Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
The Battle of the Frogs and Mice
By Homer (fl. 850 B.C.) (attributed)
Translated by Thomas Parnell

PSICHARPAX, one who plunders granaries; TROXARTES, a bread-eater; LICHOMYLE, a licker of meal; PTERNOTROCTAS, a bacon-eater; LICHOPINAX, a licker of dishes; EMBASICHYTROS, a creeper into pots; LICHENOR, a name from licking; TROGLODYTES, one who runs into holes; ARTOPHAGUS, one who feeds on bread; TYROGLYPHUS, a cheese-scooper; PTERNOGLYPHUS, a bacon-scooper; PTERNOPHAGUS, a bacon-eater; CNISSODIOCTES, one who follows the steam of kitchens; SITOPHAGUS, an eater of wheat; MERIDARPAX, one who plunders his share.
PHYSIGNATHUS, one who swells his cheeks; PELEUS, a name from mud; HYDROMEDUSE, a ruler in the waters; HYPSIBOAS, a loud bawler; PELION, a name from mud; SEUTLÆUS, called from the beet; POLYPHONUS, a great babbler; LIMNOCHARIS, one who loves the lake; CRAMBOPHAGUS, a cabbage-eater; LIMNISIUS, called from the lake; CALAMINTHIUS, called from the herb; HYDROCHARIS, one who loves the water; BORBOROCETES, one who lies in the mud; PRASSOPHAGUS, an eater of garlic; PELUSIUS, named from mud; PELOBATES, one who walks in the dirt; PRASSÆUS, called from garlic; CRAUGASIDES, named from croaking.

  TO fill my rising song with sacred fire,
Ye tuneful nine, ye sweet celestial choir,
From Helicon’s embowering height repair,
Attend my labors, and reward my prayer.
The dreadful toils of raging Mars I write,        5
The springs of contest and the fields of fight;
How threatening mice advanc’d with warlike grace,
And wag’d dire combats with the croaking race.
Not louder tumults shook Olympus’ towers,
When earth-born giants dared immortal powers.        10
These equal acts an equal glory claim,
And thus the Muse records the tale of fame:
  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,        15
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 advanc’d his head,
And from the waters, hoarse resounding, said:        20
  “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, proffer’d friendship take,        25
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.        30
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        35
A sceptered king, a son of martial fame.
Then trace thy line, and aid my guessing eyes.”
Thus ceas’d the frog, and thus the mouse replies:
  “Known to the gods, the men, the birds that fly
Through wild expanses of the midway sky,        40
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 compress’d Lichomyle the brown.
My mother she, and princess of the plains        45
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?        50
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
Conceal’d in flaskets from my curious eye;
In vain the tripe that boasts the whitest hue,        55
In vain the gilded bacon shuns my view;
In vain the cheeses, offspring of the pail,
Or honey’d cakes, which gods themselves regale;
And as in arts I shine, in arms I fight,
Mix’d with the bravest, and unknown to flight.        60
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;        65
Sleeping he feels, and only seems to feel.
Yet have we foes which direful dangers cause,
Grim owls with talons arm’d, and cats with claws;
And that false trap, the den of silent fate,
Where death his ambush plants around the bait;        70
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, nor wat’rish herbs delight,        75
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 express’d,
His answer thus the croaking king address’d:        80
  “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,        85
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 lean’d his back. With nimble bound
Leaps the light mouse, and clasps his arms around;        90
Then, wond’ring, floats, and sees with glad survey
The winding banks resembling ports at sea.
But when aloft the curling water rides,
And wets with azure wave his downy sides,
His thoughts grow conscious of approaching wo;        95
His idle tears with vain repentance flow;
His locks he rends, his trembling feet he rears,
Thick beats his heart with unaccustom’d fears;
He sighs, and, chill’d with danger, longs for shore;
His tail extended forms a fruitless oar.        100
Half drench’d in liquid death his prayers he spake,
And thus bemoan’d him from the dreadful lake;
  “So pass’d Europa through the rapid sea,
Trembling and fainting all the venturous way;
With oary feet the bull triumphant rode,        105
And safe in Crete depos’d his lovely load.
Ah, safe at last! May thus the frog support
My trembling limbs to reach his ample court.”
  As thus he sorrows, death ambiguous grows.
Lo! from the deep a water-hydra rose;        110
He rolls his sanguin’d eyes, his bosom heaves,
And darts with active rage along the waves.
Confus’d, the monarch sees his hissing foe,
And dives to shun the sable fates below.
Forgetful frog! the friend thy shoulders bore,        115
Unskill’d 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.        120
The weighty moisture clogs his hairy vest,
And thus the prince his dying rage express’d:
  “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!        125
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!”        130
  This said, he sighing gasp’d, and gasping died.
His death the young Lichopinax espied,
As on the flowery brink he pass’d the day,
Bask’d in the beam, and loiter’d life away.
Loud shrieks the mouse; his shrieks the shores repeat;        135
The nibbling nation learn their hero’s fate.
Grief, dismal grief ensues; deep murmurs sound,
And shriller fury fills the deafen’d ground.
From lodge to lodge the sacred heralds run,
To fix their council with the rising sun;        140
Where great Troxartes crown’d 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,        145
And no kind billow wafts the dead to land!
  When rosy-finger’d morn had ting’d the clouds,
Around their monarch mouse the nation crowds;
Slow rose the monarch, heav’d his anxious breast,
And thus the council, fill’d with rage, address’d:        150
  “For lost Psicharpax much my soul endures;
’Tis mine the private grief, the public, yours.
Three warlike sons adorn’d my nuptial bed,
Three sons, alas, before their father dead!
Our eldest perish’d by the ravening cat,        155
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 kill’d my gallant boy.        160
The last, his country’s hope, his parents’ pride,
Plung’d in the lake by Physignathus, died.
Rouse all the war, my friends! Avenge the deed,
And bleed that monarch, and his nation bleed!”
  His words in every breast inspir’d alarms,        165
And careful Mars supplied their host with arms.
In verdant hulls despoil’d of all their beans,
The buskin’d warriors stalk’d along the plains;
Quills, aptly bound, their bracing corselet made,
Faced with the plunder of a cat they flayed;        170
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;        175
The wondering frogs perceive the tumult near,
Forsake the waters, thickening form a ring,
And ask, and harken, whence the noises spring;
When near the crowd, disclos’d to public view,
The valiant chief Embasichytros drew.        180
The sacred herald’s scepter graced his hand,
And thus his words express’d his king’s command:
  “Ye frogs! The mice, with vengeance fir’d, advance,
And deck’d in armor shake the shining lance.
Their hapless prince by Physignathus slain,        185
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 perplex’d, appear.        190
Much they resent, yet much their monarch blame,
Who, rising, spoke to clear his tainted fame:
  “Oh, friends! I never forc’d the mouse to death,
Nor saw the gaspings of his latest breath.
He, vain of youth, our art of swimming tried,        195
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.        200
Your king directs the way; my thoughts elate
With hopes of conquest form designs of fate.
Where high the banks their verdant surface heave,
And the steep sides confine the sleeping wave,
There, near the margin, and in armor bright,        205
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.        210
Down sink the mice in yielding waters drown’d;
Loud flash the waters; echoing shores resound;
The frogs triumphant tread the conquer’d plain,
And raise their glorious trophies of the slain!”
  He spake no more. His prudent scheme imparts        215
Redoubling ardor to the boldest hearts.
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;        220
Form’d of the varied shells the waters yield,
Their glossy helmets glisten’d o’er the field;
And tapering sea-reeds for the polish’d spear,
With upright order pierced the ambient air.
Thus dress’d for war, they take th’ appointed height,        225
Poise the long arms, and urge the promis’d fight.
  But now, where Jove’s irradiate spires arise,
With stars surrounded in ethereal skies
(A solemn council call’d), the brazen gates
Unbar; the gods assume their golden seats;        230
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.        235
So the fierce centaurs ravaged o’er the dales,
And, so confirm’d, the daring Titans rose,
Heap’d hills on hills, and bade the gods be foes.
  This seen, the power his sacred visage rears;
He casts a pitying smile on worldly cares,        240
And asks what heavenly guardians take the list,
Or who the mice, or who the frogs assist.
  Then thus to Pallas: “If my daughter’s mind
Have join’d the mice, why stays she still behind?
Drawn forth by savory steams they wind their way,        245
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 resolv’d, the blue-eyed maid replies:        250
“In vain, my father, all their dangers plead;
To such thy Pallas never grants her aid.
My flowery wreaths they petulantly spoil,
And rob my crystal lamps of feeding oil,
Ills following ills; but what afflicts me more,        255
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 cross’d the silver thread;        260
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.
And learning’s goddess never less can owe;        265
Neglected learning gets no wealth below.
Nor let the frogs to gain my succor sue;
Those clamorous fools have lost my favor too.
For late, when all the conflict ceas’d at night,
When my stretch’d sinews ach’d with eager fight,        270
When, spent with glorious toil, I left the field,
And sank for slumber on my swelling shield,
Lo, from the deep, repelling sweet repose,
With noisy croakings half the nation rose;
Devoid of rest, with aching brow I lay,        275
Till cocks proclaim’d 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,        280
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 mortals scenes for you.”
  So mov’d the blue-eyed queen; her words persuade;        285
Great Jove assented, and the rest obeyed.
  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;        290
Their dreadful trumpets deep-mouth’d hornets sound,
The sounded charge remurmurs o’er the ground;
E’en Jove proclaims a field of horror nigh,
And rolls low thunder through the troubled sky.
  First to the fight the large Hypsiboas flew,        295
And brave Lichenor with a 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;        300
Prone to the ground he sinks his closing eye,
And soiled in dust his lovely tresses lie.
A spear at Pelion Troglodytes cast;
The missive spear within the bosom pass’d;
Death’s sable shades the fainting frog surround,        305
And life’s red tide runs ebbing from the wound.
Embasichytros felt Seutlæus’ dart
Transfix and quiver in his panting heart;
But great Artophagus aveng’d the slain,
And big Seutlæus tumbling loads the plain;        310
And Polyphonus dies, a frog renown’d
For boastful speech, and turbulence of sound;
Deep through the belly pierced, supine he lay,
And breath’d his soul against the face of day.
The strong Limnocharis, who viewed with ire        315
A victor triumph and a friend expire,
With heaving arms a rocky fragment caught,
And fiercely flung where Troglodytes fought,
A warrior vers’d in arts of sure retreat;
Yet arts in vain elude impending fate:        320
Full on his sinewy neck the fragment fell,
And o’er his eyelids clouds eternal dwell.
Lichenor (second of the glorious name)
Striding advanced, and took no wand’ring aim;
Through the whole frog the shining javelin flies,        325
And near the vanquished mouse the victor dies.
The dreadful stroke Crambophagus affrights,
Long bred to banquets, less inur’d to fights;
Heedless he runs, and stumbles o’er the steep,
And wildly floundering flashes up the deep;        330
Lichenor following, with a downward blow
Reached, in the lake, his unrecovered foe;
Gasping he rolls, a purple stream of blood
Now stains the surface of the silver flood;
Through the wide wound the rushing entrails throng,        335
And slow the breathless carcass floats along.
Limnisius good Tyroglyphus assails,
Prince of the mice that haunt the flowery vales;
Lost to the milky fares and rural seat,
He came to perish on the bank of fate.        340
The dread Pternoglyphus demands the fight,
Which tender Calaminthius shuns by flight,
Drops the green target, springing quits the foe,
Glides through the lake, and safely dives below.
The dire Pternophagus divides his way        345
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 mov’d Hydrocharis pursued,        350
Till fallen 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 the gushing brain.
Lichopinax with Borb’rocetes fights,        355
A blameless frog, whom humbler life delights;
The fatal javelin unrelenting flies,
And darkness seals the gentle croaker’s eyes.
Incens’d Prassophagus with sprightly bound
Bears Cnissodioctes off the rising ground,        360
Then drags him o’er the lake, depriv’d of breath,
And downward plunging, sinks his soul to death.
But now the great Psicharpax shines afar,
(Scarce he so great whose loss provok’d the war);
Swift to revenge his fatal javelin fled,        365
And through the liver struck Pelusius dead;
His freckled corpse before the victor fell;
His soul indignant sought the shades of hell.
This saw Pelobates, and from the flood
Lifts with both hands a monstrous mass of mud;        370
The cloud obscene o’er all the warrior flies,
Dishonors his brown face, and blots his eyes.
Enrag’d, and wildly sputt’ring, from the shore
A stone immense of size the warrior bore,
A load for laboring earth, whose bulk to raise,        375
Asks ten degenerate mice of modern days;
Full to the leg arrives the crushing wound;
The frog, supportless, writhes upon the ground.
Thus flush’d, the victor wars with matchless force,
Till loud Craugasides arrests his course.        380
Hoarse croaking threats precede; with fatal speed
Deep through the belly runs the pointed reed,
Then, strongly tugg’d, return’d imbrued with gore,
And on the pile his reeking entrails bore.
The lame Sitophagus, oppress’d with pain,        385
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 reliev’d of heat,
And, safe embower’d, avoids the chance of fate.        390
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,        395
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 Prassæus brings
Betwixt the fortune of contending kings.        400
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.
  Now, nobly towering o’er the rest, appears        405
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.        410
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        415
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.        420
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        425
The black-furr’d hero Meridarpax shakes!
Unless some favoring deity descend,
Soon will the frogs’ loquacious empire end.
Let dreadful Pallas wing’d with pity fly,
And make her Ægis blaze before his eye;        430
While Mars, refulgent on his rattling car,
Arrests his raging rival of the war.”
  He ceas’d, reclining with attentive head,
When thus the glorious god of combats said:
“Nor Pallas, Jove! though Pallas take the field,        435
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.        440
Let all go forth, all heaven in arms arise,
Or launch thy own red thunder from the skies;
Such ardent bolts as flew that wondrous day,
When heaps of Titans mix’d with mountains lay,
When all the giant-race enormous fell,        445
And huge Enceladus was hurl’d to hell.”
  ’Twas thus th’ armipotent advis’d the gods,
When from his throne the cloud-compeller nods;
Deep lengthening thunders run from pole to pole,
Olympus trembles as the thunders roll.        450
Then swift he whirls the brandish’d bolt around,
And headlong darts it at the distant ground;
The bolt, discharg’d, enwrapp’d with lightning flies,
And rends its flaming passage through the skies;
Then earth’s inhabitants, the nibblers, shake,        455
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, who inly mourn’d the loss they bore,
With strange assistance fill’d the ’frighted shore.        460
  Pour’d from the neighboring strand, deform’d 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 turn’d oblique they go;        465
With harpy claws their limbs divide below.
Fell sheers the passage to their mouth command;
From out the flesh the bones by nature stand;
Broad spread their backs, their shining shoulders rise;
Unnumber’d joints distort their lengthen’d thighs;        470
With nervous cords their hands are firmly brac’d,
Their round black eyeballs in their bosom plac’d;
On eight long feet the wondrous warriors tread,
And either end alike supplies a head.
These, mortal wits to call the crabs agree;        475
The gods have other names for things than we.
  Now, where the jointures from their loins depend,
The heroes’ tails with severing grasps they rend.
Here, short of feet, depriv’d the power to fly,
There without hands upon the field they lie.        480
Wrench’d from their holds, and scatter’d all around,
The bended lances heap’d the cumber’d ground.
Helpless amazement, fear pursuing fear,
And mad confusion through their host appear;
O’er the wild waste with headlong flight they go,        485
Or creep conceal’d in vaulted holes below.
  But down Olympus to the western seas,
Far-shooting Phœbus drove with fainter rays,
And a whole war (so Jove ordain’d) begun,
Was fought, and ceas’d, in one revolving sun.        490

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