Frogs – Aristophanes

Frogs

High thoughts must have high language.

Language is the supreme wordplay through which thoughts are communicable. Words can either impart worldly acumen or indulge in pompous buffoonery. The revered wordsmiths, the possessors of this dexterous artistry are no less than sly magicians removing implausible beliefs from their audiences like a mere pigeons from a hat. Actions may speak louder than words; nevertheless it is the medley of words that script that action. The written world and its residents can never be taken for granted, especially since a single word is omnipotent in either creating wars or hoisting the peace flag.

In 431-404BC Athens suffered a colossal naval defeat in the Peloponnesian against Sparta. Due to the death of three great playwrights – Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles, there was a scarcity of great staged tragedies that were necessary to convey the spirit of heroism sailing between the stormy waters of politics and morality. In Ancient Greece, playwright and poetry were essential in maintaining the societal status quo. Aristophanes had attentively attributed the decline of Athens’ power to the deficiency of concrete leadership, the vanishing traditional mores, the apologetic state of freedom of speech and above all the unavailability of acumen imparted by dramatized tragedies. Athens needed a poet to save it from its misery. Frogs, commences by Dionysus showing remorse to the mediocrity of recent tragic plays that were being staged. On reading Euripides’ Andromeda, nostalgia and repentance creeps in Dionysus and he immensely longs for Euripides’s theatrical wit. Thus, armed with obstinacy, the god of wine and revelry, along with his slave, Xanthias embarks on a journey to the Underworld to bring back Euripides back from the dead. Dionysus seeks the assistance of his half-brother Heracles to reach the gates of Hades; Heracles being already familiar with the infernal areas of Hades through his task of capturing Cerberus (the three-headed dog). Dionysus is quite certain about the incomparable genius of Euripides.


This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought –Euripides

In the initial phase of the ongoing raging debate between Euripides and Aeschylus, Euripides in his opening words asserts that in his plays, the woman, the master and the slave spoke out their minds because it was the a democratic thing to do and he had taught them to speak up. Aeschylus demanded a likely death sentence for such a dastard thing committed by the democratic oaf. When did speaking up became a felony? It is even today, in traditionalist societies, defying the norms of implemented morality code.

Euripides had died in 406BC, the year before Aristophanes wrote ‘Frogs’. Influenced by the writings of Socrates, Euripides tragedies were mainstream that were more appealing to masses making them ‘human’ in nature. The attachment to Socrates and the ‘sophists’ school of “thinkery” was perhaps the reason of animosity between Euripides and Aristophanes. In Clouds, one of the commendable works hovering over the raging debate of Aristophanes’ holistic teachings and the Socratic existentialist contemporary radicalism, Socrates is condemned by outright mockery and berated for his sophism adherence. Aristophanes loathed the thought that the sophists taught their students to question every aspect of educational norms and held certain privileges of getting paid to impart their teachings (barring Socrates who taught free of charge). The sophists were not exactly the fêted conservative philosophers and taught varied subjects ranging from science, politics, history and etymology, giving more weightage to rhetoric and common sense than ethically constricted attitude. The sophists were the new voice in the education system. They challenged the foundations of religion, truth and justice adhering to the principle of ‘one man’s virtue is another man’s vice.

Aristophanes always had a weak point when it came to dealing with the concepts of sophists which easily provoked his sensibilities in taking a defensive stand towards conservative school of thoughts, along with his other contemporaries as Plato and Aristotle. Similar display of attitude can be seen when during a roaring debate Aeschylus accuses Euripides for encouraging tales of incest and promiscuity on stage”, thus blemishing the reputation of an honourable theatrical art. This became the point of perversity that led Aristophanes to belittle Euripides by labelling him ‘immoral’ who depicted his heroes as beggars in rags whining about vulgar affairs of life. Furthermore, the caustic wit of Aristophanes subjects the genius of Euripides to the crass monotony of his dithyrambic chorus, his effeminate traits of meddling in women affairs and the celebratory depiction of eroticism or to put in Aeschylus’s astute words:-“creating whores like Phaedra and Sthenoboea.”

Speaking of Euripides’ dramatize characters, Aristophanes in his ongoing parody of Euripides , derides Dionysus by portraying him as a buffoon resorting to cowardice techniques by switching identities with his slave Xanthias and is a borderline cross-dresser preposterously primping himself in a yellow lion hide , club and buskin. Not satisfied by these meagre embellishment , Aristophanes further pushes the envelope by suggesting Heracles suggesting Dionysus the quickest way to Hades would be either to hang himself or get clobbered by a pestle, since the lengthy way would be too dangerous demeaning Dionysus’ gallantry and streaks of subtle homosexuality.

DIO. There as, on deck, I’m reading to myself
The Andromeda, a sudden pang of longing
Shoots through my heart, you can’t conceive how keenly.
HER. How big a pang.
DIO. A small one, Molon’s size.
HER. Caused by a woman?
DIO. No.
HER. A boy?
DIO. No, no.
HER. A man?
DIO. Ah! ah!

What travesty of tragic heroism for a God who was a far cry from being fierce representation of laudable heroism in The Bacchae, worshipped in the sanctimonious arena Athenian theater. In this battle of new education v/s traditionalists, what then becomes the defining truth of morality? Is it the old-age tyrannical convention that chalk the salient features of ethics or the logic of the sophists that suggests that morals and justice changes according to the societal evolution and what may be right in one place may not be appropriate in other. Aristophanes in his parody puts forth an intriguing stance on ethical sustainability. The moral laws never change, but what changes are customary circumstances and therefore the perception of the said morality. The case of Xanthias and Dionysus interchanging their identities to circumvent the wrath of Aeacus, simply suggest that the audacious Xanthias was a prisoner of societal mores and thus proclaimed the status of a slave. Thus, inferring that slavery was not moral at all, people just thought it was and this assertion stays true for other conservative norms of feminism, female infanticide, religious fascism, sexual abuse, freedom of speech and caste and class discrimination and other prevailing societal changes. In the clash between orthodoxy v/s modernism, the scales become the circumstantial victim to human fear and arrogance. There have been demographics of countries that rapidly swing between the two scales of rationality and irrationality due to the dodgy current affairs atmosphere. In the realm of tragic art oscillates the tensions between democratic ideologies and heroic legendary redefining institutions of morality and politics like repulsive droplets of oils and vinegar.


If you pour oil and vinegar into the same vessel, you would call them not friends but opponents – Aeschylus.

The effeminate Dionysus judges a comical battle of wits between Aeschylus and Euripides. Unlike the battle of sexes in Lysistrata,the centrality of this ‘agon’ in Frogs is to establish poetic supremacy. It is not a peace satire but more on the lines of acquiring political and societal stability. The literary contest that commences raises questions about the social and political atmosphere in Athens. The initial light poetic and intelligent banter spiraled into juvenile antics of name calling and ridiculous labeling overturning rationality into sheer ludicrous chaos. Aristophanes is still rolling in his pomposity by ridiculing Euripides on the prospects of religion. Dionysus suggestive remark on Euripides atheist convictions falls through when he solicits Euripides on praying to private newly minted Gods. The amusing rebuttal of Euripides takes the point further as he prays to the sustenance of his tongue, intelligence and olfactory nostrils and stoutly refutes any captured words by his psyche. The preposterous debate views two literary resorting to silly slapping each other with the metaphoric acrimonious taunt of “a bottle of oil” being enough to rid of all the written works and Euripides rebuttal to Aeschylus proclamation on how he would never write about whores or any eroticism, to which Euripides smartly suggest that only if Aeschylus knew any woman would be able to write about it, stating the obvious.

Aristophanes puts forth a mêlée of “old ways v/s new ways” and the need to go back to one’s roots become essential when the chaos of modernity pollutes the status quo. The three greatest playwrights-Sophocles, Euripides and Aechylus who were responsible for the development of Greek tragic theatre were now mere pawn in the political game of morality. The failing of the Athenian society was blamed on the proliferation of the new school of sophisms. Why does it then become the need to go back to ethnic mores? We seen countries shuffling between conservative and democratic leaders with every fresh election? Is it that when societal fruition is seen as a threat by those who resist change, that the voices of opposition becomes stronger? And what about those, who want change in their country? Aristophanes emphasizes that traditional values become a naked truth that a country wants to witness. Dionysus who wants in the awe of Euripides now criticises the very ideologies that once he cherished to render nostalgia.


CHORUS:- But if you’re both afraid that our spectators lack a certain amount of knowledge,
So as, not to appreciate the fine points of what you say,
Don’t worry about that, since that is no longer the case,
For they are seasoned veterans and each one has a book and understands the clever stuff,
Their minds are superior anyway,
Out now they’re really sharpened. So far not, but,
Scrutinize every topic for the audience sake at least, since they’re so sophisticated.

This stanza outshines through the series of poetic line asserting the important of the political audience or spectators in general and how they are mistakenly granted the title of being a bunch of mere fools. Similar to the position of Dionysus as a judge who gets to vote and choose the valued candidate, masses have the final word through voting banks and cannot be taken for a ride by sovereign leaders. This holds true for the Presidential debates and other related conversations. Although, several political analysts conjecture that Presidential debates are not that influential when it comes to voting, but at the end of it all it becomes easy to select the wise from a buffoon. Unfortunately, politics is a dirty game and sometimes it is just a race between two masturbating monkeys.


AES:- You fiend! It is compelling power of the great thoughts and ideas to engender phrases of equal size.
And, anyway it is proper that demigods speak in grander terms
For they also wear finer clothes
What I so nobly exhibited you defiled.

In the pre-technological era, the written world was as powerfully influential like the monstrous media web of the present times. The words of poets, writers, musicians have the sharpness of a sword that can either dismember or restore mankind. Keeping in mind the words of Aeschylus, is the poets who have the compelling power of great thoughts and are spoken to be demigods, then what is the burden of their responsibility in order to sustain a stable society? Plato’s Republic illustrate the fright that Plato harboured towards poets and poetry, stating, “poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue”. According to Plato, poetry plays with a man’s emotions signifying that poetry is indeed a learning institution. This confirms Aeschylus comment on how young boys have teachers and men have poets.

AES:- But, a pet should conceal wickedness,
Not bring it forward and teach it,
For little boys, have a teacher who advised them and grown-up have poets,
We have a serious obligation to speak of honourable things.

What can be termed as “honourable things”? If poets are teachers of the adults, then isn’t a teacher’s prime job to teach to question the unjust and to different between the right and wrong? What ethics sets the teachers apart from poets who have the similar rank philosophical activity? Maybe, the fact that teachers work within a set of disciplinary censored syllabus while for the poets the world is their core curriculum. Now, that could be dangerous to politician lurking behind the egalitarian garb.

In Dionysus’s quest to find “a worthy poet to save Athens” one is then compelled to question the role of a poet/writer in the society? Do really high thoughts need high language? And if so, how far the significance of that grand vocabulary read the masses and become human in nature? After all, aren’t nations mostly made up of common men trying to breathe a liberated political air rather than those few privileged who dream of becoming fascist leader and oligarchs? How far can the truth be stretched to expose the societal fallacies and how much fraudulence is required to prevent the exposure of a country’s thriving vulnerabilities?

Aristophanes’ assertion on the conclusive result of Dionysus on choosing a poet who adhered traditional ways, illustrates the preference of conservative hard power over the modern usage of soft power. Many would not agree, but when a country is in turmoil and desperately needs a leader, ‘High thoughts need high language’. A leader is chosen to protect the country and its people. In a time where sowing the seeds of assurance weighs more than exposing weakening susceptibilities, the truth is then pushed to a dishonest grave and the winds of change are obstructed by the orthodoxy barricades. It may not seem right to a person sitting in the warm comfort of his house, but it seems the solitary alternative to a homeless man. Nevertheless the burning question that generates heat is the dominancy of a particular societal dogma that somehow acquires a self-imposed Godly status and spread its fascist wings in censoring every aspect of freedom speech. Books are banned due to egotistical orgies, movies are thrown out of the theater, poets and writers are penalized, news channels are expurgated and the democratic voices incarcerated bordering upon disgust. In a world, where most of the countries are plague by civil wars and revolution, what is the role of the written world?

The voices of frogs that do not cease from a chaotic chorus even to the extent of it annoying Dionysus, one voice that hangs around throughout this slapstick satire is who would be a superior redeemer of the social order – the “honourable” egoistic Aeschylus with his traditionalists vision or the “corrupt scoundrel” Euripides with his democratic ideologies? And who is to decide the ultimate answer?

Frogs croak…… Word has it that when Dionysus reprimanded the frog for creating a croaking menace…. the frogs replied:-

Brekekekex koax koax!!!!

4/5****

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Frogs – Aristophanes

  1. Slightly lame question: How do you manage to read so many! And more importantly keep up the intensity with ‘heavier’ reads. I usually end up needing a Wodehouse or something light between the heavier ones. Or is it that you’re able to read them for what they are without getting too involved in them?

    • Ha! Vaidya, I reckon it is years of genuine reading that has made be able to grasp books at a better speed than I used to in the past. Oh, I certainly need a recreating break from these tomes and that why movies help me to get that respite. And, as for books, for me it is quite important to be completely absorbed by the prose and sometimes I get intensely involved in books… I guess books and me have a much better relations than some of the humans I know:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s