Dionysus and Xanthias are at the door of Pluto's palace. Aeacus's voice asks who is there, and when Dionysus says it is Heracles, Aeacus spews out vile curses at him. His voice fades.
Dionysus has shit himself in fear and Xanthias mocks him for being a coward. Xanthias says he was not afraid of the rants and threats, so Dionysus says that he ought to take the club and lion skin and impersonate him. Xanthias agrees and dons the disguise.
A maid comes outside, full of sweetness and charm for Heracles. Xanthias is hesitant to enter until he hears that there are dancing girls inside. He orders Dionysus to grab the luggage.
Dionysus is annoyed and asks if Xanthias really thought he, a slave, could be the son of Alcmene and Zeus. He takes back the disguise.
The Chorus enters and speaks lines about a man with sense who realizes the ship is rollicking and goes to the soft side to ride it out; this makes him like Theramenes.
A female innkeeper and her maid appear. The innkeeper calls for Plathane, who arrives with her maid. They excoriate Dionysus-as-Heracles for his past visits and greedy behavior. Xanthias enjoys this and adds his own commentary.
The innkeeper calls for her patron Cleon to come, and Plathane calls for hers, Hyperbolus, as well. Both women speak of the terrible things they want to do to Heracles, and exit.
Dionysus begs Xanthias to be Heracles again, and promises that if he asks for the disguise back he will "die a sorry death and be eradicated, / and my wife and kids" (56). Xanthias accepts this and dons the disguise again.
The Chorus warns Xanthias to be careful, and to regain his formidable demeanor. Xanthias tells them he knows Dionysus might ask for the disguise back.
Aeacus and two slaves burst out, and Aeacus orders Xanthias-as-Heracles to be bound. After a scuffle, he is subdued. Xanthias tells them to take his slave and torture him, and he will do no wrong. Aeacus asks how to torture him, and Xanthias provides a few options.
Aeacus plans to torture Dionysus in front of Xanthias, but Dionysus proclaims that he is immortal because he is a god, the son of Zeus, and Xanthias is a slave. As both claim they are gods now, Aeacus decides to torture both and see who can feel pain, which means he is a human.
Aeacus tortures both, and they utter a few noises and groans but attribute them to other causes, such as reciting a line of poetry or smelling onions. Finally, Aeacus says he cannot decide who is a god, and says that he will take them inside to Pherrephatta, who will recognize the true god. Dionysus says it is a good plan, but wishes it were thought of before the torture.
Parabasis of the Chorus
The Chorus asks the Muse to inspire joy in their song.
The Chorus Leader says it is good for the Chorus to give advice to the city. The advice includes: all citizens should be equal and any fears of being prosecuted for attacks they made under the oligarchy of 411 be erased; no one in the city should be disenfranchised; that those who participated in the sea battle of Arginusae be pardoned their misadventure; that all people embrace those who fought aboard their ships and not be too proud.
The Chorus marvels at how the city treats its citizens the same way it treats new and old coinage. Both of the coinages are unalloyed, but the city does not use the fine, new coins, but instead uses the old, low-quality ones. This is the same with the citizens, because they acknowledge the heroic and upstanding ones but treat them poorly. The Chorus cautions them to "change your ways and once again choose the good / people" (64).
In this scene Dionysus and Xanthias continue their journey, arriving at the door to Hades and experiencing the aftermath of Heracles's own journey there in the past. There are amusing cases of assumed and mistaken identities, jesting between master and servant, and, following the scene, the parabasis of the chorus, which provides insightful commentary on the status of Athenian democracy.
As usual, some background information is helpful to understand the scene. Heracles had journeyed to Hades as one of his twelve labors; he was instructed to take Cerberus from Pluto, thus garnering the ire of Pluto and Aeacus (Aeacus explodes at Dionysus dressed as Hercules, "You're the one who rustled our dog Cerberus, / grabbed him by the throat, darted off, and got clean away, / the dog that I was in charge of!" (50). The Chorus refers to Theramines, who was a politician nicknamed "Buskin" (for a boot that fits either foot); he had helped to form and then bring about the downfall of the Four Hundred, and also put the blame on his colleagues for Arginusae. Cleon was a prominent politician of the 420s (BCE, as are subsequent dates), known for his support of ordinary citizens. Hyperbolus was his successor, and a butt of comedic poets' jokes. Hipponax was a celebrated 6th century poet. Cleophon was a popular and influential politician after democracy was restored in 410, and he was executed in 404 on false charges brought about by anti-democratic factions. When the Chorus talks about citizenship, they are referring to refugees of the Spartan massacre at Platea in 479 receiving Athenian citizenship.
One of the notable themes of the play is identity, which is unsurprising given the fact that mistaken and switched identity was a popular element of Greek theater. It is not only amusing but can propel the plot forward, provide insight into characters' motivations, and act as a mode of conveying the poet's satiric intent. Dionysus wears the Heracles costume from the very beginning, causing the actual Heracles no end of amusement. The Greek audience would no doubt have appreciated all of the hilarity and confusion that stems from the disguise. Xanthias and Dionysus trade the costume several times as they journey into Hades, and, as Thomas K. Hubbard writes, "identity swaps function to punctuate their negotiation of the journey through its constitutive encounters."
Dionysus uses the switches of costume to bring about his desires, such as avoiding pain and procuring pleasure. Hubbard notes that he is self-serving, as his costuming is done to make his journey as easy as possible. His naiveté, cowardice, and self-interest are revealed through his readiness to wear the costume of another, or to take it off at a moment's notice when it no longer serves him. Hubbard also sees the "assuming and discarding of identity" as a "self-reflecting device, contributing to the overall effect by which the play indicates it is conscious of itself as a text and a performance."
Following Scene III is the parabasis of the chorus. A ‘parabasis’ comes when the dramatic actors leave the stage and only the chorus is there to speak to the audience. It discourses on something occasionally not directly related to the events of the play. It usually features three songs. The parabasis died out after the Old Comedy period after the chorus waned in popularity. The main point of the parabasis in Frogs is to discuss contemporary affairs. The Chorus asks the people of Athens to restore the rights of citizenship to those whom the oligarchic rulers disenfranchised; in particular, Cleophon is denigrated. They also excoriate Athenians for letting the wrong men do important tasks. The parabasis offers Aristophanes's most potent commentary on the state of Athens.