The Frogs | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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The Frogs | Parodos | Summary

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Summary

Dionysus and Xanthias continue on their journey, and discover Charon, ferryman of Hades, rowing his boat across the lake. Charon offers to take Dionysus across, but refuses passage to the slave, Xanthias. Dionysus and Xanthias make plans to meet up at the "Wuthering Rock" (a location in Hades), and Dionysus climbs aboard.

As Dionysus and various extras begin to row, the Chorus (as Frogs) begins to sing:

Brekekekex koax koax
Brekekekex koax koax
Children of the marsh and lake
harmonious song now sweetly make ...
The songs we sang for Nysa's Lord,
for Dionysus, son of Zeus,
in Limnai at the Feast of Jars
as people in their drunken glee
thronged into our sanctuary.

Dionysus is at first annoyed with the Frogs, but then decides to compete with them:

Brekekekex koax koax
You never beat me in this play!

Before either Dionysus or the Frogs can win the competition, the boat reaches the far shore of the lake. Charon takes his pay and gladly rids himself of Dionysus. Xanthias is waiting for his master, and the two continue on their way. They encounter both the sewer and the shape-shifting monster Hercules mentioned, and they finally hear the sound of flutes. The music marks the entrance of the Chorus (as Initiates): worshippers of Iacchus and Demeter.

The Chorus (as Initiates) completes its bawdy song and dance, much to the delight of Dionysus and Xanthias. Dionysus then asks, "Could you please inform the two of us / where Pluto lives when he's at home down here?" As it turns out, they have arrived at Pluto's door. The Chorus dances off, and Dionysus knocks at the door.

Analysis

The song of the Chorus (as Frogs) on the lake is the source of the title of the play, The Frogs. The chorus of the song (Brekekekex koax koax) has no particular meaning. The words from the verse, however, have great significance to Dionysus and the cult that followed him. The Frogs connect poetry to worshipping the gods and harmony in society, at the end of the play. During this scene, early in the play, Dionysus does not appreciate the Frogs "harmonious" and sweet melodies, reflecting how he is traveling to the Underworld to bring back Euripides—who at this time is more aligned with Dionysus's perspective. However, Dionysus will ultimately choose Aeschylus, the poet who is capable of bringing Athenian citizens together (harmony) and the poet who worships the traditional gods, which are represented in the Frogs' speech by singing for "Nysa's Lord" and inspiring people to rush to the sanctuary. This is central in the Agon, or argument—second to last scene in the play—when Euripides and Aeschylus both pray to their respective gods before the contest begins. Aeschylus prays to Demeter while Euripides, Dionysus points out, prays to "Personal ones? / Your very own? Freshly minted?"

The Frogs' first line: "The songs we sang for Nysa's lord / for Dionysus, son of Zeus" refers to Dionysus's youth on Mount Nysa. There, according to some sources, Dionysus was brought up secretly by nymphs, running wild among the lakes and mountains. In some versions of the story of Dionysus, the young god discovered the pleasures of wine while exploring his mountain home.

The second line, "in Limnai at the Feast of Jars" refers to an event called The Anthesteria, a celebration of both wine and death. The Anthesteria took place during the Anthesterion, a period of time spanning modern February and March. The festival was held at Limnai, Dionysus's own temple in Athens, where choral festivals were held in honor of the "god of marshes" (perhaps so-called because the temple stood on wet ground). The Feast of Jars was held on the 11th day of Anthesterion, also call the Pithoigia. Followers of Dionysus (including women, children, and slaves) gathered at Limnai to open and drink the jars of new wine.

The final lines, "as people in their drunken glee / thronged into our sanctuary" refers to the events held on the 12th day of Anthesterion, during which drinking contests were held. Aristophanes wrote of these contests in his play Acharnians: "In accordance with the ways of our ancestors, drink the chous on the sound of the trumpet! And he who downs it first will take away a wineskin" (chous were drinking vessels that contained as much as three liters of wine, which were to be drunk by a single individual).

It is unknown whether members of the Chorus would have actually dressed in frog costumes and sung on stage or whether they would have sung from off stage. More modern versions of the play, including the musical version by Stephen Sondheim, do include elaborate frog costumes.

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