Brekekekex Koax Koax

The Frogs Chorus in Aristophanes Frogs: competing with Dionysus

Dionysus is rowing across the lake of the Underworld to a steady rhythm when he is interrupted by the frog chorus, singing to the accompaniment of the aulos (a double pipe, not a banjo) – standardly the instrument used to accompany the dramatic chorus, and also used by the keleustēs (controller) to set the rhythm for rowers in Athenian triremes. The frogs in the underworld (i.e. ex-frogs) refer to brekekekex koax koax as the song they used to sing ‘in the marshland up above’ — but they are singing it at a pace too fast for Dionysus’s comfort.

Eventually Dionysus realises the only way to assert his own rhythm is to remove the aulos from the keleustēs. He snatches it, leaving the frogs tuneless. Without music, their utterance has far less power, but they attempt to assert their rhythm by chanting unmusically. Dionysus is able to defeat the frogs (who clearly represent aulos-players because of the way their cheeks inflate) by chanting over them at his own slower pace until they are silenced.

This translation renders the Greek text in verse, abridged and re-cast in a manner that works for performance in English. I attempt a one-man rendition here:

FROGS singing at a fast pace

♫   Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,             
brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!      

We children of the fountain and the lake,
let our full-throated chorus come awake!
Hear the aulos blaring out
to the loud and piercing shout
of the song we used to love,
in the marshland up above.

Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,             
brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!     

DIONYSUS speaking at a slower pace

Oh dear, oh dear, I do declare
your beat’s too fast for me to bear.
Shut up with your infernal hum,
I’m getting blisters on my bum.
You rowdy disrespectful lot,
it seems that you don’t care a jot!

FROGS singing to a fast beat

♫   Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,             
      brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!   

DIONYSUS speaking at slow pace

Damn you, and your ko-axing too,
it’s nothing but ko-ax with you.
My hands are chafed and blistered sore;
my cheeks below are bursting more,
and something’s coming through the cracks —


♫   Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,             
     brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!       


O tuneful frogs, don’t do this, don’t!
Please curb your song.


♫ Tough luck, we won’t!

Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,
brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!   

DIONYSUSseizes the aulos from the frog-aulete

Look, now I’ve seized your song from you.

FROGS speaking fast

This action means the end of us!
Can’t we some compromise discuss?

DIONYSUS  in slower rhythm    

Far worse for me my day would go
if I exploded while I row!
Your music’s gone, your cupboard’s bare,
you croak away, for all I care.

FROGS croaking fast

Fine, we’ll croak and croak our hearts out,
all day long we’ll croak our hearts out!

DIONYSUS asserting his slower pace

That isn’t going to win the day,
for I will croak and croak away.
Bre-ke-ke-kex ko-ax ko-ax!
Bre-ke-ke-kex ko-ax ko-ax!

The frogs fall silent.
At last those pesky frogs are making tracks!
I had to put an end to their ko-ax.


A full elaboration of this explanation (with Greek text and musical and metrical suggestions) can be found in my chapter, ‘The Musical Frogs in Frogs’ (2020), in Ancient Greek Comedy eds. A. Fries and D. Kanellakis (De Gruyter), 187-198.


About Armand D'Angour

Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Jesus College Oxford.
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