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Frogs in world of ancient Greeks and Romans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman terracotta frog
Roman terracotta frog

Ancient Greeks and Romans identified frogs with harmony, fertility or debauchery and the goddess Aphrodite (Venus). Ancient writers devoted numerous texts to frogs, including “Batrachomyomachia”, which tells about the war of mice with frogs and is heroicomic. The authorship of this work is unknown, but Homer is considered the creator.

Another antique work in which the frogs appear is the Aesop’s fable – “The Frogs Who Desired a King”. The story tells the story of a frog community that asked Zeus to bring them a king. God fulfilled their wish and sent a wooden block, which the frogs recognized as a lifeless figure who would not rule them in a good way. The frogs asked Zeus again for the king, but this time he indicated that he would be cruel and demanding. Then God sent a stork that ate all the frogs.

Jean de La Fontaine modeled on the ancient fairy tale he wrote his work “The Frogs Asking A King”:

A certain commonwealth aquatic,
Grown tired of order democratic,
By clamouring in the ears of Jove, effected
Its being to a monarch’s power subjected.
Jove flung it down, at first, a king pacific.
Who nathless fell with such a splash terrific,
The marshy folks, a foolish race and timid,
Made breathless haste to get from him hid.
They dived into the mud beneath the water,
Or found among the reeds and rushes quarter.
And long it was they dared not see
The dreadful face of majesty,
Supposing that some monstrous frog
Had been sent down to rule the bog.
The king was really a log,
Whose gravity inspired with awe
The first that, from his hiding-place
Forth venturing, astonish’d, saw
The royal blockhead’s face.
With trembling and with fear,
At last he drew quite near.
Another follow’d, and another yet,
Till quite a crowd at last were met;
Who, growing fast and strangely bolder,
Perch’d soon upon the royal shoulder.
His gracious majesty kept still,
And let his people work their will.
Clack, clack! what din beset the ears of Jove?
‘We want a king,’ the people said, ‘to move!’
The god straight sent them down a crane,
Who caught and slew them without measure,
And gulp’d their carcasses at pleasure;
Whereat the frogs more wofully complain.
‘What! what!’ great Jupiter replied;
‘By your desires must I be tied?
Think you such government is bad?
You should have kept what first you had;
Which having blindly fail’d to do,
It had been prudent still for you
To let that former king suffice,
More meek and mild, if not so wise.
With this now make yourselves content,
Lest for your sins a worse be sent.’

Another song about frogs is, among others Aesop’s fairy tale “The Frog and the Ox”, where the frog tries to get the size of the cries.

It is worth adding that we do not have information that the Romans were eating frogs; we will not find any reference to frogs even in the main culinary work of the Romans “De re coquinaria” by Apicius.

  • JC Cooper, Symbolic and Mythological Animals, 1992

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