Zooglossia 9: Cats of Many Names but Few Sounds

This is likely the penultimate, or at least the antepenultimate, post about animal sounds. I am not losing steam, exactly; but I am losing material. This post is a little bit of a failure. But, along the way, we will get to sounds for weasels, snakes, and mice. This is a win, even if the elusive cat’s meow remains beyond me. If anyone finds evidence, I will gladly post it.

Related image
Colorful Cat Mosaic from a dining room (triclinium) in the House of the Faun in Pompeii
Photographed at the Palazzo Massimo venue of the National Museum of Rome, Rome, Italy.

A proverb (in Arsenius and elsewhere; this version is from the Etymologicum Magnum)

[Comparing] a cat to Athena. This is used for those who poorly compare serious things with minor because of some minor similarity, as the proverb applies—as if someone compares Athena with a cat because they both have gray eyes.”

᾿Αθηνᾷ τὸν αἴλουρον: ἐπὶ τῶν κακῶς συγκρινόντων τὰ κρείττονα τοῖς ἥττοσι διὰ μικρὰν ὁμοιότητα ἡ παροιμία εἴρηται· ὡς εἴ τις διὰ γλαυκότητα τὸν αἴλουρον τῇ ᾿Αθηνᾷ συμβάλλοι.

As I have posted about before, there is confusion in early Greek between weasels and cats because both are used in an early period to rid the home of rodents and cats are not as well-represented until the Hellenistic period or later. This complicates finding evidence for ancient Greek representations of cat sounds (I cannot find any) and weasel sounds (very little evidence). But there are some interesting things to say about cats.

The first thing to note is that there are different names and spellings for the felix domesticus. The early Αἴλουρος appears in Herodotus (with an extra syllable). By the early Byzantine period we find an interesting etymology based on the cat’s twirling tail.

Etym. Magnum.

Ailouros: An animal. The name comes from twisting, turning and moving the tail.  Also an ailourios, some call a root this”

    Αἴλουρος: Τὸ ζῷον, παρὰ τὸ αἰόλειν καὶ ἀνάγειν τὴν οὐρὰν καὶ κινεῖν. Καὶ αἰλούριος, ῥίζα τὶς οὕτω καλουμένη.

N. B. Aelian has Αἰλούρων ὁ [7.27]

Cf. Etym. Gen.

Aielouros> This is not pleonasm but instead antithesis. It comes from “curling” [aiolein] the tail [ourên]

     Αἰέλουρος (Soph. Ichn. 296)· τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστι πλεονασμὸς ἀλλὰ ἀντίθεσις· παρὰ γὰρ τὸ αἰολεῖν τὴν οὐρὰν ἐτυμολογεῖται


“Attic speakers say aielouros; Greeks say ailouros

αἰέλουρος ᾿Αττικοί, αἴλουρος ῞Ελληνες.

N.B. This form does appear in Herodotus, Sophocles, and more!

Additional evidence gives us little information about the ailouros. It is clear that Herodotus’ cat is the cat as we might recognize it. In other early Greek authors, the evidence gets a bit muddy. This scholion to Aristophanes provides some interesting information. It conflates names and animals, I think, but presents some catty behavior.

Schol. ad Aristophanes Pl. 693

“Stinkier than a weasel”: There are two kinds of weasels, one is wild, which is twofold. It is called an ailouros and another small animal which has red skin. And there is also a *hêmeron. This is the creature which homer calls a ktis but is commonly called katis. This one has really the worst smelling excrement. And when this animal defecates and excretes it throws dirt over it and covers what it excreted. You should also know that that ktis to which, according to the language in homer, the lexicographers of that divine man do not understand, that it is syncope for katis. This animal, they say, is a birdeater, and a complete troublemaker, like an ailouros.”

δριμύτερον γαλῆς· δύο
γένη τελοῦσι γαλῶν, τό τε ἄγριον—
ὅπερ διττόν ἐστιν· ὅ τε καλούμενος
αἴλουρος καὶ σμικρὸν ζῷον ἕτερον
πυρρὰν ἔχον τὴν χρόαν—καὶ τὸ
ἥμερον. ἥμερον δέ ἐστιν ἡ παρ’
῾Ομήρῳ μὲν κτὶς καλουμένη, κοινῶς
δὲ κατίς. ἔστι δὲ τούτου ἡ ἄφοδος
δυσοσμότατος, ὅθε καὶ ἀποπατοῦν
καὶ ἐκκρῖνον τὸ ζῷον κόνιν ἐπιβάλλει
καὶ περικαλύπτει τὰ ἐκκρινόμενα.
καὶ τοῦτο δέ σοι ἰστέον ὡς καὶ τὸ
“κτίς” τὴν παρ’ ῾Ομήρῳ λέξιν
αὐτῆς οἱ τοῦ θείου ἐκείνου ἀνδρὸς
λεξιγράφοι μὴ συνιέντες, ὅτι συγκο-
πὴ τοῦ “κατίς” ἐστι, ζῷον τοῦτό
φασιν εἶναι ὀρνιθοφάγον καὶ πανοῦρ-
γον κακῶς ἤτοι αἴλουρον.

Cf. Aelian 6.27

“People claim that cats hate and dread everything that smells bad. For this reason, they dig a hole and hide their fecal matter so that they might make it invisible when they cover it with earth.”

φασὶ δὲ τοὺς αἰλούρους πάντα ὅσα δυσώδη ἐστὶ μισεῖν τε καὶ βδελύττεσθαι. ταύτῃ τοι καὶ τὸ σφέτερον περίττευμα ἀφιέναι πρότερον βόθρον ὀρύξαντας, ἵνα ἀφανίσωσιν αὐτὸ τῆς γῆς ἐπιβαλόντες.

*I cannot find more information about this type of weasel. We need a weasel-specialist.

What I suspect might be going on here–apart from the delightful description of whatever animal this is as a bird-eater and a troublemaker–is that this scholiast is building a phonetic bridge between the Homeric weasel (ktis) and the latter Greek word for domesticated cat (kattês). The overlapping conceptual space of cat and weasel in the galea  (γαλέη) facilitates this, I think. You will note from the passages below some behavior that seems feline and some that does not.

Schol. at Arist. Clouds 169a

“Now he says that the spotted lizard is the small and red wild weasel, not the ailouros or the hêmeron weasel, this is the ktis or also the katis about which Homer also says “he placed a hat well made from a weasel on his head.” This wild weasel scrambles up and down and runs around the walls”

νῦν δὲ οὗτος ἀσκαλαβώτην φησὶ τὴν μικρὰν καὶ πυρρὰν ἀγρίαν γαλῆν, οὐ τὸν αἴλουρον οὐδὲ τὴν ἥμερον γαλῆν, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἡ κτὶς καὶ ἡ κατίς, περὶ ἧς καὶ῞Ομηρος λέγει·  κρατὶ δ’ ἔπι κτιδέην κυνέην εὔτυκτον ἔθηκεν.ἀσκελῶς δὲ καὶ ἡ ἀγρία γαλῆ ἀναρριχᾶται καὶ περιτρέχει τοὺς τοίχους.

Apollonius Sophista [cf. Hesychius s.v. κτιδέα]

“The ktis is an animal similar to a small weasel (galê, differing from the weasel in size….

κτὶς γάρ ἐστι τὸ ζῷον ὅμοιον γαλῇ μικρῷ, μεγέθει διαφέρουσα τῆς γαλῆς…


Kattês, kattou: a domesticated ailouros.”

Κάττης, κάττου: ὁ κατοικίδιος αἴλουρος.

“Home-born”: A kattês which was born in the home. “Does A homeborn cat, after eating my partridge, expects to live in my home? [=Greek Anthology 7.205, attributed to Agathias Scholasticus]

Οἰκογενής: ὁ κάττης, ὁ ἐν οἴκῳ γεννηθείς. οἰκογενὴς αἴλουρος ἐμὴν πέρδικα φαγοῦσα ζώειν ἡμετέροις ἔλπεται ἐν μεγάροις.

Here is a fragment that will horrify ailouranthropes [“cat-people”]:

Anaxandrides  (fr. 40.12-13; Athenaeus 7)

“If you see a cat in pain, you mourn.
But I am happy to kill it and flay it.”

τὸν αἰέλουρον κακὸν ἔχοντ᾿ ἐὰν ἴδῃς
κλάεις, ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἥδιστ᾿ ἀποκτείνας δέρω.

γαλῆ γαλέα mostly describes a weasel but sometimes indicates a cat, since both were used domestically to catch mice.

Aelian 6.41.30-32

“this is also a particular quality of mice. Whenever they hear the trilling of a weasel or the hissing of a serpent they transfer their young from one mouse hole to another”

…ἰδιότης δὲ ἄρα μυῶν καὶ ἐκείνη. ἐπειδὰν ἀκούσωσι γαλῆς τριζούσης ἢ συρίττοντος ἔχεως, ἐκ τῆς μυωπίας τῆς μιᾶς τὰ ἑαυτῶν βρέφη ἄλλο ἄλλῃ μετοικίζουσιν

This passage is the only place I could find evidence of the sound that weasels make. This verb is used to indicate the trilling or squeaking of multiple types of animals, usually small ones like mice and weasels.


This is not the only place where this sibilant verb is used to describe a snake’s hiss. Again, in a scholion to Aristophanes, we get a description of multiple animals sounds that includes the sssssscary snake:

Schol ad. Aristoph. Pl. 689

“Each of the animals has its own particular voice—so a goat maaaas, a cow moooos, a raven crows and other animals are similar. Thus a snake also hisses [surizei].

«ἐξάραντες ἐπικροτήσατε.») …. ἕκαστον γὰρ τῶν ζῴων ἰδίαν φωνὴν ἔχει, ὡς αἲξ τὸ μηκάζειν, βοῦς τὸ μυκᾶσθαι, κορώνη τὸ κρώζειν, καὶ τἄλλα ὁμοίως· οὕτω καὶ ὁ ὄφις τὸ συρίζειν. —ὑφῄρει δὲ ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐκτείνει.

The verb used here, however, seems to be denominative from σῦριγξ, a noun which has a bit of a messy prehistory.


The verb trizein is used for many different animals. A unique compound appears to evoke the panicked squeaking of a dying mouse. In Latin, mice pipitare.

Batrakhomuomakhia 88

“He was squeezing his hands together and he was squeaking while he died”

καὶ χεῖρας ἔσφιγγε καὶ ὀλλύμενος κατέτριζε.

An Anecdote from Aelian

“Aristeides the Lokrian, after he was bitten by a Tartessian weasel and was dying, said “It would have been much better to die after being bitten by a lion or leopard than, if there would be some excuse for death other than this creature.” I think he felt the shamefulness of the bite to be more burdensome than death itself.

     ῞Οτι ᾿Αριστείδης ὁ Λοκρὸς ὑπὸ Ταρτησσίας γαλῆς δηχθεὶς καὶ ἀποθνήσκων εἶπεν ‘ὅτι πολὺ ἂν ἥδιον ἦν αὐτῷ δηχθέντι ὑπὸ λέοντος ἢ παρδάλεως ἀποθανεῖν, εἴπερ οὖν ἔδει τινὸς τῷ θανάτῳ προφάσεως ἢ ὑπὸ θηρίου τοιούτου,’ τὴν ἀδοξίαν ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν ἐκεῖνος τοῦ δήγματος πολλῷ βαρύτερον φέρων ἢ τὸν θάνατον αὐτόν.


Antigonus Paradoxographer, 68

“A weasel’s genitals are bony”

Τῆς δὲ γαλῆς ὀστοῦν εἶναι τὸ αἰδοῖον.

Schol P ad Arist. Plut 693 

“The feces of a weasel are completely bad-smelling”

πάνυ γὰρ δύσοσμός ἐστιν ἡ τῆς γαλῆς πορδή

Physiologos 21

“Don’t eat a weasel or anything like it”

     Μὴ φάγῃς οὖν γαλῆν, μηδὲ τὸ ὅμοιον αὐτῆς.


Just Another Murine Monday: Mouse Proverbs from the Suda

Four proverbs involving mice from the Suda:


“A beetle on mice”: A proverb used for people [or things] who are worthless.”

Μυσὶ κανθαρίς: ἐπὶ τῶν μηδενὸς ἀξίων.


“A White Mouse”: Pet mice are compelled to mate excessively—especially the white ones (which are female) This proverb is used for those who are powerless in sexual matters”

Μῦς λευκός: οἱ κατοικίδιοι μύες ἄγαν πρὸς τὴν ὀχείαν κεκίνηνται, καὶ μάλιστα οἱ λευκοί. οὗτοι δέ εἰσι θήλεις. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀκρατῶν περὶ τὰ ἀφροδίσια ἡ παροιμία εἴρηται.


“A mouse tasting pine-pitch”: A proverb used of those who just attempted something with great effort. There is also “as much as a mouse in pitch” which is taken from Muos of Tarentium who competed poorly at the Olympic games.

Μῦς πίσσης γεύεται: ἐπὶ τῶν νεωστὶ ἀπαλλασσόντων μετὰ κόπου. καὶ Ὅσα μῦς ἐν πίσσῃ, ἀπὸ Μυὸς τοῦ Ταραντίνου, κακῶς Ὀλυμπίασιν ἀπαλλάξαντος.


“A Mouse just tasting pine-pitch”: A saying used for those who act boldly at the start and without shame but eventually prove to be cowards. There is also a dream-interpretation: when a mouse appears again, he is tricky in his ways.”

Μῦς ἄρτι πίττης γευόμενος: ἐπὶ τῶν πρῴην μὲν τολμηρῶν καὶ ἀναιδῶν, ἀθρόον δὲ δειλῶν ἀναφανέντων. λύσις ὀνείρου: Μῦς δ’ αὖ φανεὶς ἔνδολος ἐν τρόποις πέλει.


Mice Are Prophetic; Ants are Too : Aelian, Varia Historia 1.11

“Mice are also among the most prophetic of the animals. For, when a house has already become decrepit and is about to collapse, they perceive it and they abandon the mouse-holes within them and their earlier habits. They run off with whatever speed they can muster and settle elsewhere.

Ants, I have heard too, have a certain knowledge of prophecy. Whenever a famine is soon to develop, they work terribly hard at stockpiling food. They put aside a store of grain and the shells of seeds, all those things that ants eat for dinner.”

῏Ησαν δὲ ἄρα μαντικώτατοι τῶν ζῴων καὶ μύες. γηρώσης γὰρ οἰκίας ἤδη καὶ μελλούσης κατολισθάνειν αἰσθάνονται πρῶτοι, καὶ ἀπολιπόντες τὰς μυωπίας τὰς αὑτῶν καὶ τὰς ἐξ ἀρχῆς διατριβάς, ᾗ ποδῶν ἔχουσιν ἀποδιδράσκουσι καὶ μετοικίζονται.
῎Εχουσι δὲ καὶ οἱ μύρμηκες, ὡς ἀκούω, μαντικῆς τινα αἴσθησιν. ὅταν γὰρ μέλλῃ λιμὸς ἔσεσθαι, δεινῶς εἰσι φιλόπονοι πρὸς τὸ θησαυρίσαι καὶ ἑαυτοῖς ἀποταμιεύσασθαι τοὺς πυροὺς καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν σπερμάτων, ὅσα μυρμήκων δεῖπνόν ἐστιν.

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.

Aratus, Phenomena 1134-43: Mice, Dogs, Crabs and the Weather

“Mice too, if ever squeaking louder in good weather
They leapt and seemed like dancers,
Were not ignored by ancient weathermen.
Nor were dogs, since a dog digs with both paws
Whenever he expects that a storm is coming on.
The mice will prophesy the same storm.
And, truly, the crab comes to land from the water
When the storm comes, seeking to begin a journey.
The mice who turn their strawbeds with feet at day
Long for sleep whenever signs of rain appear.
Disregard none of these things: it is good to find a sign
to confirm another: when two go the same way together,
Hope increases; you can be brave with a third.”

᾿Αλλὰ γὰρ οὐδὲ μύες, τετριγότες εἴ ποτε μᾶλλον
εὔδιοι ἐσκίρτησαν ἐοικότες ὀρχηθμοῖσιν,
ἄσκεπτοι ἐγένοντο παλαιοτέροις ἀνθρώποις,
οὐδὲ κύνες• καὶ γάρ τε κύων ὠρύξατο ποσσὶν
ἀμφοτέροις χειμῶνος ἐπερχομένοιο δοκεύων,
κἀκεῖνοι χειμῶνα μύες τότε μαντεύονται.
[Καὶ μὴν ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ καρκίνος ᾤχετο χέρσον
χειμῶνος μέλλοντος, ἐπαΐσσεσθαι ὁδοῖο.
Καὶ μύες ἡμέριοι ποσσὶ στιβάδα στρωφῶντες
κοίτης ἱμείρονται, ὅτ’ ὄμβρου σήματα φαίνῃ.]
Τῶν μηδὲν κατόνοσσο• καλὸν δ’ ἐπὶ σήματι σῆμα
σκέπτεσθαι• μᾶλλον δὲ δυεῖν εἰς ταὐτὸν ἰόντων
ἐλπωρὴ τελέθοι• τριτάτῳ δέ κε θαρσήσειας.

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.

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