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comedies. For the full details of history he may consult Thirlwall or Grote. And the literary aspect of the play, the comparison and criticism of the two great tragic masters Aeschylus and Euripides, will be for modern scholars the most interesting. Perhaps the clearest arrangement will be to give:
I. A brief historical sketch to the year when The Frogs was brought out.
II. The argument and substance of the play itself.
I. In the year B.C. 405 the Peloponnesian war was approaching its end. From the failure in Sicily B.C. 413 Athens never recovered. New fleets indeed were manned, and successful battles fought: but internal dissension prevented unity of purpose and paralyzed all effort. . Alcibiades, the one man whose genius might possibly have saved his country, was for a time active against it, then was restored to it for a brief space, but soon again distrusted and disgraced. While Attica was hard pressed by the occupation of Decelea, the operations of war were chiefly in Asia Minor. And here was more negotiation than fighting. To detach the Persian king from the Lacedaemonians, and thus win by Persian gold, was the aim of the oligarchical party at Athens; who were working themselves into power, and purposed at the same time to substitute aristocratic for democratic government at home. Alcibiades gave them some help in these negotiations, though he does not seem ever to have gone with them heartily. This change of government they effected: the Four Hundred were established: communications with Sparta were opened. But it was a short triumph. The army and fleet in Asia stood firm for democracy. Even at Athens there was a split in the oligarchical camp. Theramenes held back from the extreme measures of his party. Phrynichus, the most decided oligarch, who was prepared to betray all to Sparta and establish oligarchy at the expense of liberty, was slain in the market-place. The Four Hundred were put down: the assembly of Five Thousand established. Of this limited democracy Thucydides (viii. 97) says that it was the best polity which Athens had seen in his lifetime, being a reasonable compromise between oligarchs and democrats. Indeed brighter days seemed to be dawning. The successes of Thrasybulus Thrasylus and Alcibiades about the Hellespont (B.C. 410—408) led to Alcibiades' return amid general rejoicing. But this was not to last. Overtures of peace made by Sparta were disdainfully rejected; full democracy was reestablished; and, as a consequence, the oligarchs were roused to new efforts. Both these and the extreme democrats strove to ruin Alcibiades. He was sent to Asia Minor with a fleet, which during his temporary absence sustained a defeat through the folly of his subordinate. For this mishap Alcibiades being held answerable was deprived of his command: thus he was lost to his country, never again to reappear. Whatever may have been his faults of ambition and selfishness (and doubtless they were great), he appears on his return from exile to have been honestly bent on doing good service to his country: nor can it be doubted that his final retirement hastened the downfall of Athens.
One more brilliant success preceded the disastrous end. Conon, Erasinides and eight other generals succeeded to the command of the fleet (B.C. 406). Conon being defeated and shut up in the harbour of Mytilene, the Athenians, roused to a desperate effort, manned another large fleet, embarking citizens, resident aliens, and even slaves with promise of freedom. The Spartan admiral Callicratidas, leaving some ships to confine Conon, met the enemy with the remainder, and sustained a signal defeat. To follow up the victory and release Conon by surprising and overwhelming the squadron that imprisoned him, was one plain duty before the generals: they also had to rescue the crews of their broken vessels from a now rough and stormy sea. Theramenes with a small part of the fleet was to do the latter: the main part was to sail for Mytilene. But a more furious storm made both tasks impossible; and when this had abated, it was too late, the shipwrecked sailors were lost: Conon however had escaped and joined the Athenian fleet, but his blockaders had escaped also. This victory (so often alluded to in The
Frogs), though its completeness was somewhat marred by the storm, was decisive. And had it been used with moderation, Athens might yet have retrieved much. But offers of peace (which seem to have been renewed by Sparta at this crisis) were again rejected at the instance of Cleophon: and the very generals who had won the victory were cruelly condemned by an ungrateful country for not performing the impossibility of rescuing the crews. Their trial, condemnation, and the execution of those who ventured to stand the trial, appears to have been utterly against law, fairness, and prudent policy. Grote regards the whole business as an outburst of popular indignation, a kind of lynch-law. But from the fact that the generals were democrats, and from the part that Theramenes plays in the matter, it is probable that this popular indignation was fomented by the oligarchs for party purposes; that they, in fact, cunningly hounded on the demos to put out of the way its best defenders. Kock says of the trial and condemnation of the generals that "it was the first link in a chain of measures which were to bring about the subversion of the democracy, the betrayal of the State to Sparta, and the supremacy of the oligarchs or of Theramenes.” How this programme was carried out-the defeat or betrayal at Aegospotami, the siege and final submission of Athens-need not here be detailed : our play comes just between Athens' last success and her fall.
The god Dionysus, being utterly disgusted with the degeneracy of the drama now that the three great masters are dead, resolves to descend to the nether world and bring back thence Euripides his favourite tragic poet. Attired as Hercules, and attended by a slave Xanthias, he goes first to his brother Hercules for instructions. Duly instructed, the pair make their way to the infernal lake: Dionysus is ferried across it, Xanthias goes round it, and after several amusing adventures they come to the bright fields where the Mystae, the initiated of the Eleusinian mysteries, are enjoying their happiness. Here
they pause awhile and listen to the hymns of these blessed spirits (who are the true Chorus of the play), with which are interspersed passages of political meaning and personal satire. These form the first part of the Parabasis. After this the Chorus direct the travellers to Pluto's house, at whose door they knock. Aeacus, who acts as porter, receives the supposed Hercules with abuse and threats of punishment for the theft of Cerberus. While he is gone for assistance, Xanthias changes dress with Dionysus, but being invited to a feast is forced by Dionysus to resign his borrowed character, which however he is again persuaded to take when two hostesses alarm the cowardly god with threats of retaliation. At this point Aeacus returns with assistants and prepares to arrest Xanthias: who denies his crime, and ingeniously offers his slave Dionysus for examination by torture. Dionysus alarmed pleads his divinity: and, when the proposed ordeal by scourging fails to shew which is the true god, they are taken indoors to Pluto.
This ends the first half of the play.
The Chorus in the Parabasis counsel the state to use leniency towards bygone errors of citizens, and to employ the honest and noble in place of the rascal demagogues.
The second half of the play consists of the contest between Aeschylus and Euripides, which ends in Aeschylus being chosen.
Aeacus and Xanthias return. The true Dionysus has been discovered by Pluto and Proserpine. And his arrival proves most timely; for Euripides is on the point of contesting the tragic throne of the nether world with Aeschylus, and Dionysus is just what they wanted—a judge.
The competitors enter, and after mutual recriminations inaugurate the contest by prayer and sacrifice. Euripides pleads first, pointing out Aeschylus' faults of bombast, obscurity, mysterious marvels; and his own reforms in tragic art by introducing clearness, common sense, smart dialogue. Dionysus frequently interrupts, favouring Euripides, the speaker, on the whole, but with some covert satire ; while the Chorus plainly show a preference for Aeschylus. Then Aeschylus replies, stating that the mission of a poet is to ennoble his G. R.
audience: this he claims to have done by high heroic themes treated grandly : whereas Euripides has chosen meaner subjects, spoken of crimes which should be left untold, and encouraged quibbling argument rather than noble action. Dionysus is somewhat won over to Aeschylus by this reply ; the Chorus encourage the combatants to do their best.
The prologues of the two poets are compared. Euripides criticizes in detail one of his adversary's prologues, which he blames as obscure and tautological. Aeschylus retorts on those of Euripides, first finding fault with their sense, then charging them all with a monotony in form and rhythm. In this part of the contest Aeschylus is left with the last word and the approval of Dionysus.
Next they take each other's choruses. Exaggerated patchwork and parody are given by each from the other's lyrics, till Dionysus cries Hold, enough! to the sham Euripidean chorus. Then Aeschylus proposes the test of weight. This is so arranged that Aeschylus comes out superior in every
Yet Dionysus is so pleased with both that he is loth to offend either. As however he must take one, or he will have had his journey for nothing, and as he wants a poet for the public good, he determines to make political wisdom the crucial test. Both poets give their advice, on politics generally, and about Alcibiades and some other citizens. The result is that Dionysus chooses Aeschylus, to Euripides' surprise and indignation.
They retire to a farewell banquet with Pluto, after which Aeschylus is to be taken back to upper earth, Sophocles being left to keep the tragic throne. The Chorus light them in, offering their congratulations, and auguring peace and prosperity for Athens.
The purpose and drift of this play may be considered as threefold: political, religious, literary.
The attitude of Aristophanes in the politics of this time is easily seen. He is, in The Frogs, still true to his old po