Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Wishing to visit the underworld, Bacchus sets out with his slave, Xanthias, to visit Hercules, from whom the god of wine hopes to get directions for his visit to the lower regions. On the way, Xanthias grumbles and moans about his many bundles. Xanthias is actually being carried on a donkey, but he complains until Bacchus loses patience and suggests that perhaps Xanthias would like to carry the donkey for a while.
Hercules, when consulted, suggests that Bacchus allow himself to be killed in order to arrive in the land of the dead. Bacchus wants to go there alive because he is anxious to see and to talk to the great playwrights; the critics tell him that all good writers are dead and gone. He is particularly anxious to meet Euripides. Hercules advises him to be content with the playwrights who are still alive. Bacchus argues that none of them is good enough. After getting directions from Hercules, he starts out, Xanthias still complaining about his bundles.
They come to the River Acheron and meet Charon, who ferries Bacchus across, insisting, however, that Bacchus row the boat; Xanthias walks around the margin of the stream because he dishonored himself by not volunteering for a naval victory. Xanthias tries to excuse himself on the grounds that he has sore eyes, but Charon refuses to listen.
While Bacchus and Xanthias talk to Charon, a chorus of frogs sets up a hoarse croaking, imitating the noisy plebeians at the theater with their senseless hooting. Bacchus sprains his back with his rowing and the frogs think his groans quite amusing.
Safely on the other side, Bacchus pays his fare and joins his slave. The two meet a monster, which Bacchus takes care to avoid until it turns into a beautiful woman. With difficulty, they find their way to the doorway of Pluto’s realm, Xanthias still grumbling...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
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