The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Part 9: Mayhem in the Melee

In the last episode, Athena expressed her antipathy for frog and mouse alike. The gods (eagerly?) look on as blood spills on both sides

The thundering Olympian eye does not stray
From the toil and moil of the bloody melee
Fur flies on spear and lance
Fragile gills have little chance
As frog and mouse clash in a murderous fray.

“So [Athena] spoke and the other gods assented to her
as they all gathered together in one spot.
Then some gnats brought out great trumpets
to sound the dread song of war. And from heaven
Kronos’ son Zeus thundered the battle’s evil sign.

First, Croakmaster struck Man-licker with a spear
through his stomach mid-liver as he stood among the forefighters.
And he fell down and dirtied his delicate hair.
He thundered as he fell, and his arms clattered about him.
Hole-dweller next hurled at Muddy’s son
And fixed his stout spear in his chest. So black death took him
as he fell and his soul flew from his body.
Dish-pirate killed Beat-eater when he struck him in the heart
And after Bread-muncher struck Sir Croaks-a-lot in the stomach
he fell headlong and his soul flew from his limbs.
When Pond-lubber saw Sir Croaks-a-lot dying
He acted first and crushed Hole-dweller’s tender neck
With a rock like a mill-stone. And darkness covered his eyes.
Grief overtook Basilson and he drove him through with a sharp reed
And he didn’t raise his spear against him. When Manlicker saw this
He took aim at him with his own shining spear
And hurled it: he didn’t miss his liver. And when he noticed
That Spiceeater was fleeing, he rushed upon the lush banks.
He did not let up from battle, no he ran him through.
He fell and didn’t look up again: then the pond was dyed
With purple blood even as he was stretched out on the sand
As he tried to rise with his trailing intestines and loins.
Then he despoiled Cheese-nibbler on the same banks.
When Master-Reedy saw Ham-Carver he fled
And he was driven into the pond while rushing and after leaving his shield.
Water-grace killed king Ham-eater.
Blameless Mudbedder killed Poundweight
by striking him with a stone on the top of his head. His brains
Dribbled from his nose and the earth was spattered with blood.”

197 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη• καὶ τῇ γε θεοὶ ἐπεπείθοντ’ ἄλλοι,
198 πάντες δ’ αὖτ’ εἰσῆλθον ἀολλέες εἰς ἕνα χῶρον.
199 καὶ τότε κώνωπες μεγάλας σάλπιγγας ἔχοντες
200 δεινὸν ἐσάλπιγξαν πολέμου κτύπον• οὐρανόθεν δὲ
201 Ζεὺς Κρονίδης βρόντησε, τέρας πολέμοιο κακοῖο.
202 Πρῶτος δ’ ῾Υψιβόας Λειχήνορα οὔτασε δουρὶ
203 ἑσταότ’ ἐν προμάχοις κατὰ γαστέρα ἐς μέσον ἧπαρ•
204 κὰδ δ’ ἔπεσεν πρηνής, ἁπαλὰς δ’ ἐκόνισεν ἐθείρας.
205 δούπησεν δὲ πεσών, ἀράβησε δὲ τεύχε’ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ.
206 Τρωγλοδύτης δὲ μετ’ αὐτὸν ἀκόντισε Πηλείωνος,
207 πῆξεν δ’ ἐν στέρνῳ στιβαρὸν δόρυ• τὸν δὲ πεσόντα
208 εἷλε μέλας θάνατος, ψυχὴ δ’ ἐκ σώματος ἔπτη.
209 Σευτλαῖον δ’ ἂρ ἔπεφνε βαλὼν κέαρ ᾿Εμβασίχυτρος,
210 ᾿Αρτοφάγος δὲ Πολύφωνον κατὰ γαστέρα τύψε•
211 ἤριπε δὲ πρηνής, ψυχὴ δὲ μελέων ἐξέπτη.
212 Λιμνόχαρις δ’ ὡς εἶδεν ἀπολλύμενον Πολύφωνον,
213 Τρωγλοδύτην ἁπαλοῖο δι’ αὐχένος τρῶσεν ἐπιφθὰς
214 πέτρῳ μυλοειδέϊ• τὸν δὲ σκότος ὄσσε κάλυψε•
215 ᾿Ωκιμίδην δ’ ἄχος εἷλε καὶ ἤλασεν ὀξέϊ σχοίνῳ
216 οὐδ’ ἐξέσπασεν ἔγχος ἐναντίον• ὡς δ’ ἐνόησε
217 Λειχήνωρ δ’ αὐτοῖο τιτύσκετο δουρὶ φαεινῷ
218 καὶ βάλεν, οὐδ’ ἀφάμαρτε καθ’ ἧπαρ• ὡς δ’ ἐνόησε
219 Κοστοφάγον φεύγοντα βαθείαις ἔμπεσεν ὄχθαις.
220 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς ἀπέληγε μάχης ἀλλ’ ἤλασεν αὐτόν•
221 κάππεσε δ’, οὐκ ἀνένευσεν, ἐβάπτετο δ’ αἵματι λίμνη
222 πορφυρέῳ, αὐτὸς δὲ παρ’ ἠιόν’ ἐξετανύσθη,
223 χορδῇσιν λιπαρῇσί τ’ ἐπορνύμενος λαγόνεσσιν.
224 Τυροφάγον δ’ αὐτῇσιν ἐπ’ ὄχθαις ἐξενάριξεν.
225 Πτερνογλύφον δὲ ἰδὼν Καλαμίνθιος ἐς φόβον ἦλθεν,
226 ἥλατο δ’ ἐς λίμνην φεύγων τὴν ἀσπίδα ῥίψας.
227 ῾Υδρόχαρις δ’ ἔπεφνεν Πτερνοφάγον βασιλῆα,
228 Λιτραῖον δ’ ἀρ’ ἔπεφνεν ἀμύμων Βορβοροκοίτης,
229 χερμαδίῳ πλήξας κατὰ βρέγματος• ἐγκέφαλος δὲ
230 ἐκ ῥινῶν ἔσταξε, παλάσσετο δ’ αἵματι γαῖα.

The Battle of Frogs and Mice, 8: Frogs Arm While Gods Debate

In the last installment, the frogs denied any responsibility for the death of a mouse, foreswearing any chance to avoid the war…

While Frogs don armor made of leaves
against ranks of mice in acorn greaves
The gods look on in gleeful spite
at the terrible fury of frogs and mice

So speaking he persuaded everyone to arm themselves.
First, they covered their shins with the leaves of reeds
and they had breastplates from fine yellow beets
while they fitted the leaves of cabbage into shields
and a great sharp reed was worked as a spear for each.
Horns of polished snails covered their heads.
They stood on the high banks defending themselves
As they brandished their spears, the heart of each puffed up.

Zeus called the gods to starry heaven
and showed them the mass of war and strong warriors
so many, so great, carrying enormous spears
just as the army of Centaurs or giants had approached them.
Then laughing sweetly he asked who among the mortals
were supporters for the frogs or mice? And he addressed Athena:

“Daughter, won’t you go forth to help the mice?
For they always dance around your temple
Delighting in the smell and every kind of treat.”

So Kronos’ son said and Athena responded:
“Father I would never come to the aid of the distressed mice
because they have done me many evils
by ruining my garlands and lamps to get at the oil.
The things they do really wear at my thoughts.
They eat away at the robe which I wore myself out weaving
from tender wool and which I spun on a great warp–
they fill it with holes. The lender entrusted it to me
and it makes me his debtor, a thing horrible for the gods.
For I spun it in debt and I can’t pay it back.
But there is no way I want to help the frogs.
For these creatures are not of sound mind, but yesterday
When I was returning from war and really worn out
and needing sleep, they didn’t allow me even to snooze
because of their ruckus. And I laid there sleepless,
with a headache until the rooster crowed.
Come on, let the gods avoid helping them,
lest one of them get wounded by a sharp missile.
For they are fighting in close ranks, even if a god should near them.
Let’s instead enjoy watching this battle from heaven.”

160 ῝Ως εἰπὼν ἀνέπεισε καθοπλίζεσθαι ἅπαντας.
161 φύλλοις μὲν μαλαχῶν κνήμας ἑὰς ἀμφεκάλυψαν,
162 θώρηκας δ’ εἶχον καλῶν χλοερῶν ἀπὸ σεύτλων,
163 φύλλα δὲ τῶν κραμβῶν εἰς ἀσπίδας εὖ ἤσκησαν,
164 ἔγχος δ’ ὀξύσχοινος ἑκάστῳ μακρὸς ἀρήρει,
165 καί ῥα κέρα κοχλιῶν λεπτῶν ἐκάλυπτε κάρηνα.
166 φραξάμενοι δ’ ἔστησαν ἐπ’ ὄχθαις ὑψηλαῖσι
167 σείοντες λόγχας, θυμοῦ δ’ ἔμπλητο ἕκαστος.
168 Ζεὺς δὲ θεοὺς καλέσας εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα,
169 καὶ πολέμου πληθὺν δείξας κρατερούς τε μαχητάς,
170 πολλοὺς καὶ μεγάλους ἠδ’ ἔγχεα μακρὰ φέροντας,
171 οἷος Κενταύρων στρατὸς ἔρχεται ἠὲ Γιγάντων,
172 ἡδὺ γελῶν ἐρέεινε• τίνες βατράχοισιν ἀρωγοὶ
173 ἢ μυσὶν ἀθανάτων; καὶ ᾿Αθηναίην προσέειπεν•
174 ῏Ω θύγατερ μυσὶν ἦ ῥα βοηθήσουσα πορεύσῃ;
175 καὶ γὰρ σοῦ κατὰ νηὸν ἀεὶ σκιρτῶσιν ἅπαντες
176 κνίσῃ τερπόμενοι καὶ ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν.
177 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη Κρονίδης• τὸν δὲ προσέειπεν ᾿Αθήνη•
178 ὦ πάτερ οὐκ ἄν πώ ποτ’ ἐγὼ μυσὶ τειρομένοισιν
179 ἐλθοίμην ἐπαρωγός, ἐπεὶ κακὰ πολλά μ’ ἔοργαν
180 στέμματα βλάπτοντες καὶ λύχνους εἵνεκ’ ἐλαίου.
181 τοῦτο δέ μοι λίην ἔδακε φρένας οἷον ἔρεξαν.
182 πέπλον μου κατέτρωξαν ὃν ἐξύφηνα καμοῦσα
183 ἐκ ῥοδάνης λεπτῆς καὶ στήμονα μακρὸν ἔνησα,
184 τρώγλας τ’ ἐμποίησαν• ὁ δ’ ἠπητής μοι ἐπέστη
185 καὶ πράσσει με τόκον• τὸ δὲ ῥίγιον ἀθανάτοισιν.
186 χρησαμένη γὰρ ἔνησα καὶ οὐκ ἔχω ἀνταποδοῦναι.
187 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς βατράχοισιν ἀρηγέμεναι βουλήσω.
188 εἰσὶ γὰρ οὐδ’ αὐτοὶ φρένας ἔμπεδοι, ἀλλά με πρῴην
189 ἐκ πολέμου ἀνιοῦσαν ἐπεὶ λίην ἐκοπώθην,
190 ὕπνου δευομένην οὐκ εἴασαν θορυβοῦντες
191 οὐδ’ ὀλίγον καταμῦσαι• ἐγὼ δ’ ἄϋπνος κατεκείμην•
192 τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀλγοῦσαν, ἕως ἐβόησεν ἀλέκτωρ.
193 ἀλλ’ ἄγε παυσώμεσθα θεοὶ τούτοισιν ἀρήγειν,
194 μή κέ τις ὑμείων τρωθῇ βέλει ὀξυόεντι•
195 εἰσὶ γὰρ ἀγχέμαχοι, εἰ καὶ θεὸς ἀντίον ἔλθοι•
196 πάντες δ’ οὐρανόθεν τερπώμεθα δῆριν ὁρῶντες.

The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Part 4: A Frog Makes an Offer; A Mouse Becomes Europa

Earlier, the Frog listened to a detailed description of the Mouse’s delicate diet. Now the Frog makes an offer:

Grinning, Bellowmouth responded:
“Friend, you brag about your belly. We also
have many marvels to see in the pond and on the shore.
Zeus gave the frogs an amphibious realm:
We dance on the land or immerse ourselves in water 60
We inhabit homes divided doubly in these parts.
If you wish to learn about these things too, it’s simple.
Climb on my back, hold on tight so you don’t slip
and you will come to my home in good order.”

Thus he spoke and offered up his back. Crumbthief hopped on quickly,
holding his hands to the light band around Bellowmouth’s delicate neck.
At first he rejoiced when he saw the neighboring harbors
and delighted in Bellowmouth’s swimming. But then, when he was
splashed by the dark waves, he poured forth a flood of tears
and reproached his useless change of mind. He tore his hairs,                 70
squeezed his feet around his stomach and his heart
shook at the novelty because wished to get back to land.
He wailed dreadfully under the oppression of chilling fear.
First, he set his tail into the water as though guiding a rudder,
and prayed to the gods to make it to the shore.
He was splashed again by the murky water, and kept shouting out for help.
Then he made a speech like this as he proclaimed:

“Didn’t the bull carry his cargo of love this way
when he led Europa over the waves to Krete?
That’s just how this frog set out to lead a mouse to his house             80
after floating his pale body on a white wave.”

Crumbthief's Thoughts Were Probably less Idyllic
Crumbthief’s Thoughts Were Probably less Idyllic

Πρὸς τάδε μειδήσας Φυσίγναθος ἀντίον ηὔδα•

57 ξεῖνε λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι• ἔστι καὶ ἡμῖν
58 πολλὰ μάλ’ ἐν λίμνῃ καὶ ἐπὶ χθονὶ θαύματ’ ἰδέσθαι.
59 ἀμφίβιον γὰρ ἔδωκε νομὴν βατράχοισι Κρονίων,
60 σκιρτῆσαι κατὰ γαῖαν, ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι,

61 στοιχείοις διττοῖς μεμερισμένα δώματα ναίειν.
62 εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις καὶ ταῦτα δαήμεναι εὐχερές ἐστι•
63 βαῖνέ μοι ἐν νώτοισι, κράτει δέ με μήποτ’ ὀλίσθῃς,
64 ὅππως γηθόσυνος τὸν ἐμὸν δόμον εἰσαφίκηαι.
65 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ νῶτ’ ἐδίδου• ὁ δ’ ἔβαινε τάχιστα
66 χεῖρας ἔχων τρυφεροῖο κατ’ αὐχένος ἅμματι κούφῳ.
67 καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἔχαιρεν ὅτ’ ἔβλεπε γείτονας ὅρμους ,
68 νήξει τερπόμενος Φυσιγνάθου• ἀλλ’ ὅτε δή ῥα
69 κύμασι πορφυρέοισιν ἐκλύζετο πολλὰ δακρύων
70 ἄχρηστον μετάνοιαν ἐμέμφετο, τίλλε δὲ χαίτας,
71 καὶ πόδας ἔσφιγγεν κατὰ γαστέρος, ἐν δέ οἱ ἦτορ
72 πάλλετ’ ἀηθείῃ καὶ ἐπὶ χθόνα βούλεθ’ ἱκέσθαι•
73 δεινὰ δ’ ὑπεστενάχιζε φόβου κρυόεντος ἀνάγκῃ.
74 οὐρὴν μὲν πρῶτ’ ἔπλασ’ ἐφ’ ὕδασιν ἠΰτε κώπην
75 σύρων, εὐχόμενος δὲ θεοῖς ἐπὶ γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι
76 ὕδασι πορφυρέοισιν ἐκλύζετο, πολλὰ δ’ ἐβώστρει•
77 καὶ τοῖον φάτο μῦθον ἀπὸ στόματός τ’ ἀγόρευσεν•
78 Οὐχ οὕτω νώτοισιν ἐβάστασε φόρτον ἔρωτος
79 ταῦρος ὅτ’ Εὐρώπην διὰ κύματος ἦγ’ ἐπὶ Κρήτην
80 ὡς μῦν ἁπλώσας ἐπινώτιον ἦγεν ἐς οἶκον
81 βάτραχος ὑψώσας ὠχρὸν δέμας ὕδατι λευκῷ.

Will these two be best friends forever?

The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Part 3: A Mouse Describes his Diet

Previously, our amphibious friend Bellowmouth introduced himself to a certain mouse at the edge of a pond.  Now the mouse responds.  There are some textual problems here. We have decided to include the interpolations.  Who doesn’t want more Batrakhomuomakhia?

Then Crumbthief [Psikharpaks] answered and spoke:
“Why do you seek out my lineage? It’s known
To all men, gods and flying things in the sky.
I am known as Crumbthief, and I am the son
Of great-hearted Breadnibbler and my mother Mill-Licker,
who was daughter of king Ham-nibbler.
She birthed me in a hidey-hole and nourished me with food
like figs and nuts and all kinds of delectables.                                        30
How could you make me your friend when our nature is so different?

Continue reading “The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Part 3: A Mouse Describes his Diet”

The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Part 2: Once Upon a Time, A Frog Met a Mouse

An Illustration by Fred Gwynne from George Martin's "The Battle of Frogs and Mice, An Homeric Fable" (1962)
An Illustration by Fred Gwynne from George Martin’s “The Battle of Frogs and Mice, An Homeric Fable” (1962)

Here’s the second Installment of our translation of the Batrakhomuomakhia

Once upon a time, a thirsty mouse escaped the danger of a cat
and then lowered his greedy chin down to a pond                              10
To take pleasure in the honey-sweet water.  A pond-loving frog,
Bellowmouth, saw him and uttered something like this:

“Friend, who are you? From where have you come to our shore? Who sired you?
Tell me everything truly so I don’t think you’re a liar.
If I consider you a worthy friend, I’ll take you home,
where I will give you many fine gifts of friendship.
I am King Bellowmouth, and I am honored
throughout the pond as leader of frogs for all days.
My father Mudman raised me up after he had sex
with Watermistress along the banks of the Eridanus.                         20
I see that you are noble and brave beyond the rest,
and also a scepter-bearing king and a warrior in battles.
Come closer and tell me of your lineage.”

9 Μῦς ποτε διψαλέος γαλέης κίνδυνον ἀλύξας,
10 πλησίον ἐν λίμνῃ λίχνον προσέθηκε γένειον,
11 ὕδατι τερπόμενος μελιηδέϊ• τὸν δὲ κατεῖδε
12 λιμνόχαρις πολύφημος , ἔπος δ’ ἐφθέγξατο τοῖον•
13 Ξεῖνε τίς εἶ; πόθεν ἦλθες ἐπ’ ἠϊόνας; τίς ὁ φύσας;
14 πάντα δ’ ἀλήθευσον, μὴ ψευδόμενόν σε νοήσω.
15 εἰ γάρ σε γνοίην φίλον ἄξιον ἐς δόμον ἄξω•
16 δῶρα δέ τοι δώσω ξεινήϊα πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά.
17 εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ βασιλεὺς Φυσίγναθος, ὃς κατὰ λίμνην
18 τιμῶμαι βατράχων ἡγούμενος ἤματα πάντα•
19 καί με πατὴρ Πηλεὺς ἀνεθρέψατο, ῾Υδρομεδούσῃ
20 μιχθεὶς ἐν φιλότητι παρ’ ὄχθας ᾿Ηριδανοῖο.
21 καὶ σὲ δ’ ὁρῶ καλόν τε καὶ ἄλκιμον ἔξοχον ἄλλων,
22 σκηπτοῦχον βασιλῆα καὶ ἐν πολέμοισι μαχητὴν
23 ἔμμεναι• ἀλλ’ ἄγε θᾶσσον ἑὴν γενεὴν ἀγόρευε.

The ‘Homeric’ War of Frogs and Mice, Part 1: The Proem (1-8)

As I begin from the first page, I pray that the chorus
comes from Helikon for the sake of the song
I have just set down on the tablets at my knees;
a song of limitless strife–the war-rousing work of Ares–
because I hope to send to the ears of all mortal men
how the mice went forth to best the frogs
in imitation of the deeds of the earth born men, the giants.
Or so the tale went among men. It has this kind of beginning.

1 ᾿Αρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος
2 ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς
3 ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
4 δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος,
5 εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
6 πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν,
7 γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων,
8 ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην• τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.

The Batrakhomuomakhia is a mock-epic from antiquity–dated variously from the late Archaic age to the Hellenistic period. Using a pastiche of Homeric style and surprising subject (a battle between tribes of frog and mice), this parody is at once highly ‘literary’ and baldly silly. Of course, we love it.

We love it so much that we’ve been working on the text, a translation, and something of a commentary.  Since we’re already having fun with other oddities and obscurities like the history of Apollonius of Tyre, it made sense to start putting some of the work on the Batrakhomuomakhia here.  Look for more fun as the friendship of a mouse and frog ends in a sudden tragedy compounded by an interspecies blood-feud and the callous machinations of the gods.

A limerick in the spirit of Palaiophron:

The Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice
is not really Homer but it’s still quite nice.
You needn’t suffer to learn
that there’s kleos to earn
And you may find yourself reading it twice.

Batrakhomuomakhia, 170-171: A Monument to the Murder of Mice

During the assembly to face the murine-menace, the king of the frogs, Bellowmouth, announces his plan and his expected victory:

“As we drown those unaccustomed to the water in this way

We will happily dedicate a trophy to the murder of mice.”

οὕτω γὰρ πνίξαντες ἐν ὕδασι τοὺς ἀκολύμβους

στήσομεν εὐθύμως τὸ μυοκτόνον ὧδε τρόπαιον