The Frogs

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Theatre

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


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, braver, and more polite than Dionysus. To engage the audience, their first scene consists of a battle of base wit ( potty humor), that Xanthias subtly wins each round.

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 - Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax is constantly repeated, and Dionysus joins in. When they arrive at the shore, Dionysus meets back 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 has Euripides quote lines from many of his prologues, each time interjecting with "...lost his bottle of oil."

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, and Dionysus decides to take him back instead of Euripides. Before leaving, Aeschylus proclaims that Sophocles should have his chair while he is gone, not Euripides.


The Frogs musical was loosely adapted from Aristophanes' play in the 1970's, where Euripides' character was replaced by George Bernard Shaw, and Aeschylus by William Shakespeare. An expanded version opened on Broadway in 2004 written by Stephen Sondheim starring Nathan Lane. ( Chris Kattan started in previews but was later replaced by Roger Bart.)

Jason Tyne, Keith Dworkin, and Rachel Klein premiered a new version using circus techniques in September 2006, performed by The Rising Sun Performance Company in Central Park. The adaptation, given a contemporary setting, replaced Empusa with a karaoke dragon, Aeschylus with Anton Chekhov, Euripides with Arthur Miller (including bawdy Marilyn Monroe humor), and Sophocles with Tennessee Williams.


  • Charles Cavendish Clifford, 1848 - verse: full text
  • 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
  • Ian Johnston, 2003 - verse: full text, webcomic by Phlip
  • Steven Killen et al., 2006 - prose and verse
  • George Theodoridis, 2006 - prose: full text
  • unknown translator - (BB.Rogers) verse: full text

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