Homer: Poet, Parent, Parodist?

If you want to read more about Homer and the “Battle of Frogs and Mice”, you can check out the page on the blog. And you can also check out our book…

Greek Anthology, Exhortative Epigrams 90

“Because he wanted to exercise his mind,
Homer made up the tale of frogs and mice,
Which he then gave to children to imitate.”

῞Ομηρος αὐτοῦ γυμνάσαι γνῶσιν θέλων,
τῶν βατράχων ἔπλασε καὶ μυῶν μῦθον
ἔνθεν παρορμῶν πρὸς μίμησιν τοὺς νέους.

The problematic biographies, the various Lives of Homer, include some similar information.

Vita Herodotea 332-4

“The man from Khios had children around the same age. They were entrusted to Homer for education. He composed these poems: the Kekropes, Batrakohmuomakia, Psaromakhia, Heptapaktikê, and Epikikhlides and as many other poems as were playful.”

ἦσαν γὰρ τῷ Χίῳ παῖδες ἐν ἡλικίῃ. τούτους οὖν αὐτῷ παρατίθησι παιδεύειν. ὁ δὲ ἔπρησσε ταῦτα· καὶ τοὺς Κέρκωπας καὶ Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ Ψαρομαχίην καὶ ῾Επταπακτικὴν καὶ ᾿Επικιχλίδας καὶ τἄλλα πάντα ὅσα παίγνιά ἐστιν.

Vita Plutarchea 1.98-100

“He wrote two poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey and, as some say, though not truthfully, he added the Batrakhomuomakhia and Margites for practice and education.”

ἔγραψε δὲ ποιήματα δύο, ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ ᾿Οδύσσειαν, ὡς δέ τινες, οὐκ ἀληθῶς λέγοντες, γυμνασίας καὶ παιδείας ἕνεκα Βατραχομυομαχίαν προσθεὶς καὶ Μαργίτην.

Vita Quinta, 22-24

“Some also say that two school poems were attributed to him, the Batrakhomuomakhia and the Margites.”

τινὲς δ’ αὐτοῦ φασιν εἶναι καὶ τὰ φερόμενα δύο γράμματα, τήν τε Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ τὸν Μαργίτην.

The Margites is another epic parody we have only in fragmentary form.  Aristotle attributes it to Homer in his Poetics (1448b28-1449a3):

“We aren’t able to say anything about [parody] before Homer—but it is likely there were many—but we must start from Homer who leaves us the Margites and other works of this sort. It is fitting that among these works he also developed the iambic meter—for this is the very reason that iambos is called this today, since men are always mocking each other in that meter. Some of the ancient poets wrote heroic poetry, others wrote iambic.  Just as Homer was the exceptional poet in serious matters—for he didn’t only do it well in other ways but he also made his representations dramatic—in the same way he was the first to display the character of comedy in dramatizing something funny, not reproachful. And his Margites completes an analogy for us: just as the Iliad and the Odyssey are to tragedy, so to the Margites is to comedy.”

τῶν μὲν οὖν πρὸ ῾Ομήρου οὐδενὸς ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν τοιοῦτον ποίημα, εἰκὸς δὲ εἶναι πολλούς, ἀπὸ δὲ ῾Ομήρου ἀρξαμένοις ἔστιν, οἷον ἐκείνου ὁ Μαργίτης καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα. ἐν οἷς κατὰ τὸ ἁρμόττον καὶ τὸ ἰαμβεῖον ἦλθε μέτρον—διὸ καὶ ἰαμβεῖον καλεῖται νῦν, ὅτι ἐν τῷ μέτρῳ τούτῳ ἰάμβιζον ἀλλήλους. καὶ ἐγένοντο τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ μὲν ἡρωικῶν οἱ δὲ ἰάμβων ποιηταί. ὥσπερ δὲ καὶ τὰ σπουδαῖα μάλιστα ποιητὴς ῞Ομηρος ἦν (μόνος γὰρ οὐχ ὅτι εὖ ἀλλὰ καὶ μιμήσεις δραμαικὰς ἐποίησεν), οὕτως καὶ τὸ τῆς κωμῳδίας σχῆμα πρῶτος ὑπέδειξεν, οὐ ψόγον ἀλλὰ τὸ γελοῖον δραματοποιήσας· ὁ γὰρ Μαργίτης ἀνάλογον ἔχει, ὥσπερ ᾿Ιλιὰς καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια πρὸς τὰς τραγῳδίας, οὕτω καὶ οὗτος πρὸς τὰς κωμῳδίας.

The Batrakhomuomakhia, however, is not clearly ascribed to Homer until the first century CE.


Sinister Letters and Sore Feet

Anonymous Parodic Epic fr. 3-7 (Brandt)

Poverty, be brave and endure the foolish talkers.
For a multitude of sweets and pleasureless hunger overwhelm you.
Whomever the Muses taught their letters backward
Walked having chilblains under his feet
Hermokaikoxanthos prayed to father Zeus:
“Oh man-slayer: how many mortals have you assigned to Hell?”

τέτλαθι δὴ πενίη καὶ ἀνάσχεο μωρολογούντων·
ὄψων γὰρ πλῆθός σε δαμᾷ καὶ λιμὸς ἀτερπής.
οὓς ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα Μοῦσαι
ἔστειχε δ’ ἔχων ὑπὸ ποσσὶ χίμεθλα
῾Ερμοκαϊκόξανθος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί·
ὦ βροτολοιγέ, πόσους σὺ <βρο>τῶν ῎Αιδι προΐαψας;

The “backward letters” above (ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα) is more precisely “left-side letters”, with either the pejorative sense of Latin sinister or just a general notion of wrongness. I took the comic lines below as inspiration.

Theognetus, fr. 1.7-8

“Wretch, you learned your letters backwards.
Your books have turned your life upside down.”

ἐπαρίστερ’ ἔμαθες, ὦ πόνηρε, γράμματα·
ἀνέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία.


“Right-hand of the lord”: this phrase means influence coming from on high and good action in the holy writings. For the ancients used to call right-hand things prudent but left-hand things foolish. Sophocles writes: “You never walked to the left because of your mind, son of Telamôn.”

Δεξιὰ κυρίου: ἡ ἄνωθεν ῥοπὴ καὶ ἡ ἀγαθὴ ἐνέργεια παρὰ τῇ θείᾳ γραφῇ. Δεξιὰ ἔλεγον οἱ παλαιοὶ τὰ συνετά, ἀριστερὰ δὲ τὰ μωρά. Σοφοκλῆς· οὔποτε γὰρ φρένοθέν γ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερά, παῖ Τελαμῶνος ἔβης.

Image result for ancient greek boustrophedon writing
Boustrophedon Style from the 5th Century BCE

Oedipus Parody Vases

One of the most iconic images of Oedipus in the 5th century BCE depicts the moment of his interview with the Sphinx. Here is a representative example (Beazley Archive 205372; Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican City, Vat. 16541):



This is the moment when the Sphinx asks Oedipus her famous question. The iconic nature of this also makes it ripe for parody.


This is the best picture I could manage of the scene (if you are interested, see J. Boardman’s article in JHS 90 (1970) 194-195. This vase features the beast masturbating and ejaculating while the hero looks on and holds his sword. It is dated to the mid-fifth century BCE. (I found it in the LIMC, number 69).

There is a much more tame version of the later, which maintains the phallus, but skimps on the erections and ejaculations. This vase is in the Boston MFA, 01.8036.





Hipponax Invented Parody? 14.698

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists

“Polemon, in the twelfth book of his To Timaios, writes about his studies on the authors of parody “I would call Boeiotos and Euboios word-smiths since they play deftly with multiple meanings and they surpass the poets who preceded them in earlier generations. But it must be admitted that the founder of this genre was Hipponax, the iambic poet. For he writes as follows in hexameter:

“Muse, tell me the tale the sea-swallowing
Stomach-slicing, son of Eurymedon, who eats without order,
How he died a terrible death thanks to a vile vote
in the public council along the strand of the barren sea.”

Parody is also accredited to Epicharmus of Syracuse in some of his plays, Cratinus the Old Comic poetry in his play The Sons of Eunêos, and also to Hegemon of Thasos, whom they used to call “Lentil Soup”, as he says himself.”

Πολέμων δ’ ἐν τῷ δωδεκάτῳ τῶν πρὸς Τίμαιον περὶ τῶν τὰς παρῳδίας γεγραφότων ἱστορῶν τάδε γράφει ‘καὶ τὸν Βοιωτὸν δὲ καὶ τὸν Εὔβοιον τοὺς τὰς παρῳδίας γράψαντας λογίους ἂν φήσαιμι διὰ τὸ παίζειν ἀμφιδεξίως καὶ τῶν προγενεστέρων ποιητῶν ὑπερέχειν ἐπιγεγονότας. εὑρετὴν μὲν οὖν τοῦ γένους ῾Ιππώνακτα φατέον τὸν ἰαμβοποιόν. λέγει γὰρ οὗτος ἐν τοῖς ἑξαμέτροις

Μοῦσά μοι Εὐρυμεδοντιάδεα τὴν ποντοχάρυβδιν,
τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ μάχαιραν, ὃς ἐσθίει οὐ κατὰ κόσμον,
ἔννεφ’, ὅπως ψηφῖδι <κακῇ>* κακὸν οἶτον ὀλεῖται
βουλῆι δημοσίηι παρὰ θῖν’ ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο.

κέχρηται δὲ καὶ ᾿Επίχαρμος ὁ Συρακόσιος ἔν τισι τῶν δραμάτων ἐπ’ ὀλίγον καὶ Κρατῖνος ὁ τῆς ἀρχαίας κωμῳδίας ποιητὴς ἐν Εὐνείδαις καὶ τῶν κατ’ αὐτὸν ῾Ηγήμων ὁ Θάσιος, ὃν ἐκάλουν Φακῆν. λέγει γὰρ οὕτως.


*Emendation suggested via twitter by Armand D’Angour

Muse, Tell Me About Dinner–An Epic Feast for Thanksgiving Week

Antiquity has bequeathed us many odd things. Among them, the Attic Dinner attributed to Matro of Pitane, a poet so obscure he does not merit his own wikipedia article. A student of Greek epic–even a rather poor one–should recognize the many allusions to Homer. (Of course, this poet is largely preserved by the gastronome Athenaeus).

“Dinners, tell me, Muse, of dinners, much nourishing and fine.
Which Xenokles the orator ate at my house in Athens.
For I went there too, but a great hunger plagued me—
Where I saw the finest and largest loaves
Whiter than snow, tasting like wheat-cakes
The north-wind lusted after them as they baked.
Xenicles himself inspected the ranks of men
As he stopped while standing at the threshold; next to him was the parasite
Khairephoôn, a man like a starving sea-gull,
Hungry, and well-acquainted with other people’s feasts.”

δεῖπνα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροφα καὶ μάλα
πολλά ἃ Ξενοκλῆς ῥήτωρ ἐν ᾿Αθήναις δείπνισεν ἡμᾶς·
ἦλθον γὰρ κἀκεῖσε, πολὺς δέ μοι ἕσπετο λιμός.
οὗ δὴ καλλίστους ἄρτους ἴδον ἠδὲ μεγίστους,
λευκοτέρους χιόνος, ἔσθειν δ’ ἀμύλοισιν ὁμοίους
τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο πεσσομενάων
αὐτὸς δὲ Ξενοκλῆς ἐπεπωλεῖτο στίχας ἀνδρῶν
στῆ δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ οὐδὸν ἰών. σχεδόθεν δέ οἱ ἦν παράσιτος
Χαιρεφόων, πεινῶντι λάρῳ ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς,
νήστης, ἀλλοτρίων εὖ εἰδὼς δειπνοσυνάων.

The first line quite obviously adapts the first line of the Odyssey:

“Of a man, tell me, Muse, a man of many ways who [suffered] many things…”

῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ

A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 18: Lines 277-302

This is the eighteenth (and final) installment of our working commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”.

277 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη Κρονίδης· ῎Αρης δ’ ἀπαμείβετο μύθῳ·
278 οὔτ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθηναίης Κρονίδη σθένος οὔτε ῎Αρηος
279 ἰσχύει βατράχοισιν ἀμυνέμεν αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον.
280 ἀλλ’ ἄγε πάντες ἴωμεν ἀρηγόνες· ἢ τὸ σὸν ὅπλον
281 κινείσθω· οὕτω γὰρ ἁλώσεται ὅς τις ἄριστος,
282 ὥς ποτε καὶ Καπανῆα κατέκτανες ὄβριμον ἄνδρα
283 καὶ μέγαν ᾿Εγκελάδοντα καὶ ἄγρια φῦλα Γιγάντων.

284 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη· Κρονίδης δὲ βαλὼν ἀργῆτα κεραυνὸν
285 πρῶτα μὲν ἐβρόντησε, μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν ῎Ολυμπον.
286 αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα κεραυνὸν δειμαλέον διὸς ὅπλον
287 ἧκ᾿ ἐπιδινήσας. ὁ δ᾿ ἄῤ ἔπτατο χειρὸς ἄνακτος
288 πάντας μέν ῥ’ ἐφόβησε βαλὼν βατράχους τε μύας τε·
289 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς ἀπέληγε μυῶν στρατός, ἀλλ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον
290 ἔλπετο πορθήσειν βατράχων γένος αἰχμητάων,
291 εἰ μὴ ἀπ’ Οὐλύμπου βατράχους ἐλέησε Κρονίων,
292 ὅς ῥα τότ’ ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀρωγοὺς εὐθὺς ἔπεμψεν.
293 ῏Ηλθον δ’ ἐξαίφνης νωτάκμονες, ἀγκυλοχεῖλαι,
294 λοξοβάται, στρεβλοί, ψαλιδόστομοι, ὀστρακόδερμοι,
295 ὀστοφυεῖς, πλατύνωτοι, ἀποστίλβοντες ἐν ὤμοις,
296 βλαισοί, χειλοτένοντες, ἀπὸ στέρνων ἐσορῶντες,
297 ὀκτάποδες, δικάρηνοι, ἀχειρέες, οἱ δὲ καλεῦνται
298 καρκίνοι, οἵ ῥα μυῶν οὐρὰς στομάτεσσιν ἔκοπτον
299 ἠδὲ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας· ἀνεγνάμπτοντο δὲ λόγχαι.
300 τοὺς δὴ ὑπέδεισαν δειλοὶ μύες οὐδ’ ἔτ’ ἔμειναν,
301 ἐς δὲ φυγὴν ἐτράποντο· ἐδύετο δ’ ἥλιος ἤδη,
302 καὶ πολέμου τελετὴ μονοήμερος ἐξετελέσθη

Continue reading “A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 18: Lines 277-302”

A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 17: Lines 260-275

This is the seventeenth installment of our working commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”.

259 ῏Ην δέ τις ἐν μυσὶ παῖς Μεριδάρπαξ ἔξοχος ἄλλων,
260 Κναίσωνος φίλος υἱὸς ἀμύμονος ἀρτεπιβούλου·
261a μεριδάρπαξ ὄρχαμος μιμούμενος αὐτὸν ἄρηα
261β ὃς μόνος ἐν μύεσσιν ἀρίστευεν καθ’ ὅμιλον
261c Κναίσων μέν, βρατράχοιο βέλει πληγεὶς κατὰ χεῖρα
261 οἴκαδ’ ἴεν, πολέμου δὲ μετασχεῖν παῖδ’ ἐκέλευεν·
262a αὐτὸς δ’ ἑστήκει γαυρούμενος κατὰ λίμνην
262 οὗτος ἀναρπάξαι βατράχων γενεὴν ἐπαπείλει·
263a στεῦτο δὲ πορθήσειν βρατράχων γένος αἰχμητάων
263 ἀγχοῦ δ’ ἕστηκεν μενεαίνων ἶφι μάχεσθαι
264 καὶ ῥήξας καρύοιο μέσην ῥάχιν εἰς δύο μοίρας
265 φράγδην ἀμφοτέροισι κενώμασι χεῖρας ἔθηκεν·
266 οἱ δὲ τάχος δείσαντες ἔβαν πάντες κατὰ λίμνην·
267 καί νύ κεν ἐξετέλεσσεν ἐπεὶ μέγα οἱ σθένος ἦεν,
268 εἰ μὴ ἄρ’ ὀξὺ νόησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε.
269 καὶ τότ’ ἀπολλυμένους βατράχους ᾤκτειρε Κρονίων,
270 κινήσας δὲ κάρη τοίην ἐφθέγξατο φωνήν·
271 ῍Ω πόποι ἦ μέγα θαῦμα τόδ’ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶμαι·
272 [οὐ μικρόν με πλήσσει Mεριδάρπαξ ὃς κατὰ λίμνην ]
273 ῞αρπαξ ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀμείβεται· ἀλλὰ τάχιστα
274 Παλλάδα πέμψωμεν πολεμόκλονον ἢ καὶ ῎Αρηα,
275 οἵ μιν ἐπισχήσουσι μάχης κρατερόν περ ἐόντα.

Continue reading “A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 17: Lines 260-275”