The Frogs

The Frogs Summary and Analysis of Scene II

Scene II

The boat arrives at its destination and Dionysus pays Charon. Charon departs. Xanthias meets with Dionysus again, and the latter asks about his trip around the lake. Xanthias suggests moving as to avoid the fearsome beasts, but Dionysus scoffs that Heracles was just trying to frighten him. In fact, he would welcome an encounter with a beast like that to have a story to boast about.

Xanthias cries out that he sees one, and Dionysus, panicked, orders him to get between himself and the creature. Xanthias says it is a shape-shifter, changing from a cow to a mule and a woman, and then a bitch. Dionysus says it must be Empusa (a female bogey), and Xanthias proceeds to describe her appearance.

Xanthias cries out, "Lord Heracles, we're done for!" (42) and Dionysus chides him not to use his name. When Xanthias uses "Dionysus" instead, his master is even more annoyed. Xanthias says the woman is gone, and even swears this when Dionysus asks him to.

Dionysus is shaken by this encounter, and wonders aloud why he is beset by these woes and which gods he should blame for his undoing. Suddenly the two men hear the sound of pipes, and offstage the Chorus of Initiates calls the name of "Iacchus" (the Eleusinian cult name of Dionysus). Dionysus and Xanthias decide to listen off to the side, doing nothing until they feel comfortable.

Parodos of the Chorus

The Chorus sings about Iacchus in his abode, singing with his revelers and dancing, full of "fun-loving worship" in a dance that is "pure and holy to pious Initiates" (44). They continue, singing of old men throwing off their cares and how they desire Dionysus to carry a torch and lead them to the "blooming meadowland" (45).

The Chorus Leader chants a list of all those who should not partake in their dances: those with impure attitudes, those who know nothing of these things, those uninitiated into the Bacchic rites, those who jest or enjoy jests delivered at the wrong times, those who do nothing to stop factionalism or do not act peaceably toward their fellow citizens, officials who sell out their own cities, collectors of high taxes, traitors, those who do not respect offerings made to Hecate, and politicians who do not respect the poets.

The Chorus sings of moving on now that they have breakfasted, and exalting the Savior Goddess (Athena) with their voices. The Chorus Leader calls for a song for Demeter. In this song they call for Iacchus to come with them to the goddess, for he once "found a way for us / to frolic and dance without charge" (47). They end their verses by saying they saw a pretty girl with a breast popping out of her dress.

Dionysus is excited by this and says he wants to play with her as he dances.

The Chorus suggests getting together to mock Archedemus, Cleisthenes's son, and Callias. Dionysus finally approaches and asks if they know where Pluto dwells, as they are strangers to this place.

The Chorus says he is at the door. It then commands him to go in to Demeter's "sacred circle" (49) while they will "go with the girls and the women, / to carry the sacred flame where they revel all night for the / goddess" (49).

Analysis

Before analyzing the content of the scene, it bears identifying more of the figures Aristophanes mentions in the play. Empusa is a term for a female bogey that was a part of the Eleusinian Mysteries (see Additional Content). Empusa as an individual was a demigoddess, the daughter of Hecate who seduced young men and feasted on their blood. Her name was later given to these female bogeys, which guarded roadways and ambushed travelers. Iacchus, mentioned by the Chorus of Initiates, refers to the Eleusinian cult name of Dionysus. The hymn of Diagoras refers to a lyric poem by the noted atheist, which criticized the Mysteries. Cratinus was the superlative comic poet the generation before Aristophanes. Demeter, of course, was the goddess of the earth and the mother of Persephone, married to Hades (Pluto in the play). Archedemus was one of the prosecutors of the Arginusae commanders. There is no known son of Cleisthenes, as scholar Jeffrey Henderson points out.

One of the elements of the play that may surprise modern readers is its crassness. There are slang terms for genitals, references to homosexuality, and jokes and instances pertaining to bodily functions. This was not at all uncommon for works of Greek comedy, which were known for their ease of restrictions regarding language or themes. The plays were commonly rendered in colloquial language, although they often parodied other forms of art, such as tragic poetry. During the period of Old Comedy, which began in 486 BCE and ended in 388 BCE, many of the works, such as Frogs, were political comedies. Other favored subjects included domestic scenes and burlesque mythological stories.

The crassness and humor seen in comedies was a reflection of the complete freedom of speech Athenians enjoyed during this period. The only thing, ironically, that Athenians could not say was anything negative about the demos' rule or anything that would harm the democracy or the state. Slander laws were not about protecting individuals; instead, they protected the state. Scholar Jeffrey Henderson notes, "if the criticism and abuse we find in Old Comedy often sees outrageous by our standards, it is because we differ from the fifth-century Athenians in our definition of outrageous, not because comic poets were held to no standards."

In Scene II the amusing and competitive relationship between Dionysus and Xanthias continues. Dionysus proves himself a boastful and bombastic figure, but one also afraid of monsters and prone to soiling himself in fear. This was no doubt hilarious to audiences in ancient Greece. Xanthias's boldness of speech is a precursor to the wisecracking slave figure ubiquitous in New Comedy.

Following Scene II is the parodos of the chorus. The term ‘parodos’ refers to the entrance for the chorus to either the stage or the orchestra. It also refers to the chorus's first song sung as they enter from the side. In the parodos of Frogs, the chorus is comprised of the Initiates, part of the Eleusinian Mysteries. They celebrate Iacchus and Demeter, and sing of those who shall not be allowed to participate in their rituals and rites. Also befitting the theme of the play, they criticize Athenians who behave badly and dishonor the state. John E. Thorburn Jr. writes, "Aristophanes shows no sympathy for people who make their living by exploiting certain situations or taking advantage of other people...[such as] those who profit from the war with Sparta, people who manipulate religion or poplar superstition for their own benefit, and professional informants."