The Frogs | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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Prologos

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

The Frogs | Prologos | Summary

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Summary

As in all Greek plays, The Frogs begins with a prologos, or prologue, which reveals the setting and the themes of the play. As a comedy, The Frogs starts out with the entrance of the god Dionysus dressed in a parody of the demigod Hercules's lion skin, while Xanthias, Dionysus's slave, is riding a donkey and carrying a heavy load of stuff. The first few lines consist of a series of silly scatological jokes and puns that engage the audience and reveal the relationship between Xanthias and Dionysus. For example, Xanthias, after noticing he has an audience, asks if he should tell "one of those jokes they always fall for?" Dionysus responds, "O, all right—say what you like. Only no jokes / about how you're dying to piss. I can't stand those— / they're all so stale."

The two main characters reach the door of Hercules's home, and knock. Hercules, amazed and tickled to see Dionysus in costume, can't stop laughing: "By holy Demeter, / I can't stop laughing. I'll try biting my lip. / No, no use. I can't stop laughing at him."

Dionysus now reveals the reason for his visit: "a huge urge seized [his] heart." After back and forth bantering about the exact nature of his "urge," Dionysus explains that he is "eaten up with [his] desire / for Euripides," even though Euripides is now dead. In fact, he is planning to bring Euripides back from the Underworld. His reasoning: "I need a clever poet. There's none around. / The ones we've got are all so lousy."

Hercules argues, saying there are plenty of other living poets, but Dionysus is adamant. He has come to Hercules because Hercules has successfully gone to the Underworld and returned, alive, to the land of the living. Dionysus now wants to know how he can follow in Hercules's footsteps: "Show me the highway, the shortest one there is, / that takes me directly down to Hades."

Hercules and Dionysus share a comedic interchange in which Hercules suggests various forms of suicide: "Hercules: You could try a stool and rope— / you could just hang yourself." Dionysus: "That way gives me a choking feeling." Finally, though, Hercules provides directions that will take Dionysus across a lake, past monsters, and through a sewer. Then Dionysus will encounter a group of Initiates who will show him the way to Pluto's palace.

Xanthias, tired of carrying Dionysus's load (even though Xanthias is on a donkey) tries to bargain with a Corpse to carry the load to the Underworld. The Corpse, however, holds out for more money—and finally lies back down again and proceeds to his funeral.

Analysis

Much of the Prologos is pure slapstick comedy with no particular purpose except to amuse the audience with jokes, puns, and intentional misunderstandings. While there are a few references to poets and playwrights in the interactions between Dionysus and Xanthias, they are essentially "throwaway" lines the audience will find mildly amusing.

Once Dionysus begins his interaction with Hercules, however, references to the poets become more meaningful. The two discuss the merits of various contemporary or recently deceased writers—Sophocles, Iophon, Agathon, and others—but Dionysus dismisses them all, calling them "chatterboxes, twittering swallows in a music hall, / mere foliage—disgraces to the artist's craft." Only Euripides, he insists, had the talent to write truly artistic poetry worth saving from Hades.

While Dionysus's quest is comedic in its presentation, it has a serious significance. The words of the great tragedians, Aristophanes says through his protagonist, are true art. From Aristophanes's perspective, it is the art of the great poets that will help Athens to cope with the challenges of its ongoing war with Sparta and the decline of Athenian culture.

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