The Frogs

Critical analysis

The parodos contains a paradigmatic example of how in Greek culture obscenity could be included in celebrations related to the gods.[2]

Politics

Kenneth Dover claims that the underlying political theme of The Frogs is essentially “old ways good, new ways bad”.[3] He points to the parabasis for proof of this: “The antepirrhema of the parabasis (718–37) urges the citizen-body to reject the leadership of those whom it now follows, upstarts of foreign parentage (730–2), and turn back to men of known integrity who were brought up in the style of noble and wealthy families” (Dover 33). Kleophon is mentioned in the ode of the parabasis (674–85), and is both “vilified as a foreigner” (680–2) and maligned at the end of the play (1504, 1532).

The Frogs deviates from the pattern of political standpoint offered in Aristophanes’ earlier works, such as The Acharnians (425 BC), Peace (421 BC), and Lysistrata (411 BC), which have all been termed 'peace' plays. The Frogs is not often thus labeled, however – Dover points out that though Kleophon was adamantly opposed to any peace which did not come of victory, and the last lines of the play suggest Athens ought to look for a less stubborn end to the war, Aeschylus’ advice (1463–5) lays out a plan to win and not a proposition of capitulation. Also, The Frogs contains solid, serious messages which represent significant differences from general critiques of policy and idealistic thoughts of good peace terms. During the parabasis Aristophanes presents advice to give the rights of citizens back to people who had participated in the oligarchic revolution in 411 BC, arguing they were misled by Phrynichus' 'tricks' (literally 'wrestlings'). Phrynichos was a leader of the oligarchic revolution who was assassinated, to general satisfaction, in 411. This proposal was simple enough to be instated by a single act of the assembly, and was actually put into effect by Patrokleides’ decree after the loss of the fleet at Aegospotami. The anonymous Life states that this advice was the basis of Aristophanes’ receipt of the olive wreath, and the author of the ancient Hypothesis says admiration of the parabasis was the major factor that led to the play's second production.[3]

J.T. Sheppard contends that the exiled general Alcibiades is a main focus of The Frogs. At the time the play was written and produced, Athens was in dire straits in the war with the Peloponnesian League, and the people, Sheppard claims, would logically have Alcibiades on their minds. Sheppard quotes a segment of text from near the beginning of the parabasis:

But remember these men also, your own kinsmen, sire and son, Who have oftimes fought beside you, spilt their blood on many seas; Grant for that one fault the pardon which they crave you on their knees. You whom nature made for wisdom, let your vengeance fall to sleep; Greet as kinsmen and Athenians, burghers true to win and keep, Whosoe'er will brave the storms and fight for Athens at your side!

—Murray translation, from l. 697

He states that though this text ostensibly refers to citizens dispossessed of their rights, it will actually evoke memories of Alcibiades, the Athenians' exiled hero. Further support includes the presentation of the chorus, who recites these lines, as initiates of the mysteries. This, Sheppard says, will also prompt recollection of Alcibiades, whose initial exile was largely based on impiety regarding these religious institutions. Continuing this thought, the audience is provoked into remembering Alcibiades' return in 408 BC, when he made his peace with the goddesses. The reason Aristophanes hints so subtly at these points, according to Sheppard, is because Alcibiades still had many rivals in Athens, such as Kleophon and Adeimantus, who are both blasted in the play. Sheppard also cites Aeschylus during the prologue debate, when the poet quotes from The Oresteia:

Subterranean Hermes, guardian of my father's realms, Become my savior and my ally, in answer to my prayer. For I am come and do return to this my land.

—Dillon translation, from l. 1127

This choice of excerpt again relates to Alcibiades, still stirring his memory in the audience. Sheppard concludes by referencing the direct mention of Alcibiades' name, which occurs in the course of Dionysus' final test of the poets, seeking advice about Alcibiades himself and a strategy for victory. Though Euripides first blasts Alcibiades, Aeschylus responds with the advice to bring him back, bringing the subtle allusions to a clearly stated head and concluding Aristophanes' point.[4]

Structure of The Frogs

According to Kenneth Dover the structure of The Frogs is as follows: In the first section Dionysus' has the goal of gaining admission to Pluto's palace, and he does so by line 673. The parabasis follows, (lines 674–737) and in the dialogue between the slaves a power struggle between Euripides and Aeschylus is revealed. Euripides is jealous of the other's place as the greatest tragic poet. Dionysus is asked by Pluto to mediate the contest or agon.[3]

Charles Paul Segal argues that The Frogs is unique in its structure, because it combines two forms of comic motifs, a journey motif and a contest motif or agon motif, with each motif being given equal weight in the play.[5]

Segal contends that Aristophanes transformed the Greek comedy structure when he downgraded the contest or agon which usually preceded the parabasis and expanded the parabasis into the agon. In Aristophanes' earlier plays, i.e., The Acharnians and The Birds, the protagonist is victorious prior to the parabasis and after the parabasis is usually shown implementing his reforms. Segal suggests this deviation gave a tone of seriousness to the play. For more detail see Old Comedy.


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