Three chairs are onstage. Pluto sits in the center chair, Dionysus on his left and Aeschylus on his right. Euripides touches Aeschylus's chair and says he will not let go because he is better than the other poet. Euripides continues, calling him a "creator of savages, a boorish loudmouth, / with an unbridled, unruly, ungated mouth" (70). Outraged, Aeschylus says Euripides is a "babble collector, / you creator of beggars, you stitcher of old rags" (70).
Dionysus mediates between them, giving them both warnings. Aeschylus sniffs that this is not a contest of equal terms because "my poetry hasn't died with me, / while his is as dead as he is" (72).
Contest: Opening Rituals
Dionysus proclaims that he will judge this contest with integrity, and calls for the Chorus to sing to the Muses. Each poet prays -- Aeschylus to Demeter and Euripides to Sky, Smarts, and Pivot of Tongue.
Contest: General Issues
The Chorus says it is ready to hear the wild tongues of the poets, with their sharp arguments and bold spirits. Euripides plans to expose his rival as "the charlatan and quack he was" (74). He mocks Aeschylus's having silent characters, rattling off four suites of choral lyric in a row, and his obnoxious use of big words. He also lampoons his "huge craggy utterances" (75) and his writing about a rooster in a tragedy.
Aeschylus asks what Euripides wrote about, and the latter explains that when he inherited the pompous, inflated art from Aeschylus, he put it on a diet. He also never wrote the first thing that just popped into his head. He never left characters idle, and taught the spectators how to talk. His poetry is rooted in the everyday, and he "never distracted their mind with bombastic bluster" (77). He also claims to teach people how to think because his art is rational and critical; thus, people know how to order their affairs because of him.
The Chorus quotes a line of Aeschylus' at him, and warns him not to be too angry in return.
Aeschylus replies that he is enraged and annoyed to even have to debate Euripides, but he proceeds to ask him what qualities a poet should be admired for. When Euripides responds, "skill and good counsel" because they make people better, Aeschylus tells him that he has actually ruined people. He believes his own work is an achievement on par with the noble poets of the past. He boasts that he has never created a whorish woman. It is his belief that a poet "has a special duty to conceal / what's wicked / not stage it or teach it " (82).
Euripides criticizes Aeschylus's high language, but the latter replies that "great thoughts / and ideas force us to produce expressions that are equal to them" (82). He scoffs at Euripides's poetry and its making people more prone to chitchat, and women behaving poorly. His work is full of "assistant secretaries / and clownish monkeys of politicians / forever lying to the people" (84).
Dionysus laughs at the memory of a crass work of Euripides, having been mocking, teasing, and riling up the two poets throughout their war of words.
The Chorus sings of this great war, and prepares itself for more parries and thrusts. It exalts the spectators, who are clever enough to understand what is going on.
Euripides begins by examining one of Aeschylus's prologues –a line from the Oresteia. He has numerous criticisms of the lines, even though they are very short. In the lines of "Underworld Hermes, who watch over the paternal domain, / be now, I pray, my ally and my savior, / for I've come back to this land and now return" (85), Euripides finds mistakes in Hermes's role as well as the repetition of ideas. Aeschylus believes his wording is excellent.
Euripides recites some of his own lines about Oedipus, which Aeschylus picks apart as well.
Aeschylus says he can take the simple phrase "oil bottle" and tack it on to any of Euripides's prologues, which he does so to the great amusement of Dionysus; one example is Euripides reciting "Once Oeneus from his land reaped a bounteous harvest, / and while sacrificing his first fruits –" (92) and Aeschylus throwing in "lost his oil bottle" (92) at the end. Finally, Dionysus asks the attention to be turned to lyrics. Euripides smugly says Aeschylus has nothing new here.
Euripides begins by saying all of Aeschylus's lyrics have the same pattern; he gives a few examples from the Myrmidons and Ghost Riders. He gives a few more, and Dionysus says he feels sore from all these strikes levied. He asks Aeschylus where he collected these "rope-winders' songs" (94). Aeschylus replies that they were from a reputable source for a good reason, unlike Euripides, who borrows willy-nilly from everywhere.
The Muse of Euripides enters. Both poets continue to criticize each other's lyrics, with Aeschylus ending by looking at the meter of Euripides's arias.
Contest: Weighing of the Verses
Dionysus calls for the verses to stop –it is time to weigh them. He compares it selling cheese, but has the poets come to the scales anyway. Each speaks a line, and Aeschylus's goes lower, as he spoke of the river and haunts. The second time they speak, and Aeschylus's still goes lower, as he spoke of Death. Euripides, who evoked Persuasion, is annoyed.
In the final weighing, Aeschylus is victorious again with his lines of "Chariot upon chariot, and corpse upon corpse" (99). Aeschylus laughs that Euripides could put his whole family and books in, and he would still lose.
Dionysus still finds it difficult to choose which poet he prefers. Pluto tells him he may take the one he chooses back with him, so he asks the two poets how they feel about Alcibiades. Euripides says he abhors the citizen who is slow to help his country but harms her instead. Aeschylus contributes a pithy statement about how a city should not rear a lion cub, but if it does, it must cater to it.
Dionysus then asks how they would save the city. Euripides laughingly suggests spraying vinegar in the eyes of their enemies, then adds that he suggests letting other people who currently are not in charge try their hand at ruling. Aeschylus, for his part, says that the bad people and good people are not doing much for their city.
Dionysus proclaims that he is choosing Aeschylus. Euripides is furious, and curses Dionysus. Dionysus uses his own lines back at him, and Euripides exits.
Bon Voyage to Aeschylus
Pluto offers a banquet to Dionysus and Aeschylus before the latter sets sail. The Chorus praises the poet, a man of intelligence, clear sight, and good sense who is now going back to his people.
Pluto says goodbye to Aeschylus and encourages him to save the city with his sage advice and educate the witless. He lists a few men and encourages Aeschylus to tell them to hurry down to him.
Aeschylus instructs Pluto to hand his chair over to Socrates to look after it, "for I rank him / second to me in the art" (106). He warns him not to let Euripides anywhere near the chair.
The Chorus sings for Aeschylus to have a good voyage above to the sunlight that that "we may have an end of great griefs / and painful encounters in arms" (107).
Dionysus' journey to the underworld ends with him bringing back a poet to help Athens, but interestingly enough, it is not the poet he intended. This last section of contests helps Dionysus mature and come to a better understanding of what his city-state needs, and also advances several significant critiques of tragedy and the poet's role in society and politics. Aristophanes' views on what kind of poetry would best serve Athens could not be clearer by the end of Frogs.
Euripides and Aeschylus are two names no doubt familiar to most students of history and/or literature. Euripides was known for his 92 plays (only 19 are extant), which included The Trojan Women, The Bacchae, and Medea. His characters were often passionate and flawed, and were usually members of the common folk. Aeschylus was a more traditional poet, whose 80+ plays (7 are extant) include the Oresteia trilogy and Prometheus Bound. He was known for his moral themes and advice for his audience to conduct themselves in an upright fashion befitting citizens of the great Athenian demos.
Aristophanes was quite familiar with the work of both of these poets, and the critiques hurled from one to the other reflect generally established truisms regarding their respective work. Euripides claims Aeschylus is a "creator of savages, a boorish loudmouth" (70) who was prone to "come out with a dozen words as big as an ox" (74) and "huge craggy utterances / that weren't easy to decipher" (75). He says he put Aeschylus's weight prose on a diet and did not "write whatever humbug entered my head" (76). He believes that because he wrote about everyday scenes and real people that he was the better poet; there is no reason to distract the readers with "bombastic bluster" (77). He encouraged people to think critically and rationally, he also claims. Aeschylus places himself within the tradition of noble poets, believing his work to be grander and moral. His works, full of great thoughts and ideas, inspire the audience, while Euripides writes of wanton women and is beloved by quacks and the simpleminded.
Dionysus cannot decide between the two of them, and thus has the poets weigh their verses. As Aeschylus recites deeper and more profound verse, he bests Euripides. The final point of debate is about Alcibiades, and Aeschylus's views win the day. As the Chorus extols, he is a "man who has / keen intelligence" and "eminent good sense" (105) and who will now return to Athens to help guide the floundering city. His poetry will teach, as it has done, people to be courageous in battle, and loyal more generally.
Aristophanes' choice reflects, of course, his views on what Athens needs. Scholar James Redfield writes, "The conflict between Aeschylus and Euripides is a poetic expression of the conflict between old and new politics, and the victory of Aeschylus is a rejection of the new life-style, a return to the old moral center." There is not a current need for Euripides's cleverness or originality, or his neutrality in politics as well as the art of tragedy. Because for Euripides "there is no order either in community or in the world", he is not a good choice to restore the order that Aristophanes and Athens crave.