The Frogs



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Themes and Colors
Old vs. New  Theme Icon
The Value of Art  Theme Icon
Literary Criticism  Theme Icon
Critique of Athenian Democracy  Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Frogs, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Old vs. New  Theme Icon

In Aristophanes’s The Frogs, Dionysus (the god of theater) strongly believes that the comic playwrights currently living in Athens simply don’t compare to the famous tragedian Euripides, who recently died. Dionysus thinks Euripides and the older generation of tragedians taught Athenians how to live virtuously and be good citizens. In this way, Dionysus’s rejection of contemporary comic playwrights reflects his (and Aristophanes’s) disdain for contemporary Athenian culture, which he considers debased and degraded—and which he blames for Athens’s inevitable demise. Athens had been fighting against Sparta in the Peloponnesian War since 431 B.C.E. and was on the verge of collapse by the time The Frogs was first performed in 405 B.C.E. Indeed, at the time of the play’s first performance, Athens was just one year away from completely falling to Spartan control. Against this political backdrop, The Frogs criticizes the way Athenians have left behind traditional values, and the play’s argument against newness and change essentially functions as a rejection of the shifting political order, as Aristophanes implies that Athens is in its present state of political turmoil because it has lost touch with its roots.

In The Frog’s opening scene, Xanthias makes a crass joke about farting so intensely that it blows the luggage he’s carrying off his back, which, he observes, is the kind of comedy that “usually happens” in contemporary comedies. In response, an unamused Dionysus remarks that he “come[s] away more than a year older” each time he sees a play that employs this type of humor. Thus, from the start, The Frogs establishes contemporary comedy as vapid and even harmful. In the days when great tragic playwrights—Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus—reigned supreme, by contrast, Athenians were exposed to plays that explicitly spelled out to them what they should care about and how they should act in order to be good citizens. In the parabasis (the part of Ancient Greek Comedy in which the chorus addresses the audience directly to comment on the play’s main ideas), the Chorus calls Athenians “misguided souls” who no longer know how to differentiate between good, noble people and scoundrels. It compares Athenians’ judgment of character to the way they “treat [their] money,” noting how they used to value gold coins but now trade in “phony silver-plated coppers.” If Athens wants to defeat Sparta and regain its former glory, then citizens need to become better judges of character—and the best way to do this is by exposing themselves to works of art that feature noble, heroic characters whose behavior they can emulate. Thus, in The Frogs, Aristophanes attributes Athens’s degraded, politically vulnerable state to the phasing out of an older, tragic tradition of poetry and drama. In a broader sense, then, The Frogs suggests that Athens will only flourish if citizens reject the new ways and turn back to the old.

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Old vs. New ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Old vs. New appears in each scene of The Frogs. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Old vs. New Quotes in The Frogs

Below you will find the important quotes in The Frogs related to the theme of Old vs. New .
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

XANTHIAS Do you mean to say that I’ve been lugging these props around but I’m not allowed to use them to get a laugh? That’s what usually happens. Phrynichus, Lycis, Ameipsias – all the popular playwrights do it. The comic porter scene. There’s one in every comedy.

DIONYSUS Not in this one. Every time I go to a show and have to sit through one of those scintillating routines, I come away more than a year older.

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Xanthias (speaker), Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Heracles
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

DIONYSUS I need a poet who can really write. Nowadays it seems like ‘many are gone, and those that live are bad’.

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Heracles, Xanthias, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

We chorus folk two privileges prize:
To amuse you, citizens, and to advise.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

These we abuse, and look instead to knaves,
Upstarts, nonentities, foreigners and slaves –
Rascals all! Honestly, what men we choose!
There was a time when you’d have scorned to use
Men so debased, so far beyond the pale,
Even as scapegoats to be dragged from jail
And flogged to death outside the city gates.
Misguided friends, change now, it’s not too late!
Try the good ones again: if they succeed,
You will have shown that you have sense indeed;
And if things don’t go well, if these good men
All fail, and Athens comes to grief, why, then
Discerning folk will murmur (let us hope):
‘She hanged herself, but with a first-rate rope!’

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 161-162
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

SLAVE He’s a real gentleman, your master, by Zeus.

XANTHIAS Of course. Like all real gentlemen he only understands two things: swigging and frigging.

Related Characters: Pluto’s Slave (speaker), Xanthias (speaker), Dionysus, Heracles, Pluto
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

SLAVE Well, Euripides came along and started showing off to all the other people we’ve got down here, you know, cut-throats, highwaymen, murderers, burglars – a right rough lot they are – and of course he soon had them all twisted round his little finger, with all his arguments and clever talking. So they’ve all started saying he’s the best, and he’s decided to lay claim to the chair instead of Aeschylus.

Related Characters: Pluto’s Slave (speaker), Xanthias, Euripides, Aeschylus, Pluto
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

AESCHYLUS My plays have outlived me so I don’t have them to hand down here. His died with him. But never mind. Let’s have a contest, if we must, by all means.

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Dionysus, Euripides
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

We’re expecting, of course, to pick up a few tips
From these poets so clever and wise,
As elegant utterance falls from their lips
And their temperatures gradually rise.

Since neither is lacking in brains or in grit
It should be a thrilling debate:
While one pins his hopes on his neatly turned wit,
The other relies on his weight.

For shrewd dialectic he cares not a jot;
Though traps be contrived for his fall,
He’ll swoop down like thunder and quell the lot –
Quips, quibbles, his rival and all!

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Euripides, Aeschylus
Page Number: 168-169
Explanation and Analysis:

EURIPIDES I taught them how to apply subtle rules, how to turn a phrase neatly. I taught them to observe, to discern, to interpret; to use spin, to massage the facts; to suspect the worst, to take nothing at face value…

Related Characters: Euripides (speaker), Aeschylus
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

DIONYSUS That’s right: whenever an Athenian comes home nowadays, he shouts at the servants and starts asking, ‘Why is the flour jar not in its proper place? Who bit the head off this sprat? What’s happened to that cup I had last year? Where is yesterday’s garlic? Who’s been nibbling at this olive?’ Whereas before Euripides came along they just sat there staring blankly.

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Euripides
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

AESCHYLUS Well, now, look at the characters I left him. Fine, stalwart figures, larger than life. Men who didn’t shirk their duty. My heroes weren’t like these marketplace loafers, delinquents and rogues they write about nowadays. They were real heroes, breathing spears and lances, white-plumed helmets, breastplates and greaves; heroes with hearts of oxhide, seven layers thick.

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Euripides
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

AESCHYLUS […] Schoolboys have a master to teach them, adults have poets. We have a duty to see that what we teach them is right and proper.

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Euripides, Dionysus
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

AESCHYLUS Look, you fool, noble themes and sentiments need to be couched in suitably dignified language. If your characters are demigods, they should sound like demigods – what’s more, they should dress like them. I set an example in this respect, which you totally perverted.


AESCHYLUS By dressing your kings in rags so that they appear as objects of pity.

EURIPIDES What harm is there in that?

AESCHYLUS Well, these days you can’t get the wealthy to pay their ship levy. They dress up in rags and claim exemption on the grounds of poverty.

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Euripides (speaker)
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

AESCHYLUS And look how you’ve encouraged people to babble. The wrestling schools are empty. And where have all the young men gone? Off to these notorious establishments where they practise the art of debating – and that’s not all they practise either! These days even the sailors argue with their officers; in my day the only words they knew were ‘slops’ and ‘heave-ho’!

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Euripides
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

EURIPIDES [after some thought]
I loathe a citizen who acts so fast
To harm his country and yet helps her last,
Who’s deft at managing his own success,
But useless when the city’s in a mess.

Related Characters: Euripides (speaker), Aeschylus, Dionysus, Alcibiades
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

It is not very wise for city states
To rear a lion cub within their gates;
But if they do so, they will find it pays
To tolerate its own peculiar ways.

Related Characters: Aeschylus (speaker), Euripides, Dionysus, Chorus , Alcibiades
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:


So it’s not smart to sit and chat
With Socrates, tossing aside
Artistic merit, shedding all
That’s best of the tragedian’s art.
To fritter away all one’s time
On quibbling and pretentious talk,
And other such inane pursuits,
Is truly the mark of a fool.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Dionysus, Aeschylus, Euripides
Page Number: 189-190
Explanation and Analysis:

To the city’s counsels may he wisdom lend;
Then of war and suffering shall there be an end.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Dionysus, Aeschylus, Euripides
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis: