Anonymous asks:

What can you tell us about the Batrachomyomachia, and how hilarious/awesome/hilariously awesome is it?

To be honest, not a whole lot.  The Batrachomyomachia is one of those texts that tends not to be taught or studied very much, because it’s quite short and is not traditionally regarded as a piece of high literature, and honestly there is more interesting ancient comedy/satire out there (the Frogs, the Apocolocyntosis, the Satyricon…).  You can read it in English here if you’re interested.  But I’ll see what I can do.

The Batrachomyomachia is the little-known “other” Homeric epic – a poem that was believed in antiquity to have been written by Homer, the poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey.  A lot of people today don’t think that the Homeric epics were written by a single person, or if they were, it might not have been the same person who was responsible for both (which is a whole other mess that you can torture yourself with sometime by Googling “the Homeric Question”), but in any case, basically all modern scholars think that the Batrachomyomachia is much later in date (the 4th century BC seems likely, and there are a couple of allusions that might point to Athenian authorship) than either the Iliad or the Odyssey, so even if Homer is a real person, he or she was probably not responsible for this… thing.  Its title is ancient Greek for “the war of the mice and the frogs,” and… it is pretty much what it says on the tin.  The basic plot is that a mouse of noble lineage, Psycharpax (Crumb-Snatcher), is accidentally killed by the frog king, Physignathus (Puff-Jaw), leading to a fierce battle between the mice and frogs, which is only abated when Zeus intervenes by hurling thunderbolts and summoning war-crabs to the battle to prevent the frogs from being entirely wiped out.  The whole thing is written in a faux-epic style that imitates the way Homer writes in the Iliad – lavish descriptions of the armaments of the combatants, lists of their respective ancestry, gory details of the individual duels that make up the battle, gods who take sides in mortal wars (or, in Athena’s case here, come up with elaborate excuses for not taking sides), and so on.  You can kind of see how people in antiquity might have thought that Homer wrote it, because it does sound like Homer making fun of himself.  To me, it’s plausible that it was meant to be a satirical take on a real ancient conflict, but since we don’t really know when or by whom it was written, I can’t tell you which conflict that might have been.

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