The Frogs

The Frogs Summary and Analysis of Scene IV

Scene IV

Pluto's slave and Xanthias talk together. The slave marvels at how Dionysus did not beat Xanthias when he pretended to be the master, and then shares how he loves to talk about his own master behind his back. He also loves meddling, complaining, and eavesdropping.

Impressed, Xanthias asks to share kisses on the hand. He then wonders about all the noise coming from inside the palace. The slave explains a big event is starting. In the event, which is a custom, there is contest where the best professional is entitled to the Prytaneum and privileged seating next to Pluto. Aeschylus holds the Chair of Tragedy, but recently Euripides came down and starting reciting verses to the ne'er-do-wells and became very popular. The public wanted a trial to decide who is best, and Pluto agreed.

Xanthias asks why Sophocles did not bid for the chair, and the slave replies he was content to sit it out to curry favor with Aeschylus. Now, the slave explains, "poetic art will be weighed up in a balance" (68).

Xanthias inquires who the judge will be, and, as there is a "shortage of competent people" (68), the slave explains, Dionysus was chosen for his familiarity with poetry. The two men go inside.

The Chorus speaks of rivals in art, and how one artist is like a raging elephant, who has a "formidable brow frowning" and "with a roar he will hurl / utterances bolted together, tearing off timbers / with his gigantic blast" (69).


This short scene is a transition between the first part of the play, Dionysus's journey to the underworld, and the second part of the play, Dionysus's judging of the poetic contrast between Euripides and Aeschylus. It links these otherwise seemingly unrelated plot points, and offers an amusing insight into how slaves thought and acted, at least in Aristophanes' mind. Pluto's slave revels in his criticisms of his master and his subversive behavior, boasting, "Why it's like nirvana / whenever I curse my master behind his back!" (65). Such statements would no doubt have entertained the citizens of Athens. The slave is not merely a humorous device; rather, he provides the necessary exposition for the coming contest, explaining that Euripides is challenging Aeschylus for the Chair of Tragedy and that the denizens of the underworld desire a match between the poets. The slave also informs Xanthias that his own master was chosen to be the judge, indicating how slaves seem to be privy to all of the goings-on of their masters.

The play is commonly discussed in terms of the rite of passage motif. Richard F. Moorton, Jr. explains how Dionysus traveling to the underworld embodies this. Dionysus leaves his own, profane realm and journeys into another, sacred realm; at that point, the sacred and profane switch places and his former home becomes sacred. Dionysus is a novice, untutored in the ways of Hades and thus seeks counsel from Heracles, a wiser figure as he had already traveled there. Dionysus experiences his mock, comic, and symbolic death, which is enacted, ritual-like, through his rowing himself across the Styx. He crosses through this neutral zone between realms and encounters the frogs, which belong to neither zone. Moorton comments that the frogs are "both witnesses of Dionysus's rite of passage and participants in it: by virtue of their rhythmical singing they are supposedly facilitators, actually comic obstructers, of his rowing."

Once in Hades, before he gets to Pluto's door, Dionysus must survive a monster –the Empusa –resist the temptation to revel with the Initiates. Having completed those tasks, he experiences an identity crisis of sorts as he confronts the various individuals who answer Pluto's door. He learns that he will not be able to simply kidnap Euripides or perform some action of "larcenous chicanery", as Moorton calls it, but instead has a different role to embody. This is the role of judge, of arbiter. He is now in Hades as a friend of Pluto, and has been given this task in order to help stabilize the realm, which is suffering due to the rivalry between poets. Dionysus accepts his role and in the process of the contest, learns more about the nature of tragedy and what kind of tragic poet can help Athens in her hour of need. It is no longer Euripides, whom he actually came down to procure, but Aeschylus instead.

The entire point of a rite of passage journey is regeneration, and while that happens for Dionysus, who returns to the world above, it is suggested that it happens for Athens as a whole, now that Aeschylus is returning to guide and counsel the city-state back to its preeminence and power.

Finally, many critics have also wondered about the atypical structure of the play in terms of comedy and tragedy, for in Frogs the major agony comes after the parabasis, and the funny scenes come before. However, Thomas K. Hubbard explains, "Aristophanes may have structured the play as he did precisely to make a point about the relation of the comic and the serious...and the necessity of approaching the serious through the comic." In that case, Aristophanes can be lauded even more for his “meta” approach to his plays –understanding that they are not simply a series of events and obvious morals, but because they can, within the structure of the play itself, offer profound insight into the way the world does, and should, work.