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Literature / Batrachomyomachia

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Photographic evidence of Puff-jaw, just about to coldheartedly leave Crumb-snatcher to his death.

Ἀρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος χορὸν ἐξ Ἑλικῶνος
ἐλδεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἧτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ' ἀοιδῆς,
ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον Ἄρηος,
εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν
Batrachomyomachia, Lines 1-6** 

The Batrachomyomachia (Βατραχομυομαχίαnote ) is an ancient Greek epic in the tradition of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which tackles the grave subjects of war and revenge, as the accidental death of a prince leads the two armies into conflict.

Two armies composed of mice and frogs, respectively.

One of the ancient "Beast Epics"note , the Batrachomyomachia details a day-long battle between mice and frogs as a mock epic, parodying the genre (and making Parody Older Than Feudalism). The approximately three-hundred line poem's authorship is disputed: the Romans attributed it to Homer, while Plutarch called it the work of Pigres of Halicarnassus. Some modern scholars remain unconvinced and point instead to a poet in the time of Alexander the Great. The Homer version isn't taken seriously by scholars today because the poem mentions roosters, and there weren't any in Greece until a couple of centuries later.

The mouse prince Crumb-snatchernote  comes to a lake for a drink when he encounters Puff-jawnote , king of the frogs. They meet cordially, and Puff-jaw offers to bear his guest across the lake to his home. In the middle of the lake, however, a watersnake appears and the panicked Puff-jaw dives for safety, leaving the hapless Crumb-snatcher to drown.

His death is witnessed by the mice and, of course, This Means War!.

And so their day-long battle is described with all the elements of the epic genre: arming scenesnote , divine participationnote , character epithets, epic battle scenes, etc. A plethora of epic conventions, all used to describe warring mice and frogs. Thus in modern times, the word 'batrachomyomachia' and its various translations has come to mean "a silly conflict".

The mock epic is available online here in the ancient Greek; in English here.

This parody contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Anachronistic Clue: As noted above, this poem was long considered to be by Homer himself. Then someone noticed that the poem says "The cock had crow'd up"... there were no roosters in Greece until a couple centuries after Homer.
  • Bathos: You have the whole epic style, complete with the gods watching over the conflict, and it's about mice and frogs.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Lick-platter (Λειχοπίναξ, Leichopínax), who brings news of Crumb-snatcher's death to the mice.
  • Blatant Lies: Puff-jaw completely denies having anything to do with Crumb-snatcher's death.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Zeus releases his bolt to try to frighten the mice into retreat and save the frogs from destruction. The mice continue fighting anyway.
  • The Cavalry: The crabs, which force the mice into retreat at the end of the day.
  • Civilized Animal: It's a mock epic parodying works in the genre like the Iliad, and it does so by replacing the heroic figures with talking mice and frogs. They definitely still behave like animals in some respects, but they wear armor, carry tiny spears, and generally act 'civilized' throughout the 300-line poem.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Slice-snatcher would have routed all the frog warriors if Zeus hadn't intervened.
  • Divine Intervention: Zeus finally sends in reinforcements (crabs) to aid the frogs and force an end to the battle.
  • Gorn: Just as violent as the Iliad... just with mice and frogs.
  • The Muse: Invoked at the start, as traditional in epics.
  • Nominal Importance: Completely averted, though we don't get much information about these characters besides their names, fathers' names, and how they die or kill their enemy.
  • Parody: One of Homeric epics.
  • Revenge: The mice declare war seeking vengeance for Crumb-snatcher's death.
  • Rule of Personification Conservation: An epic focusing on mice and frogs for the purpose of parody.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The frog king Puff-jaw offers to receive Crumb-snatcher as a guest before he takes him across the lake and accidentally drowns him.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Leans far more to the Talking Animal side of the scale, though the frogs and mice do wear armour and wield spears.
  • Snakes Are Evil: A watersnake causes Puff-jaw's panic and, inadvertently, Crumb-snatcher's death.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Crumb-snatcher's inability to swim and his abandonment by Puff-jaw sets off the conflict.
  • Talking Animal: They even have kings!
  • This Means War!: The prince of frogs has failed to save the prince of the mice after they had a pleasant conversation! Surely, the mice must avenge this insult!
  • Wicked Weasel: Crumb-snatcher is introduced having escaped galéēs kíndynon (γαλέης κίνδυνον, "the danger of the weasel").