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.


Mirabile Lectu! The Book That Was Born a Blog

 “As soon as the opportunity arrives, give yourself over to your studies or to leisure”

ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade

Pliny Letters, 1.9

Way back in 2014, Erik and I sat down to read the Commentary to the Iliad by Eustathius, the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and before reading more than a few words, we ended up starting on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia.

[here is the publisher’s homepage]

Anyone who knows either of us or who spends time in our classes would not find this all that surprising–we (and especially I) tend to leap from topic to topic with fury and swoon under the emotional influence of texts and languages both living and dead. At the time, Erik was thinking about teaching high school and I was moving into my post-tenure malaise.

We got to know each other a few years before. I used to have students read Greek with me in the summer. Erik–who was not my student and had graduated before I was a faculty member at UTSA–joined and quickly demonstrated that (1) he knew Latin a lot better than me and (2) he cared a lot more about scholarly minutiae than I typically did.

I cannot say with strong enough force that the time we spent together over the next few years changed the way I taught, read, and thought about the ancient world. By the time we sat down to read Eustathius, Erik was in my mind an intellectual model and a true friend.

During the early years of this blog, I struggled a bit to find a partner who had the time, energy, and interest to make it into something more than it was. Erik showed pretty quickly that he had these qualities, but also a different vision–as is clear from his essays on varied subjects.

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.

When I asked Erik if he wanted to read the “Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice” instead, it was an easy sell. We used to spend time in my office once of twice a week, using multiple monitors and just spreading all the texts we could around the place, Sometimes we would get through two lines in two hours. Sometimes we would do ten times as much. At first, we just thought we were posting translations, as we did. But, over time, as we realized we needed a commentary in English to finish our work and that we might as well write the commentary we needed, the posts changed. And, as a result, the blog changed too.

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.

So, in a way, the story of the book that came out today (“The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice”, Bloomsbury 2018) is the story both of how a book came from a blog and how a blog became a book. At our wildest fancy, we thought we would pitch it to some open source repository or present it more completely on the website.

But we were afforded the otium to pursue and complete this project. We built up several documents in Dropbox and spent hours apart adding and subtracting to the comments and what we thought should be in the introduction…While kids and pets were sleeping or eating, we typed away at additional bits or did extra word searches. We had help from excellent libraries at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Center for the Anthropology of the Ancient World at the University of Siena, and Brandeis University. We tested the commentary online and with graduate students at UT Austin and Brandeis.

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished!

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est!

Pliny the Younger

And]along the way, I think we had a pretty good time. After we had completed the book’s parts, we had a few conversations with the classics acquisitions editor at Bloomsbury. She was interested in the project, and, believe it or not, the blog and twitter feed’s following. That meeting was in the spring of 2016.

During the summer I left Texas for Boston (to return to teach at my undergraduate alma mater, Brandeis University) and Erik continued his teaching at a local high school with a serendipitously similar name. Ah, we no longer have those long Monday afternoons staring at ancient Greek! But we have the memory and this book. Imperfect as it may be, I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of it.

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!


Say Something Once, Why Say it Again? A New Edition of the Odyssey

So, a few days ago I received in the mail the first Classical text I have ever pre-ordered (by almost a year): M. L. West’s new Teubner edition of the Odyssey:

Even before I received it, I knew I would have some issues with it. West has long been a proponent of a strictly textualist view of Homer–which means his goal in editing the Iliad or the Odyssey is to restore the epics to something closer to what the ‘original’ ‘author’ had in mind. Even with modern authors, I think we emphasize individual agency, creativity and genius to the detriment of cultural contexts and audience reception far too much. For the Homeric epics, which arise from oral performance tradition and which have undergone generations of transformations in the textualized forms, the peril of overemphasizing the importance of an ‘author’ is even greater.

So, West’s final great work was going to ruffle my feathers–indeed, he announced many of his intentions in his Making of the Odyssey. What I was looking forward too, however, was an edition with an updated apparatus criticus integrating new Papyri and manuscripts unavailable to Von der Mühll when he edited the text. In the accumulation of testimonia as well as readings, West’s edition does not disappoint. The text is quite readable.

But there are some problems. Minor: he uses iota adscripts instead of subscripts and offers a more liberal application of the nu-moveable. These are merely aesthetic annoyances for me….

The major problem is that West excises many repeated lines or passages that have almost always been included in editions and relegated them to the apparatus if there is some papyrological or testimonial justification for doing so. In addition, he brackets lines that are not typically bracketed. So, West eliminates some lines that Von der Mühll preserves, e.g. 9.30 and labels others as spurious (e.g. 9.55). But really takes it further.  (See the group discussion on these issues for more examples and some fine defenses and explanations).

West, of course, does this because he thinks many lines have been repeated by the process of transmission and that the writerly Homer would never have repeated so much. West is welcome to this opinion–and it is not alone in it. But the relegation of some many lines is quite striking and renders the text useless alone (in my opinion). I cannot imagine using this with undergraduates or advising a casual reader of Homer to use this instead of the old Teubner or even Allen’s OCT.

The editorial choices will change some interpretation as well. Some are idiosyncratic but have support (such as West’s decision to go with the double accent ἄνδρά μοι ἔννεπε instead of the common and more widely accepted ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε for 1.1). Others may alter what the text means, as when he goes with ἄνθρωποι, μήδε σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι instead of ἄνθρωποι, μέγα δέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι for Od. 13.158. In his reading, the infinitive ἀμφικαλύψαι becomes negative command–thus Zeus is ordering Poseidon not to drop a mountain on the Phaeacians.

There are many issues like this throughout the text. I will probably highlight some now and then. But when I started posting about it on twitter, a dozen or so people joined in with enthusiasm, expertise, and bibliographies! I have storified the several conversations as a group review of West’s edition. Check it out–I learned a lot from those involved and we inadvertently illustrated how useful twitter can be.



Show Us Your Books: Compounds for Dystopian Travel

Recent reports allege that TSA agents will be asking travelers to show them their books starting this summer.

From the Etymologicum Magnum

Biblos: [“book”] comes from “throwing [ballesthai] lives [bious] in to the same place, or, from buô [“to pack full”], which means the same as sphalizô.”

Βίβλος: Διὰ τὸ τοὺς βίους βάλλεσθαι ἐν αὐτῇ·  ἢ παρὰ τὸ βύω, τὸ σφαλίζω.


Some Useful Book compounds for summer travel

[N.B.: I made up three of the following. Can you guess which?]

βιβλιογράφος: “writer of books”

βιβλιοδέτης: “Book-binder”

βιβλιοθήκη: “Book-case”

βιβλιοκλέπτης: “book thief”

βιβλιολάθας: “Forgetter of books”

βιβλιοπόπτης: “book-peeper’

βιβλιοπώλης: “book-seller

βιβλιοπωλεῖον: “book-store”

βιβλιοφυλάκιον: “safe-place for books”

βιβλιοφύλαξ: “book guard”

φιλοβίβλος: “book-lover”

κενοβιβλία: “bereavement of books”

Some other useful words

ἀναγιγνώσκω: “to read”

ἀναγεύω: “to give someone a taste”

ἀναγώρισις: “recognition”

ἀνάγνωσμα: “a passage read aloud”

ἀναγνώστης: “a reader”


From the Etymologicum Magnum:

Biblioaigisthos: Andreas the Doctor was called this by Eratosthenes because he wrote his books in secret.*

Βιβλιαίγισθος ᾿Ανδρέας ὁ ἰατρὸς ἐκλήθη ὑπὸ ᾿Ερατοσθένους, ὅτι λάθρᾳ αὐτοῦ τὰ βιβλία ἔγραφεν.

*Likely based on the mythological figure who plotted against his cousin Agamemnon while the latter was at Troy

Image result for Ancient Greek and Roman books


A Letter To a Miserly Father on Learning and Books

Libanius, Letter 428

To Heortios

“I am probably intervening by telling a father to care for a son he has decided to ignore, but after I saw Themistius crying I welcomed seeming like this rather than neglecting it. He was saying nothing harsh, but that some amnesia regarding him had overcome you. If you were not well off, I would think it proper for you to gather money from your friends to help your son. But since you do well and are among the wealthiest men, I am advising you to spend some of your wealth on your most worthy possession.  Poverty, perhaps, is also not completely useful to a young man. But now this argument is not about his stomach, but how he will get books: without them, he will be like someone trying to learn archery without a bow.”


Περιεργάζομαι μὲν ἴσως πατέρα παρακαλῶν ἐπιμελεῖσθαι παιδὸς ἀμελεῖν ἐγνωκότα, δακρύοντα δὲ ἰδὼν Θεμίστιον μᾶλλον ἐδεξάμην ἐκεῖνο δόξαι ἢ τοῦτο παριδεῖν.

ἔλεγε τοίνυν τραχὺ μὲν οὐδέν, ὡς δὲ λήθη σέ τις αὑτοῦ λάβοι, ἐγὼ δέ, εἰ μὲν ἠπόρεις, ἠξίουν ἄν σε παρὰ τῶν φίλων ἀγείροντα τῷ παιδὶ βοηθεῖν· ἐπεὶ δὲ εὖ ποιῶν ἐν πρώτοις εἶ τῶν εὐπόρων, παραινῶ τι τῶν ὄντων εἰς τὸ τῶν ὄντων σοι τιμιώτατον ἀναλῶσαι.

ἴσως μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲ πεῖνα σφόδρα νέῳ χρήσιμον, ἔστι δὲ νῦν οὐ περὶ τῆς γαστρὸς ὁ λόγος, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ᾖ τῷ νεανίσκῳ βιβλία· ὧν ἀπόντων ὅμοιος ἔσται τῷ πειρωμένῳ τοξεύειν ἄνευ τόξου μανθάνειν.

Image result for Ancient Greek books

Marcus Antonius Offered Cicero Life, If He Burned All His Books

The following piece from the elder Seneca (Yes, Seneca the Elder, not the Younger) is based upon the imaginary story that Marcus Antonius offered to preserve Cicero’s life in exchange for the destruction of all his books. 

Seneca the Elder, Suasoria 7

Cicero Deliberates whether to burn all his writings since Antony has promised his safety if he did so

Deliberat Cicero an scripta sua conburat, promittente Antonio incolumitatem si fecisset, 11

Here the conditions [of the agreement] were intolerable. For nothing is so intolerable as to burn up the proofs of your own genius. In addition, this was an insult to the Roman people, whose language Cicero had elevated so that their eloquence outstripped the knowledge of arrogant Greece as much as their fortune in war. This would be a crime against humanity! Cicero would regret breaths bought at so high a price, since he would have to grow old as a slave using his eloquence only for one thing: praising Antony. This was a wretched sentence: to be granted life, but surrender genius.

Pompeius Silo proceeded to argue that Antony was not negotiating but instead was mocking Cicero. This was a not a condition, it was an insult: For even after the books were burned he would still kill him. Antony was not so foolish that he believed that burning the books was a concern to Cicero, a man whose writings were already famous over the whole world. Antony did not seek this thing he could do himself, unless of course he did not have the power over Cicero’s books which he had over Cicero. He sought nothing other than to kill Cicero after reducing him to a state of shame because he had spoken bravely and often about his contempt for death. Hence, Antony was not giving him life on a condition, but he was seeking his death in dishonor. Thus, Cicero ought to suffer bravely now what he would certainly suffer later in shame.

Hic condiciones intolerabiles. <Nihil tam intolerabile> esse quam monumenta ingenii sui ipsum exurere. Iniuriam illum facturum populo Romano, cuius linguam huc ipse extulisset ut insolentis Graeciae studia tanto antecederet eloquentia quantofortuna; iniuriam facturum generi humano. Paenitentiam illum acturum tam care spiritus empti, cum in servitute senescendum fuisset <et> in hoc unum eloquentia utendum, ut laudaret Antonium. Male cum illo agi: dari vitam, eripi ingenium.

Silo Pompeius sic egit ut diceret Antonium non pacisci sed inludere: non esse illam condicionem sed contumeliam; combustis enim libris nihilominus occisurum; non esse tam stultum Antonium ut putaret ad rem pertinere libros a Cicerone conburi, cuius scripta per totum orbem terrarum celebrarentur, nec hoc petere eum, quod posset ipse facere, nisi forte non esset in scripta Ciceronis ei ius cui esset in Ciceronem; quaeri nihil aliud quam ut ille Cicero multa fortiter de mortis contemptu locutus ad turpes condiciones perductus occideretur. Antonium illi non vitam cum condicione promittere, sed mortem sub infamia quaerere. Itaque quod turpiter postea passurus esset, nunc illum debere fortiter pati.


Image result for Ancient Rome Cicero and Marcus Antonius

Not a fan of Cicero.

On the Importance of Reading and Writing in Turns


Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.

I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.

Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading:  endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”

Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.

I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:

As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

I feel that Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  I know that the last line above is translated a little freely, but I have the following in my head. It is important to grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

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