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.”


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.”

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”

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.