Of Mice And Frogs

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Guest post on Brachatomyomachia for HoTT by Bernie F.

Homer was the most popular and admired poet of the ancient world. Of course he was also read in schools and probably bored thousands of pupils to death. So it’s not a surprise that parodies on his poems were written. One of them, a parody of the Iliad, had the title “Brachatomyomachia” (“The Battle of Frogs and Mice”) and in antiquity was even thought to be composed by Homer himself. Actually, however, it had probably been written in the 1st century BC by an author living in or near Alexandria in (or rather “at”, as the Ancients would have said) Egypt. The little poem of about 300 lines was very popular both in antiquity and the middle ages and has come down to us in dozens of manuscripts. And it still makes a good read.

A Summary

Psicharpax (“Thief of crumbs”), son of the mouse king Troxartes (“Bread nibbler”), drinking water from a lake meets the frog king Physignathos (“Chubby Cheek(s)”), who invites him to his “palace”. As the frog king swims across the lake, the mouse prince seated on his back, they are confronted by a frightening watersnake. The frog dives, forgetting about his passenger, who drowns. Another mouse witnesses the scene from the bank of the lake, and runs to tell everyone about it. The mice arm themselves for battle to avenge the frog king’s treachery, and send a herald to the frogs with a declaration of war. The frogs first blame their king, who by telling them a barefaced lie about the real circumstances persuades them to go to war. In the meantime, Zeus, seeing the brewing war, proposes that the gods take sides. Athena refuses, saying that both mice and frogs have done her a lot of mischief, adding “No, gods, let us refrain from helping these hosts, or one of us may get wounded with a sharp spear; for they fight hand to hand, even if a god comes against them.“ And so it happens. A bloody battle ensues and eventually the Mice prevail, not the least because of their great hero Meridarpax (“Stealer of small bits” or “Slice snatcher”, as an English translation says). As the gods themselves are afraid to fight this mighty hero and even Zeus’ thunderbolt does not stop the mice, he summons a force of crayfish or crabs to prevent complete destruction of the Frogs. Powerless against the armoured crabs, the Mice retreat, and the one-day war ends at sundown.

Heroes, Equipment And Troop Types

In the poem the mice seem to have more and greater heroes than the frogs. I prefer to classify the latter’s champions as »sneakers«, since a certain Prassaios (“Greencoat”) “presses through those in front of him” to support his king against the mouse king. In the same scene his companion Origanios (a name connected to “oreganum”; the English translation gives “Rueful”, while a German one I own prefers the more proper “Bitterling”) is called “the only one distinguishing himself in the frog army”, so he alone (or the king if accompanied by him) would deserve to classified as »hero«. Anyway, the mice should have at least one hero more than the frogs.

About the equipment of the mice we read: “First they fastened greaves to their shins made from yellow bean-pods broken into two parts which they had gnawed out, standing over them all night. Their breast plates were of skin stretched on reeds, skilfully made from a ferret they had flayed. For shields (aspides) each had the centrepiece of a lamp, and their spears (the Greek word used is longchai,  plural of longche) were
long needles, the all-bronze instruments of Ares, and the helmets upon their temples were chickpea shells.”

This equipment may be only that of a precious few, as the mice had only one ferret flayed and certainly won’t have a large numbers of lamps available. The rank and file may have been unarmoured and had simple shields, if any. Instead of the spear the mighty Meridarpax “splitting a chestnut-husk into two parts along the joint, put the two hollow pieces as weapons on his paws”.

The frogs’ equipment is similar to that of the mice, but made of more readily available material: “They wrapped around their shins leaves of mallows, and had breastplates made of fine green beet-leaves, and cabbage-leaves, skilfully fashioned, for shields (again aspides). Each one was equipped with a long, pointed rush for a spear (again, the word longchai is used, and smooth snail-shells to cover their heads.” (the first example of completely biodegradable armour, it seems). The differences between the several types of leg protection is interesting, by the way: the mice use classic greaves, while the frogs wrap a flexible (and presumably thick) material around their shins.

In spite of the breast plates and the round shields I prefer to classify the infantry of both sides as a kind of peltasts or, in the terms of HOTT, as »warband« (perhaps with an option for grading the mice as »spears«). This also suits the nature of the combatants.

The Frogs

Warband General @ 2AP – Physignathos, king of the frogs

Sneakers x 2 @ 3AP – Assorted frog champions like Seutlaios and Borborokoites

Warband x 7 @ 2AP – Ordinary frog warriors

Water Lurkers x 2  @ 1AP – Ambushers

Total Cost: 24AP
Stronghold: Pond.

Variants: Hero General (Physignathos if accompanied by several frog champions like Prassaios and Origanios) or Hero (Origanios) @ 4AP, God (Zeus or other Olympians, if
they ever dare to appear) @ 4AP, Behemoths @ 4AP or Beasts @ 2AP (the crayfish army send by Zeus), Hordes (less well motivated warriors) @ 1AP.

The Mice

Hero General x 1 @ 4AP – Troxartes, king of the mice, accompanied by several lesser heroes

Hero x 1 @ 4AP – “The Mighty Meridarpax”

Sneakers  x 1 @ 3AP – Lesser mouse champions

Warband x 6 @ 2AP – Ordinary mouse warriors

Land Lurker x 1 @ 1AP – Ambushers

Total Cost: 24AP
Stronghold: Mouse-hole.

Variants: Flyers (Mosquitos) @ 2AP, Spears (alternative classification of the warriors, may therefore not be used with warbands) @ 2AP, Hordes (less well motivated mice like Meridarpax’ father) @ 1AP

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