KATOMYOMACHIA or, THE CAT AND MOUSE WAR, by THEODOROS PRODROMOS

From the Introduction to the First Edition of 1494 by Aristobulus Apostolios (1465-1535):

According to Herodotus, Homer, the most respected of the poets entrusted to educate the children of (the Isle of) Chios composed the Batrachomyomachia (Frog-Mouse War), the Epicichlids and other poems full of jokes. In doing so he made the children of Chios, and also those who joined them, useful to the extent that they, who were supposed to acquire their first knowledge, liked to listen to these chants, which were not too demanding even for children's ears. One of the later writers wanted to imitate the poet, so he invented a battle between a cat and mice and made a comedy out of it in iambic meter.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Ham-lover, the Mouse King
Cheese-thief, a Mouse
A Herald
A choir of maidservants
Ham-loverís wife
A Messenger

THE INTRODUCTION SPOKEN BY HAM-LOVER

Ham-lover
Why do we, who are fearless fighters, huddle in our holes for so long, sitting together fearful and shuddering in anguish, leading a miserable life in our dwelling, (5) not daring to stick our noses beyond the threshold, but preferring to vegetate in our dark holes, pitiable to the highest degree and fully frozen with fear? It is as if we are being guarded, and that we must believe that the whole passage of time consists only of (10) long nights and shadows of death, like the dark Cimmerians of legend who are as dull-witted as the people of the Pontus and can endure living in the dark for six months.

Cheese-thief
Nor do we want this, but we are trapped in our holes. (15) Because, as you say, as soon as we dare rush courageously forward in unstoppable runs, we would very quickly find ourselves in great peril and before our eyes we would see the fate of some of our relatives (20) and be sent to Hades' dark depths as a reward for our recklessness.

Ham-lover
But how do you think we are put in peril and made to leave our lives in such a miserable manner?

Cheese-thief
We are caught, Ham-lover, seized and sucked into the awful abyss twixt the teeth of the crafty reiver.

Ham-lover
(25) Who is she? Tell me and don't leave me in the dark, for I am not a fan of wide circumlocutions.

Cheese-thief
She is the creature the humans call "cat". She patrols around in front of our holes and tracks down mice just as dogs (30) cunningly follow the rabbits on the trail. In that same way she's after us - it's a scandal - and she has the vision of a lynx.

Ham-lover
I already know the one you describe to me in such detail; just recently my daughter (35) - my dear child named Candlestick-picker Ė was wretchedly torn apart in front of my eyes; that tore right through me.

Cheese-thief
Likewise, my child, my dear daughter Pickled-pork-chewer and my favourite son Corn-nibbler, who went to his sister's succour.

Ham-lover
(40) What next? Must we crouch like cowards and watch our loved ones being murdered?

Cheese-thief
And what should be done about it?

Ham-lover
We must see about retaliation against the all-devourer and avenge the fate of our fallen ones.

Cheese-thief
(45) But how? Tell me exactly.

Ham-lover
We must wage a fearless battle against her.

Cheese-thief
But then I truly fear that we too will most likely be devoured and ignominiously eaten. We will make a nice roast for the cat Ė a ghastly fate.

Ham-lover
(50) That too is necessary for the sake of avenging our dead. You have surely read the poetic praises of those who have died for their relatives and friends, children, brothers, husbands or fathers and have thus achieved immeasurable fame.

Cheese-thief
(55) That is well known to me, but it is a terrible thing to leave the bright field of day and be covered in the darkness of the grave.

Ham-lover
Don't you understand? If, together, we muster all our strength, we will deliver her a very bitter fate.

Cheese-thief
(60) But how on earth, dear friend? Explain this to me.

Ham-lover
We will all unite into an army and wage war upon her.

Cheese-thief
It seems better to me to first come together in secret.

Ham-lover
But what is the benefit of secretly joining forces?

Cheese-thief
When she first notices in her cunning that she must face a battle, (65) she will also get a multitude of her own allies and then overrun us s our militias meet together, and she will carry off the victory wreath.

Ham-lover
In our usual manner (70) we shall in the same way summon hordes of our allies.

Cheese-thief
Do you no longer remember how we had a huge horde of allies in the earlier battle between the armies of mice and frogs?

Ham-lover
I still remember how we saw the ignominious end of our (75) children, wives, friends and fathers, and had we not been missing from the fray we would have been counted among the dead.

Cheese-thief
I fear that we will now also die in battle.

Ham-lover
No - by all the gods in heaven! I am hopeful about this, for I have had a vision in my dreams.

Cheese-thief
(80) You donít say! You saw a vision? A very clear vision?

Ham-lover
Zeus appeared to me in a dream while I was sleeping. He filled my heart with confidence and said, "Be of good cheer, you will receive strength."

Cheese-thief
Who did he look like? Tell me that too.

Ham-lover
(85) He wore the form of our old sage Cheese-burner.

Cheese-thief
But why hasnít he appeared before you at any other time?

Ham-lover
He showed himself for fear of my threats.

Cheese-thief
How did you threaten him? He who resides in heaven and who tells the immortals (90) that he would hang a very long rope in heaven and pull them all away with his almighty hand?

Ham-lover
Indded, I threatened him a thousand times this time. For I described my life to him as I sit miserably here in my corner, (95) already full of dark thoughts, and sighing over the darkness. And I was terrified and afraid, my poor mind full of disgust. I lamented and complained and was very discouraged; I patted and plucked at his chin (100) and became quite arrogant with Zeus, the loftiest of the gods. And then, full of anger, I added terrible threats to my complaints.

Cheese-thief
What did you do to threaten him? Tell me that too.

Ham-lover
If he doesn't make me a great victor (105) and doesn't let me win most of the honours in battle, I will quickly enter his temple and take all of the offerings there to feed my belly.

Cheese-thief
Then I am part of the game, and so is my wife and children. But first tell me more about the battle.

Ham-lover
(110) I will do that, but first I want the mice all to come together for the meeting.

Cheese-thief
Since it pleases the Almighty to deliver us from our life lurking in the dark and to free us from the fear of the cat, (115) all mice should be assembled together at once. First of all, a speech must be given, aimed at arousing enthusiasm for war. Then, when we have deployed the generals of the armies, the majors and lieutenants, as is customary, (120) and lance-bearers and heavily armed mice, let us form up for battle and move out.

Ham-lover
You speak well, wisely and properly - after all, old age has good exhortations ready - and with understanding. A herald should go out and call the mice together.

Herald
(125) The leaders themselves of the mice are already assembled and standing at your meeting place.

Ham-lover
Dear assembly of noble friends, obedient and sociable, I have long recognized the great (130) weakness of our ancestors and their most shameful cowardice, for the sake of which we remain here in the darkest hiding places and lack bravado. Instead we have become like bedridden old people and those who no longer have strength in their limbs, and it keeps us from going into battle against our enemies. (135) But now I say: It is important to fight courageously! For it seems unseemly and indecorous to me that I, who have power and command over a great many, I who equip pageants and receive applause, must tremble before emerging from my mouse-hole. (140) But you, who have accepted my speech with approval - you are from noble fathers and have a not inconsiderable part of their resilience in you - do not become indolent now that it is time to act; you, my noble ones, are by no means cowards, (145) instead all of you come to the forthcoming campaign, you divine mice, and let yourself be kindled by my abundant zeal for battle: I have never hesitated when it was time to join the fray, but - to speak truly - from my earliest youth (150) I have bravely turned to warfare and have been victorious in all attacks. For my family is of noble descent. (As you know, my forebearsí names were on everyone's lips in ancient times because of their strength and their wise advice, and (155) my ancestors achieved immeasurable fame; I am speaking of the Paper-eaters, for that was their name). I didnít want to lead an idle life, but from my earliest years I have directed my attention to acquiring the virtues of the best military leader. (160) I have used a lance and sword with a shield, ridden horses and made myself agile and nimble in numerous ways, to safely strike the enemy at the right moment, to draw a bow and to shoot arrows; in short, I have dealt with the entire art of war (165) like all the military leaders. In many battles I have proved myself to be a strong hero, by my experience I have subjugated a great many peoples and thus I came to dominate the mice; I am considered the greatest and best of all. (170) But now I think it would be very bad that the one who stood up to Zeus, the son of Rhea, should be afraid to endure a little hardship. So, I now order all who are dear to me and worthy to join the march to battle, (175) tough, vigorous, strong, armed with great courage, wisely, effectively, solidly armed. For the rest of this day, go home. But tomorrow, very early, I, your general, want everyone to bustle bravely. (180) Because it seems to me to be beneficial to our cause.

Cheese-thief
Now that they have all gone to their houses - it is the hour to go to bed - I too will go to my bed.

Ham-lover
Rightly spoken; we should at least try to sleep.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(185) O what aching now grips me and presses me! O Zeus, what will it be this day! A terrible thought has seized my lord; to fight an open battle against the all-consuming cat! Even I believe that he will die alongside his whole army (190) and leave the light-bearing brightness. Apollo, dear seer, Phoibos, Loxias, what is this now, what is this! Woe and woe again for me! Aóaóo what a lamentable endeavour! A-a-o what a terrible fight!

Half-chorus
(195) Perhaps all his might will win the battle.

Half-chorus
Itís beyond belief, itís beyond belief. Unheard of, unheard of, these things you say to me. Now let Zeus' will be done!

Cheese-thief
I see the daylight shining through the window.

Ham-lover
I also see its radiance.

Cheese-thief
(200) So, we will leave our sleep and our beds, sacrifice sheep and cattle to the gods and fearlessly go forth to battle. Above all, we must please the heavenly ones.

Ham-lover
Behold, with these sacrifices we call upon Zeus (205) and Athena, Hermes and Pan, Poseidon and noble Loxias, and with them Hera and the mountain-huntress Artemis, Pluto, Leto and Hades together with Persephone, and all the others, to inspire our steps.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(210) Oh all, oh ye all, oh ye gods who alone hold our fates above and below, you leaders of the beautiful choir, stand by us, yes stand solidly by us, now that my men are undertaking a new campaign (215) against the all-consuming race of cats.

Ham-loverís Wife
O, may they win, oh Zeus, in the battle, my generals and my husband and my child.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Victory would be beautiful, but I am in the grip of despondency.

Ham-loverís Wife
I'm also scared and trembling violently.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(220) For the bravery of the enemy is tremendous.

Ham-loverís Wife
O Zeus, King, let the battle end well for us.

Chorus of Handmaidens
The deity always shares everything of beauty.

Ham-loverís Wife
If the multitude of mice stand firm against their enemy with all their strength, (225) we will probably spend the rest of our lives comfortably and perhaps cast fear far from us.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Yes, may it be so; it is in the hands of god I say.

Ham-loverís Wife
But if they succumb to their enemy, if they turn around and endeavour to escape, (230) then everything will be quickly lost.

Chorus of Handmaidens
If only that doesnít happen, and let it not happen to me.

Ham-loverís Wife
And everyone becomes a slave in captivity.

Chorus of Handmaidens
No, not slavery, but the gruesome food of our enemy.

Ham-loverís Wife
And I, (235) who used to be mistress, will soon be a slave with my dear children.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Certainly, you will not become a slave with your children, but rather you will make a morsel for the voracious one.

Ham-loverís Wife
What now? Shall I leave the sweetest light and hide in the dust and in the grave?

Chorus of Handmaidens
(240) Hush, Mistress, hush, I see something important: I see someone approaching in a hurry; he breathes heavily and is very dejected.

Messenger
Someone tell me where the mistress is!

Chorus of Handmaidens
If you want, you can see her here.

Messenger
(245) Lamentations, three times lamentations and three times I am burdened with pain: Crumb-thief has fallen, felled by a missile.

Ham-loverís Wife
O my dear, my beloved child! The support of my old age has fallen! O beyond bearing, oh beyond sorrowful bearing! (250) Woe, everything about your message is grievous. Oh, I shall die. What will become of me? Where should I flee? Where to go? The strength of my limbs is gone. Oh, woe and woe again, my dearest sight!

Chorus of Handmaidens
Endure it for me, endure it, end your wailing.

Ham-loverís Wife
(255) O Zeus, sitting on your high throne, conqueror of the titans.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Alas, unhappy mother, burdened with pain, cease your endless wailing.

Ham-loverís Wife
Incredible, unbelievable, terrible, terrible, these things you tell me.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Just pause a moment in your endless lamentation.

Ham-loverís Wife
(260) O dearest sight, my darling child.

Chorus of Handmaidens
You must endure your endless suffering and listen to the further course of the battle.

Ham-loverís Wife
But I no longer have the strength to endure the bitterness of the effort.

Chorus of Handmaidens
But what use is this immense misery to you?

Ham-loverís Wife
I need him forever and soon I will die.

Chorus of Handmaidens
It will never be! Don't turn away from us!

Ham-loverís Wife
But how am I supposed to keep from falling into derangement and despair?

Chorus of Handmaidens
What use is it? Does it bring you relief when you lament? No-one can raise the dead from the grave.

Ham-loverís Wife
(270) But what should I do if I stop moaning?

Chorus of Handmaidens
Listen to the further progress of the battle.

Ham-loverís Wife
And who will report it to us and present it clearly?

Chorus of Handmaidens
The same messenger that carried the previous message.

Ham-loverís Wife
And where is he?

Chorus of Handmaidens
You can see him.

Ham-loverís Wife
(275) I am broken and worn out with pain; the pupils in my eyes have also grown dull.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Tell everything exactly, messenger, how fierce the battle is and how the king's son fell and died.

Messenger
(280) Should I report everything to you in order, or should I only emphasize the most important things?

Chorus of Handmaidens
Tell me everything that happened in the battle, one thing at a time.

Messenger
So, I'm supposed to report everything; now listen: When they began the battle, (285) the most powerful field marshal, Crumb-licker, was the first to face the all-devourer. He was defeated and fell, it was a pitiful sight, and his whole army was crushed. Then another field marshal attacked, (290) the well-known Ham-thief.
He met with the same misfortune as the other and could not withstand a lightning attack. When Crumb-thief saw the powerful generals already fallen (295) and that they and their army were no more than a deplorable meal for the all-devourer, he became angry and fell into the most violent fighting rage - for there is nothing more violent than anger, if not the surge of blood towards the heart. He grabbed a pointed lance (300) in his hands and rushed at the beast because it had killed so many. When she saw him armed and standing there to bring her down at close range, aiming his spear at her with the greatest bravery, she rushed towards him, only to seize him at once. (305) And then she held him cruelly in her claws, and quickly devoured the youth.

Chorus of Handmaidens
And all of that in full sight of his dear father?

Ham-loverís Wife
That hits me even more than his own misfortune.

Messenger
When I saw this, (310) mistress, I came here to tell you.

Chorus of Handmaidens
If only you hadn't come here, bearer of this news.

Ham-loverís Wife
It was already a lot for me, not directly to be there. Because then I would not have endured the suffering in its full extent.

Messenger
I will now go back from here to the battle front.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(315) Hopefully you won't come back with more bad news.

Ham-loverís Wife
The bad oracle priest is said to perish shamefully.

Chorus of Handmaidens
He probably feared that we would be angry with his information if he told us the truth.

Ham-loverís Wife
O what a flower of mouse-kind has fallen!

Chorus of Handmaidens
It now seems to me to be the most beautiful thing, as is the custom, (320) to sing a mourning song for the fallen prince.

Ham-loverís Wife
Rightly spoken, so let us lament.

Chorus of Handmaidens
You must offer the beginning of the song first.

Ham-loverís Wife
A, a, pain and again pain, multiple pain.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Alas, Ham-lover, alas again, master.

Ham-loverís Wife
(325) A, a, where did you go, child?

Chorus of Handmaidens
Where are you hidden, where have you escaped to from life?

Ham-loverís Wife
Where are you child? Oh, the lamentable burden.

Chorus of Handmaidens
Lamentations, oh and again lamentations.

Ham-loverís Wife
A, a, you left the light of day.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(330) Everything, all of life - ashes, dust; all of life Ė only a shadow.

Ham-loverís Wife
Alas, you went there, oh Crumb-thief, oh my child.

Chorus of Handmaidens
It's enough. Do not continue further. Because already I see the messenger running fast.

Ham-loverís Wife
(335) I'm afraid he again will tell me something terrible.

Chorus of Handmaidens
No, mistress.

Ham-loverís Wife
How do you know how?

Chorus of Handmaidens
He runs up with a shining face.

Ham-loverís Wife
Oh, let it be so! Zeus send me glad news.

Messenger
Somebody must tell me where the mistress is.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(340) Look, there she is; and if you wish, look at her.

Messenger
All is golden, glorious ones, despair no longer and give me reward for my messages.

Ham-loverís Wife
Tell them and don't joke so boastfully.

Messenger
Only if you first give me wages for my speech.

Ham-loverís Wife
(345) I will pay you according to your words and have them handed over to you immediately.

Messenger
The wretched cat has died in battle!

Chorus of Handmaidens
A, a, I'll make noise and a more happy one. For joy should conquer pain.

Ham-loverís Wife
I leap high with joy.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(350) You must now first find out what else happened in the battle and how the wretched all-devourer died.

Ham-loverís Wife
The messenger is supposed to report exactly the whole encounter of the battle and the fate of the wild-looking and evil mouse-killer.

Chorus of Handmaidens
(355) The mistress has spoken, let your tongue run free.

Messenger
See, I'm getting ready to speak well. But you perk up your ears and listen attentively to my explanations: When the terrible, life-destroying battle (360) had started with a well-thought-out attack, first the commander of the people Crumb-licker fell, then Bacon-thief and then the son of my good lord whose heart contracted with grief when he saw his dear son dead. He set his division of the army in motion and courageously attacked the destroyer, the all-devourer, and faced the fight without fear. Just at the right moment, as they fought each other (370) and no-one was fleeing, but all were standing firm, a beam already old and rotten with time fell from the top of the roof and hit her in the middle of the forehead, shattering her strength on the spot, (375) and she sank into the depths of Hades. And she, who used to be hostile to us with all her strength, unforgiving, merciless and wild, was now without breath and lay outstretched.

Chorus of Handmaidens
You shall live never-ending years without grief, happy and of good cheer (380) for having come to us as a messenger of such long-awaited news and for telling us of the death of our destroyer. For I have first seen the beginning of the longed-for end and have seen it well completed.

NOTES

(Line number) - note

(10) He means the darkness of the polar night.
(74) A clear reference to the frog mouse war.
(90) A reference to the Iliad 8, 19-22.
(105) The mice of the Frog-Mouse war in the Temple of Athens had done something similar (Ref. Batrachomyomachia 180).
(171) This happened in his dream (101), but in his speech he pretends it was real.
(191) Loxias - "one who speaks in dark oracles" - is an old nickname of Apollo.
(284) This is followed by a battle report as in Aeschylus ďPersians,Ē line 249. The sacrificial priest, poetically referred to in the text as "fire bearer" (in Katomyomachia (85) called Cheese-burner), had obviously made auspicious predictions before the battle.

ABOUT THIS TRANSLATION

My English translation of Katomyomachia by Theodore Prodromos (c. 1100 Ė c. 1165/70) is based on the 1968 German prose translation by Helmut Ahlborn as this was most easily available. Another translation, into German verse, by Herbert Hunger appears less true to the original Greek version. Because the original manuscript was damaged, both translators have made educated Ė but different - guesses at, or corrections to, the original text.

ABOUT THE ORIGINAL WORK

Under the Comnenian dynasty, Byzantine writers of 12th century Constantinople reintroduced the ancient Greek romance literary style of 800 years before, albeit with Christianized content. These Byzantine tales have traditional ancient Greek plot structures and settings, but reflect medieval customs and beliefs. The Katomyomachia seems to have vanished in Byzantium (later Constantinople, then Istanbul).

Unlike many other works of this period, the Katomyomachia is purely a diversion without any satire on society or politics of its time. It echoes the Batrachomyomachia (the War of Frogs and Mice, a parody of the Iliad) and contains references to better known Greek playwrights, particularly Homer.

SUMMARY OF THE PLAY

The original Greek ďCat and Mouse WarĒ was a 5-act short drama written in dodecasyllable (12 syllables per line) beginning with a dialogue between Kreillos (the mouse king, Ham-lover in Ahlbornís translation) and his relative Tyrokleptes (Cheese-thief) discussing the threat posed to the kingdom by the cat (the ďall-devourerĒ). The king has been sitting in a dark hole while the cat patrolled around with sharp eyes as usual and the mouse-king can no longer bear the constant surveillance. He tells his relative about a vision of Zeus telling him to wage merciless war on the cat. Kreillos and Tyrokleptes call a meeting with numerous mice, present the plan to them, and speak at length in favour of the venture. Everyone of fighting age will go out against the cat. The mice make offerings to the entire pantheon of ancient Greek gods in the hope of a favourable outcome.

In the second part of the play, Kreillosís wife and a chorus of handmaidens await word from the battle field. Reports are brought by two messengers; the first reports the death of Crown Prince Psicharpax; the young fighter was seized and eaten by the cat. This results in much lamentation by the queen and a commentary by the chorus of handmaidens. The second reports the death of the cat in a fortuitous (to the mice) accident. During a long battle, a rotten beam falls from the top of the roof and kills the cat. The mice claim victory.

ORIGINAL NAMES, AHLBORNíS TRANSLATION, ENGLISH TRANSLATION

ILLUSTRATIONS

The illustrations accompanying this translation are taken from various medieval artworks that have illustrated the theme of a war between cats and mice; some possibly inspired by Prodomosís work, though others may have been an allusion to good vs evil.

MESSYBEAST - OLD CAT BOOKS

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