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May. 7th, 2007 | 02:20 pm
posted by: markagin in democracy105w

Aristophanes’s “Frogs,” like many of his other plays, is a story that uses comedy to mask a deeper, political message. It begins with the god Dionysus and his slave Xantias traveling on a journey to Hades to retrieve Euripides from the underworld. The reason for him talking this is because there are no more great tragic playwrights remaining in Athens, and Dionysus wants to bring the deceased Euripides back. Before reaching Hades, the two travel to the home of Heracles to ask him the easiest way to get there. The rest of their trip is filled with low-brow humor that was common of Aristophanes’ works.

It is during Dionysus’s boat ride to Hades that we first encounter the chorus of frogs. They will be present throughout the play, and their words often carry political messages. Upon his arrival in the underworld, Dionysus learns of the conflict going on involving Euripides. The poet is in the middle of a battle with Aeschylus, the reigning tragic poet laureate or the underworld, over who deserves to be declared the best of the underworld. Dionysus is called upon to judge a poetry contest between the two men. During this contest, Aeschylus makes a fool of Euripides, showing his works to be poorly written and simplistic. A scale is then brought out to weigh the words of the two poets, and the words of Aeschylus are much heavier than those of Euripides. In the end, Dionysus decides that Aeschylus would do much more to help Athens, and takes him from the underworld instead of Euripides. He also names Sophocles as the chair of underworld tragedy in Aeschylus’s absence.

There is much political meaning in Dionysus choosing Aeschylus. The poet Euripides was a poet of the demos. His poetry was portrayed as crude and unskillful. In the play, he prays to mysterious gods and his biggest fans are the lowlifes and criminals of the underworld. In their back and forth arguing, Euripides makes several references to democracy and how his poetry gives the power of persuasion to the common man. Here, as he did in “Wasps,” Aristophanes uses one of his characters to represent the crude, rhetorical culture of democratic Athens. Aeschylus, on the other hands, represents the noble elite. His poetry is beautiful, and does not make use of cheap tactics that appeal to the masses. The chorus of frogs also chime in with subtle shots against the democratic culture of Athens. “Men of rounded education and of sterling worth we scorn…We reject for something trashy, for a half-breed carrot top,” chime the frogs at one point. They follow up by saying, “Pick deserving public servants, as of old, my foolish friends.” It is clear was side the frogs are on. Dionysus’s choice of Aeschylus, the poet whose words are the heaviest, to bring back and help Athens is a telling one. While Euripides would no doubt appeal to the masses, only the noble poet could return it to its past “glory.”

Word Count:499

1. What was behind Aristophanes’ choice to have Dionysus originally seek Euripides from the underworld and not Aeschylus?
2. Why would Dionysus decide to make Sophocles head tragic poet of the underworld in the end instead of just giving it to Euripides in Aeschylus’s absence.

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