The Frogs | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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Agon

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of the Agon from Aristophanes's play The Frogs.

The Frogs | Agon | Summary

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Summary

Aeschylus, Euripides, Pluto, and Dionysus enter. Aeschylus and Euripides taunt and insult one another until Dionysus offers to "judge the fight / with maximum aesthetic expertise." The Chorus sings to the muses and indicates its eagerness for the battle. The two poets raise up their prayers to their respective gods, and the battle begins.

Euripides describes Aeschylus's work with scorn, saying his plays are "crammed with bombast to the gills." His own work, Euripides claims, is slimmed down and devoid of unnecessary embellishments: "I never set / anything superfluous in the play."

Aeschylus then has his turn. He presents himself as a teacher of virtues: "I took Homeric warriors, / ... [and] urged our citizens to match themselves / with them." Instead of teaching virtues, he says, Euripides taught vice: "you besmirched / what I displayed with such nobility." Aeschylus finally accuses Euripides of having, through his plays, undermined Greek society: "because of him our city here / is crammed with bureaucratic types / ... who always cheat our people." Aeschylus goes on to say, "Nobody carries on the torch— / no one's trained in that these days."

Following these opening statements, the two poets go on to exchange very technical arguments regarding one another's poetic meter, choice of subject matter, and lyric style. Finally, Dionysus has each man speak a line into the balance, so they can be weighed. While Euripides drops in "I wish that Argive ship had never flown," Aeschylus says, "O river Spercheios, where cattle graze." Because water is heavier than air, Aeschylus's words are heavier. They repeat the process twice more. Each time Aeschylus manages to find "heavier" thoughts or words than Euripides.

Dionysus is reluctant to name either man the winner, but Pluto insists. Finally, Dionysus sets the poets one more task: "whichever one of you will give our state / the best advice, well, that's the man I'll take."

Euripides recommends changing leadership, saying, "We're not doing well with what we're doing now, / if we reversed our course, we might be saved." Aeschylus suggests that none of Athens's people are taking the right course. Dionysus decides that Aeschylus is the wiser man, and chooses him to return to the land of the living to help guide the people of Athens.

Analysis

The Agon, or argument, was a required part of any Greek comedy. This Agon, though it includes highly technical sections focused on the art of poetry, is at heart an argument about the fate of Athens. Aristophanes, it is suggested by the outcome of the Agon, believed that the people of Athens needed to be reminded of the importance of high moral standards. Aeschylus, in The Frogs, represents all that is best and highest in people—standards to strive for rather than a reflection of reality.

It's important to note that Dionysus himself undergoes a change during the debate. He first came to the Underworld intent on bringing Euripides back. It is only after hearing both sides of the argument that he realizes Aeschylus is the greater artist and more likely to help Athenians recover their past glory.

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