As the crow flies, so shall it stop flying and settle down in a tree to watch the Romans dig a mass grave. Only a few miles north, as the crow flies, of Cambridge, England. As the crow flies, so shall it caw, and eventually fall to Earth, its feathers carried off by ants to build their ant-bowers, its flesh fattening the Cambridge worms, its bones turned to tinker-toys for Iron Age toddlers out of which to build tiny bone-henges.
But let us leave the subject of that tragic Iron Age crow that didn’t survive the Roman occupation. Few did, and not just crows. In point of fact, not a single person, crow, worm, nor it matters not what animal species, living or dead, today survives from the Roman occupation of Britain. Yet a certain song survives. A song of frogs. So, that is something.
Let us also leave aside all those dead humans, crows, and other species, and observe the Romans digging. What are they digging, here in Iron Age Cambridge? Why are they not enjoying the sunrise with a bowl of Romantic porridge flavored with borage and sorrel? Because they have their orders. They have gone from hut to hut in hamlet after hamlet, interrogating the occupants. They threatened to rape the women, cut parts off the men, or break the bones of babies to get at the truth.
They needn’t have bothered with threats. The humble Iron Age Britons, most of whom would have admitted to still being in the Stone Age, and proud of it, readily gave up the “guests” they’d been harboring.
In total, about five hundred fugitive frogs were discovered and arrested that day. The frogs were frog marched out to the village square, to where a mass grave was dug in view of the roundhouse, and were, one by one, executed by dagger and thrown into the pit.
Astonishing: there really was a mass grave of frogs in this area dating from the Iron Age. It’s both SuperTrue® and regular true. Really. Look it up!
What’s SuperTrue® about it is, of course, the story behind the remains, the conspiracy behind the tangible evidence, the rumors and innuendo by which an overactive imagination can make sense of the random clues. For example, there’s the possible fact that there were rumors the Romans believed to be true, about a frog prophet, King of the Frogs, whose army of followers – and, yes, the collective noun for frogs is indeed “army” (again, look it up!) – whose army of ranine followers believed the Frog King’s prophecy that a mighty general would arise, unite the Celtic tribes, and throw off the yoke of Roman tyranny. It is rumored today that this Frog King’s name was Pepe, but that’s a somewhat tart and possibly satirical rumor, and has yet to attain the internet currency required for it to be considered a SuperTruth®.
The Brits had been saving the frogs for supper, but they didn’t relish eating frogs. A bumper crop of turnips had just come in, and they were far keener on eating those for dinner than frogs. They had no feelings one way or the other about amphibious loyalty to Rome or the lack of it. They turned their frogs over to the Roman soldiers because they hadn’t really wanted them in the first place. They had been worried about a prophecy made by a charismatic mackerel that the turnip harvest would be washed away by a flood and had cached away the frog rations in case the mackerel’s turnip prophecy came true.
Rumors, prophecies, rumored prophecies, and subsequent adorable horrors swirled in abundance.
One rumor that comes just this close to being SuperTrue® is that it was the Britons themselves who started the rumor about the frog prophet and its loyal following of frog zealots. According to a recently rumored-to-be-recovered text by Tacitus, the despair demonstrated by the Britons at losing their frogs lacked the ring of authenticity, and, while Romans crucified the frog they had decided to designate as Pepe, a lot of the Celtic wailing and hair-pulling felt over-the-top, performative, and unconvincing.
A supposed witness claimed to have heard poorly-stifled laughter while the Romans were interrogating frogs to learn the truth about their treacherous plans, and when they flogged the frogs with tiny whips, few Brits could squelch their guffaws. And who among us could but guffaw at a frog-flogging, if only to keep from weeping? The tiny, frog-size whip, the suffering amphibian, the clownish centurion or whatever, leaning forward and squinting as if preparing to make a difficult billiard shot.
As the crow flies, so does it caw. A murder of crows cawed and guffawed at the flogging and holocausting of the army of frogs. How callous. The Romans, of course, assumed the crows were clamoring for a crack at the corpses, and gargled bitter chuckles in their Roman throats at how the crows would be disappointed when they saw the frog bodies interred out of reach of their plucking beaks.
But the Britons knew why the crows guffew. They knew the crows knew of the ruse, and found the Romans obtuse, too. And off the crows flew, as crows tend to do.
About a century later, the purported prophecy of treacherous Pepe, who may never have existed to make a prophecy in the first place, came about as true as such a probably non-existent prophecy could. Queen Boudica of Iceni united the tribes and led a revolt, not far from the mass grave of the frogs, as the crow flies. And as the crow flies, so were the Britons defeated, and in the end even the Romans died. Indeed, no witnesses, nor participants, nor those living in other parts of the world unaware of the frog holocaust or the Boudican Rebellion, no one, not even a sprouting fern, not even a tiny mushroom, not even a miniature meatball, survives to this day from the time of the aforementioned massacre.
The frog holocaust remains one of the strangest endeavors of the Romans, or indeed of any people, and absolutely no one on Earth discusses it, whispers about it, or even whistles a tune they made up while vaguely reminiscing about or elegizing the event.
No one, that is, except the frogs. The spring peepers peep about it in spring. “Pepe, crucified,” you can hear them peep. “We await his Second Coming.” They peep to the skies, eyes teary with grief, “Our people, rounded up, tortured, flogged, and buried in a mass grave,” they peep. Spring peepers call their fellow frogs, “our people,” and who can blame them? Naught remains of the cursed event but their song, their lonely song, the peeping of the peepers. That is how a thing becomes SuperTrue®: through the commemorative despairing of creatures, human and otherwise.
And this has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!