Battle of the Frogs and Mice
Nach einer Denkpause spontan
Fügte Aristoquakes an:
“ Kürzlich fand beim online chat
Die Story ich im Internet.
Gab ich ein und siehe da.
Ich stieß auf eine Webnetseite
Auf der vom Frosch- und Mäusestreite
Fünf Engländer gemeinsam dichten
Und vom „Battle of Frogs an Mice“ berichten.
Shapman, Shelley, Congreve, Hole und Parnell
Schöpfen aus Homerus Quell
Und übersetzen das alte Poem.
Das ist in Englisch auch sehr schön.
Caterine Kusske schrieb,
Damit nichts unverstanden blieb
Und weil sich Gelegenheit ihr bot,
Den Kommentar dazu in Rot.
Damit das Gedicht auch interessiert
Hat es ein Künstler illustriert
Den ihr sicher alle kennt.
R.W.A. er sich dort nennt.
Ihr wisst es nicht, um wen es geht?
Da „A“ für mich geschrieben steht.
Drauf setzte, wie könnt es anders sein,
Lauter Beifall erstmals ein,
Den der erfreut entgegen nahm.
Weil er von allen Seiten kam,
Fühlte Aristoquakes sich
Sehr geehrt. Die Zeit verstrich.
Kurz währte leider nur das Glück.
Drum kam aufs Thema er zurück
Und las dem Literatenkorps
Das Gedicht in Englisch vor.
by Parnell and Chapman
New York 1872
With notes and commantary
(Illustrations by R. Wiegran)
The new Cover Page
The Batrachomyomachia, or the Battle of Frogs and Mice
(With notes and commentary by Catherine Kusske)
I did my senior distinction project in the Classics Department at St. Olaf College on this 4th or 5th century BC Greek poem. It was an unorthodox choice for two reasons. One: Most distinction projects are long papers about some aspect of Classics (example: Spacial hermeneutics in the plays of Euripides). Instead of writing a paper, I did a translation and commentary on the poem. This option hadn't been chosen for over a decade, if I recall correctly.
The second reason this project was unorthodox is that the poem itself is rarely studied. It used to be popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was actually the first work of "Homer" (actually not even close, but it's in the style of Homer) to be published during the Renaissance. So it used to be hot stuff. But in the past two centuries it has been pretty much ignored, since it's so obviously not the "real thing"-- it's the product of an overcultured, cynical, jaded society with serious doubts about the "truth" of their culture and religion.
The cynical content of the poem contrasts sharply with its traditionalist form. Written in dactylic hexameter, just like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and stealing motifs, phrases, lines, and scenes from both epic poems, the Batrachomyomachia seems traditional on the surface but is actually mocking the entire genre. This attracted me to it, and I also appreciated the light-hearted spirit of the poem, since sometimes it's all too easy to forget that Classics has a sense of humor.
For my project, I made my own translation of the poem. I will not post that here, because it's much more entertaining to read the overstyled 19th century translation of Thomas Parnell. For my project I also took the original Greek and scanned it, and counted how many "abnormalities" there were in the poem, metrically speaking. No one would really care about this except a Greek linguist who wanted to date the poem, but since the poem has already been dated, no one would really care about this: so I'm not posting that either. Besides, it would be very hard to post the Greek words, with all their accent marks and breathing marks and scanning marks.
So what I have posted here is the amusing 19th century translation I read for background, with my off-the-cuff comments interspersed throughout. Hopefully my notes, which appear in red letters, will help explain to the modern, non-Classicist reader just what this poem is and why it is supposed to be funny.
So, without further ado, here's the 1872 translation of the:
BATTLE OF THE FROGS AND MICE.
Reprinted from The Minor Poems of Homer: The Battle of the Frogs and Mice; Hymns and Epigrams, translated by Parnell, Chapman, Shelley, Congreve, and Hole (New York: A. Denham & Co., 1872), pp. 29-54.
All of the following names are similar to names in the Iliad and Odyssey. Some describe what famed actions the frog or mouse is known for-- only instead of great actions, these creatures are mostly known for what they eat. Here we go...
Names of the Mice
PSICHARPAX, one who plunders granaries.
TROXARTES, a bread-eater.
LYCHOMYLE, a licker of meal.
PTERNOTROCTAS, a bacon-eater.
LICHOPINAS, a licker of dishes.
EMBASICHYTROS, a creeper into pots.
LICHENOR, a name from licking.
TROGLODYTES, one who runs into holes.
ARTOPHAGUS, who feeds on bread.
TYROGLYPHUS, a cheese-scooper.
PTERNOGLYPHUS, a bacon-scooper.
PTERNOPHAGUS, a bacon-eater.
CNISSODIOCTES, one who follows the steam of the kitchens.
SITOPHAGUS, an eater of wheat.
MERIDARPAX, one who plunders his share.
(Note: This name could be a man's name in Greek. As it turns out, this mouse is the mightiest. He's the Arnold Schwarzenegger of mice.)
Names of the Frogs
PHYSIGNATHUS, one who swells his cheeks.
PELEUS, a name from mud.
HYDROMEDUSE, a ruler in the waters.
HYPSIBOAS, a loud bawler.
PELION, from mud.
SEUTLAEUS, called from the beets.
POLYPHONUS, a great babbler.
LIMNOCHARIS, one who loves the lake.
LIMNISIUS, called from the lake.
CALAMINTHIUS, from the herb.
HYDROCHARIS, who loves the water.
BORBOROCETES, who lies in the mud.
PRASSOPHAGUS, an eater of garlic.
PELEUIUS, from mud.
PELOBATES, who walks in the dirt.
PRASSAEUS, called from garlic.
CRAUGASIDES, from croaking.
Book One introduces the conflict: the accidental death of a mouse prince.
To fill my rising song with sacred fire,
Ye tuneful nine, ye sweet celestial choir!
From Helicon's imbowering height repair,
Attend my labors and reward my prayer.
The traditional opening invocation of the Muse-- only this poem invokes all nine Muses. A bit of overkill? Throughout the poem, the tone of voice is very lofty and overblown. The tone of the poem, if not the literal meaning, is here perfectly translated into baroque 19th century heroic couplets.
The dreadful toils of raging Mars I write,
The springs of contest and the fields of fight;
How threatening mice advanced with warlike grace,
And waged dire combats with the croaking race.
Not louder tumults shook Olympus' towers,
When earth-born giants dared immortal powers.
These equal acts an equal glory claim,
And thus the Muse records the tale of fame.
Here the poet equates the battle of frogs and mice with the rebellion of the Titans, who almost conquered the Olympian gods.
Once on a time, fatigued, and out of breath,
And just escaped the stretching claws of death,
A gentle mouse, whom cats pursued in vain,
Flies swift of foot across the neighboring plain,
Hangs o'er a brink, his eager thirst to cool,
And dips his whiskers in the standing pool:
When near, a courteous frog advanced his head,
And from the waters, hoarse resounding, said,
Throughout ancient literature, including Homer as well as the Bible, one of the few places for strangers to meet was at the local water source. The following scene is a parody of the typical Homeric meeting between heroes. Much attention is paid to lineage.
"What art thou, stranger? what the line you boast?
What chance hath cast thee panting on our coast?
With strictest truth let all thy words agree,
Nor let me find a faithless mouse in thee.
If worthy friendship, proffered friendship take,
And ent'ring, view the pleasurable lake;
Range o'er my palace, in my bounty share,
And glad return from hospitable fare.
This silver realm extends beyond my sway,
And me, their monarch, all its frogs obey.
Great Physignathus I, from Peleus' race,
Begot in fair Hydromeduse' embrace,
Where by the nuptial bank that paints his side,
The swift Eridanus delights to glide.
Thee too, thy form, thy strength, and port proclaim
A sceptred king, a son of martial fame;
Then trace thy line, and aid my guessing eyes."
Thus ceased the frog, and thus the mouse replies:
The frog prince is mostly interested in befriending the mouse prince, but Psicharpax spends most of his speech talking about food. Some hero! He also spends some time talking about mice in general: their fears, their hobbies (apparently nibbling the fingers of sleeping people is one), and their dislike for water and vegetables. Mice, we learn, would much rather have some nice breadcrumbs or some bacon.
"Known to the gods, the men, the birds that fly,
Through wild expanses of the midway sky,
My name resounds; and if unknown to thee,
The soul of great Psicharpax lives in me,
Of brave Troxartes' line, whose sleeky down
In love compressed Lichomyle the brown.
My mother she, and princess of the plains
Where'er her father Pternotroctas reigns:
Born where a cabin lifts its airy shed,
With figs, with nuts, with varied dainties fed.
But since our natures naught in common know
From what foundation can a friendship grow?
These curling waters o'er thy palace roll;
But man's high food supports my princely soul.
In vain the circled loaves attempt to lie
Concealed in flaskets from my curious eye;
In vain the tripe that boasts the whitest hue.
In vain the gilded bacon shuns my view,
In vain the cheeses, offspring of the pail,
Or honeyed cakes, which gods themselves regale.
And as in arts I shine, in arms I fight,
Mixed with the bravest, and unknown to flight.
Though large to mine the human form appear,
Not man himself can smite my soul with fear:
Sly to the bed with silent steps I go,
Attempt his finger or attack his toe,
And fix indented wounds with dextrous skill;
Sleeping he feels, and only seems to feel.
Yet have we foes which direful dangers cause,
Grim owls with talons armed, and cats with claws;
And that false trap, the den of silent fate,
Where death his ambush plants around the bait;
All dreaded these, and dreadful o'er the rest
The potent warriors of the tabby vest:
If to the dark we fly, the dark they trace,
And rend our heroes of the nibbling race.
But me, nor stalks not waterish herbs delight,
Nor can the crimson radish charm my sight,
The lake-resounding frogs' selected fare,
Which not a mouse of any taste can bear."
As thus the downy prince his mind expressed,
His answer thus the croaking king addressed:
"Thy words luxuriant on thy dainties rove,
And, stranger, we can boast of bounteous Jove;
We sport in water or we dance on land,
And, born amphibious, food from both command.
But trust thyself where wonders ask thy view,
And safely tempt those seas, I'll bear thee through;
Ascend my shoulders, firmly keep thy seat,
And reach my marshy court, and feast in state."
He said, and leaned his back; with nimble bound
Leaps the light mouse, and clasps his arms around:
Then wond'ring floats, and sees with glad survey
The winding banks resembling ports at sea.
Another convention in ancient literature is the ocean journey. Much of the Odyssey is an ocean journey, and there are many other ancient examples, including several in the New Testament. This particular passage resembles the traditional ocean journey narrative, which usually involves a storm or a shipwreck, often contrived by the gods.
But when aloft the curling water rides,
And wets with azure wave his downy sides,
His thoughts grow conscious of approaching woe,
His idle tears with vain repentance flow,
His locks he rends, his trembling feet he rears,
Thick beats his heart with unaccustomed fears;
He sighs, and chilled with danger, longs for shore;
His tail extended forms a fruitless oar,
Half drenched in liquid death, his prayers he spake,
And thus bemoaned him from the dreadful lake:
"So passed Europa through the rapid sea,
Trembling and fainting all the venturous way;
With oary feet the bull triumphant rode,
And safe in Crete deposed his lovely load.
Ah! safe at last, may thus the frog support
My trembling limbs to reach his ample court."
By equating the mouse prince with Europa and the frog prince with Zeus, the poet is mocking another foundation myth. Does this analogy feminize the mouse prince and make him seem even more of a victim than he already is?
As thus he sorrows, death ambiguous grows,
Lo! from the deep a water-hydra rose;
He rolls his sanguined eyes, his bosom heaves;
And darts with active rage along the waves.
Confused, the monarch sees his hissing foe,
And dives to shun the sable fates below.
Instead of the traditional storm, the journeyers are confronted with a water snake. This incident parallels a number of ancient stories involving a land creature riding on the back of a sea creature, only to be drowned either intentionally or unintentionally.
Forgetful frog! the friend thy shoulders bore,
Unskilled in swimming, floats remote from shore.
He grasps with fruitless hands to find relief,
Supinely falls, and grinds his teeth with grief;
Plunging he sinks, and struggling mounts again,
And sinks and strives, but strives with fate in vain.
The weightly moisture clogs his hairly vest,
And thus the prince his dying rage expressed:
A death speech, perfectly mocking the format of Homeric death speeches. The poet even includes the dying curse, calling down the wrath of the gods and of his nation on the head of the frog king.
"Nor thou, that fling'st me floundering from thy back,
As from hard rocks rebounds the shattering wrack,
Nor thou shalt 'scape thy due, perfidious king!
Pursued by vengeance on the swiftest wing;
At land thy strength could never equal mine,
At sea to conquer, and by craft, was thine.
But heaven has gods, and gods have searching eyes.
Ye mice, ye mice, my great avengers rise!"
This said, he sighing gasped, and gasping died.
Perhaps only Classics majors will notice how perfect this line is... so typical of Greek line structure.
His death the young Lichopinax espied,
As on the flowery brink he passed the day,
Basked in the beam, and loitered life away;
Loud shrieks the mouse, his shrieks the shores repeat;
The nibbling nation learn their hero's fate;
Grief, dismal grief ensues; deep murmurs sound,
And shriller fury fills the deafened ground:
From lodge to lodge the sacred heralds run,
To fix their councils with the rising sun;
Where great Troxartes crowned in glory reigns,
And winds his lengthening court beneath the plains:
Psicharpax' father, father now no more!
For poor Psicharpax lies remote from shore:
Supine he lies! the silent waters stand,
And no kind billow wafts the dead to land!
The book ends with the mouse kingdom massing for war, very similarly to the massing for war in the Iliad.
Book Two is concerned with the preparations for war: the speeches, the armor scenes, and the reaction of the gods on Mount Olympus.
When rosy-fingered morn had tinged the clouds,
Around their monarch mouse the nation crowds;
Slow rose the monarch, heaved his anxious breast,
And thus the council, filled with rage, addressed:
Classicists will notice "rosy-fingered morn," a stock phrase in Homer. Next we have the typical speech-before-going-into-battle.
"For lost Psicharpax much my soul endures,
'Tis mine the private grief, the public, yours.
Three warlike sons adorned my nuptial bed,
Three sons, alas! before their father dead.
Our eldest perished by the ravening cat,
As near my court the prince unheedful sat.
Our next, an engine fraught with danger drew,
The portal gaped, the bait was hung in view,
Dire arts assist the trap, the fates decoy,
And men unpitying killed my gallant boy.
The last, his country's hope, his parents' pride,
Plunged in the lake by Physignathus, died.
Rouse all the war, my friends! avenge the deed,
And bleed that monarch, and his nation bleed!"
The speech is constructed to evoke sympathetic emotions, like a Homeric speech which would move you to tears. But here the subject matter is so silly that it probably makes you giggle instead. His first two sons were taken from him by a cat and by a mousetrap. And now the third one was drowned by a frog! To war, to war!
His words in every breast inspired alarms,
And careful Mars supplied their host with arms.
Next there comes the typical Homeric passage describing the warriors' armor. Homer used this sort of passage to build up tension before the battle scene, and perhaps to toss in a few descriptions of really great armor, like Achilles' shield. Here the effect is laughable, although you do have to be impressed by these mice-- apparently they actually killed and skinned a cat in order to make some of their armor. These are vicious mice.
In verdant hulls despoiled of all their beans,
The buskined warriors stalked along the plains.
Quills, aptly bound, their bracing corselet made,
Faced with the plunder of a cat they flayed;
The lamp's round boss affords their ample shield,
Large shells of nuts their covering helmet yield;
And o'er the region, with reflected rays,
Tall groves of needles for their lances blaze.
Dreadful in arms the marching mice appear:
The wondering frogs perceive the tumult near,
Forsake the waters, thickening form a ring.
And ask, and hearken, whence the noises spring;
When near the crowd, disclosed to public view,
The valiant chief Embasichytros drew;
The sacred herald's sceptre graced his hand,
And thus his words expressed his king's command:
Next we turn to the side of the frogs, with a rousing battle speech. Note that the herald here admits that the frog prince was responsible for the mouse prince's death.
"Ye frogs! the mice, with vengeance fired, advance,
And, decked in armor, shake the shining lance;
Their hapless prince by Physignathus slain,
Extends incumbent on the watery plain.
Then arm your host, the doubtful battle try;
Lead forth those frogs that have the soul to die."
The chief retires, the crowd the challenge hear,
And proudly swelling yet perplexed appear:
Much they resent, yet much their monarch blame,
Who, rising, spoke to clear his tainted fame:
Here the guilty frog claims that the death of Psicharpax was none of his doing. This isn't strictly true, but it is very Homeric. In his way of twisting things to fit his own ends, this character reminds me of Odysseus, who was never slow to turn everything to his own advantage. Odysseus spent years at sea and the frog prince is an amphibian... Hmm, maybe there's more here than meets the eye.
"O friends! I never forced the mouse to death,
Nor saw the gaspings of his latest breath.
He, vain of youth, our art of swimming tried,
And venturous in the lake the wanton died.
To vengeance now by false appearance led,
They point their anger at my guiltless head.
But wage the rising war by deep device,
And turn its fury on the crafty mice.
Your king directs the way; my thoughts elate
With hopes of conquest form designs of fate.
Next he lays forth his plan to obliterate the mouse forces. His battle strategy isn't bad-- grab a mouse and toss him into the water. Sounds like Odysseus to me. Does this mean that the frogs are the Greeks and the mice are the Trojans?... Perhaps we shouldn't carry this metaphor farther than it should go.
Where high the banks their verdant surface heave,
And the steep sides confine the sleeping wave,
There, near the margin, and in armor bright,
Sustain the first impetuous shocks of fight:
Then where the dancing feather joins the crest,
Let each brave frog his obvious mouse arrest;
Each strongly grasping, headlong plunge a foe,
Till countless circles whirl the lake below:
Down sink the mice in yielding waters drowned,
Loud flash the waters; echoing waves resound:
The frogs triumphant tread the conquered plain,
And raise their glorious trophies of the slain."
He spake no more: his prudent scheme imparts
Redoubling ardor to the boldest hearts.
Now we have a passage about the frogs' armor, which balances the previous passage about the mice's armor. It is interesting that the mice, accustomed to living around humans, used several human objects in their armor (i.e. metal needles, parts of a lamp). They also seem to have adopted some of the ferocity of humans, since they killed and skinned that cat themselves-- quite a feat for mice. The frogs, on the other hand, are pure Nature. This may be a metaphor for city versus rural, which was a hot topic in the ancient world, as it is today.
Green was the suit his arming heroes chose;
Around their legs the greaves of mallows close;
Green were the beets about their shoulders laid,
And green the colewort, which the target made;
Formed of the varied shells the waters yield,
Their glossy helmets glistened o'er the field;
And tapering sea-reeds for the polished spear,
With upright order pierced the ambient air.
Thus dressed for war, they take th' appointed height,
Poise the long arms, and urge the promised fight.
The most religiously controversial part of the poem is up next. Notice how the poet equates this small, insignificant battle with the famous battles over Troy, etc. By saying that the gods are just as interested in the battle of frogs and mice as they are in the famous battles of the forefathers of the Greek nation, the poet is either mocking the gods by showing their lack of judgment, or saying that the gods don't exist at all. He's also mocking the cultural heritage of his nation and the entire idea that gods get involved in mortal affairs.
Once again the battle between frogs and mice is equated with the rebellion of the Titans. This time the poet also tosses in the centaurs, who symbolized unfettered and uncontrollable Nature.
But now, where Jove's irradiate spires arise,
With stars surrounded in ethereal skies,
(A solemn council called) the brazen gates
Unbar; the gods assume their golden seats:
The sire superior leans, and points to show
What wondrous combats mortals wage below:
How strong, how large, the numerous heroes stride;
What length of lance they shake with warlike pride;
What eager fire their rapid march reveals;
So the fierce centaurs ravaged o'er the dales;
And so confirmed, the daring Titans rose,
Heaped hills on hills, and bid the gods be foes.
This seen, the power his sacred visage rears;
He casts a pitying smile on worldly cares,
And asks what heavenly guardians take the list,
Or who the mice or who the frogs assist?
The characters of Zeus and Athena, the two gods who appear the most in Homer, stay pretty much within character, but their personalities are exaggerated for comic effect.
Then thus to Pallas: "If my daughter's mind
Have joined the mice, why stays she still behind?
Drawn forth by savory steams, they wind their way,
And sure attendance round thine altar pay,
Where, while the victims gratify their taste,
They sport to please the goddess of the feast."
Thus spake the ruler of the spacious skies;
When thus, resolved, the blue-eyed maid replies:
"In vain, my father! all their dangers plead;
To such thy Pallas never grants her aid.
So far Pallas Athena sounds like herself, but in the next part she sounds like a spoiled teenager upset about a stain on her favorite sweater.
My flowery wreaths they petulantly spoil,
And rob my crystal lamps of feeding oil;
(Ills following ills) but what afflicts me more,
My veil that idle race profanely tore.
The web was curious, wrought with art divine;
Relentless wretches! all the work was mine.
Along the loom the purple warp I spread;
Cast the light shoot and crossed the silver thread:
By suggesting that the work of the goddess's hands could actually be ripped and eaten by mice, the poet calls into question the very existence of the goddess.
In this their teeth a thousand breaches tear;
The thousand breaches skilful hands repair;
For which vile earthly duns thy daughter grieve,
But gods, that use no coin, have none to give.
This is a particularly nice touch: Athena got her veil repaired by some earthly tailors, who are now hassling her for payment-- but gods don't use money, so she can't pay them. The thought of a god being harassed by creditors is funny in itself of course, and even funnier that (although she's a goddess) she can't even pay them because she isn't used to using money. Even the gods are broke. This has to have been written in a society whose members were concerned about creditors and money-- an urban society.
And learning's goddess never less can owe,
Neglected learning gets no wealth below.
Another zinger-- Athena is the goddess of Wisdom, but that certainly won't get her any money. Jokes about money are the same whether 2,000 years ago or today.
Nor let the frogs to gain my succor sue,
Those clamorous fools have lost my favor too.
For late, when all the conflict ceased at night,
When my stretched sinews ached with eager fight,
When, spent with glorious toil, I left the field,
And sunk for slumber on my swelling shield,
Lo from the deep, repelling sweet repose,
With noisy croakings half the nation rose:
Here the glorious goddess of War has retired from the battlefield, in a very stately manner, only to be kept up all night by the croaking of the frogs nearby. Perhaps Athena is used to the city of Athens or the top of Mount Olympus and isn't used to "roughing it" in the middle of a swamp.
Devoid of rest, with aching brow I lay,
Till cocks proclaimed the crimson dawn of day.
Let all, like me, from either host forbear,
Nor tempt the flying furies of the spear.
Let heavenly blood (or what for blood may flow)
Adorn the conquest of a meaner foe,
Who, wildly rushing, meet the wondrous odds,
Though gods oppose, and brave the wounded gods.
O'er gilded clouds reclined, the danger view,
And be the wars of mortal scenes for you."
So moved the blue-eyed queen; her words persuade;
Great Jove assented, and the rest obeyed.
Book Three is fully concerned with the battle itself. This will be the most boring book of the three to modern readers, since the humor mostly lies in the parody of Homeric battle scenes, and most people nowadays don't get cracked up over parodies of Homeric battle scenes. Just skim and read the red text.
Now front to front the marching armies shine,
Halt ere they meet, and form the lengthening line;
The chiefs conspicuous seen, and heard afar,
Give the loud sign to loose the rushing war;
Their dreadful trumpets deep-mouthed hornets sound,
The sounded charge remurmurs o'er the ground;
Even Jove proclaims a field of horror nigh,
And rolls low thunder through the troubled sky.
The call to charge, a traditional rite before battle begins.
The next few hundred lines are a slavish parody of Homeric battle scenes. The Iliad is one of the founding documents of the Greek nation. One of its purposes was to bind together all the disparate tribes by giving them a common narrative-- the narrative of the siege of Troy. This is why the Iliad goes on and on, seemingly detailing every single person who died. Each tribe or group of people wanted to be able to trace themselves back to a character in the Iliad. Genealogy is very important in this system.
So, mocking the Homeric insistence on detailing every single blow struck in the battle, the Battle of the Frogs and Mice goes on for quite awhile in the same style.
First to the fight the large Hypsiboas flew;
And brave Lichenor with the javelin slew;
The luckless warrior, filled with generous flame,
Stood foremost glittering in the post of fame.
When in his liver struck, the javelin hung,
The mouse fell thundering and the target rung;
Prone to the ground he sinks his closing eye,
And soiled in dust his lovely tresses lie.
Heroes in Homer are often struck in the liver. Tresses of fallen warriors are often mingled with dust, symbolizing the brief span of glory before death takes even the bravest hero. Even when that hero is a mouse.
A spear at Pelion Troglodytes cast;
The missive spear within the bosom passed;
Death's sable shades the fainting frog surround,
And life's red tide runs ebbing from the wound.
Embasichytros felt Seutlaeus' dart
Transfix and quiver in his panting heart;
But great Artophagus avanged the slain,
And big Seutlaeus tumbling loads the plain,
And Polyphonus dies, a frog renowned
For boastful speech, and turbulence of sound;
Deep through the belly pierced, supine he lay,
And breathed his soul against the face of day.
These names may well have been nicknames for local politicians at the time the poem was written. Thus, this may be topical political satire as well as a satire on Homer and the heroic idiom. "Polyphonus," or "long-winded," certainly sounds like a nickname for a politician.
The strong Limnocharis, who viewed with ire
A victor triumph and a friend expire,
With heaving arms a rocky fragment caught,
And fiercely flung where Troglodytes fought,
A warrior versed in arts, of sure retreat,
Yet arts in vain elude impending fate;
Full on his sinewy neck the fragment fell,
And o'er his eyelids clouds eternal dwell.
Lichenor (second of the glorious name)
The poem has to explain that this is the second Lichenor. Very similar to Homer, in which there are two Ajaxes and you always have to be told which one the poet is talking about now.
Striding advanced, and took no wand'ring aim;
Through all the frog the shining javelin flies,
And near the vanquished mouse the victor dies;
The dreadful stroke Crambophagus affrights,
Long bred to banquets, less inured to fights;
Heedless he runs, and stumbles o'er the steep,
And wildly floundering flashes up the deep;
Lichenor following, with a downward blow
Reached, in the lake, his unrecovered foe;
Gasping he rolls, a purple stream of blood
Distains the surface of the silver flood:
Through the wide wound the rushing entrails throng,
And slow the breathless carcass floats along.
Limnisius good Tyrophagus assails,
Prince of the mice that haunt the flowery vales;
Lost to the milky fares and rural seat,
He came to perish on the brink of fate.
The dead Pternoglyphus demands the fight,
Which tender Calaminthus shuns by flight,
Drops the green target, springing quits the foe,
Glides through the lake, and safely dives below.
The dire Pternophagus divides the way
Through breaking ranks, and leads the dreadful day;
No nibbling prince excelled in fierceness more,
His parents fed him on the savage boar;
But where his lance the field with blood imbrued,
Swift as he moved Hydrocharis pursued,
Till falled in death he lies; a shattering stone
Sounds on the neck, and crushes all the bone.
His blood pollutes the verdure of the plain,
And from his nostrils bursts his gushing brain.
The gore is very similar to the level of gore in the Iliad. This is "Braveheart" level gore.
Lichopinax with Borb'rocetes fights,
A blameless frog, whom humbled life delights;
The fatal javelin unrelenting flies,
And darkness seals the gentle croaker's eyes.
Incensed Prassophagus, with sprightly bound,
Bear Cnissodoctes off the rising ground,
Then drags him o'er the lake deprived of breath,
And downward plunging, sinks his soul to death.
But now the great Psicharpax shines afar,
(Scarce he so great whose loss provoked the war;)
Again, we have to be told that this is not the same Psicharpax as the one who drowned. Very Homeric-- back then, people didn't have last names.
Swift to revenge his fatal javelin fled,
And through the liver struck Pelusius dead;
His freckled corpse before the victor fell,
His soul indignant sought the shades of hell.
Indicating that mouse and frog souls go to the afterlife too-- thus mocking the Greek concept of the afterlife.
This saw Pelobates, and from the flood
Lifts with both hands a monstrous mass of mud;
The cloud obscene o'er all the warrior flies,
Dishonors his brown face and blots his eyes.
Enraged and wildly sputt'ring, from the shore
A stone immense of size the warrior bore,
A load for laboring earth, whose bulk to raise,
Asks ten degenerate mice of modern days;
This is so funny I can't even tell you how funny it is. In Homer, the poet is constantly reminding the listeners that people used to be stronger in the old days, that men of modern times could never dream of doing the great feats of strength which were commonplace in the old days, etc. etc. etc. Here it's just the same thing-- 10 modern mice would be needed to lift the stone that one brave mouse lifted back then. Nostalgia is not a recent invention!
Full to the leg arrives the crushing wound,
The frog supportless writhes upon the ground.
Thus flushed, the victor wars with matchless force,
Till loud Craugasides arrests his course;
Hoarse croaking threats precede; with fatal speed
Deep through the belly runs the pointed reed,
Then, strongly tugged, returns imbrued with gore,
And on the pile his reeking entrails bore.
The lame Sitophagus, oppressed with pain,
Creeps from the desperate dangers of the plain;
And where the ditches rising weeds supply,
To spread their lowly shades beneath the sky,
There lurks the silent mouse relieved of heat,
And, safe embowered, avoids the chance of fate.
Here the cowardly lame Sitophagus hides in a ditch. This is to contrast with the great feats of heroism going on all around him. I believe I remember something about one or two cowards in the Iliad, so perhaps this is a reference to them.
But here, Troxartes, Physignathus there,
Whirl the dire furies of the pointed spear:
Then, where the foot around its ankle plies,
Troxartes wounds, and Physignathus flies,
Halts to the pool, a safe retreat to find,
And trails a dangling length of leg behind.
The mouse still urges, still the frog retires,
And half in anguish of the flight expires;
Then pious ardor young Prassaeus brings
Betwixt the fortune of contesting kings:
Lank, harmless frog! with forces hardly grown,
He darts the reed in combats not his own,
Which, faintly tinkling on Troxartes' shield,
Hangs at the point, and drops upon the field.
This part is kind of sad: "lank, harmless frog! with forces hardly grown..." This is a teenaged frog, caught up in a battle not of his choosing, dying in a pointless conflict. The pathos.
Now nobly towering o'er the rest appears
A gallant prince that far transcends his years;
Pride of his sire, and glory of his house,
And more a Mars in combat than a mouse;
His action bold, robust his ample frame,
And Meridarpax his resounding name.
Here is the mice's equivalent of Hector, the puissant warrior in his element. Meridarpax has not been introduced as a character before now. Coming with no background context, no personality, no lineage, and no lines of dialogue, this mouse almost seems to be the raw embodiment of Slaughter let loose upon the battlefield.
In addition, the names of all the other mice have something to do with food. This is the only mouse name which could have been used as a real name for a human man.
The warrior, singled from the fighting crowd,
Boasts the dire honors of his arms aloud;
Then, strutting near the lake, with looks elate,
Threats all its nations with approaching fate.
And such his strength, the silver lakes around
Might roll their waters o'er unpeopled ground.
But powerful Jove, who shows no less his grace
To frogs that perish than to human race,
Felt soft compassion rising in his soul,
And shook his sacred head, that shook the pole.
Then thus to all the gazing powers began
The sire of gods, and frogs, and mouse, and man:
"What seas of blood I view, what worlds of slain,
An Iliad rising from a day's campaign!
How fierce his javelin o'er the trembling lakes
The black-furred hero Meridarpax shakes!
Unless some favoring deity descend,
Soon will the frogs' loquacious empire end.
Let dreadful Pallas winged with pity fly,
And make her AEgis blaze before his eye:
While Mars, refulgent on his rattling car,
Arrests his raging rival of the war."
Zeus wants to halt the war by sending Athena to stop Meridarpax from slaughtering more frogs, and sending Mars to stop the frogs from slaughtering more mice. Zeus equates this entire thing with the Iliad-- you can't get much more blatant than that. If the Iliad had been copyrighted, the guy who wrote this would have been sued for infringement.
He ceased, reclining with attentive head,
When thus the glorious god of combat said,
"Nor Pallas, Jove! though Pallas take the field,
With all the terrors of her hissing shield,
Nor Mars himself, though Mars in armor bright
Ascend his car, and wheel amidst the fight;
Nor these can drive the desperate mouse afar,
And change the fortunes of the bleeding war.
Let all go forth, all heaven in arms arise,
Or launch thy own red thunder from the skies.
Such ardent blows as flew that wondrous day,
When heaps of Titans mixed with mountains lay,
When all the giant-race enormous fell,
And huge Encedalus was hurled to hell."
Here Mars says that even he and Athena don't have the power to stop this conflict. Pretty weak gods, if they can't stop a battle between frogs and mice. More blasphemy. Mars says that all the gods will have to join forces in order to get the job done. Again, this battle is equated with the rebellion of the Titans-- I believe that's the third time this poem.
'Twas thus the armipotent advised the gods,
When from his throne the cloud-compeller nods;
Deep lengthening thunders run from pole to pole,
Olympus trembles as the thunders roll.
Then swift he whirls the brandished bolt around,
And headlong darts it at the distant ground;
The bolt, discharged, inwrapped with lightning flies,
And rends its flaming passage through the skies:
Then earth's inhabitants, the nibblers, shake,
And frogs, the dwellers in the waters, quake.
Yet still the mice advance their dread design,
And the last danger threats the croaking line:
Till Jove that inly mourned the loss they bore,
With strange assistance filled the frighted shore.
Even a thunderbolt from Zeus, king of the gods, isn't enough to stop this battle.
The last real scene in this poem is almost a riddle. It sounds a lot better in Greek than it does in English. First there's a chain of adjectives, describing the creatures without naming them. If you were listening to the poem being read aloud, you would be wondering what sort of creatures they were, and each new adjective would bring a new piece of information to your guessing.
Poured from the neighboring strand, deformed to view,
They march, a sudden unexpected crew.
Strong suits of armor round their bodies close,
Which like thick anvils blunt the force of blows;
In wheeling marches turned oblique they go,
With harpy claws their limbs divide below.
Fell shears the passage to their mouth command,
From out the flesh the bones by nature stand,
Broad spread their backs, their shining shoulders rise,
Unnumbered joints distort their lengthened thighs;
With nervous cords their hands are firmly braced,
Their round black eyeballs in their bosom placed,
On eight long feet the wondrous warriors tread,
And either end alike supplies a head.
These, mortal wits to call the crabs, agree;
The gods have other names for things than we.
Almost at the end of the passage we finally learn that these are "crabs" (although the poet coyly says that the gods call them by some other name). Some of the anatomical details may be a little bit off: last time I checked, crabs did not have heads at each end, or eyes in their chests. However the effect is still quite well done. By introducing them this way, the poet almost makes the crabs seem like dreadful engines of war or like some type of alien creatures. I know that I, for one, have never looked at crabs the same way again.
Now where the jointures from their loins depend,
The heroes' tails with severing grasps they rend.
Here, short of feet, deprived the power to fly,
There without hands upon the field they lie.
Wrenched from their holds, and scattered all around,
The bended lances heaped the cumbered ground.
Helpless amazement, fear pursuing fear,
And mad confusion through their host appear;
O'er the wild waste with headlong flight they go,
Or creep concealed in vaulted holes below.
Militarily, mice can stand up to crabs the way unarmored infantrymen can stand up to tanks.
But down Olympus to the western seas,
Far-shooting Phoebus drove with fainter rays,
And a whole war (so Jove ordained) begun,
Was sought, and ceased, in one revolving sun.
The poem ends here rather abruptly. It seems a little contrived, but the poet had probably said all that he wanted to say in terms of satire, and the poem really has no other place to go. By keeping the "war" within the span of one day, the poet emphasizes again how tiny and insignificant these creatures are in comparison to us. But by mentioning that all of this happened because Jove ordained it, he drives home (again) the point that the idea of gods intervening in mortal affairs is silly, and that the gods themselves probably don't exist.
All in all, this poem seems surprisingly modern to me, not only in its point of view, but in how it uses the Homeric form to mock traditional Homeric values. Plus the whole thing is cute. I think it would make a great short movie or a children's book (if you cut out some of the gore).
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