What does The Frogs reveal about life in ancient Athens? Can it be successfully performed today?

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Aristophanes's The Frogs was written and performed in a time of civic crisis when Athens was at war with members of the Peloponnesian League, former allies. Although the play is a comedy, Aristophanes takes advantage of his opportunity to entertain the assembled citizens of Athens (male citizens of age who had undergone military training) to offer subtle and not-so-subtle political advice to help his embattled city. These didactic messages reveal quite a bit about everyday life in contemporary Athens.

In the journey scene to Hades, for example, in the warning off of the profane, we hear a litany of grave offenses in life that would disqualify the souls of the dead from participating in the holy rites available to the just and pure of heart. This device allows Aristophanes to condemn what he considered to be the worst offenses of his time.

These offenses include the violation of social norms, such as being disagreeable instead of living peaceably and showing kindness to one's fellows. Those who neglect holy rites meant to protect the city in preference for profane and vulgar comedies are singled out. Aristophanes condemns men who stir up factional strife from the base motive of trying to profit at the expense of the public good. He mentions officials who accept bribes even though their corruption jeopardizes the stability of the state as being in the ranks of the profane. He condemns those who betray forts and ships to the enemy. Rounding out his list of offenses are merchants who procure or sell naval stores and supplies to the enemy. These offenses surely reflect many of the tensions of life during wartime in Aristophanes's Athens.

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