Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626
Dionysus (di-oh-NI-suhs), the god of wine and revelry, who combines in a farcical fashion many of the defects that the playwright ridiculed in his fellow Athenians—cowardice, egoism, lechery, effeminacy, and laziness—but is, nevertheless, the patron god of the drama. Inspired by a reading of Euripides’ Andromeda, he resolves to journey to Hades to bring the tragic poet back to Athens. To facilitate his entry to the Underworld, he disguises himself as his kinsman Herakles, who had earlier made the dangerous trip. This is a ludicrous idea, because the two are of totally different natures, and Dionysus is terrified of the monsters he sees, or thinks he sees, along the way. Eventually, with the aid of a chorus of initiates into the Mysteries of Dionysus and Demeter, souls who enjoy a favored place in Hades, he enters the realm of Pluto. There he learns that the chair of tragedy, which Sophocles had refused to take from Aeschylus, the elder poet, has been usurped by Euripides, who, upon his arrival in the Underworld, gained the support of the rabble. Aeschylus has challenged Euripides, and Dionysus finds that he has been chosen to judge between them. He has each poet recite lines from his dramas, a situation that allows Aristophanes ample opportunity to parody the defects of each and to have Dionysus make critical comments, some incisive, some obtuse. At last, scales are produced. Because Aeschylus’ verses are the weightier and because he has displaced Euripides in the affections of the god, Dionysus chooses Aeschylus to accompany him to the upper world. The chair of tragedy is left to Sophocles, and Euripides is contemptuously dismissed.
Xanthias (ZAN-thee-uhs), Dionysus’ slave, who has been compared with Sancho Panza. He has a highly comical sense of the many wrongs his master visits upon him but too broad a humor to take them very seriously. He is not above taking mild revenge when the opportunity offers itself, and on several occasions he exhibits a shrewdness that makes Dionysus appear all the more foolish.
Euripides (ew-RIH-pih-deez), the tragic poet, presented in a very unfavorable light as a debaser of poetry and the drama, a purveyor of corrupt ideas and empty rhetoric, a sentimentalist, a weakener of the public morality, and a self-seeking pleaser of the mob. He is allowed, however, to make some telling criticism of Aeschylus’ tragedies before he is defeated.
(The entire section contains 626 words.)
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