The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer (Cowper)/Volume 2/The Battle of the Frogs and Mice

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The Odyssey of Homer by Homer, translated by William Cowper
The Battle of the Frogs and Mice





Descend all Helicon into my breast!
Oh ev'ry virgin of the tuneful choir
Breathe on my song which I have newly traced
In tables open’d on my knees, a song
Of bloodiest note—terrible deeds of Mars 5
Well worthy of the ears of all mankind,
Whom I desire to teach, how, erst, the Mice
Assail'd the Frogs, mimicking in exploit
The prowess of the giant race earth-born.
The rumour once was frequent in the mouths 10
Of mortal men, and thus the strife began.
A thirsty Mouse (thirsty with fear and flight
From a cat’s claws) sought out the nearest lake,
Where, dipping in the flood his downy chin,
He drank delighted. Him the frog far-famed 15
[1]Limnocharis espied, and thus he spake.

Who art thou, stranger? Whence hast thou arrived
On this our border, and who gave thee birth?
Beware thou trespass not against the truth;
Lye not! for should I find thy merit such 20
As claims my love, I will conduct thee hence
To my abode, where gifts thou shalt receive
Lib'ral and large, with hospitable fare.
I am the King [2]Physignathus, revered
By the inhabitants of all this pool, 25
Chief of the frogs for ever. Me, long since,
[3]Peleus begat, embracing on the banks
Of the Eridanus my mother fair,
[4]Hydromedusa. Nor thee less than King
Or leader bold in sight thy form proclaims, 30
Stout as it is, and beautiful.—Dispatch—
Speak, therefore, and declare thy pedigree.
He ceas'd, to whom [5]Psycharpax thus replied,
Illustrious sir! wherefore hast thou enquired
My derivation, known to all, alike 35
To Gods and men, and to the fowls of heav'n?
I am Psycharpax, and the dauntless Chief
[6]Troxartes is my fire, whose beauteous spouse
Daughter of [7]Pternotroctes brought me forth,
[8]Lichomyle by name. A cave of earth 40
My cradle was, and, in my youngling state,

My mother nourish'd me with almonds, figs,
And delicacies of a thousand names.
But diverse as our natures are, in nought
Similar, how, alas! can we be friends? 45
The floods are thine abode, while I partake
With man his sustenance. The basket, stored
With wheaten loaves thrice kneaded, 'scapes not me,
Nor wafer broad, enrich'd with balmy sweets,
Nor ham in slices spread, nor liver wrapt 50
In tunic silver-white, nor curds express'd
From sweetest milk, nor, sweeter still, the full
Honeycomb, coveted by Kings themselves,
Nor aught by skilful cook invented yet
of sauce or seas'ning for delight of man. 55
I am brave also, and shrink not at sound
Of glorious war, but rushing to the van,
Mix with the foremost combatants. No fear
Of man himself shakes me, vast as he is,
But to his bed I steal, and make me sport 60
Nibbling his fingers' end, or with sharp tooth
Fretting his heel so neatly that he sleeps
Profound the while, unconscious of the bite.
Two things, of all that are, appall me most,
The owl and cat. These cause me many a pang. 65
As does the hollow gin insidious, fair
In promises, but in performance foul,
Engine of death! yet most of all I dread
Cats, nimble mousers, who can dart a paw

After me, enter at what chink I may, 70
But to return—your diet, parsley, kail,
Beet, radish, gourd, (for, as I understand,
Ye eat no other) are not to my taste.
Him then with smiles answer'd Physignathus.
Stranger! thou vauntest much thy dainty fare, 75
But, both on shore and in the lake, we boast
Our dainties also, and such fights as much
Would move thy wonder; for by gift from Jove
We leap as well as swim, can range the land
For food, or, diving, seek it in the Deep. 80
Would'st thou the proof? 'tis easy-mount my back
There cling as for thy life, and thou shalt share
With rapture the delights of my abode.
He said, and gave his back. Upsprang the mouse
Lightly, and with his arms enfolded fast 85
The Frog's soft neck. Pleas'd was he, at the first,
With view of many a creek and bay, nor less
With his smooth swimming on whose back he rode.
But when, at length, the clear wave dash'd his sides,
Then, fill'd with penitential sorrows vain 90
He wept, pluck'd off his hair, and gath'ring close
His hinder feet, survey'd with trembling heart
The novel sight, and wish'd for land again.
Groans follow'd next, extorted groans, through stress
Of shiv'ring fear, and, with extended tail 95
Drawn like a long oar after him, he pray'd
For land again; but, while he pray'd, again

The clear wave dash'd him. Much he shriek'd, and much
He clamour'd, and, at length, thus, sorrowing, said.
Oh desp'rate navigation strange! not thus 100
Europa floated to the shores of Crete
On the broad back of her enamour'd bull.
And now, dread spectacle to both, behold
An Hydra! on the lake with crest erect
He rode, and right toward them. At that sight 105
Down went Physignathus, heedless, alas!
Through fear, how great a Prince he should destroy.
Himself, at bottom of the pool escaped
The dreadful death; but, at his first descent
Dislodg'd, Psycharpax fell into the flood. 110
There, stretch'd supine, he clench'd his hands, he shriek'd,
Plunged oft, and, lashing out his heels afar,
Oft rose again, but no deliv'rance found.
At length, oppress'd by his drench'd coat, and soon
To sink for ever, thus he prophecied. 115
Thou hast releas'd thy shoulders at my cost,
Physignathus!, unfeeling as the rock,
But not unnoticed by the Gods above.
Ah worst of traytors! on dry land, I ween,
Thou hadst not soil'd me, whether in the race 120
Or wrestling-match, or at whatever game.
Thou hast by fraud prevail'd, casting me off
Into the waters; but an eye divine
Sees all. Nor hope thou to escape the host
Of Mice, who Thall, ere long, avenge the deed. 125

So saying, he sank and died, whom, while he sat
Reposing on the lake's soft verge, the Mouse
[9]Lichopinax observed; aloud he wail'd,
And flew with those sad tidings to his friends.
Grief, at the sound, immeasurable seized 130
On all, and, by command, at dawn of day
The heralds call'd a council at the house
Of brave Troxartes, father of the Prince
Now lost, a carcase now, nor nigh to land
Welt'ring, but distant in the middle pool. 135
The multitude in haste convened, uprose
Troxartes for his son incensed, and said,
Ah friends! although my damage from the Frogs
Sustain'd be greatest, yet is yours not small.
Three children I have lost, wretch that I am, 140
All sons. A merciless and hungry cat
Finding mine eldest son abroad, surprized
And flew him. Lured into a wooden snare,
(New machination of unfeeling man
For slaughter of our race, and named a trap) 145
My second died. And now, as ye have heard,
My third, his mothers' and my darling, him
Physignathus hath drown'd in yon abyss.
Haste therefore, and in gallant armour bright
Attired, march forth, ye Mice, now seek the foe. 150
So saying, he roused them to the fight, and Mars
Attendant arm'd them. Splitting, first, the pods

Of beans which they had sever'd from the stalk
With hasty tooth by night, they made them greaves.
Their corslets were of platted straw, well lined 155
With spoils of an excoriated cat.
The lamp contributed its central tin,
A shield for each. The glitt'ring needle long
Arm'd ev'ry gripe with a terrific spear,
And auburn shells of nuts their brows inclosed. 160
Thus arm'd the Mice advanced, of whose approach
The Frogs apprized, emerging from the lake,
All throngʻd to council, and consid'ring sat
The sudden tumult and its cause. Then came,
Sceptre in hand, an herald. Son was he 165
Of the renown'd [10]Tyroglyphus, and call'd
[11]Embasichytrus. Charged he came to announce
The horrors of approaching war, and said—
Ye Frogs! the host of Mice send you by me
Menaces and defiance, Arm, they say, 170
For furious fight; for they have seen the Prince
Psycharpax welt'ring on the waves, and drown'd
By King Physignathus. Ye then, the Chiefs
And leaders of the host of Frogs, put on
Your armour, and draw forth your bands to battle! 175
He said, and went. Then were the noble Frogs
Troubled at that bold message, and while all
Murmur'd against Physignathus, the King
Himself arising, thus denied the charge.

My friends! I neither drown'd the Mouse, nor saw
His drowning. Doubtless, while he strove in sport 181
To imitate the swimming of the Frogs,
He sank and died. Thus, blame is none in me,
And these injurious sland'rers do me wrong.
Consult we, therefore, how we may destroy 185
The subtle Mice, which thus we will perform.
Arm'd and adorn'd for battle, we will wait
Their coming where our coast is most abrupt.
Then, soon as they shall rush to the assault,
Seizing them by the helmet, as they come, 190
We will precipitate them, arms and all,
Into the lake; unskilful as they are
To swim, their suffocation there is sure,
And we will build a trophy to record
The great Mouse-massacre for evermore. 195
So saying, he gave commandment, and all arm'd.
With leaves of mallows each his legs incased,
Guarded his bosom with a corslet cut
From the green beet, with foliage tough of kail
Fashion'd his ample buckler, with a rush 200
Keen-tipt, of length tremendous, fill'd his gripe,
And on his brows set fast a cockle-shell.
Then, on the summit of the loftiest bank
Drawn into phalanx firm they stood, all shook
Their quiv'ring spears, and wrath swell'd ev'ry breast.
Jove saw them, and assembling all the Gods 206
To council in the skies, behold, he said,

Yon num'rous hosts, magnanimous, robust,
And rough with spears, how like the giant race
They move, or like the Centaurs! smiling, next, 210
He ask'd, of all the Gods, who favour'd most
The Mice, and who the Frogs? but, at the last,
Turning toward Minerva, thus he spake.
The Mice, my daughter, need thee; go'st thou not
To aid thy friends the Mice, inmates of thine, 215
Who to thy temple drawn by sav'ry steams
Sacrifical, and day by day refresh'd
With dainties there, dance on thy sacred floor?
So spake the God, and Pallas thus replied.
My father! suffer as they may, the Mice 220
Shall have no aid from me, whom much they wrong,
Marring my wreaths, and plund'ring of their oil
My lamps.—But this, of all their impious deeds,
Offends me most, that they have eaten holes
In my best mantle, which with curious art 225
Divine I wove, light, easy, delicate;
And now, the artificer whom I employ'd
To mend it, clamouring demands a price
Exorbitant, which moves me much to wrath,
For I obtain'd on trust those costly threads, 230
And have not wherewithal to pay th' arrear.
Nor love I more the Frogs, or purpose more
To succour even them, since they not less,
Dolts as they are, and destitute of thought,
Have incommoded me. For when, of late, 235

Returning from a fight weary and faint
I needed rest, and would have slept, no sleep
Found I, those ceaseless croakers of the lake
Noisy, perverse, forbidding me a wink.
Sleepless, and with an aching head I lay 240
Therefore, until the crowing of the cock.
By my advice, then, O ye Gods, move not
Nor interfere, favouring either side,
Lest ye be wounded; for both hosts alike
Are valiant, nor would scruple to assail 245
Even ourselves. Suffice it, therefore, hence
To view the battle, safe, and at our ease.
She ceas'd, and all complied. Meantime, the hosts
Drew nearer, and in front of each was seen
An herald, gonfalon in hand; huge gnats 250
Through clarions of unwieldy length sang forth
The dreadful note of onset fierce, and Jove
Doubled the signal, thund'ring from above.
First, with his spear [12]Hypsiboas assail'd
[13]Lichenor. Deep into his body rush'd 255
The point, and pierced his liver. Prone he fell,
And all his glossy down with dust defiled.
Then, [14]Troglodytes hurl'd his massy spear
At [15]Pelion, which he planted in his chest.
Down dropp'd the Frog, night whelm'd him, and he died.

[16]Seutlæus, through his heart piercing him, flew 261
Embasichytrus. [17]Polyphonus fell,
Pierced through his belly by the spear of bold
[18]Artophagus, and prone in dust expired.
Incensed at sight of Polyphonus slain, 265
Limnocharis at Troglodytes cast
A mill-stone weight of rock; full on the neck
He batter'd him, and darkness veil'd his eyes.
At him Lichenor hurl'd a glitt'ring lance,
Nor err'd, but pierced his liver. Trembling fled 270
[19]Crambophagus at that dread sight, and plunged
Over the precipice into the lake,
Yet even there found refuge none, for brave
Lichenor following, smote him even there.
So fell Crambophagus, and from that fall 275
Never arose, but redd'ning with his blood
The wave, and wallowing in the strings and slime
Of his own vitals, near the bank expired.
[20]Limnisius on the grassy shore struck down
[21]Tyroglyphus; but at the view alone 280
Of terrible [22]Pternoglyphus appall'd,
Fled [23]Calaminthius, cast away his shield
Afar, and headlong plunged into the lake.
[24]Hydrocharis with a vast stone assail'd
The King [25]Pternophagus; the rugged mass 285

Descending on his poll, crush'd it; the brain
Ooz'd through this nostrils drop by drop, and all
The bank around was spatter'd with his blood.
Lichopinax with his long spear transpierced
[26]Borborocoites; darkness veil'd his eyes. 290
[27]Prassophagus with vengeful notice mark'd
[28]Cnissodioctes; seizing with one hand
His foot, and with the other hand his neck,
He plunged, and held him plunged, 'till, drown'd, he died.
Psycharpax standing boldly in defence 295
Of his slain fellow-warriors, urged his spear
Right through [29]Pelusius; at his feet he fell,
And, dying, mingled with the Frogs below.
Resentful of his death, the mighty Frog
[30]Pelobates an handful cast of mud 300
Full at Psycharpax; all his ample front
He smear'd, and left him scarce a glimpse of day.
Psycharpax, at the foul dishonour, still
Exasp'rate more, upheaving from the ground
A rock that had incumber'd long the bank, 305
Hurl'd it against Pelobates; below
The knees he smote him, shiver'd his right leg
In pieces, and outstretch'd him in the dust.
But him [31]Craugasides, who stood to guard
The fallen Chief, assail'd; with his long lance 310

He prick'd Psycharpax at the waist; the whole
Keen-pointed rush transpierced his belly, and all
His bowels following the retracted point,
O'erspread the ensanguin'd herbage at his side.
Soon as [32]Sitophagus, a crippled mouse, 315
That fight beheld, limping, as best he could,
He left the field, and, to avoid a fate
Not less tremendous, dropp'd into a ditch.
Troxartes grazed the instep of the bold
Physignathus, who at the sudden pang 320
Startled, at once leap'd down into the lake.
[33]Prassæus, at the sight of such a Chief
Floating in mortal agonies enraged,
Sprang through his foremost warriors, and dismiss'd
His pointed rush, but reach'd not through his shield 325
Troxartes, baffled by the stubborn disk.
There was a Mouse, young, beautiful, and brave
Past all on earth, son of the valiant Chief
[34]Artepibulus. Like another Mars
He fought, and [35]Meridarpax was his name, 330
A Mouse, among all Mice without a peer.
Glorying in his might on the lake's verge
He stood, with other Mouse none at his side,
And swore t' extirpate the whole croaking race.
Nor doubted any but he should perform 335
His dreadful oath, such was his force in arms,

Had not Saturnian Jove with sudden note
Perceived his purpose; with compassion touch'd
Of the devoted Frogs the Sov'reign shook
His brows, and thus the Deities address'd, 340
I see a prodigy, ye Pow'rs divine!
And, with no small amazement smitten, hear
Prince Meridarpax menacing the Frogs
With gen'ral extirpation. Haste—be quick—
Dispatch we Pallas terrible in sight, 345
Nor her alone, but also Mars, to quell
With force combined the sanguinary Chief.
So spake the Thund'rer, and thus Mars replied.
Neither the force of Pallas, nor the force
Of Mars, O Jove! will save the destin'd Frogs 350
From swift destruction. Let us all descend
To aid them, or, lest all suffice not, grasp
And send abroad thy biggest bolt, thy bolt
Tempestuous, terrour of the Titan race,
By which those daring enemies thou flew'st, 355
And didst coerce with adamantine chains
Enceladus, and all that monstrous brood.
He said, and Jove dismiss'd the smould'ring bolt.
At his first thunder, to its base he shook
The vast Olympian. Then—whirling about 360
His forky fires, he launch'd them to the ground,
And, as they left the Sov'reign's hand, the heart
Of ev'ry Mouse quaked, and of ev'ry Frog.
Yet ceas'd not, even at that shock, the Mice

From battle, but with double ardour flew 365
To the destruction of the Frogs, whom Jove
From the Olympian heights snow-crown'd again
Viewing, compassionated their distress,
And sent them aids. Sudden they came. Broad-back'd
They were, and smooth like anvils, sickle-claw'd, 370
Sideling in gait, their mouths with pincers arm'd,
Shell-clad, crook-knee'd, protruding far before
Long hands and horns, with eye-balls in the breast,
Legs in quaternion ranged on either side,
And Crabs their name. They, seizing by his leg, 375
His arm, his tail a Mouse, cropp’d it, and snapp'd
His polish’d spear. Appall’d at such a foe
The miserable Mice stood not, but fled
Heartless, discomfited.—And now, the sun
Descending, closed this warfare of a day. 380


  1. The beauty of the lake.
  2. The pouter.
  3. Of or belonging to mud.
  4. Governess of the waters.
  5. The crumb-catcher.
  6. The bread-eater.
  7. The bacon-eater.
  8. The licker of mill-stones.
  9. The dish-licker.
  10. A cheese-rasper.
  11. The explorer of pots and pipkins.
  12. The loud-croaker.
  13. One addicted to licking.
  14. A creeper into holes and crannies.
  15. Offspring of the mud.
  16. A feeder on beet.
  17. The noisy.
  18. The bread-eater.
  19. The cabbage-eater.
  20. Of the lake.
  21. The cheese-scraper.
  22. The ham-scraper.
  23. So called from the herb calamint.
  24. One whose delight is in the water.
  25. The bacon-eater.
  26. The sleeper in the mud.
  27. The garlic-eater.
  28. The sav'ry-steam-hunter.
  29. The muddy.
  30. The mud-walker.
  31. The hoarse-croaker.
  32. The cake-eater.
  33. One who deals much in garlic.
  34. One who lies in wait for bread.
  35. The scrap-catcher.