I’m currently reading Aristophanes’ “Frogs.” How did I choose this? Well, I love Greek literature! I’ve read (actually, translated) part of “Frogs” before — way back in my senior year of high school. When I got my Kindle, I discovered that I could download “Frogs” for free. Score! I’m only through 22 percent of the book (thank you, Kindle), and we won’t be covering even all of that here. (If you’re interested, I’m primarily talking about lines 60-184)
Here’s a little bit of background before I dive into the play.
Aristophanes was a Greek playwright who lived circa 445 – circa 385 B.C. and wrote in the style of Athenian Old Comedy (these plays were all satires). This style is now sometimes known as Aristophanic comedy because only Aristophanes’ works have survived — we have 11 complete Aristophanic plays as well as either parts or titles of 32 others. “Frogs,” a satire on Greek drama, won first place at the festival of the Lenaea in 405 B.C.
Anyways, now that you’ve had a mini ancient Greek history and culture lesson, let’s get back to the play. In “Frogs,” Dionysus, the Greek god of theatre is traveling to the underworld. Why? He believes that Athens doesn’t have any more good poets left, so he’s going to go get Euripides (a tragic playwright who had died the previous year) and bring him back.
But to bring him back, they first need to get to Hades, so Dionysus and his slave turn to Dionysus’ half-brother Heracles for some help. Dionysus wants to get to Hades by the quickest way, but he also wants to be picky about it. Heracles suggests three ways for Dionysus to get to the underworld — hanging himself, taking hemlock or throwing himself off a tall tower. But Dionysus, being the lazy wimp that he is, says hanging is too stifling, hemlock too cold and jumping just not for him. Of course, there’s a fourth option – Dionysus can just go down to the lake and pay for the boatman to take him to the underworld. Convenient, right?
When Dionysus and Xanthias leave Heracles’ house, Xanthias is so tired of carrying the luggage that he begs his master to hire someone else. But who would even think about taking a job carrying bags down to Hades? Someone already on their way who wants to make a little extra money. Oh, wait. Most of those people are dead. So, Dionysus attempts to hire a corpse as a porter, but he snagged the most disagreeable corpse possible. This corpse insists that he be paid two drachmas, and Dionysus tries to bargain with him, offering instead nine obols (equal to one and a half drachmas). The corpse will have none of that, saying, “I would rather be alive again.” This section, by far, is one of my favorites in the book. Who doesn’t love a sassy corpse?
This play is beautiful to read in English, but it has lost some of the subtleties from the Greek construction. The sarcasm and plays on words are more powerful in Greek, especially with the translation I’m reading. You know the phrase “lost in translation”? Well, for me, there is definitely some humor and snark missing in the translation I’m reading, but it’s still well-worth the read (and, if I remember correctly, there’s an epic dead playwright smackdown in Hades near the end).