The Frog-King: Another Frightening Fable for our Times

Aesop’s Fables, No. 44:

“The frogs, distressed by the anarchy prevailing among them, sent ambassadors to Zeus asking him to give them a king. He took note of their silliness and threw down a piece of wood into the pond. The frogs, terrified at first by the loud sound, submerged themselves in the depths of the pond.

Later, when the piece of wood was still, they came back up and rose to such a height of insolence that they mounted the wood and perched upon it. Deeming this king unworthy of them, they sent messengers to Zeus, asking him to change their king, because the first one was too lazy. Zeus was irritated by this, so he sent them a snake as king, by whom they were all snatched up and eaten.”

βάτραχοι λυπούμενοι ἐπὶ τῇ ἑαυτῶν ἀναρχίᾳ πρέσβεις ἔπεμψαν πρὸς τὸν Δία δεόμενοι βασιλέααὐτοῖς παρασχεῖν. ὁ δὲ συνιδὼν αὐτῶν τὴν εὐήθειαν ξύλον εἰς τὴν λίμνην καθῆκε. καὶ οἱ βάτραχοι τὸ μὲν πρῶτον καταπλαγέντες τὸν ψόφον εἰς τὰ βάθη τῆς λίμνης ἐνέδυσαν, ὕστερον δέ, ὡς ἀκίνητον ἦν τὸ ξύλον, ἀναδύντες εἰς τοσοῦτο καταφρονήσεως ἦλθον ὡς καὶ ἐπιβαίνοντες αὐτῷ ἐπικαθέζεσθαι. ἀναξιοπαθοῦντες δὲ τοιοῦτον ἔχειν βασιλέα ἧκον ἐκ δευτέρου πρὸς τὸν Δία καὶ τοῦτον παρεκάλουν ἀλλάξαι αὐτοῖς τὸν ἄρχοντα. τὸν γὰρ πρῶτον λίαν εἶναι νωχελῆ. καὶ ὁ Ζεὺς ἀγανακτήσας κατ’ αὐτῶν ὕδραν αὐτοῖς ἔπεμψεν, ὑφ’ ἧς συλλαμβανόμενοι κατησθίοντο.

In January, this website will see the first old-school publication to emerge from its pages alone. (Some posts have become pieces of articles, especially the translations). A few years ago, we published a translation and commentary of the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice in serial form. It will be coming out in print in January 2018.. This fable above is included as part of a note to line 17.

 

Image result for Fable frog and king medieval
“Frogs Desiring a King” by John Vernon Lord

 

The Fable of the Exploding Frog

Phaedrus 1.24 The Exploding Frog

A poor man, when he tries to imitate the powerful, dies.
Once in a meadow a frog saw a bull
Whose great size exerted on her such a pull
That she inflated her wrinkled skin and asked
Her children whether she was bigger than that.
They denied it and she puffed herself out self again
But when she asked who was bigger, they said “him”.
Finally angry, she didn’t want to blow it,
She puffed again and her body exploded.”

frog

I.24. Rana Rupta

Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
In prato quondam rana conspexit bovem,
et tacta invidia tantae magnitudinis
rugosam inflavit pellem. Tum natos suos
interrogavit an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
maiore nisu, et simili quaesivit modo,
quis maior esset. Illi dixerunt “bovem”.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius
inflare sese, rupto iacuit corpore.

The Frogs Seek Out A King: A Fable for Our Time

Phaedrus, Fabulae 1.2

“When Athens flourished with equal laws,
Heady freedom corrupted the state
And excess dissolved their ancient restraints.
As partisan conspiracies were inflamed,
The tyrant Pisistratus took the citadel.
While all the Attic demes mourned wretched slavery—
Not because he was savage, but because they were all
Unaccustomed to control—Aesop retold this tale.
The frogs who wandered free in their marshes
Sought from Jupiter a king with great acclamation,
One who would return their customs in decline.
He sent a small plank whose sudden appearance
Shocked the timid race with its movement and sound.
While it floated for some time on the surface
By chance one lifted his quiet head from the pond
And called all the rest to their newly found ‘king’.
With fear set aside, they swam to it bit by bit
And the raucous crowd climbed on the plank to dance!
Then their furies rang out all around,
As they asked Zeus for another king
Because the one he sent them was useless.
Then he sent them a water-snake who began
To snatch them one by one with savage teeth.
In vain they tried their useless flight; fear muted their voices.
Secretly they gave their pleas to Mercury for Jove,
That he might help the cursed. But the god responded:
“Because you did not want the good king you had,
You must now endure the bad. And you, too, Athenians
Endure this, lest you take in turn a greater evil.”

silver-stater
A Silver Stater from Seriphos

Athenae cum florerent aequis legibus,
Procax libertas civitatem miscuit
Frenumque solvit pristinum licentia.
Hic conspiratis factionum partibus
Arcem tyrannus occupat Pisistratus.
Cum tristem servitutem flerent Attici,
(Non quia crudelis ille, sed quoniam gravis
Omnino insuetis), onus et coepissent queri,
Aesopus talem tum fabellam rettulit.
Ranae vagantes liberis paludibus
Clamore magno regem petiere a Iove,
Qui dissolutos mores vi compesceret.
Pater deorum risit atque illis dedit
Parvum tigillum, missum quod subito vadi
Motu sonoque terruit pavidum genus.
Hoc mersum limo cum iaceret diutius,
Forte una tacite profert e stagno caput
Et explorato rege cunctas evocat.
Illae timore posito certatim adnatant
Lignumque supera turba petulans insilit.
Quod cum inquinassent omni contumelia,
Alium rogantes regem misere ad Iovem,
Inutilis quoniam esset qui fuerat datus.
Tum misit illis hydrum, qui dente aspero
Corripere coepit singulas. Frustra necem
Fugitant inertes, vocem praecludit metus.
Furtim igitur dant Mercurio mandata ad Iovem,
Afflictis ut succurrat. Tunc contra deus:
Quia noluistis vestrum ferre inquit bonum,
Malum perferte. — Vos quoque, o cives, ait,
Hoc sustinete, maius ne veniat malum.

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):

 

 

 

 

Aesop, Fabula 302: Mouse Meets Frog; Frog Drowns Mouse; Bird Eats Both

“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”

ΜΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΒΑΤΡΑΧΟΣ
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.

Wise Frogs Surpass Snakes in Wisdom, Aelian 1.3

“A type of Egyptian frog is a bit of a wise creature and for this reason it surpasses other frogs by a lot. If it this frog runs into a water snake that lives in the Nile, it bites off a shoot of reed and carries it forward obliquely and holds it tight, and it will not let it go until its strength gives out. The snake cannot eat the frog with the reed, since its mouth will not open as wide as the reed would demand. From this trick, the frogs surpass the strength of the watersnake with wisdom”

Σοφόν τι ἄρα χρῆμα ἦν γένος βατράχων Αἰγυπτίων, καὶ οὖν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὑπερφέρουσι κατὰ πολύ. ἐὰν γὰρ ὕδρῳ περιπέσῃ Νείλου θρέμματι βάτραχος, καλάμου τρύφος ἐνδακὼν πλάγιον φέρει, καὶ ἀπρὶξ ἔχεται, καὶ οὐκ ἀνίησι κατὰ τὸ καρτερόν. ὃ δὲ ἀμηχανεῖ καταπιεῖν αὐτὸν αὐτῷ καλάμῳ• οὐ γάρ οἱ ἐγχωρεῖ περιβαλεῖν τοσοῦτον τὸ στόμα, ὅσον ὁ κάλαμος διείργει. καὶ ἐκ τούτου περιγίνονται τῆς ῥώμης τῶν ὕδρων οἱ βάτραχοι τῇ σοφίᾳ.

One Way to Threaten a Persian King: Herodotus, 4.132

When the Scythians address Darius, they threaten “unless you become birds and fly into the sky or turn into mice and crawl under the earth or become frogs and leap into the marshes, you won’t get home again because you’ll be struck down by our arrows” =

ἢν μὴ ὄρνιθες γενόμενοι ἀναπτῆσθε ἐς τὸν οὐρανόν, ὦ Πέρσαι, ἢ μύες γενόμενοι κατὰ τῆς γῆς καταδύητε, ἢ βάτραχοι γενόμενοι ἐς τὰς λίμνας ἐσπηδήσητε, οὐκ ἀπονοστήσετε ὀπίσω ὑπὸ τῶνδε τῶν τοξευμάτων βαλλόμενοι.

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 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.