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The Frogs | Plot Summary

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Summary

Dionysus and Xanthias Ask for Guidance From Hercules

As the play begins, the god Dionysus enters along with his slave, Xanthias, who is riding a donkey. Dionysus is dressed up as Hercules, wearing a lion skin and carrying a club. Xanthias is carrying a heavy load on his back. The two exchange raunchy jokes intended for the audience (for example, "The bit about how you need to shift your load / to take a piss"), and then they arrive at Hercules's home.

After answering the door, Hercules sees Dionysus in costume and dissolves in giggles: "I can't stop laughing. I'll try biting my lip. / No, no use. I can't stop laughing at him." Dionysus then explains the reason for his visit. He has an overwhelming craving to visit the recently deceased tragic poet Euripides. The only way to do so is to visit Hades—and Hercules is known to have made such a visit and returned back to the land of the living, alive.

A Journey to Hades Accompanied by Frogs

Hercules, after some banter, provides directions to Hades. Dionysus and Xanthias start on the journey but are separated when Xanthias, a slave, is not allowed aboard the boat that crosses the lake. Dionysus and a few "extras," under the guidance of Charon the ferryman, row across the river. As they cross the water, they encounter a chorus of singing frogs with whom Dionysus competes to see who can be loudest.

On the other side of the lake, Dionysus and Xanthias reunite. They immediately encounter a terrifying shape-changing monster, Empusa. Before they can continue on their journey, they are interrupted by the Chorus—this time portraying Initiates, a group of worshippers of Iacchus, the name given to the god Dionysus during the Eleusinian Mysteries (annual rites performed in the city of Eleusis to honor Demeter and Persephone). The Chorus sings and passes on its way.

At the Gates of Hades

Finally, Dionysus and Xanthias make their way to Pluto's house and knock on the door. Dionysus, still dressed in his lion skin, is mistaken for Hercules who took the three-headed dog, Cerberus, from Hades. Aeacus, a gatekeeper in Hades, threatens "Hercules" for stealing the dog. To avoid a fight, cowardly Dionysus switches clothing with Xanthias—but Xanthias (as Hercules) is then asked by a beautiful servant woman to join her and her lovely comrades at a banquet.

Xanthias and Dionysus switch clothes again, so Dionysus can enjoy the ladies and the feast. But before he can leave for the banquet, two innkeepers, Plathane and Pandokeutria, confront Dionysus and threaten to beat him up for stealing food when he (they think Dionysus is Hercules) was last seen in Hades. Dionysus once again prevails on Xanthias to switch outfits.

Now Aeacus accuses Xanthias (as Hercules) of stealing Cerberus and threatens to imprison him. Xanthias claims he is innocent, and suggests that Aeacus should torture his "slave," Dionysus, to hear the truth of the matter. Both Dionysus and Xanthias claim to be gods, both withstand whipping, and both are cleared of Hercules's crimes.

A Verbal Battle of the Poets

Now Dionysus and Xanthias are welcomed to Hades. They learn that they are just in time for an exciting "duel" between the poet/playwrights Euripides and Aeschylus. Each has claimed to be the best tragic poet. Pluto, king of the Underworld, makes Dionysus the judge, and the two poets present their arguments. Each quotes from and satirizes the other's work, mocking the language, meter, characters, and other aspects of one another's plays.

Finally, Dionysus, as a fair and knowledgeable judge, asks for a balance to weigh the merit of each poet's work. Each poet "puts" verses into the balance, knowing that the "heavier" verses will win. Aeschylus manages to cite the heavier verses, winning the contest—but Dionysus is not yet ready to make his judgment. Now, he asks the two poets to give advice to the people of Athens, who, at the time the play was performed, are still in the throes of the Peloponnesian Wars. Once again, Aeschylus wins, this time by giving good and useful advice.

Pluto gives permission for Aeschylus to return to the land of the living. Sophocles, and not Euripides, will become the poet laureate of Hades.

The Frogs Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Dionysus (as Hercules) and Xanthias start their journey.

Rising Action

2 Dionysus and Xanthias arrive at Hercules's door.

3 Hercules provides directions to Hades.

4 Dionysus crosses the lake to Hades with Charon.

5 The Chorus (Frogs) sings, and Dionysus competes with them.

6 The Chorus (Initiates) sings and leads the way to Hades.

7 Two Innkeepers believe Dionysus is actually Hercules.

8 Dionysus and Xanthias exchange clothes several times.

9 Aeacus beats Dionysus and Xanthias to learn which is a god.

10 Dionysus and Xanthias find out about the poetry contest.

Climax

11 Dionysus judges the debate between Euripides and Aeschylus.

Falling Action

12 Aeschylus's poetic lines hold more weight on the scales.

13 Dionysus chooses based on who gives Athens the best advice.

14 Aeschylus wins the debate.

Resolution

15 Dionysus brings Aeschylus back to the land of the living.

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