The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice, Joel Christen and Erik Robinson
The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice, Joel Christen (Editor), Erik Robinson (Editor), Hardcover, xiii & 198 pages, Bloomsbury (2018), £91.80, 978-1350035959.
This is a commented bilingual edition of the pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia (BM), collaboratively produced by Joel Christensen, Associate Professor of Classics at Brandeis University, and Erik Robinson, Latin Teacher at Brandeis High School (C&R). The book is targeted at “intermediate and early-advanced [students] of Greek (from the secondary to the graduate level)” as well as “readers who are working on their own” (preface, p. xi).
The introduction (pp. 1–42) gives an overview of some important aspects such as authorship and dating (C&R adhere to the communis opinio, viz., the first century B.C./A.D.), the generic tradition of the mock-epic and the fable, and some basics of Homeric metre and formulaic language (including a student-friendly list of the most salient divergences from Attic Greek).
For the Greek text (pp. 43–51), C&R chose not to produce a new critical edition, but “only” a “conflation” of existing standard editions. This makes perfect sense with regard to the intended readership. However, I miss a modest apparatus criticus (or simply a list) of the relevant textual variants, which would have made it possible to trace the editorial decisions, because without this aid teachers or students wishing to work on (and not solely with) the text – and this is something one may want to do also with undergraduates (and be it just in order to demonstrate that there is not one “stable” text) – will not have the necessary means to do so.
The English translation (pp. 53–62) is well-readable prose, close to the original Greek, incorporating the line breaks between the Greek hexameters (which is helpful as well as suggestive of the original poetic form). However, contrary to common practice (Loeb, Budé, etc.), C&R did not arrange the Greek text and its English equivalent facing each other, but successively. Thus readers will find themselves flipping not only between text and commentary, but also, uncomfortably, between Greek and English.
The commentary (pp. 63–158) seeks first and foremost to help students and translators without (much) previous knowledge of Homeric Greek. It provides ample information on Homeric expressions, difficult verb forms, grammar, syntax, etc. In addition to this, C&R also deal with some textual problems; they add a fair number of textual parallels, mostly (for obvious reasons) to the Iliad and the Odyssey, and they incorporate also some realia (e.g. the question whether the galée in line 9 is a weasel or a cat: p. 70). All in all, the commentary will, I think, prove particularly useful to advanced high school students and to undergraduates reading “Homer” for the first time.
At the end of the book, we find a comprehensive glossary of Greek words and forms (pp. 159–89) as well as a general index (pp. 191–9).
Three quibbles to conclude with:
1) The spelling Batrakhomuomakhia may be more scholarly than the traditional Latinised Batrachomyomachia, but I have my doubts as to whether this really does a service to the reader (at least I cannot read it without stumbling).
2) Long eta in Homeric Greek instead of Attic long álpha, explained on p. 34: something has gone horribly wrong with the example provided: the Homeric variant of Attic thálatta is not thalátte (this form does not exist), but thálassa (a proparoxytonon with three short álpha).
3) I was surprised not to find any reference in the commentary to D.B. Monroe’s A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect – despite its age (2nd ed. 1891) this is still the most widely used reference grammar on Homer (I chase my students through it, and I would certainly reference it all over the place if I were to write a “Homer” commentary aimed at undergraduates).
Silvio Bär, University of Oslo, Norway