The Frogs



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The Frogs Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Aristophanes's The Frogs. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Aristophanes

Aristophanes was born in Athens around 446 B.C.E. He was a comic playwright and poet whose plays are considered defining works of the Old Comedy period of ancient Greek comedy—in fact, Aristophanes is the only playwright of this phase of comic drama whose works are not lost, and he and his legacy are chiefly responsible for Greek comedy’s continued development following the fall of Athens to Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War (Greek tragedy, on the other hand, ceased to evolve following the deaths of tragic playwrights Sophocles and Euripides). Despite the lasting influence of his work, not much is known of Aristophanes’s life; indeed, scholars know more about his plays than about the playwright himself, and what little they do know they have derived from references he makes in his plays. Aristophanes wrote plays to be performed at the Lenaia and the Dionysia, dramatic festivals that took place in Athens. His career began in 427 B.C.E., when he won second place at the Dionysia for his first play, The Banqueters. He later won first prize at the same festival with his following play, The Babylonians (both plays are now lost). He’s known for caricaturing prominent contemporary artists and politicians in his works, notably the tragedian Euripides (whom he caricatures in The Frogs). Despite the political themes that run through his plays, however, that Aristophanes survived the Peloponnesian War suggests he was not directly involved in politics. Other notable features of Aristophanes’s works are his witty dialogue, satirical themes, and plentiful allusions to relevant cultural and political subjects of the time. Of the 40 comedies Aristophanes wrote, 11 survive, along with fragments of other of his plays.
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Historical Context of The Frogs

The first performance of The Frogs took place in 405 B.C.E., just one year before the end of the Peloponnesian War, a war waged between Athens and Sparta, the two most powerful city-states of ancient Greece. Athens’s surrender in 404 B.C.E. shifted control of ancient Greece from Athens to Sparta. The Peloponnesian War began in 431 B.C.E. following a short-lived period of unstable peace between rival city-states Sparta and Athens when the Athenians violated the terms of the Thirty Years’ Treaty (signed in 445 B.C.E.), leading Sparta to declare war. In 423 B.C.E., Athens and Sparta signed a peace treaty, the Peace of Nicias; though meant to last for 50 years, conflict resumed in 415 B.C.E. when Athens launched an attack against Sicily. Spartans assisted the Sicilian city of Syracuse and defeated the Athenian army handily. From there, Athens continued to experience setbacks. In 411 B.C.E., Athenian democracy was briefly overthrown in an oligarchical revolt. Though the Athenian navy restored the democracy by the end of that year, reinstated democratic leaders refused to accept Spartan peace offers. In 405, the Spartan fleet (led by Lysander) defeated the Athenian navy at the Battle of Aegospotami and held Athens under siege, forcing Athens to surrender to Sparta in 404 B.C.E.

Other Books Related to The Frogs

The Frogs, with its ample wit and satire, has much in common with other comedies by Aristophanes. Acharnians, the earliest of Aristophanes’s surviving comedies, is a work of satire against pro-war politicians. Wasps (422 B.C.E.), Aristophanes’s fourth surviving play, satirizes Cleon, an Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata (first performed in 411 B.C.E.) after a coup overthrew Athens’s democratic government and briefly replaced it with an oligarchy. The comedy follows a woman, Lysistrata, who sets out to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing all the women of the land to withhold sex from men in an attempt to get the warring men to declare peace. In The Frogs, during Euripides and Aeschylus’s competition in Hades, each poet references several of their rival’s and their own plays. Aeschylus cites his Seven Against Thebes as an example of a play that inspired Athenians to go to war. Seven Against Thebes was produced in 468 or 467 B.C.E. and follows Oedipus’s son Polynices’s efforts to take Thebes from his brother Eteocles. The brothers face each other in a dual at the end of the play, and both die. In The Frogs, as Aeschylus praises his own plays for their noble themes and heroic characters, he criticizes Euripides’s plays for their lurid subject matters and unnoble characters. He alludes to Euripides’s Hippolytus (428 B.C.E.), which is about Phaedra, a married woman who falls in love with her stepson Hippolytus and makes false accusations against him when he rejects her. 
Key Facts about The Frogs
  • Full Title: The Frogs
  • When Written: 405 B.C.E.
  • Where Written: Athens, Greece
  • When Published: First performed at the Lenaia in 405 B.C.E.
  • Literary Period: Ancient Greek Comedy
  • Genre: Drama, Comedy, Satire
  • Setting: Athens, Greece and Hades
  • Climax: Dionysus deems Aeschylus the superior poet and chooses him to bring back to save Athens.
  • Antagonist: Contemporary playwrights in Classical Athens

Extra Credit for The Frogs

Top Frog. The Frogs was first performed in 405 B.C.E. at the Lenaia, an annual festival and dramatic competition held in Athens, where it received first place. 

Musical Frogs. The Frogs was adapted as a musical by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove. The first production took place in 1974 and was performed by the Yale Repertory Theatre in the Yale swimming pool.