The Frogs

How does Aristophanes criticize the intellectuals of his own period in The Frogs?

The FrogsAnswer: Satire is a mode of writing to reform human weaknesses through laughter and the satirist is the man who is sensitive to the gap between what might be and what it is. In line with these, Aristophanes, as a satirist of the classical times, satirizes both the social conditions and the dominant literary traditions of his time in his Frogs. He criticizes the changing social class structure through his representation of master/slave dichotomy and through a literary competition between Euripides and Aeschylus; he compares and contrasts the old and new literary traditions. Thus, this paper will discuss the use of social and literary satire by Aristophanes in Frogs.

Aristophanes, the representative of Old Comedy, wrote the last of his surviving plays, Frogs during the period of the Peloponnesian War. Frogs received the first prize and it was given the right to be performed twice without any revisions by the author, which was an honorary incident for Aristophanes.

The aim of this paper is to present the employment of satire by Aristophanes in Frogs which contains a lot of discussion about the old and new tragedy as the satire of the contemporary literary traditions along with the social satire that constitutes the grounds to build up the literary satire.


The play opens with the discussion between Dionysos and his slave Xanthias on the way to Heracles‟ house. The relationship between the Dionysos the master and Xanthias the slave is problematized in that Dionysos is constantly criticized by Xanthias although he is the master. Aristophanes begins questioning the relationship between the master and slave even at the very beginning of the play and the criticism of the social class structure that would be developed later in the play begins. Moreover, there is another problem about the identity of Dionysos. He arrives at the house of Heracles as almost disguised as Heracles bearing his emblems such as a lion skin and a club, which entertains Heracles very much because “he is confronting a parody of himself” (Dane, 1988,53).When the dialogue between Dionysos and Heracles begins, Aristophanes directly states the reason of Dionysos‟ visit. He wants to see Euripides, “such is the longing that devours my soul” (Frogs 4261).

The criticism of the contemporary poets is directly put forward. After defining Euripides as the “clever rogue,”Aristophanes criticizes the poets of new generation through the mouth of Dionysos:


Mere nubbins, with a silly gift of gab;
Shrill swallow choirs, murderers of Art!
One single play produced, and they are spent–
Small piss-ants, fouling the bed of Tragedy!
What potent poet can you find today,
To father one full-bodied, ringing phrase? (Frogs 427)

He has so much discontent that no sooner he learns about the easiest way to Hades, Dionysos and Xanthias go on their way immediately. Meanwhile, they have to cross the river with the assistance of Charon, but “Charon does not allow Xanthias on his boat, since he is a slave according to Athenian law, for he did not participate in the naval battle, as he truthfully admits” and thus he “ is compelled to walk around the lake while carrying the luggage; it looks as if the difference between free men and slaves will be as important in Hades as it is on earth”

This is another example of social satire in that it criticizes the strictly class structured society. Aristophanes, living in the class structured society of Athens, cannot stay away from the consciousness of the necessity of some kind of social reformation to end up the class difference and reshape the social structure. The issue of class is regarded to be so much natural that the reflection of it in underworld as reflected in the play is presented as a parodic extension of this idea.

Moreover, “Frogs‟ chorus is a satire on contemporary poetasters whose poems contained an overflow of croaking or whose dramatic productions did not leave any other acoustic memory than a monotonous and ill-sounding “brekekekex” [Frogs 432]. The many times repeated but meaningless line of “Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax” (Frogs432) creates both the comic and ironic effect. It is ironic in that the traditional Chorus that is generally considered to comment on the action of the play wisely now speaks unwisely. This can be taken as a reflection of the new literary tradition, represented by the Chorus of Frogs, which will be criticized much by Aristophanes later on in the play. Turning back to the Dionysos, the quest of Dionysos is itself satirical and parodic.

Literary satire comes to the foreground in the play. It is decided by Pluto that Dionysos is to choose who is better, Aeschylus or Euripides. This contest constitutes the agon part of the play and shows also the originality of Aristophanes in that “the comic agon is not in the beginning of the play, as heretofore customary, but at the end” (Solomos, 1974,211). It was decided that there should be a single combat “an attempt to decide an issue without full-scale battle. The warlike language of the choral odes with which the contest is prefaced and interspersed turns the setting into a field of battle and in some cases specifically indicates that a duel is envisaged not only, of course, is the language warlike; it is frequently reminiscent of Homeric epic” (Harriott, 1986,113).

It may also be claimed that these parts are almost mock-heroic. It is clear that the literary contest is satirical, often approaching parody, but never arbitrary.

As a comedy of ideas Frogs immediately takes attention to the literary criticism. Euripides starts the combat and begins to attack Aeschylus and to show off. It is possible that “Aristophanes may have disliked much of Euripides but he has no doubt about his merits and rightly regards him as the only tragedian except Sophocles who is worth the trouble of comparing with the great Aeschylus” (Sinclair, 1973,307), yet it is also asserted in- between the lines he utters during the contest about his talent as a great poet that “Euripides‟ distinctive quality is neither his dramaturgy nor his lack of scruple but his capacity to produce original and striking sayings” (Harriott, 1986,107). Thus, he is the representative of novelty unlike traditional Aeschylus. However, ironically enough again, not only Aeschylus‟ words about Euripides but also Euripides‟ own style in contest are placed within the play as a “real attack on Euripides” (Sinclair, 1973, 307).

It is clear that Frogs is such a rich play that it embodies not only literary but also social satire blended with many comic elements and aims at contributing to the well-being of the society. Aristophanes wants to restore the order in the society by satirizing the existing norms in the society and by parodying the literary conventions. As a result, he becomes the representative of the beginnings of literary criticism as well.