkey sounds based on the abstract noun above and the verb form. Beekes is not completely down with that:


I don’t know if I can resist believing that this verb is zoophonetic (based on the animal sound). Even if it does have another etymology, that does not mean that it was not adapted to this context because of a serendipitous similarity to the donkey’s bray…

There are some other details about donkey sounds that are, perhaps, worth knowing.


brômasthai: ongkasthai: this is used for donkey speech. Ongkasthai is also used, but that is more infrequent.”

Βρωμᾶσθαι. ὀγκᾶσθαι. ἐπὶ ὄνου δὲ λέγουσι τοῦτο. λέγεται καὶ ὀγκᾶσθαι ἐπὶ ὄνου, ἀλλὰ σπάνιον τοῦτο.

LSJ lists βρωμάομαι, “to bray” (cf. Lat. Rudere) as onomatopoetic

Photius distinguishes between them

brômasthai: this is the braying of a hungry donkey. Also, brôma. This is the sound itself.”

Βρωμᾶσθαι· τὸ ὀγκᾶσθαι πεινῶντα ὄνον. καὶ βρῶμα· ἡ φωνὴ αὕτη.

Moeris asserts that the former is Attic and the latter is general Greek.

File:Kylix by Epiktetos showing an aroused Satyr mounting a donkey which is also aroused, ca. 510 BC, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens, Greece (14103090773).jpg

510 BCE, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens

Zooglossia 1: What Does a Goat Say?

Vita Aesop G = Fabula 302

“There was a time when all the animals spoke the same language”

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα…

A few days ago I had been thinking about how every once in a while I tweet just part of Aristophanes refrain from the Frogs, “Βρεκεκὲξ…” and can always count on someone to respond with a “…κοὰξ κοάξ”. Sometimes twitter is filled with bile and horror (you know, our chief executive and nazis); other times it is filled with support, surprise and serendipity.

So, I got to thinking that an account I would definitely subscribe to would be one that was just made up of animal noises from different languages. You know, Arabic mice, French ducks, Tamil dogs, Mandarin elephants etc. It would be charming, interesting, and a welcome relief from everything else. Then, I tweeted about it:

As I have probably mentioned before,  I don’t really know any programming and I am not really the type to try to do this on my own. Also, there is a beautiful webpage @ajwyman sent to me which collects a lot of these sounds (but the flash player is a little messed up).

(If you are interested in the twitter thread, I storified it)

But the responses were fun and they got me thinking about animal noises in ancient Greek more. I am not at all the first to do this. There is a nice post from a decade ago on the topic. There are some great sources for Latin animal sounds, including a book in the public domain Patrick from @diyclassics tweeted about.  Michael Hendry also has a great worksheet for Latin. I should not have been surprised that the Latin Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to Animalium soni. (And here is another post from a cultured medievalist)

I would be remiss in not mentioning some more academic takes on the subject, recognizing that the way we think about animals reflects on the way we think about ourselves and that studying this through time has its own value. Someone sent me a great post about animal sounds in the medieval period. And, informed by linguistics, anthropology, and Classics, the inimitable Maurizo Bettini has a book out on the subject of the representation of animal noises in human languages (it is in Italian, I ordered from ILL.)

All of this stuff is great. But, of course, it is not enough Greek and it does not satisfy the child in me: I want something of a pull-and-play that has only Ancient Greek versions of animal noises. This would fulfill no vital function in the world. So, instead, I am spending just a little time seeing what can be found on the topic. Here’s a nice thematic passage @Stevendsmith74 sent me.

Aelian Varia Historia 5.52

“Nature has produced animals which have the greatest range of voices and sounds, in the same way, in fact, as she has made people. Just as the Skythian speaks one way and the Indian speaks another, or the Aithiopian has his own language and the Sakai have theirs. And the language of Greece is different from Rome. Indeed, it is the same with animals who in various ways utter the a sound or an song native to their tongue. One roars, another moos, a neigh comes from another, a bray from one, a bleat or maaaa from another. A howl is dear to one; a bark to another; while some growl. There are those who scream, whistle, hoot, sing, croon and tweet. There are endless gifts proper to different animals by nature.”

51. Πολυφωνότατα δὲ τὰ ζῷα καὶ πολύφθογγα ὡς ἂν εἴποις ἡ φύσις ἀπέφηνεν, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ γοῦν Σκύθης ἄλλως φθέγγεται καὶ ὁ Ἰνδὸς ἄλλως, καὶ ὁ Αἰθίοψ ἔχει φωνὴν συμφυᾶ καὶ οἱ Σάκαι· φωνὴ δὲ Ἑλλὰς ἄλλη, καὶ Ῥωμαία ἄλλη. οὕτω τοι καὶ τὰ ζῷα ἄλλο ἄλλως προΐεται τὸν συγγενῆ τῆς γλώττης ἦχόν τε καὶ ψόφον· τὸ μὲν γὰρ βρυχᾶται, μυκᾶται δὲ ἄλλο, καὶ χρεμέτισμα ἄλλου καὶ ὄγκησις <ἄλλου>, ἄλλου βληχηθμός τε καὶ μηκασμός, καί τισι μὲν ὠρυγμός, τισὶ δὲ ὑλαγμὸς φίλον, καὶ ἄλλῳ ἀρράζειν· κλαγγαὶ δὲ καὶ ῥοῖζοι καὶ κριγμοὶ καὶ ᾠδαὶ καὶ μελῳδίαι καὶ τραυλισμοὶ καὶ μυρία ἕτερα δῶρα τῆς φύσεως ἴδια τῶν ζῴων ἄλλα ἄλλων.

Whether it is a good idea or not, I am going to be posting occasionally about animal noises. Some of them, as with the frog or dog mentioned in tweets above, are simple because we have animals “quoted”. Others can be ‘reconstructed’ based on nominal or verbal representations of the sounds–essentially zoophonetic onomatopoeia.

If you would like to join in, send me any passages that you find on this topic. I am especially interested in anything about the sounds of horses, donkeys, weasels, and cats.

What does the (ancient Greek) goat say? Maaaa, Maaaa. Μῆ μῆ

Photius, s.v Μηκάδες (cf. Suda mu 901)

“An epithet for goats; it comes from their species’ sound”

Μηκάδες: ἐπιθετικῶς αἱ αἶγες· ἀπὸ τοῦ ἰδιώματος τῆς φωνῆς.


File:Satyr goat Met L.2008.51.jpg

Metropolitan Museum of Art, L.2008.51


For the Love of…A Goose?

Everyone has heard about Leda and the swan. But have you heard about Amphilokhos and his gift-giving goose?

Aelian, De Natura Animalium 5.29

“In Aigion, in Akhaia, a goose was in love with a handsome boy, an Ôlenian named Amphilokhos. Theophrastus tells this story. The boy was under guard with the Olenian exiles in Aigion—there, the goose used to bring him gifts. In Khios, too, there was an especially beautiful woman named Glaukê, a harp player, and many men lusted after her—which is nothing big. But a ram and a goose loved her too, as I have heard.”

Ἐν Αἰγίῳ τῆς Ἀχαίας ὡραίου παιδός, Ὠλενίου τὸ γένος, ὄνομα Ἀμφιλόχου, ἤρα χήν. Θεόφραστος λέγει τοῦτο. σὺν τοῖς Ὠλενίων δὲ φυγάσιν ἐφρουρεῖτο ἐν Αἰγίῳ ὁ παῖς. οὐκοῦν ὁ χὴν αὐτῷ δῶρα ἔφερε. καὶ ἐν Χίῳ Γλαύκης τῆς κιθαρῳδοῦ ὡραιοτάτης οὔσης εἰ μὲν ἤρων ἄνθρωποι, μέγα οὐδέπω· ἠράσθησαν δὲ καὶ κριὸς καὶ χήν, ὡς ἀκούω, τῆς αὐτῆς.

File:Ammannati - Leda and the Swan.jpg

Lessons of Love and Loyalty from the Purple Coot

The purple coot is more properly known now as a purple swamphen

Aelian De Natura Animalium 5. 28

“The purple coot, as well as being very jealous, possesses this oddity as well. For people say that it cherishes its family and delights in a shared life with its companions. I heard that a rooster and a coot were raised together in the same house—they ate the same things, and they measured out the same steps, and got dirty in the same place. From these experiences, an amazing friendship developed between them.

Then, when there was a festival, the lord of the house sacrificed the rooster and included it in a banquet for the household. The purple coot, now without his companion and intolerant of the solitude, killed itself through starvation.”

Ἴδιον δὲ ἄρα <ὁ>πορφυρίων πρὸς τῷ ζηλοτυπώτατος εἶναι καὶ ἐκεῖνο δήπου κέκτηται. φιλοίκειον αὐτὸν εἶναί φασιν καὶ τὴν συντροφίαν τῶν συννόμων ἀγαπᾶν. ἐν οἰκίᾳ γοῦν τρέφεσθαι πορφυρίωνα καὶ ἀλεκτρυόνα ἤκουσα, καὶ σιτεῖσθαι μὲν τὰ αὐτά, βαδίζειν δὲ τὰς ἴσας βαδίσεις καὶ κοινῇ κονίεσθαι. οὐκοῦν ἐκ τούτων φιλίαν τινὰ θαυμαστὴν αὐτοῖς ἐγγενέσθαι. καί ποτε ἑορτῆς ἐπιστάσης ὁ δεσπότης ἀμφοῖν τὸν ἀλεκτρυόνα καταθύσας εἱστιάθη σὺν τοῖς οἰκείοις· ὁ δὲ πορφυρίων τὸν σύννομον οὐκ ἔχων καὶ τὴν ἐρημίαν μὴ φέρων ἑαυτὸν ἀτροφίᾳ διέφθειρεν.


Image result for purple coot

A Hydrophilic High: Aelian on the Effects of Medicinal Seahorse

Aelian, De Natura Animalium 14.20

“Some people who know a lot about fishing claim that the stomach of a sea-horse—if someone dissolves it in wine after boiling it and gives it to someone to drink—is an extraordinary potion combined with wine, when compared to other medicines. For, at first, the most severe retching overcomes anyone who drinks it and then a dry coughing fit takes over even though he vomits nothing at all, and then: the upper part of his stomach grows and swells; warm spells roll over his head; and, finally, snot pours from his nose and releases a fishy smell. Then his eyes turn blood-red and heated while his eye-lids swell up.

They claim that a desire to vomit overwhelms him but that he can bring nothing up. If nature wins, then he evades death and slips away into forgetfulness and insanity. But if the wine permeates his lower stomach, there is nothing to be done, and the individual dies eventually. Those who do survive, once they have wandered into insanity, are gripped by a great desire for water: they thirst to sea water and hear it splashing. And this, at least, soothes them and makes them sleep. Then they like to spend their time either by endlessly flowing rivers or near seashores or next to streams or some lakes. And even though they don’t want to drink, they love to swim, to put their feet in the water, and to wash their hands.”

  1. Λέγουσι δὲ ἄνδρες ἁλιείας ἐπιστήμονες, τὴν τοῦ ἱπποκάμπου γαστέρα εἴ τις ἐν οἴνῳ κατατήξειενἕψων καὶ τοῦτον δοίη τινὶ πιεῖν, φάρμακον εἶναι τὸν οἶνον ἄηθες ὡς πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα φάρμακα ἀντικρινόμενον· τὸν γάρ τοι πιόντα αὐτοῦ πρῶτον μὲν καταλαμβάνεσθαι λυγγὶ σφοδροτάτῃ, εἶτα βήττειν ξηρὰν βῆχα, καὶ στρεβλοῦσθαι μέν, ἀναπλεῖν δὲ αὐτῷ οὐδὲ ἕν, διογκοῦσθαι δὲ καὶ διοιδάνειν τὴν ἄνω γαστέρα, θερμά τε τῇ κεφαλῇ ἐπιπολάζειν ῥεύματα, καὶ διὰ τῆς ῥινὸς κατιέναι φλέγμα καὶ ἰχθυηρᾶς ὀσμῆς προσβάλλειν· τοὺς δὲ ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑφαίμους αὐτῷ γίνεσθαι καὶ πυρώδεις, τὰ βλέφαρα δὲ διογκοῦσθαι. ἐμέτων δὲ ἐπιθυμίαι ἐξάπτονταί φασιν, ἀναπλεῖ δὲ οὐδὲ ἕν. εἰ δὲ ἐκνικήσειεν ἡ φύσις, τὸν μὲν <τὸ> ἐς θάνατον σφαλερὸν παριέναι, ἐς λήθην δὲ ὑπολισθαίνειν καὶ παράνοιαν. ἐὰν δὲ ἐς τὴν κάτω γαστέρα διολίσθῃ, μηδὲν ἔτι εἶναι, πάντως δὲ ἀποθνήσκειν τὸν ἑαλωκότα. οἱ δὲ περιγενόμενοι ἐς παράνοια ἐξοκείλαντες ὕδατος ἱμέρῳ πολλῷ καταλαμβάνονται, καὶ ὁρᾶν διψῶσιν ὕδωρ καὶ ἀκούειν λειβομένου· καὶ τοῦτό γε αὐτοὺς καταβαυκαλᾷ καὶ κατευνάζει. καὶ διατρίβειν φιλοῦσιν ἢ παρὰ τοῖς ἀενάοις ποταμοῖς ἢ αἰγιαλῶν πλησίον ἢ παρὰ κρήναις ἢ λίμναις τισί, καὶ πιεῖν μὲν οὐ πάνυ <τι>7 γλίχονται, ἐρῶσι δὲ νήχεσθαι καὶ τέγγειν τὼ πόδε ἢ ἀπονίπτειν τὼ χεῖρε.


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This is not a suggestion for experimentation over the long weekend. Drugs, as the Odyssey warns, might make you forget your homecoming

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