These are quotations for the year 2020. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations.

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Archived "Quotations of the Month"
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Apollo playing the lyre

Illustration: Apollo, patron god of music, plays the lyre, the instrument with which the bard accompanied himself as he sang of mythical stories or the news of the day.

Archived quotations of the month

Beginning with September, 2004, my home page will feature a different quotation from Classical or other literature each month, appropriate to the season or to current events. Starting in October, 2004, these pages will contain "Quotations of the Month" from previous months. Translations are my own, except where otherwise noted.

Below is the index to the quotations for 2020, followed by the quotations themselves.

Index to quotations for 2020

Below are quotations for the year 2020. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations or click on one of the years below:

Quotations of the Month for the year 2020

Click on a link to read each quotation


Quotation for January, 2020


Rat Emoji

Our Hero!


For the Lunar Year of the Rat: The Pseudo-Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice

Frog and Rat

Above: A dapper Frog and Rat, of unknown provenance (from Gerald Quinn, The Clip Art Book, 1990).

Top: A rat emoji (Apple version).

The Lunar Year of the Rat

It is the time of the Chinese New Year, and in the Lunar Calendar, the year 2020 is a Year of the Rat. The Rat, and persons born in a Year of the Rat, are said to be intelligent, diligent, creative, and adaptable. They have a keen sense of intuition (observe that rats are said to leave a sinking ship, or a mineshaft that is about to collapse). Different Years of the Rat are associated with different ones of the five elements — Metal (gold), Earth, Water, Wood, or Fire. The year 2020 is a year of the Metal Rat.

Rats and mice in ancient Greece and Rome

Rats and mice are thought to have originated in Asia. It is not known when these rodents were first introduced to Greece and Rome. It is quite likely that their introduction owes something to the vast trade routes that crisscrossed the Asiatic and Mediterranean lands. They would have enjoyed in particular the contents of the great grain fleets of the Romans. In both Latin and Greek, the words mus and mys could refer either to a mouse or rat, or one of several other rodent-like types of animal. (In Chinese, also, the word shu can mean "rat," "mouse," or other such animal). Like the rat, the mouse is also diligent, adaptable, and cozy with the human environment.

Our Quotation of the Month is from mock epic in Greek of unknown authorship and date called the Batrachomyomachia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice, in which an unlucky mouse (or is it a rat?), although belonging to a species known for its ability to survive, drowns when it falls off the back of a frog that promised him a ride across the pond, but suddenly dives into the water.

The Batrachomyomachia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice

The Batrachomyomachia has been variously credited to Homer (as the Romans believed), or to Pigres of Halicarnassus, brother of Artemisia, Queen of Caria and an ally of Xerxes (according to Plutarch). Others ascribe the poem to an anonymous poet of the time of Alexander the Great.

In the poem, a mouse, named Crumb-snatcher (Psicharpax) is drinking water from a lake when he encounters a frog named Puff-jaw (Physignathos) swimming across the lake. They fall to comparing genealogies, as well as diets. The mouse prefers such things as bread, honey cakes, cheese, or slices of ham and liver. He is not interested in cabbages and other vegetarian food, such as the frog might like. The frog is not interested in the mouse's food talk, but offers him a ride across the lake to visit the frog's own house. The mouse accepts, riding on the swimming frog's back. All goes well at first, but the mouse begins to regret his decision as waves arise and the land recedes. Suddenly a water snake appears, and the frog, without thinking of the consequences for the mouse, dives. The poor mouse, flailing about, screams and squeaks, but eventually drowns, not before calling for revenge from the Mouse Army (Myôn stratô).

Another mouse observes all this, and the mice declare war on all the frogs. Puff-jaw lies, saying that he had nothing to do with the problem. A tiny Homeric battle ensues, with both sides arming themselves with armor from the natural world, such as greaves made of bean pods, spears made from rushes, and cabbage-leaf shields. Zeus decides to intervene, asking Athena to help the mice. She refuses, complaining that mice are eating the garlands and lamp oil from her temple, and have even chewed holes in her sacred robe. She won't help the frogs, either, because they keep her awake at night with their croaking. The battle rages, going back and forth, and finally the mice are winning. Zeus takes pity on the frogs, and sends an army of crabs, who nip at the tails and paws of the mice. The mice at last retreat, and the war is over.

Below, in Greek and English, is the section where the unhappy mouse, thoughtlessly dumped in the lake by the diving frog, drowns, and, as he flails about, calls for vengeance upon the frogs from his fellow mice. The pancration ("all strengths"), at which the mouse claims to excel, was a combination of boxing and wrestling.

Batrachomymachia vv.56-98


A terrible fate for the rodent, a promise of revenge

At that, Puff-jaw smiled and answered him:
Stranger, you boast roo much about your stomach. We, too,
have many wonders to see in the lake and on land.
For the Son of Kronos gave to frogs an amphibious feeding-ground,
to live in a home divided into two parts,
to leap about the earth and to conceal our bodies beneath the water.
If you wish to learn these things, it is easy.
Climb on my back, hold onto me, so that you won't perish,
and so that rejoicing you may come to my house.

Thus he spoke, and offered his back. And Crumb-snatcher quickly mounted,
putting his paws around the soft neck with a nimble leap.
And at first he rejoiced, when he saw places of refuge near by,
taking pleasure in Puff-jaw's swimming. But when
the dark waves began to wash over him, weeping much
he blamed his unfortunate change of mind, he tore his hair,
he tucked his paws against his belly, and his heart
quaked within him at the strangeness, and he wanted to return to land.
He groaned terribly under the force of chilling fear.
He stretched out his tail on the water, trailing it
like an oar, praying to the gods to get to land.
But when the dark waters washed over him, he cried loudly,
and spoke these words, uttering with his mouth:

"Not thus did the bull bear on his back his burden of love
when he took Europa across the waves to Crete,
as this Frog, sailing along, takes me on his back to his house,
spreading his pale yellow body in the white water."

A water-snake suddenly appeared, a terrible sight
for all alike. It held its neck above the water.
Seeing it, Puff-jaw, not thinking
that he was about to leave his companion to his destruction,
dove to the bottom of the lake and escaped black death.
But Crumb_snatcher, deserted, fell on his back in the water,
wrung his paws and dying, squeaked.
Many times he sank beneath the water, but many times
he came up kicking. There was no way to avoid his fate.
His wet fur was a great weight upon him.
Finally, as he was dying, he uttered these words:

"You will not escape notice, having acted in this treacherous way,
throwing me shipwrecked from your body, as from a rock.
On land you would not have been better than me, coward,
at the pancration or wrestling or at running, but tricking me
you threw me in the water. The Deity has a just eye.
You will pay a penalty at the hands of the Mouse Army, and you will not escape."

Rat postage stamp

A U.S. postage stamp celebrating the Lunar Year of the Rat.

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