What are the messages in the play The Frogs and how are they presented?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Like any of Aristophanes's satires, The Frogs is full of poignant messages for the audience. This play, in particular, has messages concerning the fluidity of identity and the value of tradition.

It is important to have some historical context for this work. When it was written in 405 BCE, Athens was undergoing hard times. The polis was losing the long war against Sparta, changes in political leadership were causing domestic instability, and traditional values were eroding.

One recurring message revolves around the fluidity of identity. There is a comedic bit when Dionysus and Xanthius trade the lionskin and club back and forth. They are trying to invoke the image of Heracles, who visited the Underworld and returned to the land of the living. However, these Heraclean symbols just show that identity, especially one's view of their own identity, is a relative trait. In fact, Heracles laughs at Dionysus, who considers himself to be as frightening as Heracles himself when disguised. In the scene where the god and the slave trade back and forth the lionskin, it becomes clear that identity is merely a front that a character can show to the outside world.

Dionysus: Come then, if you're so very brave a man,
Will you be I, and take the hero's club
And lion's skin, since you're so monstrous plucky?
And I'll be now the slave, and bear the luggage.

Aristophanes also uses this theme of fluid identity to call out the duplicitous nature of Athenian politicians who say one thing and do another. Even though he is dressed the part of Heracles, it is clear that Dionysus is not as ferocious as he pretends to be. However, when he reveals his true identity, he is given the honor and power of judging the competition between the poets, a role that suits him well. The message here is that being true to one's actual nature is more empowering than subterfuge and that it would be better if leaders recognized this.

Perhaps the main message of The Frogs has to do with the conflict between traditional values and modernity. Early in the play, Dionysus laments that only the older and now-deceased poets had any talent. During the poet's duel, we see the two sets of values presented against each other. Aeschylus is the champion of tradition, while Euripides favors modern values. The scale used to judge their works favors Aeschylus's contributions.

The message here is that the older tragedies and their ideas were more impactful concerning Athenian morals than the newer ones. At a time of change and uncertainty in Athens, Aristophanes's message is clear: a return to tradition will safeguard the moral character of Athens.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial