The Frogs | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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The Frogs | Episode 2 | Summary

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Summary

Xanthias and a servant (Servant 2) discover they have much in common, and enjoy discussing the pleasures of undermining a master. They then hear a commotion, and the servant explains that Euripides and Aeschylus are in the midst of a heated argument.

Aeschylus, the great playwright, has held a chair of honor at Pluto's table, but now that Euripides has died, he is trying to lay claim to it. Pluto, explains the servant, has set up a contest between Euripides and Aeschylus. Sophocles, another recently deceased playwright, won't take a part in the contest. He'll back Aeschylus, but if Euripides wins, Sophocles will fight against Euripides for the seat of honor. The servant then explains how judgment will be made:

In this very spot
some fairly weird things will be going on—
they're testing poetry with balance scales!

As the characters enter Pluto's banquet hall, the Chorus is left onstage to describe the upcoming contest "in a parody of the tragic style." The Chorus describes the two poets confronting one another, "sharpening smooth-talking tusks, just like a boar," and they sarcastically describe the tension between Euripides and Aeschylus as "helmet-glancing war, / horse-crested words, while splintered axles break apart."

Analysis

In this short episode the slaves describe their relationships with their masters. For example, Xanthias and the servant (Servant 2) describe listening to their masters' gossip and "then passing on the gossip all around, / to everyone outside the house." The interchange explores the identity theme by questioning the power relationship between master and slave. The episode also provides a useful segue into the Agon, describing the characters, the situation, and the event that is about to unfold.

The Chorus, meanwhile, presents the two contestants in very different ways—without actually saying which contestant is which. The first contestant, they say, will "launch his language fixed with bolts, / like planking for a ship, he'll rip the words apart, / blasting with his giant's lungs." The second contestant, by contrast, "will dissect and parse those words, and, splitting hairs, / refute all that large labor of the former's lungs." Given that Aeschylus was a master of classic tragic writing, it seems likely he is the first contestant while Euripides, more focused on realism, is the second contestant.

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