Checked content

The Frogs

Related subjects: Theatre

Background Information

SOS Children has tried to make Wikipedia content more accessible by this schools selection. A good way to help other children is by sponsoring a child

The Frogs

Sketch of Aristophanes
Written by Aristophanes
Chorus Frogs, Initiates, citizens of Hades
Characters Dionysus
Xanthias, Dionysus' slave
Aeacus, janitor of Hades
Plathane, maid of the inn
Pluto or Hades
various extras
Setting Outside Heracles' house; Lake Acheron; Hades

Frogs (Βάτραχοι (Bátrachoi)) is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place.


The Frogs tells the story of the god Dionysus, despairing of the state of Athens' tragedians, and allegedly recovering from the disastrous Battle of Arginusae. He travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. He brings along his slave Xanthias, who is smarter, stronger, more rational, more prudent, and braver than Dionysus. The play opens as Xanthias and Dionysus argue over what kind of complaints Xanthias can use to open the play comically.

To find a reliable path to Tartarus, Dionysus seeks advice from his half-brother Heracles who had been there before in order to retrieve the hell hound Cerberus. Dionysus shows up at his doorstep dressed in a lion-hide and carrying a club. Heracles, upon seeing the effeminate Dionysus dressed up like himself, can't help but laugh. At the question of which road is quickest to get to Hades, Heracles replies with the options of hanging yourself, drinking poison, or jumping off a tower. Dionysus opts for the longer journey across a lake (possibly Lake Acheron); the one which Heracles took himself.

When Dionysus arrives at the river, Charon ferries him across. Xanthias, being a slave, is not allowed in the boat, because he was unable to take part in the Battle of Arginusae, and has to walk around it. As Dionysus helps row, he hears a chorus of croaking frogs (the only scene in the play featuring frogs). Their chant—Brecece·cecs? cò·acs? cò·acs? (Hellènic: Βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ)—is constantly repeated, and Dionysus joins in and out-chants them. When he arrives at the shore, Dionysus meets up with Xanthias, and they get a brief scare from Empusa. A second chorus composed of spirits of Dionysian Mystics soon appear.

The next encounter is with Aeacus, who mistakes Dionysus for Heracles due to his attire. Still angry over Heracles' theft of Cerberus, Aeacus threatens to unleash several monsters on him in revenge. Scared, Dionysus trades clothes with Xanthias. A maid then arrives and is happy to see Heracles. She invites him to a feast with virgin dancing girls, and Xanthias is more than happy to oblige. But Dionysus quickly wants to trade back the clothes. Dionysus, back in the Heracles lion-skin, encounters more people angry at Heracles, and so he makes Xanthias trade a third time.

When Aeacus returns, Xanthias tells him he should torture Dionysus to obtain the truth as to whether or not he is really a thief, and he offers several brutal options in which to do it. The terrified Dionysus tells the truth that he is a god. After each is whipped, Dionysus is brought before Aeacus' masters, and the truth is verified.

Dionysus then finds Euripides in the middle of a conflict. Euripides, who had only just recently died, is challenging the great Aeschylus to the seat of 'Best Tragic Poet' at the dinner table of Hades. A contest is held with Dionysus as judge. The two playwrights take turns quoting verses from their plays and making fun of the other. Euripides argues the characters in his plays are better because they are more true to life and logical, whereas Aeschylus believes his idealized characters are better as they are heroic and models for virtue. Aeschylus gets the upper hand in the argument, and begins making a fool of Euripides. He shows that Euripides' verse is predictable and formulaic by having Euripides quote lines from many of his prologues, each time interjecting with "...lost his little bottle of oil." Euripides counters by setting Aeschylus' lyric verse to flute music, showing that it easily conforms to iambic tetrameter, expressed by the segment "oho what a stroke come you not to the rescue" (Lattimore translation) from Aeschylus' lost play Myrmidons. Aeschylus retorts to this by mocking Euripides' choral meters and lyric monodies with castanets.

To end the debate, a balance is brought in and each are told to tell a few lines into it. Whoever's lines have the most "weight" will cause the balance to tip in their favour. Aeschylus wins, but Dionysus is still unable to decide whom he will revive. He finally decides to take the poet who gives the best advice about how to save the city. Euripides gives cleverly worded but essentially meaningless answers while Aeschylus provides more practical advice, and Dionysus decides to take Aeschylus back instead of Euripides. Before leaving, Aeschylus proclaims that Sophocles should have his chair while he is gone, not Euripides.


The Frogs won first place at the Lenaia in 405 BC, and was so successful it was granted an unprecedented second performance early in 404 BC. Aristophanes was also awarded an olive wreath for the political advice he gave in the play.

Critical Analysis


Kenneth Dover asserts that the underlying political theme of The Frogs is essentially “old ways good, new ways bad”. He points to the parabasis for evidence 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 Phrynichos' '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.

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.

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. Pluto is asked by Dionysus to mediate the contest or agon.

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.

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, ie., 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.


Sophocles is mentioned only a few times in The Frogs, and readers new to the play may wonder why he is excluded from the competition of poets. Aristophanes excuses Sophocles' absence by Dionysus' and Aeacus' explanations when asked about him: Dionysus replies to Herakles that he wishes to test Sophocles' son Iophon's skill, and Aeacus tells Xanthias that Sophocles held Aeschylus in high respect and did not dispute Aeschylus' position. Dover questions the dearth of Sophocles' presence, and explains it with respect to the play's time of composition. Aristophanes began composing The Frogs after Euripides' death around 406 BC, while Sophocles still lived. Sophocles' death during that year may have forced Aristophanes to adjust some details of the play, but if the work was already in its late stages, the changes could easily have taken the form of the few mentions of Sophocles in the surviving work.


  • Charles Cavendish Clifford, 1848, verse: full text
  • Gilbert Murray, 1906, verse
  • Benjamin B. Rogers, 1924, verse: full text
  • Arthur S. Way, 1934, verse
  • Richmond Lattimore, 1962, verse
  • David Barret, 1964, prose and verse
  • Matthew Dillon, 1995, verse: full text
  • Steven Killen ET AL., 2006, prose and verse
  • George Theodoridis, 2006, prose: full text
Retrieved from ""