Origin of Yale "Brekekekex-Ko-ax"

January 18, 2021


Aristophanes (c.448 B.C.–c.388 B.C.).  The Frogs.

"Shall I crack any of those old jokes, master, at which the audience never fails to laugh?" Like an up-to-date vaudeville team, Xanthias and Dionysus start off a dialogue that mingles wit and poetry with humor and keen satire.

XANTHIAS.  SHALL I crack any of those old jokes, master,
At which the audience never fail to laugh?

DIONYSUS.  Aye, what you will, except I’m getting crushed:
Fight shy of that: I’m sick of that already.

XAN.  Nothing else smart?

DIO.  Aye, save my shoulder’s aching.

XAN.  Come now, that comical joke?

DIO.  With all my heart.
Only be careful not to shift your pole.
And—  XAN. What?  DIO. And vow that you’ve a belly-ache.

XAN.  May I not say I’m overburdened so
That if none ease me, I must ease myself?

DIO.  For mercy’s sake, not till I’m going to vomit.

XAN.  What! must I bear these burdens, and not make
One of the jokes Ameipsias and Lycis
And Phrynichus, in every play they write,
Put in the mouths of all their burden-bearers?

DIO.  Don’t make them; no! I tell you when I see
Their plays, and hear those jokes, I come away
More than a twelvemonth older than I went.

XAN.  O, thrice unlucky neck of mine, which now
Is getting crushed, yet must not crack its joke!

DIO.  Now is not this fine pampered insolence
When I myself, Dionysus, son of—Pipkin,
Toil on afoot, and let this fellow ride,
Taking no trouble, and no burden bearing?

XAN.  What, don’t I bear?  DIO. How can you when you’re riding?

XAN.  Why, I bear these.  DIO. How?  XAN. Most unwillingly.

DIO.  Does not the donkey bear the load you’re bearing?

XAN.  Not what I bear myself: by Zeus, not he.

DIO.  How can you bear, when you are borne yourself?

XAN.  Don’t know: but anyhow my shoulder’s aching.

DIO.  Then since you say the donkey helps you not,
You lift him up and carry him in turn.

XAN.  O, hang it all! why didn’t I fight at sea?
You should have smarted bitterly for this.

DIO.  Get down, you rascal; I’ve been trudging on
Till now I’ve reached the portal, where I’m going
First to turn in. Boy! Boy! I say there, Boy!

HERACLES. Who banged the door? How like a prancing Centaur
He drove against it! Mercy o’ me, what’s this?

DIO.  Boy.  XAN. Yes.  DIO. Did you observe?  XAN. What?  DIO. How alarmed
He is.  XAN. Aye, truly, lest you’ve lost your wits.

HER.  O, by Demeter, I can’t choose but laugh.
Biting my lips won’t stop me. Ha! ha! ha!

DIO.  Pray you, come hither, I have need of you.

HER.  I vow I can’t help laughing, I can’t help it.
A lion’s hide upon a yellow silk,
A club and buskin! What’s it all about?
Where were you going?  DIO. I was serving lately
Aboard the—Cleisthenes.  HER. And fought?  DIO. And sank
More than a dozen of the enemy’s ships.

HER.  You two?  DIO. We two.  HER. And then I awoke, and lo!

DIO.  There as, on deck, I’m reading to myself
The “Andromeda,” a sudden pang of longing
Shoots through my heart, you can’t conceive how keenly.

HER.  How big a pang?  DIO. A small one, Molon’s size.

HER.  Caused by a woman?  DIO. No.  HER. A boy?  DIO. No, no.

HER.  A man?  DIO. Ah! ah!  HER. Was it for Cleisthenes?

DIO.  Don’t mock me, brother; on my life I am
In a bad way: such fierce desire consumes me.

HER.  Aye, little brother? how?  DIO. I can’t describe it.
But yet I’ll tell you in a riddling way.
Have you e’er felt a sudden lust for soup?

HER.  Soup! Zeus-a-mercy, yes, ten thousand times.

DIO.  Is the thing clear, or must I speak again?

HER.  Not of the soup: I’m clear about the soup.

DIO.  Well, just that sort of pang devours my heart
For lost Euripides.  HER. A dead man too.

DIO.  And no one shall persuade me not to go
After the man.  HER. Do you mean below, to Hades?

DIO.  And lower still, if there’s a lower still.

HER.  What on earth for?  DIO. I want a genuine poet,
“For some are not, and those that are, are bad.”

HER.  What! does not Iophon live?  DIO. Well, he’s the sole
Good thing remaining, if even he is good.
For even of that I’m not exactly certain.

HER.  If go you must, there’s Sophocles—he comes
Before Euripides—why not take him?

DIO.  Not till I’ve tried if Iophon’s coin rings true
When he’s alone, apart from Sophocles.
Besides, Euripides, the crafty rogue,
Will find a thousand shifts to get away,
But he was easy here, is easy there.

HER.  But Agathon, where is he?  DIO. He has gone and left us.
A genial poet, by his friends much missed.

HER.  Gone where?  DIO. To join the blessed in their banquets.

HER.  But what of Xenocles?  DIO. O, he be hanged!

HER.  Pythangelus?  XAN. But never a word of me,
Not though my shoulder’s chafed so terribly.

HER.  But have you not a shoal of little songsters,
Tragedians by the myriad, who can chatter
A furlong faster than Euripides?

DIO.  Those be mere vintage-leavings, jabberers, choirs
Of swallow-broods, degraders of their art,
Who get one chorus, and are seen no more,
The Muses’ love once gained. But, O my friend,
Search where you will, you’ll never find a true
Creative genius, uttering startling things.

HER.  Creative? how do you mean?  DIO. I mean a man
Who’ll dare some novel venturesome conceit,
Air, Zeus’ chamber, or Time’s foot, or this:
’Twas not my mind that swore: my tongue committed
A little perjury on its own account.

HER.  You like that style?  DIO. Like it? I dote upon it.

HER.  I vow it’s ribald nonsense, and you know it.

DIO.  “Rule not my mind”: you’ve got a house to mind.

HER.  Really and truly, though, ’tis paltry stuff.

DIO.  Teach me to dine!  XAN. But never a word of me.

DIO.  But tell me truly—’twas for this I came
Dressed up to mimic you—what friends received
And entertained you when you went below
To bring back Cerberus, in case I need them.
And tell me too the havens, fountains, shops,
Roads, resting-places, stews, refreshment rooms,
Towns, lodgings, hostesses, with whom were found
The fewest bugs.  XAN. But never a word of me.

HER.  You are really game to go?

DIO.  O, drop that, can’t you?
And tell me this: of all the roads you know,
Which is the quickest way to get to Hades?
I want one not too warm, nor yet too cold.

HER.  Which shall I tell you first? which shall it be?
There’s one by rope and bench: you launch away
And—hang yourself.  DIO. No, thank you: that’s too stifling.

HER.  Then there’s a track, a short and beaten cut,
By pestle and mortar.  DIO. Hemlock, do you mean?

HER.  Just so.  DIO. No, that’s too deathly cold a way;
You have hardly started ere your shins get numbed.

HER.  Well, would you like a steep and swift descent?

DIO.  Aye, that’s the style: my walking powers are small.

HER.  Go down to the Cerameicus.  DIO. And do what?

HER.  Climb to the tower’s top pinnacle—  DIO. And then?

HER.  Observe the torch-race started, and when all
The multitude is shouting Let them go,
Let yourself go.  DIO. Go whither?  HER. To the ground.

DIO.  O, that would break my brain’s two envelopes.
I’ll not try that.  HER. Which will you try?  DIO. The way
You went yourself.  HER. A parlous voyage that,
For first you’ll come to an enormous lake
Of fathomless depth.  DIO. And how and I to cross?

HER.  An ancient mariner will row you over
In a wee boat, so big. The fare’s two obols.

DIO.  Fie! The power two obols have, the whole world through!
How came they thither?  HER. Theseus took them down.
And next you’ll see great snakes and savage monsters
In tens of thousands.  DIO. You needn’t try to scare me,
I’m going to go.  HER. Then weltering seas of filth
And ever-rippling dung: and plunged therein,
Whoso has wronged the stranger here on earth,
Or robbed his boylove of the promised pay,
Or swinged his mother, or profanely smitten
His father’s cheek, or sworn an oath forsworn,
Or copied out a speech of Morsimus.

DIO.  There too, perdie, should he be plunged, whoe’er
Has danced the sword-dance of Cinesias.

HER.  And next the breath of flutes will float around you,
And glorious sunshine, such as ours, you’ll see,
And myrtle groves, and happy bands who clap
Their hands in triumph, men and women too.

DIO.  And who are they?  HER. The happy mystic bands,

XAN.  And I’m the donkey in the mystery show.
But I’ll not stand it, not one instant longer.

HER.  Who’ll tell you everything you want to know.
You’ll find them dwelling close beside the road
You are going to travel, just at Pluto’s gate.
And fare thee well, my brother.  DIO. And to you
Good cheer. (To Xan.) Now, sirrah, pick you up the traps.

XAN.  Before I’ve put them down?  DIO. And quickly too.

XAN.  No, prithee, no; but hire a body, one
They’re carrying out, on purpose for the trip.

DIO.  If I can’t find one?  XAN. Then I’ll take them.  DIO. Good.
And see! they are carrying out a body now.
Hallo! you there, you deadman, are you willing
To carry down our little traps to Hades?

CORPSE. What are they?  DIO. These.  CORP. Two drachmas for the job?

DIO.  Nay, that’s too much.  CORP. Out of the pathway, you!

DIO.  Beshrew thee, stop: maybe we’ll strike a bargain.

CORP.  Pay me two drachmas, or it’s no use talking.

DIO.  One and a half.  CORP. I’d liefer live again!

XAN.  How absolute the knave is! He be hanged!
I’ll go myself.  DIO. You’re the right sort, my man.
Now to the ferry.  CHARON. Yoh, up! lay her to.

XAN.  Whatever’s that?  DIO. Why, that’s the lake, by Zeus,
Whereof he spake, and yon’s the ferry-boat.

XAN.  Poseidon, yes, and that old fellow’s Charon.

DIO.  Charon! O welcome, Charon! welcome, Charon!

CHAR.  Who’s for the Rest from every pain and ill?
Who’s for the Lethe’s plain? the Donkey-shearings?
Who’s for Cerberia? Taenarum? or the Ravens?

DIO.  I.  CHAR. Hurry in.  DIO. But where are you going really?
In truth to the Ravens?  CHAR. Aye, for your behoof.
Step in.  DIO. (To Xan.) Now, lad.  CHAR. A slave? I take no slave,
Unless he has fought for his bodyrights at sea.

XAN.  I couldn’t go. I’d got the eye-disease.

CHAR.  Then fetch a circuit round about the lake.

XAN.  Where must I wait?  CHAR. Beside the Withering stone,
Hard by the Rest.  DIO. You understand?  XAN. Too well.
O, what ill omen crossed me as I started!

CHAR.  (To Dio.) Sit to the oar. (Calling.) Who else for the boat? Be quick.
(To Dio.) Hi! What are you doing?  DIO. What am I doing? Sitting
On to the oar. You told me to, yourself.

CHAR.  Now sit you there, you little Potgut.  DIO. So?

CHAR.  Now stretch your arms full length before you.  DIO. So?

CHAR.  Come, don’t keep fooling; plant your feet, and now
Pull with a will.  DIO. Why, how am I to pull?
I’m not an oarsman, seaman, Salaminian.
I can’t!  CHAR. You can. Just dip your oar in once,
You’ll hear the loveliest timing songs.  DIO. What from?

CHAR.  Frog-swans, most wonderful.  DIO. Then give the word.

CHAR.  Heave ahoy! heave ahoy!

FROGS.  Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!
We children of the fountain and the lake,
      Let us wake
Our full choir-shout, as the flutes are ringing out,
Our symphony of clear-voiced song.
The song we used to love, in the Marshland up above,
  In praise of Dionysus to produce,
  Of Nysaean Dionysus, son of Zeus,
When the revel-tipsy throng, all crapulous and gay,
To our precinct reeled along on the holy
          Pitcher day.
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  O, dear! O, dear! now I declare
I’ve got a bump upon my rump.

FR.  Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  But you, perchance, don’t care.

FR.  Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  Hang you, and your ko-axing too!
There’s nothing but ko-ax with you.

FR.  That is right, Mr. Busybody, right!
For the Muses of the lyre love us well;
And hornfoot Pan who plays on the pipe his jocund lays;
And Apollo, Harper bright, in our Chorus takes delight;
For the strong reed’s sake which I grow within my lake
      To be girdled in his lyre’s deep shell.
        Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  My hands are blistered very sore;
My stern below is sweltering so,
’Twill soon, I know, upturn and roar
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.
O tuneful race, O, pray give o’er,
O, sing no more.  FR. Ah, no! ah, no!
Loud and louder our chant must flow.
Sing if ever ye sang of yore,
When in sunny and glorious days
Through the rushes and marsh-flags springing
On we swept, in the joy of singing
Myriad-diving roundelays.
Or when fleeing the storm, we went
Down to the depths, and our choral song
Wildly raised to a loud and long
Bubble-bursting accompaniment.

FR.  and DIO. Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  This timing song I take from you.

FR.  That’s a dreadful thing to do.

DIO.  Much more dreadful, if I row
Till I burst myself, I trow.

FR.  and DIO. Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  Go, hang yourselves; for what care I?

FR.  All the same we’ll shout and cry,
Stretching all our throats with song,
Shouting, crying, all day long,

FR.  and DIO. Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

DIO.  In this you’ll never, never win.

FR.  This you shall not beat us in.

DIO.  No, nor ye prevail o’er me.
Never! never! I’ll my song
Shout, if need be, all day long,
Until I’ve learned to master your ko-ax.
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.
I thought I’d put a stop to your ko-ax.

CHAR.  Stop! Easy! Take the oar and push her to.
Now pay your fare and go.  DIO. Here ’tis: two obols.
Xanthias! where’s Xanthias? Is it Xanthias there?

XAN.  Hoi, hoi!  DIO. Come hither.  XAN. Glad to meet you, master.

DIO.  What have you there?  XAN. Nothing but filth and darkness.

DIO.  But tell me, did you see the parricides
And perjured folk he mentioned?  XAN. Didn’t you?

DIO.  Poseidon, yes. Why, look! (Pointing to the audience.) I see them now.
What’s the next step?  XAN. We’d best be moving on.
This is the spot where Heracles declared
Those savage monsters dwell.  DIO. O, hang the fellow!
That’s all his bluff: he thought to scare me off,
The jealous dog, knowing my plucky ways.
There’s no such swaggerer lives as Heracles.
Why, I’d like nothing better than to achieve
Some bold adventure, worthy of our trip.

XAN.  I know you would. Hallo! I hear a noise.

DIO.  Where? what?  XAN. Behind us, there.  DIO. Get you behind.

XAN.  No, it’s in front.  DIO. Get you in front directly.

XAN.  And now I see the most ferocious monster.

DIO.  O, what’s it like?  XAN. Like everything by turns.
Now it’s a bull: now it’s a mule: and now
The loveliest girl.  DIO. O, where? I’ll go and meet her.

XAN.  It’s ceased to be a girl: it’s a dog now.

DIO.  It is Empusa!  XAN. Well, its face is all
Ablaze with fire.  DIO. Has it a copper leg?

XAN.  A copper leg? yes, one; and one of cow dung.

DIO.  O, whither shall I flee?  XAN. O, whither I?

DIO.  My priest, protect me, and we’ll sup together.

XAN.  King Heracles, we’re done for.  DIO. O, forbear,
Good fellow, call me anything but that.

XAN.  Well, then, Dionysus.  DIO. O, that’s worse again.

XAN.  (To the Spectre.) Aye, go thy way. O master, here, come here.

DIO.  O, what’s up now?  XAN. Take courage; all’s serene.
And, like Hegelochus, we now may say,
“Out of the storm there comes a new fine wether.”
Empusa’s gone.  DIO. Swear it.  XAN. By Zeus she is.

DIO.  Swear it again.  XAN. By Zeus.  DIO. Again.  XAN. By Zeus.
O, dear, O, dear, how pale I grew to see her,
But he from fright has yellowed me all over.

DIO.  Ah me, whence fall these evils on my head?
Who is the god to blame for my destruction?
Air, Zeus’ chamber, or the Foot of Time?

(A flute is played behind the scenes.)

DIO.  Hist!  XAN. What’s the matter?  DIO. Didn’t you hear it?

XAN.  What?

DIO.  The breath of flutes.  XAN. Aye, and a whiff of torches
Breathed o’er me too; a very mystic whiff.

DIO.  Then crouch we down, and mark what’s going on.

CHORUS.  (In the distance.)  O Iacchus!
    O Iacchus! O Iacchus!

XAN.  O have it, master: ’tis those blessed Mystics,
Of whom he told us, sporting hereabouts.
They sing the Iacchus which Diagoras made.

DIO.  I think so too: we had better both keep quiet
And so find out exactly what it is.

(The calling forth of Iacchus.)

CHOR.  O Iacchus! power excelling, here in stately temples dwelling,
      O Iacchus! O Iacchus!
      Come to tread this verdant level,
      Come to dance in mystic revel,
      Come whilst round thy forehead hurtles
      Many a wreath of fruitful myrtles,
      Come with wild and saucy paces
      Mingling in our joyous dance,
Pure and holy, which embraces all the charms of all the Graces,
      When the mystic choirs advance.

XAN.  Holy and sacred queen, Demeter’s daughter,
O, what a jolly whiff of pork breathed o’er me!

DIO.  Hist! and perchance you’ll get some tripe yourself.

(The welcome to Iacchus.)

CHOR.  Come, arise, from sleep awaking, come the fiery torches shaking,
      O Iacchus! O Iacchus!
      Morning Star that shinest nightly.
      Lo, the mead is blazing brightly,
      Age forgets its years and sadness,
      Agèd knees curvet for gladness,
      Lift thy flashing torches o’er us,
      Marshal all thy blameless train,
Lead, O, lead the way before us; lead the lovely youthful Chorus
      To the marshy flowery plain.

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