The Frogs (Aristophanes)

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The Frogs  (1912) 
by Aristophanes, translated by an anonymous translator
first published by the Athenian Society of London.

Introduction[edit]

Like The Birds this play rather avoids politics than otherwise, its leading motif, over and above the pure fun and farce for their own sake of the burlesque descent into the infernal regions, being a literary one, an onslaught on Euripides the Tragedian and all his works and ways.

It was produced in the year 405 B.C., the year after The Birds, and only one year before the Peloponnesian War ended disastrously for the Athenian cause in the capture of the city by Lysander. First brought out at the Lenæan festival in January, it was played a second time at the Dionysia in March of the same year—a far from common honour. The drama was not staged in the Author's own name, we do not know for what reasons, but it won the first prize, Phrynichus' Muses being second.

The plot is as follows. The God Dionysus, patron of the Drama, is dissatisfied with the condition of the Art of Tragedy at Athens, and resolves to descend to Hades in order to bring back again to earth one of the old tragedians—Euripides, he thinks, for choice. Dressing himself up, lion's skin and club complete, as Heracles, who has performed the same perilous journey before, and accompanied by his slave Xanthias (a sort of classical Sancho Panza) with the baggage, he starts on the fearful expedition.

Coming to the shores of Acheron, he is ferried over in Charon's boat—Xanthias has to walk round—the First Chorus of Marsh Frogs (from which the play takes its title) greeting him with prolonged croakings. Approaching Pluto's Palace in fear and trembling, he knocks timidly at the gate. Being presently admitted, he finds a contest on the point of being held before the King of Hades and the Initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, who form the Second Chorus, between Æschylus, the present occupant of the throne of tragic excellence in hell, and the pushing, self-satisfied, upstart Euripides, who is for ousting him from his pride of place.

Each poet quotes in turn from his Dramas, and the indignant Æschylus makes fine fun of his rival's verses, and shows him up in the usual Aristophanic style as a corrupter of morals, a contemptible casuist, and a professor of the dangerous new learning of the Sophists, so justly held in suspicion by true-blue Athenian Conservatives. Eventually a pair of scales is brought in, and verses alternately spouted by the two candidates are weighed against each other, the mighty lines of the Father of Tragedy making his flippant, finickin little rival's scale kick the beam every time.

Dionysus becomes a convert to the superior merits of the old school of tragedy, and contemptuously dismisses Euripides, to take Æschylus back with him to the upper world instead, leaving Sophocles meantime in occupation of the coveted throne of tragedy in the nether regions.

Needless to say, the various scenes of the journey to Hades, the crossing of Acheron, the Frogs' choric songs, and the trial before Pluto, afford opportunities for much excellent fooling in our Author's very finest vein of drollery, and "seem to have supplied the original idea for those modern burlesques upon the Olympian and Tartarian deities which were at one time so popular."

Dramatis Personæ[edit]

  • Dionysus
  • Xanthias his servant
  • Heracles
  • A Dead Man
  • Charon
  • Æacus
  • Female Attendant of Persephoné
  • Innkeepers' Wives
  • Euripides
  • Æschylus
  • Pluto
  • Chorus of Frogs
  • Chorus of Initiates

The Play[edit]

Scene: In front of the temple of Heracles, and on the banks of Acheron in the Infernal Regions.

Xanthias
Now am I to make one of those jokes that have the knack of always making the spectators laugh?

Dionysus
Aye, certainly, any one you like, excepting "I am worn out." Take care you don't say that, for it gets on my nerves.

Xanthias
Do you want some other drollery?

Dionysus
Yes, only not, "I am quite broken up."

Xanthias
Then what witty thing shall I say?

Dionysus
Come, take courage; only ...

Xanthias
Only what?

Dionysus
... don't start saying as you shift your package from shoulder to shoulder, "Ah! that's a relief!"

Xanthias
May I not at least say, that unless I am relieved of this cursed load I shall let wind?

Dionysus
Oh! for pity's sake, no! you don't want to make me spew.

Xanthias
What need then had I to take this luggage, if I must not copy the porters that Phrynichus, Lycis and Amipsias[1] never fail to put on the stage?

Dionysus
Do nothing of the kind. Whenever I chance to see one of these stage tricks, I always leave the theatre feeling a good year older.

Xanthias
Oh! my poor back! you are broken and I am not allowed to make a single joke.

Dionysus
Just mark the insolence of this Sybarite! I, Dionysus, the son of a ... wine-jar,[2] I walk, I tire myself, and I set yonder rascal upon an ass, that he may not have the burden of carrying his load.

Xanthias
But am I not carrying it?

Dionysus
No, since you are on your beast.

Xanthias
Nevertheless I am carrying this....

Dionysus
What?

Xanthias
... and it is very heavy.

Dionysus
But this burden you carry is borne by the ass.

Xanthias
What I have here, 'tis certainly I who bear it, and not the ass, no, by all the gods, most certainly not!

Dionysus
How can you claim to be carrying it, when you are carried?

Xanthias
That I can't say; but this shoulder is broken, anyhow.

Dionysus
Well then, since you say that the ass is no good to you, pick her up in your turn and carry her.

Xanthias
What a pity I did not fight at sea;[3] I would baste your ribs for that joke.

Dionysus
Dismount, you clown! Here is a door,[4] at which I want to make my first stop. Hi! slave! hi! hi! slave!

Heracles (from inside the Temple)
Do you want to beat in the door? He knocks like a Centaur.[5] Why, what's the matter?

Dionysus
Xanthias!

Xanthias
Well?

Dionysus
Did you notice?

Xanthias
What?

Dionysus
How I frightened him?

Xanthias
Bah! you're mad!

Heracles
Ho, by Demeter! I cannot help laughing; it's no use biting my lips, I must laugh.

Dionysus
Come out, friend; I have need of you.

Heracles
Oh! 'tis enough to make a fellow hold his sides to see this lion's-skin over a saffron robe![6] What does this mean? Buskins[7] and a bludgeon! What connection have they? Where are you off to in this rig?

Dionysus
When I went aboard Clisthenes[8]....

Heracles
Did you fight?

Dionysus
We sank twelve or thirteen ships of the enemy.

Heracles
You?

Dionysus
Aye, by Apollo!

Heracles
You have dreamt it.[9]

Dionysus
As I was reading the Andromeda[10] on the ship, I suddenly felt my heart afire with a wish so violent....

Heracles
A wish! of what nature?

Dionysus
Oh, quite small, like Molon.[11]

Heracles
You wished for a woman?

Dionysus
No.

Heracles
A young boy, then?

Dionysus
Nothing of the kind.

Heracles
A man?

Dionysus
Faugh!

Heracles
Might you then have had dealings with Clisthenes?

Dionysus
Have mercy, brother; no mockery! I am quite ill, so greatly does my desire torment me!

Heracles
And what desire is it, little brother?

Dionysus
I cannot disclose it, but I will convey it to you by hints. Have you ever been suddenly seized with a desire for pea-soup?

Heracles
For pea-soup! oh! oh! yes, a thousand times in my life.[12]

Dionysus
Do you take me or shall I explain myself in some other way?

Heracles
Oh! as far as the pea-soup is concerned, I understand marvellously well.

Dionysus
So great is the desire, which devours me, for Euripides.

Heracles
But he is dead.[13]

Dionysus
There is no human power can prevent my going to him.

Heracles
To the bottom of Hades?

Dionysus
Aye, and further than the bottom, an it need.

Heracles
And what do you want with him?

Dionysus
I want a master poet; "some are dead and gone, and others are good for nothing."[14]

Heracles
Is Iophon[15] dead then?

Dionysus
He is the only good one left me, and even of him I don't know quite what to think.

Heracles
Then there's Sophocles, who is greater than Euripides; if you must absolutely bring someone back from Hades, why not make him live again?

Dionysus
No, not until I have taken Iophon by himself and tested him for what he is worth. Besides, Euripides is very artful and won't leave a stone unturned to get away with me, whereas Sophocles is as easy-going with Pluto as he was when on earth.

Heracles
And Agathon? Where is he?[16]

Dionysus
He has left me; 'twas a good poet and his friends regret him.

Heracles
And whither has the poor fellow gone?

Dionysus
To the banquet of the blest.

Heracles
And Xenocles?[17]

Dionysus
May the plague seize him!

Heracles
And Pythangelus?[18]

Xanthias
They don't say ever a word of poor me, whose shoulder is quite shattered.

Heracles
Is there not a crowd of other little lads, who produce tragedies by the thousand and are a thousand times more loquacious than Euripides?

Dionysus
They are little sapless twigs, chatterboxes, who twitter like the swallows, destroyers of the art, whose aptitude is withered with a single piece and who sputter forth all their talent to the tragic Muse at their first attempt. But look where you will, you will not find a creative poet who gives vent to a noble thought.

Heracles
How creative?

Dionysus
Aye, creative, who dares to risk "the ethereal dwellings of Zeus," or "the wing of Time," or "a heart that is above swearing by the sacred emblems," and "a tongue that takes an oath, while yet the soul is unpledged."[19]

Heracles
Is that the kind of thing that pleases you?

Dionysus
I'm more than madly fond of it.

Heracles
But such things are simply idiotic, you feel it yourself.

Dionysus
"Don't come trespassing on my mind; you have a brain of your own to keep thoughts in."[20]

Heracles
But nothing could be more detestable.

Dionysus
Where cookery is concerned, you can be my master.[21]

Xanthias
They don't say a thing about me!

Dionysus
If I have decked myself out according to your pattern, 'tis that you may tell me, in case I should need them, all about the hosts who received you, when you journeyed to Cerberus; tell me of them as well as of the harbours, the bakeries, the brothels, the drinking-shops, the fountains, the roads, the eating-houses and of the hostels where there are the fewest bugs.

Xanthias
They never speak of me.[22]

Heracles
Go down to hell? Will you be ready to dare that, you madman?

Dionysus
Enough of that; but tell me the shortest road, that is neither too hot nor too cold, to get down to Pluto.

Heracles
Let me see, what is the best road to show you? Aye, which? Ah! there's the road of the gibbet and the rope. Go and hang yourself.

Dionysus
Be silent! your road is choking me.

Heracles
There is another path, both very short and well-trodden; the one that goes through the mortar.[23]

Dionysus
'Tis hemlock you mean to say.

Heracles
Precisely so.

Dionysus
That road is both cold and icy. Your legs get frozen at once.[24]

Heracles
Do you want me to tell you a very steep road, one that descends very quickly?

Dionysus
Ah! with all my heart; I don't like long walks.

Heracles
Go to the Ceramicus.[25]

Dionysus
And then?

Heracles
Mount to the top of the highest tower ...

Dionysus
To do what?

Heracles
... and there keep your eye on the torch, which is to be the signal. When the spectators demand it to be flung, fling yourself ...

Dionysus
Where?

Heracles
... down.

Dionysus
But I should break the two hemispheres of my brain. Thanks for your road, but I don't want it.

Heracles
But which one then?

Dionysus
The one you once travelled yourself.

Heracles
Ah! that's a long journey. First you will reach the edge of the vast, deep mere of Acheron.

Dionysus
And how is that to be crossed?

Heracles
There is an ancient ferryman, Charon by name, who will pass you over in his little boat for a diobolus.

Dionysus
Oh! what might the diobolus has everywhere! But however has it got as far as that?

Heracles
'Twas Theseus who introduced its vogue.[26] After that you will see snakes and all sorts of fearful monsters ...

Dionysus
Oh! don't try to frighten me and make me afraid, for I am quite decided.

Heracles
... then a great slough with an eternal stench, a veritable cesspool, into which those are plunged who have wronged a guest, cheated a young boy out of the fee for his complaisance, beaten their mother, boxed their father's ears, taken a false oath or transcribed some tirade of Morsimus.[27]

Dionysus
For mercy's sake, add likewise—or learnt the Pyrrhic dance of Cinesias.[28]

Heracles
Further on 'twill be a gentle concert of flutes on every side, a brilliant light, just as there is here, myrtle groves, bands of happy men and women and noisy plaudits.

Dionysus
Who are these happy folk?

Heracles
The initiate.[29]

Xanthias
And I am the ass that carries the Mysteries;[30] but I've had enough of it.

Heracles
They will give you all the information you will need, for they live close to Pluto's palace, indeed on the road that leads to it. Farewell, brother, and an agreeable journey to you. (He returns into his Temple.)

Dionysus
And you, good health. Slave! take up your load again.

Xanthias
Before having laid it down?

Dionysus
And be quick about it too.

Xanthias
Oh, no, I adjure you! Rather hire one of the dead, who is going to Hades.

Dionysus
And should I not find one....

Xanthias
Then you can take me.

Dionysus
You talk sense. Ah! here they are just bringing a dead man along. Hi! man, 'tis you I'm addressing, you, dead fellow there! Will you carry a package to Pluto for me?

Dead Man
Is't very heavy?

Dionysus
This. (He shows him the baggage, which Xanthias has laid on the ground.)

Dead Man
You will pay me two drachmæ.

Dionysus
Oh! that's too dear.

Dead Man
Well then, bearers, move on.

Dionysus
Stay, friend, so that I may bargain with you.

Dead Man
Give me two drachmæ, or it's no deal.

Dionysus
Hold! here are nine obols.

Dead Man
I would sooner go back to earth again.

Xanthias
Is that cursed rascal putting on airs? Come, then, I'll go.

Dionysus
You're a good and noble fellow. Let us make the best of our way to the boat.

Charon
Ahoy, ahoy! put ashore.

Xanthias
What's that?

Dionysus
Why, by Zeus, 'tis the mere of which Heracles spoke, and I see the boat.

Xanthias
Ah! there's Charon.

Dionysus
Hail! Charon.

Dead Man
Hail! Charon.

Charon
Who comes hither from the home of cares and misfortunes to rest on the banks of Lethé? Who comes to the ass's fleece, who is for the land of the Cerberians, or the crows, or Tænarus?

Dionysus
I am.

Charon
Get aboard quick then.

Dionysus
Where will you ferry me to? Where are you going to land me?

Charon
In hell, if you wish. But step in, do.

Dionysus
Come here, slave.

Charon
I carry no slave, unless he has fought at sea to save his skin.

Xanthias
But I could not, for my eyes were bad.

Charon
Well then! be off and walk round the mere.

Xanthias
Where shall I come to a halt?

Charon
At the stone of Auænus, near the drinking-shop.

Dionysus
Do you understand?

Xanthias
Perfectly. Oh! unhappy wretch that I am, surely, surely I must have met something of evil omen as I came out of the house?[31]

Charon
Come, sit to your oar. If there be anyone else who wants to cross, let him hurry. Hullo! what are you doing?

Dionysus
What am I doing? I am sitting on the oar[32] as you told me.

Charon
Will you please have the goodness to place yourself there, pot-belly?

Dionysus
There.

Charon
Put out your hands, stretch your arms.

Dionysus
There.

Charon
No tomfoolery! row hard, and put some heart into the work!

Dionysus
Row! and how can I? I, who have never set foot on a ship?

Charon
There's nothing easier; and once you're at work, you will hear some enchanting singers.

Dionysus
Who are they?

Charon
Frogs with the voices of swans; 'tis most delightful.

Dionysus
Come, set the stroke.

Charon
Yo ho! yo ho!

Frogs
Brekekekex, coax, coax, brekekekekex, coax. Slimy offspring of the marshland, let our harmonious voices mingle with the sounds of the flute, coax, coax! let us repeat the songs that we sing in honour of the Nysæan Dionysus[33] on the day of the feast of pots,[34] when the drunken throng reels towards our temple in the Limnæ.[35] Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
I am beginning to feel my bottom getting very sore, my dear little coax, coax.

Frogs
Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
But doubtless you don't care.

Frogs
Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
May you perish with your coax, your endless coax!

Frogs
And why change it, you great fool? I am beloved by the Muses with the melodious lyre, by the goat-footed Pan, who draws soft tones out of his reed; I am the delight of Apollo, the god of the lyre, because I make the rushes, which are used for the bridge of the lyre, grow in my marshes. Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
I have got blisters and my behind is all of a sweat; by dint of constant movement, it will soon be saying....

Frogs
Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
Come, race of croakers, be quiet.

Frogs
Not we; we shall only cry the louder. On fine sunny days, it pleases us to hop through galingale and sedge and to sing while we swim; and when Zeus is pouring down his rain, we join our lively voices to the rustle of the drops. Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
I forbid you to do it.

Frogs
Oh! that would be too hard!

Dionysus
And is it not harder for me to wear myself out with rowing?

Frogs
Brekekekex, coax, coax.

Dionysus
May you perish! I don't care.

Frogs
And from morning till night we will shriek with the whole width of our gullets, "Brekekekex, coax, coax."

Dionysus
I will cry louder than you all.

Frogs
Oh! don't do that!

Dionysus
Oh, yes, I will. I shall cry the whole day, if necessary, until I no longer hear your coax. (He begins to cry against the frogs, who finally stop.) Ah! I knew I would soon put an end to your coax.

Charon
Enough, enough, a last pull, ship oars, step ashore and pay your passage money.

Dionysus
Look! here are my two obols.... Xanthias! where is Xanthias? Hi! Xanthias!

XANTHIAS (from a distance)
Hullo!

Dionysus
Come here.

Xanthias
I greet you, master.

Dionysus
What is there that way?

Xanthias
Darkness and mud!

Dionysus
Did you see the parricides and the perjured he told us of?

Xanthias
Did you?

Dionysus
Ha! by Posidon! I see some of them now.[36] Well, what are we going to do?

Xanthias
The best is to go on, for 'tis here that the horrible monsters are, Heracles told us of.

Dionysus
Ah! the wag! He spun yarns to frighten me, but I am a brave fellow and he is jealous of me. There exists no greater braggart than Heracles. Ah! I wish I might meet some monster, so as to distinguish myself by some deed of daring worthy of my daring journey.

Xanthias
Ah! hark! I hear a noise.

Dionysus (all of a tremble)
Where then, where?

Xanthias
Behind you.

Dionysus
Place yourself behind me.

Xanthias
Ah! 'tis in front now.

Dionysus
Then pass to the front.

Xanthias
Oh! what a monster I can see!

Dionysus
What's it like?

Xanthias
Dreadful, terrible! it assumes every shape; now 'tis a bull, then a mule; again it is a most beautiful woman.

Dionysus
Where is she that I may run toward her?

Xanthias
The monster is no longer a woman; 'tis now a dog.

Dionysus
Then it is the Empusa.[37]

Xanthias
Its whole face is ablaze.

Dionysus
And it has a brazen leg?

Xanthias
Aye, i' faith! and the other is an ass's leg,[38] rest well assured of that.

Dionysus
Where shall I fly to?

Xanthias
And I?

Dionysus
Priest,[39] save me, that I may drink with you.

Xanthias
Oh! mighty Heracles! we are dead men.

Dionysus
Silence! I adjure you. Don't utter that name.

Xanthias
Well then, we are dead men, Dionysus!

Dionysus
That still less than the other.

Xanthias
Keep straight on, master, here, here, this way.

Dionysus
Well?

Xanthias
Be at ease, all goes well and we can say with Hegelochus, "After the storm, I see the return of the cat."[40] The Empusa has gone.

Dionysus
Swear it to me.

Xanthias
By Zeus!

Dionysus
Swear it again.

Xanthias
By Zeus!

Dionysus
Once more.

Xanthias
By Zeus!

Dionysus
Oh! my god! how white I went at the sight of the Empusa! But yonder fellow got red instead, so horribly afraid was he![41] Alas! to whom do I owe this terrible meeting? What god shall I accuse of having sought my death? Might it be "the Æther, the dwelling of Zeus," or "the wing of Time"?[42]

Xanthias
Hist!

Dionysus
What's the matter?

Xanthias
Don't you hear?

Dionysus
What then?

Xanthias
The sound of flutes.

Dionysus
Aye, certainly, and the wind wafts a smell of torches hither, which bespeaks the Mysteries a league away. But make no noise; let us hide ourselves and listen.

Chorus[43]
Iacchus, oh! Iacchus! Iacchus, oh! Iacchus!

Xanthias
Master, these are the initiates, of whom Heracles spoke and who are here at their sports; they are incessantly singing of Iacchus, just like Diagoras. [44]

Dionysus
I believe you are right, but 'tis best to keep ourselves quiet till we get better information.

Chorus
Iacchus, venerated god, hasten at our call. Iacchus, oh! Iacchus! come into this meadow, thy favourite resting-place; come to direct the sacred choirs of the Initiate; may a thick crown of fruit-laden myrtle branches rest on thy head and may thy bold foot step this free and joyful dance, taught us by the Graces—this pure, religious measure, that our sacred choirs rehearse.

Xanthias
Oh! thou daughter of Demeter, both mighty and revered, what a delicious odour of pork!

Dionysus
Cannot you keep still then, fellow, once you get a whiff of a bit of tripe?

Chorus
Brandish the flaming torches and so revive their brilliancy. Iacchus, oh! Iacchus! bright luminary of our nocturnal Mysteries. The meadow sparkles with a thousand fires; the aged shake off the weight of cares and years; they have once more found limbs of steel, wherewith to take part in thy sacred measures; and do thou, blessed deity, lead the dances of youth upon this dewy carpet of flowers with a torch in thine hand.

Silence, make way for our choirs, you profane and impure souls, who have neither been present at the festivals of the noble Muses, nor ever footed a dance in their honour, and who are not initiated into the mysterious language of the dithyrambs of the voracious Cratinus;[45] away from here he who applauds misplaced buffoonery. Away from here the bad citizen, who for his private ends fans and nurses the flame of sedition, the chief who sells himself, when his country is weathering the storms, and surrenders either fortresses or ships; who, like Thorycion,[46] the wretched collector of tolls, sends prohibited goods from Ægina to Epidaurus, such as oar-leathers, sailcloth and pitch, and who secures a subsidy for a hostile fleet,[47] or soils the statues of Hecaté,[48] while he is humming some dithyramb. Away from here, the orator who nibbles at the salary of the poets, because he has been scouted in the ancient solemnities of Dionysus; to all such I say, and I repeat, and I say it again for the third time, "Make way for the choruses of the Initiate." But you, raise you your voice anew; resume your nocturnal hymns as it is meet to do at this festival.

Let each one advance boldly into the retreats of our flowery meads, let him mingle in our dances, let him give vent to jesting, to wit and to satire. Enough of junketing, lead forward! let our voices praise the divine protectress[49] with ardent love, yea! praise her, who promises to assure the welfare of this country for ever, in spite of Thorycion.

Let our hymns now be addressed to Demeter, the Queen of Harvest, the goddess crowned with ears of corn; to her be dedicated the strains of our divine concerts. Oh! Demeter, who presidest over the pure mysteries, help us and protect thy choruses; far from all danger, may I continually yield myself to sports and dancing, mingle laughter with seriousness, as is fitting at thy festivals, and as the reward for my biting sarcasms may I wreathe my head with the triumphal fillets. And now let our songs summon hither the lovable goddess, who so often joins in our dances.

Oh, venerated Dionysus, who hast created such soft melodies for this festival, come to accompany us to the goddess, show that you can traverse a long journey without wearying.[50] Dionysus, the king of the dance, guide my steps. 'Tis thou who, to raise a laugh and for the sake of economy,[51] hast torn our sandals and our garments; let us bound, let us dance at our pleasure, for we have nothing to spoil. Dionysus, king of the dance, guide my steps. Just now I saw through a corner of my eye a ravishing young girl, the companion of our sports; I saw the nipple of her bosom peeping through a rent in her tunic. Dionysus, king of the dance, guide my steps.

Dionysus
Aye, I like to mingle with these choruses; I would fain dance and sport with that young girl.

Xanthias
And I too.

Chorus
Would you like us to mock together at Archidemus? He is still awaiting his seven-year teeth to have himself entered as a citizen;[52] but he is none the less a chief of the people among the Athenians and the greatest rascal of 'em all. I am told that Clisthenes is tearing the hair out of his rump and lacerating his cheeks on the tomb of Sebinus, the Anaphlystian;[53] with his forehead against the ground, he is beating his bosom and groaning and calling him by name. As for Callias,[54] the illustrious son of Hippobinus, the new Heracles, he is fighting a terrible battle of love on his galleys; dressed up in a lion's skin, he fights a fierce naval battle—with the girls' cunts.

Dionysus
Could you tell us where Pluto dwells? We are strangers and have just arrived.

Chorus
Go no farther, and know without further question that you are at his gates.

Dionysus
Slave, pick up your baggage.

Xanthias
This wretched baggage, 'tis like Corinth, the daughter of Zeus, for it's always in his mouth.[55]

Chorus
And now do ye, who take part in this religious festival, dance a gladsome round in the flowery grove in honour of the goddess.[56]

Dionysus
As for myself, I will go with the young girls and the women into the enclosure, where the nocturnal ceremonies are held; 'tis I will bear the sacred torch.

Chorus
Let us go into the meadows, that are sprinkled with roses, to form, according to our rites, the graceful choirs, over which the blessed Fates preside. 'Tis for us alone that the sun doth shine; his glorious rays illumine the Initiate, who have led the pious life, that is equally dear to strangers and citizens.

Dionysus
Come now! how should we knock at this door? How do the dwellers in these parts knock?

Xanthias
Lose no time and attack the door with vigour, if you have the courage of Heracles as well as his costume.

Dionysus
Ho! there! Slave!

Æacus
Who's there?

Dionysus
Heracles, the bold.

Æacus
Ah! wretched, impudent, shameless, threefold rascal, the most rascally of rascals. Ah! 'tis you who hunted out our dog Cerberus, whose keeper I was! But I have got you to-day; and the black stones of Styx, the rocks of Acheron, from which the blood is dripping, and the roaming dogs of Cocytus shall account to me for you; the hundred-headed Hydra shall tear your sides to pieces; the Tartessian Muræna[57] shall fasten itself on your lungs and the Tithrasian[58] Gorgons shall tear your kidneys and your gory entrails to shreds; I will go and fetch them as quickly as possible.

Xanthias
Eh! what are you doing there?

'DIONYSUS (stooping down)
I have just shit myself! Invoke the god.[59]

Xanthias
Get up at once. How a stranger would laugh, if he saw you.

Dionysus
Ah! I'm fainting. Place a sponge on my heart.

Xanthias
Here, take it.

Dionysus
Place it yourself.

Xanthias
But where? Good gods, where is your heart?

Dionysus
It has sunk into my shoes with fear. (Takes his slave's hand holding the sponge, and applies it to his bottom.)

Xanthias
Oh! you most cowardly of gods and men!

Dionysus
What! I cowardly? I, who have asked you for a sponge! 'Tis what no one else would have done.

Xanthias
How so?

Dionysus
A poltroon would have fallen backwards, being overcome with the fumes; as for me, I got up and moreover I wiped myself clean.

Xanthias
Ah! by Posidon! a wonderful feat of intrepidity!

Dionysus
Aye, certainly. And you did not tremble at the sound of his threatening words?

Xanthias
They never troubled me.

Dionysus
Well then, since you are so brave and fearless, become what I am, take this bludgeon and this lion's hide, you, whose heart has no knowledge of fear; I, in return, will carry the baggage.

Xanthias
Here, take it, take it quick! 'this my duty to obey you, and behold, Heracles-Xanthias! Do I look like a coward of your kidney?

Dionysus
No. You are the exact image of the god of Melité,[60] dressed up as a rascal. Come, I will take the baggage.

Female Attendant of Persephoné
Ah! is it you then, beloved Heracles? Come in. As soon as ever the goddess, my mistress Persephoné, knew of your arrival, she quickly had the bread into the oven and clapped two or three pots of bruised peas upon the fire; she has had a whole bullock roasted and both cakes and rolled backed. Come in quick!

Xanthias
No, thank you.

Attendant
Oh! by Apollo! I shall not let you off. She has also had poultry boiled for you, sweetmeats makes, and has prepared you some delicious wine. Come then, enter with me.

Xanthias
I am much obliged.

Attendant
Are you mad? I will not let you go. There is likewise and enchanted flute-girl specially for you, and two or three dancing wenches.

Xanthias
What do you say? Dancing wenches?

Attendant
In the prime of their life and all freshly depilated. Come, enter, for the cook was going to take the fish off the fire and the table was being spread.

Xanthias
Very well then! Run in quickly and tell the dancing-girls I am coming. Slave! pick up the baggage and follow me.

Dionysus
Not so fast! Oh! indeed! I disguise you as Heracles for a joke and you take the thing seriously! None of your nonsense, Xanthias! Take back the baggage.

Xanthias
What? You are not thinking of taking back what you gave me yourself?

Dionysus
No, I don't think about it; I do it. Off with that skin!

Xanthias
Witness how i am treated, ye great dogs, and be my judges!

Dionysus
What gods? Are you so stupid, such a fool? How can you, a slave and a mortal, be the son of Alcmena?

Xanthias
Come then! 'tis well! take them. But perhaps you will be needing me one day, an it please the gods.

Chorus
'Tis the act of a wise and sensible man, who has done much sailing, always to trim his sail towards the quarter whence the fair wind wafts, rather than stand stiff and motionless like a god Terminus.[61] To change your part to serve your own interest is to act like a clever man, a true Theramenes. [62]

Dionysus
Faith! 'twould be funny indeed if Xanthias, a slave, were indolently stretched out on purple cushions and fucking the dancing-girl; if he were then to ask me for a pot, while I, looking on, would be rubbing my tool, and this master rogue, on seeing it, were to know out my front teeth with a blow of his fist.

First Inkeeper's Wife
Here! Plathané, Plathané! do come! here is the rascal who once came into our shop and ate up sixteen loaves for us.

Second Inkeeper's Wife
Aye, truly, 'tis he himself!

Xanthias
This is turning out rough for somebody.

First Wife
And besides that, twenty pieces of boiled meat at half an obolus a piece.

Xanthias
There's someone going to get punished.

First Wife
And I don't know how many cloves of garlic.

Dionysus
You are rambling, my dear, you don't know what you are saying.

First Wife
Hah! you thought I should not know you, because of your buskins! And then all the salt fish, I had forgotten that!

Second Wife
And then, alas! the fresh cheese that he devoured, osier baskets and all! Ten, when I asked for my money, he started to roar and shoot terrible looks at me.

Xanthias
As! I recognize him well by that token; 'tis just his way.

Second Wife
And he drew out his sword like a madman.

First Wife
By the gods, yes.

Second Wife
Terrified to death, we clambered up to the upper storey, and he fled at top speed, carrying off our baskets with him.

Xanthias
Ah! this is again his style! But you ought to take action.

First Wife
Run quick and call Cleon, my patron.

Second Wife
And you, should you run against Hyperbolus,[63] bring him to me; we will knock the life out of our robber.

First Wife
Oh! you miserable glutton! how I should delight in breaking those grinders of yours, which devoured my goods!

Second Wife
And I in hurling you into the malefactor's pit.

First Wife
And I in slitting with one stroke of the sickle that gullet that bolted down the tripe. But I am going to fetch Cleon; he shall summon you before the court this very day and force you to disgorge.

Dionysus
May I die, if Xanthias is not my dearest friend.

Xanthias
Can I be the son of Alcmena, I, a slave and a mortal?

Dionysus
I know, I know, that you are in a fury and you have the right to be; you can even beat me and I will not reply. But if I ever take this costume from you again, may I die of the most fearful torture—I, my wife, my children, all those who belong to me, down to the very last, and blear-eyed Archidemus[64] into the bargain.

Xanthias
I accept your oath, and on those terms I agree.

Chorus
'Tis now your cue, since you have resumed the dress, to act the brave and to throw terror into your glance, thus recalling the god whom you represent. But if you play your part badly, if you yield to any weakness, you will again have to load your shoulders with the baggage.

Xanthias
Friends, your advice is good, but I was thinking the same myself; if there is any good to be got, my master will again want to despoil me of this costume, of that I am quite certain. Ne'ertheless, I am going to show a fearless heart and shoot forth ferocious looks. And lo! the time for it has come, for I hear a noise at the door.

Æacus (to his slaves)
Bind me this dog-thief,[65] that he may be punished. Hurry yourselves, hurry!

Dionysus
This is going to turn out badly for someone.

Xanthias
Look to yourselves and don't come near me.

Æacus
Hah! you would show fight! Ditylas, Sceblyas, Pardocas,[66] come here and have at him!

Dionysus
Ah! you would strike him because he has stolen!

Xanthias
'Tis horrible!

Dionysus
'Tis a revolting cruelty!

Xanthias
By Zeus! may I die, if I ever came here or stole from you the value of a pin! But I will act nobly; take this slave, put him to the question, and if you obtain the proof of my guilt, put me to death.

Æacus
In what manner shall I put him to the question?

Xanthias
In every manner; you may lash him to the wooden horse, hang him, cut him open with scourging, flay him, twist his limbs, pour vinegar down his nostrils, load him with bricks, anything you like; only don't beat him with leeks or fresh garlic.[67]

Æacus
'Tis well conceived; but if the blows maim your slave, you will be claiming damages from me.

Xanthias
No, certainly not! set about putting him to the question.

Æacus
It shall be done here, for I wish him to speak in your presence. Come, put down your pack, and be careful not to lie.

Dionysus
I forbid you to torture me, for I am immortal; if you dare it, woe to you!

Æacus
What say you?

Dionysus
I say that I am an immortal, Dionysus, the son of Zeus, and that this fellow is only a slave.

Æacus (to Xanthias)
D'you hear him?

Xanthias
Yes. 'Tis all the better reason for beating him with rods, for, if he is a god, he will not feel the blows.

Dionysus (to Xanthias)
But why, pray, since you also claim to be a god, should you not be beaten like myself?

Xanthias (to Æacus)
That's fair. Very well then, whichever of us two you first see crying and caring for the blows, him believe not to be a god.

Æacus
'Tis spoken like a brave fellow; you don't refuse what is right. Strip yourselves.

Xanthias
To do the thing fairly, how do you propose to act?

Æacus
Oh! that's easy. I shall hit you one after the other.

Xanthias
Well thought of.

Æacus
There! (He strikes Xanthias.)

Xanthias
Watch if you see me flinch.

Æacus
I have already struck you.

Xanthias
No, you haven't.

Æacus
Why, you have not felt it at all, I think. Now for t'other one.

Dionysus
Be quick about it.

Æacus
But I have struck you.

Dionysus
Ah! I did not even sneeze. How is that?

Æacus
I don't know; come, I will return to the first one.

Xanthias
Get it over. Oh, oh!

Æacus
What does that "oh, oh!" mean? Did it hurt you?

Xanthias
Oh, no! but I was thinking of the feasts of Heracles, which are being held at Diomeia.[68]

Æacus
Oh! what a pious fellow! I pass on to the other again.

Dionysus
Oh! oh!

Æacus
What's wrong?

Dionysus
I see some knights.[69]

Æacus
Why are you weeping?

Dionysus
Because I can smell onions.

Æacus
Ha! so you don't care a fig for the blows?

Dionysus
Not the least bit in the world.

Æacus
Well, let us proceed. Your turn now.

Xanthias
Oh, I say!

Æacus
What's the matter?

Xanthias
Pull out this thorn.[70]

Æacus
What? Now the other one again.

Dionysus
"Oh, Apollo!... King of Delos and Delphi!"

Xanthias
He felt that. Do you hear?

Dionysus
Why, no! I was quoting an iambic of Hipponax.

Xanthias
'Tis labour in vain. Come, smite his flanks.

Æacus
No, present your belly.

Dionysus
Oh, Posidon ...

Xanthias
Ah! here's someone who's feeling it.

Dionysus
... who reignest on the Ægean headland and in the depths of the azure sea. [71]

Æacus
By Demeter, I cannot find out which of you is the god. But come in; the master and Persephoné will soon tell you, for they are gods themselves.

Dionysus
You are quite right; but you should have thought of that before you beat us.

Chorus
Oh! Muse, take part in our sacred choruses; our songs will enchant you and you shall see a people of wise men, eager for a nobler glory than that of Cleophon,[72] the braggart, the swallow, who deafens us with his hoarse cries, while perched upon a Thracian tree. He whines in his barbarian tongue and repeats the lament of Philomela with good reason, for even if the votes were equally divided, he would have to perish.[73]

[The Leader comes forward and addresses the audience.]
Chorus Leader
The sacred chorus owes the city its opinion and its wise lessons. First I demand that equality be restored among the citizens, so that none may be disquieted. If there be any whom the artifices of Phrynichus have drawn into any error,[74] let us allow them to offer their excuses and let us forget these old mistakes. Furthermore, that there be not a single citizen in Athens who is deprived of his rights; otherwise would it not be shameful to see slaves become masters and treated as honourably as Platæans, because they helped in a single naval fight?[75] Not that I censure this step, for, on the contrary I approve it; 'tis the sole thing you have done that is sensible. But those citizens, both they and their fathers, have so often fought with you and are allied to you by ties of blood, so ought you not to listen to their prayers and pardon them their single fault? Nature has given you wisdom, therefore let your anger cool and let all those who have fought together on Athenian galleys live in brotherhood and as fellow-citizens, enjoying the same equal rights; to show ourselves proud and intractable about granting the rights of the city, especially at a time when we are riding at the mercy of the waves,[76] is a folly, of which we shall later repent.

If I am adept at reading the destiny or the soul of a man, the fatal hour for little Cleigenes[77] is near, that unbearable ape, the greatest rogue of all the washermen, who use a mixture of ashes and Cimolian earth and call it potash. He knows it; hence he is always armed for war; for he fears, if he ventures forth without his bludgeon, he would be stripped of his clothes when he is drunk.

I have often noticed that there are good and honest citizens in Athens, who are as old gold is to new money. The ancient coins are excellent in point of standard; they are assuredly the best of all moneys; they alone are well struck and give a pure ring; everywhere they obtain currency, both in Greece and in strange lands; yet we make no use of them and prefer those bad copper pieces quite recently issued and so wretchedly struck. Exactly in the same way do we deal with our citizens. If we know them to be well-born, sober, brave, honest, adepts in the exercises of the gymnasium and in the liberal arts, they are the butts of our contumely and we have only a use for the petty rubbish, consisting of strangers, slaves and low-born folk not worth a whit more, mushrooms of yesterday, whom formerly Athens would not have even wanted as scapegoats. Madmen, do change your ways at last; employ the honest men afresh; if you are fortunate through doing this, 'twill be but right, and if Fate betrays you, the wise will at least praise you for having fallen honourably.

Æacus
By Zeus, the Deliverer! what a brave man your master is.

Xanthias
A brave man! I should think so indeed, for he only knows how to drink and to make love!

Æacus
He has convicted you of lying and did not thrash the impudent rascal who had dared to call himself the master.

Xanthias
Ah! he would have rued it if he had.

Æacus
Well spoken! that's a reply that does a slave credit; 'tis thus that I like to act too.

Xanthias
How, pray?

Æacus
I am beside myself with joy, when I can curse my master in secret.

Xanthias
And when you go off grumbling, after having been well thrashed?

Æacus
I am delighted.

Xanthias
And when you make yourself important?

Æacus
I know of nothing sweeter.

Xanthias
Ah! by Zeus! we are brothers. And when you are listening to what your masters are saying?

Æacus
'Tis a pleasure that drives me to distraction.

Xanthias
And when you repeat it to strangers?

Æacus
Oh! I feel as happy as if I were emitting semen.

Xanthias
By Phoebus Apollo! reach me your hand; come hither, that I may embrace you; and, in the name of Zeus, the Thrashed one, tell me what all this noise means, these shouts, these quarrels, that I can hear going on inside yonder.

Æacus
'Tis Æschylus and Euripides.

Xanthias
What do you mean?

Æacus
The matter is serious, very serious indeed; all Hades is in commotion.

Xanthias
What's it all about?

Æacus
We have a law here, according to which, whoever in each of the great sciences and liberal arts beats all his rivals, is fed at the Prytaneum and sits at Pluto's side ...

Xanthias
I know that.

Æacus
... until someone cleverer than he in the same style of thing comes along; then he has to give way to him.

Xanthias
And how has this law disturbed Æschylus?

Æacus
He held the chair for tragedy, as being the greatest in his art.

Xanthias
And who has it now?

Æacus
When Euripides descended here, he started reciting his verses to the cheats, cut-purses, parricides, and brigands, who abound in Hades; his supple and tortuous reasonings filled them with enthusiasm, and they pronounced him the cleverest by far. So Euripides, elated with pride, took possession of the throne on which Æschylus was installed.

Xanthias
And did he not get stoned?

Æacus
No, but the folk demanded loudly that a regular trial should decide to which of the two the highest place belonged.

Xanthias
What folk? this mob of rascals? (Points to the spectators.)

Æacus
Their clamour reached right up to heaven.

Xanthias
And had Æschylus not his friends too?

Æacus
Good people are very scarce here, just the same as on earth.

Xanthias
What does Pluto reckon to do?

Æacus
To open a contest as soon as possible; the two rivals will show their skill, and finally a verdict will be given.

Xanthias
What! has not Sophocles also claimed the chair then?

Æacus
No, no! he embraced Æschylus and shook his hand, when he came down; he could have taken the seat, for Æschylus vacated it for him; but according to Clidemides,[78] he prefers to act as his second; if Æschylus triumphs, he will stay modestly where he is, but if not, he has declared that he will contest the prize with Euripides.

Xanthias
When is the contest to begin?

Æacus
Directly! the battle royal is to take place on this very spot. Poetry is to be weighed in the scales.

Xanthias
What? How can tragedy be weighed?

Æacus
They will bring rulers and compasses to measure the words, and those forms which are used for moulding bricks, also diameter measures and wedges, for Euripides says he wishes to torture every verse of his rival's tragedies.

Xanthias
If I mistake not, Æschylus must be in a rage.

Æacus
With lowered head he glares fiercely like a bull.

Xanthias
And who will be the judge?

Æacus
The choice was difficult; it was seen that there was a dearth of able men. Æschylus took exception to the Athenians ...

Xanthias
No doubt he thought there were too many thieves among them.

Æacus
... and moreover believed them too light-minded to judge of a poet's merits. Finally they fell back upon your master, because he understands tragic poetry.[79] But let us go in; when the masters are busy, we must look out for blows!

Chorus
Ah! what fearful wrath will be surging in his heart! what a roar there'll be when he sees the babbler who challenges him sharpening his teeth! how savagely his eyes will roll! What a battle of words like plumed helmets and waving crests hurling themselves against fragile outbursts and wretched parings! We shall see the ingenious architect of style defending himself against immense periods. Then, the close hairs of his thick mane all a-bristle, the giant will knit his terrible brow; he will pull out verses as solidly bolted together as the framework of a ship and will hurl them forth with a roar, while the pretty speaker with the supple and sharpened tongue, who weighs each syllable and submits everything to the lash of his envy, will cut this grand style to mincemeat and reduce to ruins this edifice erected by one good sturdy puff of breath.[80]

Euripides (to Dionysus)
Your advice is in vain, I shall not vacate the chair, for I contend I am superior to him.

Dionysus
Æschylus, why do you keep silent? You understand what he says.

Euripides
He is going to stand on his dignity first; 'tis a trick he never failed to use in his tragedies.

Dionysus
My dear fellow, a little less arrogance, please.

Euripides
Oh! I know him for many a day. I have long had a thorough hold of his ferocious heroes, for his high-flown language and of the monstrous blustering words which his great, gaping mouth hurls forth thick and close without curb or measure.

Æschylus
It is indeed you, the son of a rustic goddess,[81] who dare to treat me thus, you, who only know how to collect together stupid sayings and to stitch the rags of your beggars?[82] I shall make you rue your insults.

Dionysus
Enough said, Æschylus, calm the wild wrath that is turning your heart into a furnace.

Æschylus
No, not until I have clearly shown the true value of this impudent fellow with his lame men. [83]

Dionysus
A lamb, a black lamb! Slaves, bring it quickly, the storm-cloud is about to burst.[84]

Æschylus
Shame on your Cretan monologues![85] Shame on the infamous nuptials[86] that you introduce into the tragic art!

Dionysus
Curb yourself, noble Æschylus, and as for you, my poor Euripides, be prudent, protect yourself from this hailstorm, or he may easily in his rage hit you full in the temple with some terrible word, that would let out your Telephus.[87] Come, Æschylus, no flying into a temper! discuss the question coolly; poets must not revile each other like market wenches. Why, you shout at the very outset and burst out like a pine that catches fire in the forest.

Euripides
I am ready for the contest and don't flinch; let him choose the attack or the defence; let him discuss everything, the dialogue, the choruses, the tragic genius, Peleus, Æolus, Meleager[88] and especially Telephus.

Dionysus
And what do you propose to do, Æschylus? Speak!

Æschylus
I should have wished not to maintain a contest that is not equal or fair.

Dionysus
Why not fair?

Æschylus
Because my poetry has outlived me, whilst his died with him and he can use it against me. However, I submit to your ruling.

Dionysus
Let incense and a brazier be brought, for I want to offer a prayer to the gods. Thanks to their favour, may I be able to decide between these ingenious rivals as a clever expert should! And do you sing a hymn in honour of the Muses.

Chorus
Oh! ye chaste Muses, the daughters of Zeus, you who read the fine and subtle minds of thought-makers when they enter upon a contest of quibbles and tricks, look down on these two powerful athletes; inspire them, one with mighty words and the other with odds and ends of verses. Now the great mind contest is beginning.

Dionysus
And do you likewise make supplication to the gods before entering the lists.

Æschylus
Oh, Demeter! who hast formed my mind, may I be able to prove myself worthy of thy Mysteries![89]

Dionysus
And you, Euripides, prove yourself meet to sprinkle incense on the brazier.

Euripides
Thanks, but I sacrifice to other gods.[90]

Dionysus
To private gods of your own, which you have made after your own image?

Euripides
Why, certainly!

Dionysus
Well then, invoke your gods.

Euripides
Oh! thou Æther, on which I feed, oh! thou Volubility of Speech, oh! Craftiness, oh! Subtle Scent! enable me to crush the arguments of my opponent.

Chorus
We are curious to see upon what ground these clever tilters are going to measure each other. Their tongue is keen, their wit is ready, their heart is full of audacity. From the one we must expect both elegance and polish of language, whereas the other, armed with his ponderous words, will fall hip and thigh upon his foe and with a single blow tear down and scatter all his vain devices.

Dionysus
Come, be quick and speak and let your words be elegant, but without false imagery or platitude.

Euripides
I shall speak later of my poetry, but I want first to prove that Æschylus is merely a wretched impostor; I shall relate by what means he tricked a coarse audience, trained in the school of Phrynichus.[91] First one saw some seated figure, who was veiled, some Achilles or Niobé,[92] who then strutted about the stage, but neither uncovered their face nor uttered a syllable.

Dionysus
I' faith! that's true!

Euripides
Meanwhile, the Chorus would pour forth as many as four tirades one after the other, without stopping, and the characters would still maintain their stony silence.

Dionysus
I liked their silence, and these mutes pleased me no less than those characters that have such a heap to say nowadays.

Euripides
'Tis because you were a fool, understand that well.

Dionysus
Possibly; but what was his object?

Euripides
'Twas pure quackery; in this way the spectator would sit motionless, waiting, waiting for Niobé to say something, and the piece would go running on.

Dionysus
Oh! the rogue! how he deceived me! Well, Æschylus, why are you so restless? Why this impatience, eh?

Euripides
'Tis because he sees himself beaten. Then when he had rambled on well, and got half-way through the piece, he would spout some dozen big, blustering, winged words, tall as mountains, terrible scarers, which the spectator admired without understanding what they meant.

Dionysus
Oh! great gods!

Æschylus
Silence!

Euripides
There was no comprehending one word.

Dionysus (to Æschylus)
Don't grind your teeth.

Euripides
There were Scamanders, abysses, griffins with eagles' beaks chiselled upon brazen bucklers, all words with frowning crests and hard, hard to understand.

Dionysus
'Faith, I was kept awake almost an entire night, trying to think out his yellow bird, half cock and half horse.[93]

Æschylus
Why, fool, 'tis a device that is painted on the prow of a vessel.

Dionysus
Ah! I actually thought 'twas Eryxis, the son of Philoxenus.[94]

Euripides
But what did you want with a cock in tragedy?

Æschylus
But you, you foe of the gods, what have you done that is so good?

Euripides
Oh! I have not made horses with cocks' heads like you, nor goats with deer's horns, as you may see 'em on Persian tapestries; but, when I received tragedy from your hands, it was quite bloated with enormous, ponderous words, and I began by lightening it of its heavy baggage and treated it with little verses, with subtle arguments, with the sap of white beet and decoctions of philosophical folly, the whole being well filtered together;[95] then I fed it with monologues, mixing in some Cephisophon;[96] but I did not chatter at random nor mix in any ingredients that first came to hand; from the outset I made my subject clear, and told the origin of the piece.

Æschylus
Well, that was better than telling your own.[97]

Euripides
Then, starting with the very first verse, each character played his part; all spoke, both woman and slave and master, young girl and old hag.[98]

Æschylus
And was not such daring deserving of death?

Euripides
No, by Apollo! 'twas to please the people.

Dionysus
Oh! leave that alone, do; 'tis not the best side of your case.

Euripides
Furthermore, I taught the spectators the art of speech ...

Æschylus
'Tis true indeed! Would that you had burst before you did it!

Euripides
... the use of the straight lines and of the corners of language, the science of thinking, of reading, of understanding, plotting, loving deceit, of suspecting evil, of thinking of everything....

Æschylus
Oh! true, true again!

Euripides
I introduced our private life upon the stage, our common habits; and 'twas bold of me, for everyone was at home with these and could be my critic; I did not burst out into big noisy words to prevent their comprehension; nor did I terrify the audience by showing them Cycni[99] and Memnons[100] on chariots harnessed with steeds and jingling bells. Look at his disciples and look at mine. His are Phormisius and Megænetus of Magnesia[101], all a-bristle with long beards, spears and trumpets, and grinning with sardonic and ferocious laughter, while my disciples are Clitophon and the graceful Theramenes.[102]

Dionysus
Theramenes? An able man and ready for anything; a man, who in imminent dangers knew well how to get out of the scrape by saying he was from Chios and not from Ceos.[103]

Euripides
'Tis thus that I taught my audience how to judge, namely, by introducing the art of reasoning and considering into tragedy. Thanks to me, they understand everything, discern all things, conduct their households better and ask themselves, "What is to be thought of this? Where is that? Who has taken the other thing?"

Dionysus
Yes, certainly, and now every Athenian who returns home, bawls to his slaves, "Where is the stew-pot? Who has eaten off the sprat's head? Where is the clove of garlic that was left over from yesterday? Who has been nibbling at my olives?" Whereas formerly they kept their seats with mouths agape like fools and idiots.

Chorus
You hear him, illustrious Achilles,[104] and what are you going to reply? Only take care that your rage does not lead you astray, for he has handled you brutally. My noble friend, don't get carried away; furl all your sails, except the top-gallants, so that your ship may only advance slowly, until you feel yourself driven forward by a soft and favourable wind. Come then, you who were the first of the Greeks to construct imposing monuments of words and to raise the old tragedy above childish trifling, open a free course to the torrent of your words.

Æschylus
This contest rouses my gall; my heart is boiling over with wrath. Am I bound to dispute with this fellow? But I will not let him think me unarmed and helpless. So, answer me! what is it in a poet one admires?

Euripides
Wise counsels, which make the citizens better.

Æschylus
And if you have failed in this duty, if out of honest and pure-minded men you have made rogues, what punishment do you think is your meet?

Dionysus
Death. I will reply for him.

Æschylus
Behold then what great and brave men I bequeathed to him! They did not shirk the public burdens; they were not idlers, rogues and cheats, as they are to-day; their very breath was spears, pikes, helmets with white crests, breastplates and greaves; they were gallant souls encased in seven folds of ox-leather.

Euripides
I must beware! he will crush me beneath the sheer weight of his hail of armour.

Dionysus
And how did you teach them this bravery? Speak, Æschylus, and don't display so much haughty swagger.

Æschylus
By composing a drama full of the spirit of Ares.

Dionysus
Which one?

Æschylus
The Seven Chiefs before Thebes. Every man who had once seen it longed to be marching to battle.

Dionysus
And you did very wrongly; through you the Thebans have become more warlike; for this misdeed you deserve to be well beaten.

Æschylus
You too might have trained yourself, but you were not willing. Then, by producing The Persæ, I have taught you to conquer all your enemies; 'twas my greatest work.

Dionysus
Aye, I shook with joy at the announcement of the death of Darius; and the Chorus immediately clapped their hands and shouted, "Triumph!" [105]

Æschylus
Those are the subjects that poets should use. Note how useful, even from remotest times, the poets of noble thought have been! Orpheus taught us the mystic rites and the horrid nature of murder; Musæus, the healing of ailments and the oracles; Hesiod, the tilling of the soil and the times for delving and harvest. And does not divine Homer owe his immortal glory to his noble teachings? Is it not he who taught the warlike virtues, the art of fighting and of carrying arms?

Dionysus
At all events he has not taught it to Pantacles,[106] the most awkward of all men; t'other day, when he was directing a procession, 'twas only after he had put on his helmet that he thought of fixing in the crest.

Æschylus
But he has taught a crowd of brave warriors, such as Lamachus,[107] the hero of Athens. 'Tis from Homer that I borrowed the Patrocli and the lion-hearted Teucers,[108] whom I revived to the citizens, to incite them to show themselves worthy of these illustrious examples when the trumpets sounded. But I showed them neither Sthenoboea[109] nor shameless Phædra; and I don't remember ever having placed an amorous woman on the stage.

Euripides
No, no, you have never known Aphrodité.

Æschylus
And I am proud of it. Whereas with you and those like you, she appears everywhere and in every shape; so that even you yourself were ruined and undone by her.[110]

Dionysus
That's true; the crimes you imputed to the wives of others, you suffered from in turn.

Euripides
But, cursed man, what harm have my Sthenoboeas done to Athens?

Æschylus
You are the cause of honest wives of honest citizens drinking hemlock, so greatly have your Bellerophons made them blush.[111]

Euripides
Why, did I invent the story of Phædra?

Æschylus
No, the story is true enough; but the poet should hide what is vile and not produce nor represent it on the stage. The schoolmaster teaches little children and the poet men of riper age. We must only display what is good.

Euripides
And when you talk to us of towering mountains—Lycabettus and of the frowning Parnes[112]—is that teaching us what is good? Why not use human language?

Æschylus
Why, miserable man, the expression must always rise to the height of great maxims and of noble thoughts. Thus as the garment of the demi-gods is more magnificent, so also is their language more sublime. I ennobled the stage, while you have degraded it.

Euripides
And how so, pray?

Æschylus
Firstly you have dressed the kings in rags,[113] so that they might inspire pity.

Euripides
Where's the harm?

Æschylus
You are the cause why no rich man will now equip the galleys, they dress themselves in tatters, groan and say they are poor.

Dionysus
Aye, by Demeter! and he wears a tunic of fine wool underneath; and when he has deceived us with his lies, he may be seen turning up on the fish-market.[114]

Æschylus
Moreover, you have taught boasting and quibbling; the wrestling schools are deserted and the young fellows have submitted their arses to outrage, [115] in order that they might learn to reel off idle chatter, and the sailors have dared to bandy words with their officers.[116] In my day they only knew how to ask for their ship's-biscuit and to shout "Yo ho! heave ho!"

Dionysus
... and to let wind under the nose of the rower below them, to befoul their mate with filth and to steal when they went ashore. Nowadays they argue instead of rowing and the ship can travel as slow as she likes.

Æschylus
Of what crimes is he not the author? Has he not shown us procurers, women who get delivered in the temples, have traffic with their brothers,[117] and say that life is not life.[118] 'Tis thanks to him that our city is full of scribes and buffoons, veritable apes, whose grimaces are incessantly deceiving the people; but there is no one left who knows how to carry a torch, [119] so little is it practised.

Dionysus
I' faith, that's true! I almost died of laughter at the last Panathenæa at seeing a slow, fat, pale-faced fellow, who ran well behind all the rest, bent completely double and evidently in horrible pain. At the gate of the Ceramicus the spectators started beating his belly, sides, flanks and thighs; these slaps knocked so much wind out of him that it extinguished his torch and he hurried away.

Chorus
'Tis a serious issue and an important debate; the fight is proceeding hotly and its decision will be difficult; for, as violently as the one attacks, as cleverly and as subtly does the other reply. But don't keep always to the same ground; you are not at the end of your specious artifices. Make use of every trick you have, no matter whether it be old or new! Out with everything boldly, blunt though it be; risk anything—that is smart and to the point. Perchance you fear that the audience is too stupid to grasp your subtleties, but be reassured, for that is no longer the case. They are all well-trained folk; each has his book, from which he learns the art of quibbling; such wits as they are happily endowed with have been rendered still keener through study. So have no fear! Attack everything, for you face an enlightened audience.

Euripides
Let's take your prologues; 'tis the beginnings of this able poet's tragedies that I wish to examine at the outset. He was obscure in the description of his subjects.

Dionysus
And which prologue are you going to examine?

Euripides
A lot of them. Give me first of all that of the Orestes.[120]

Dionysus
All keep silent, Æschylus, recite.

Æschylus
"Oh! Hermes of the nether world, whose watchful power executes the paternal bidding, be my deliverer, assist me, I pray thee. I come, I return to this land."[121]

Dionysus
Is there a single word to condemn in that?

Euripides
More than a dozen.

Dionysus
But there are but three verses in all.

Euripides
And there are twenty faults in each.

Dionysus
Æschylus, I beg you to keep silent; otherwise, besides these three iambics, there will be many more attacked.

Æschylus
What? Keep silent before this fellow?

Dionysus
If you will take my advice.

Euripides
He begins with a fearful blunder. Do you see the stupid thing?

Dionysus
Faith! I don't care if I don't.

Æschylus
A blunder? In what way?

Euripides
Repeat the first verse.

Æschylus
"Oh! Hermes of the nether world, whose watchful power executes the paternal bidding."

Euripides
Is not Orestes speaking in this fashion before his father's tomb?

Æschylus
Agreed.

Euripides
Does he mean to say that Hermes had watched, only that Agamemnon should perish at the hands of a woman and be the victim of a criminal intrigue?

Æschylus
'Tis not to the god of trickery, but to Hermes the benevolent, that he gives the name of god of the nether world, and this he proves by adding that Hermes is accomplishing the mission given him by his father.

Euripides
The blunder is even worse than I had thought to make it out; for if he holds his office in the nether world from his father....

Dionysus
It means his father has made him a grave-digger.

Æschylus
Dionysus, your wine is not redolent of perfume.[122]

Dionysus
Continue, Æschylus, and you, Euripides, spy out the faults as he proceeds.

Æschylus
"Be my deliverer, assist me, I pray thee. I come, I return to this land."

Euripides
Our clever Æschylus says the very same thing twice over.

Æschylus
How twice over?

Euripides
Examine your expressions, for I am going to show you the repetition. "I come, I return to this land." But I come is the same thing as I return.

Dionysus
Undoubtedly. 'Tis as though I said to my neighbour, "Lend me either your kneading-trough or your trough to knead in."

Æschylus
No, you babbler, no, 'tis not the same thing, and the verse is excellent.

Dionysus
Indeed! then prove it.

Æschylus
To come is the act of a citizen who has suffered no misfortune; but the exile both comes and returns.

Dionysus
Excellent! by Apollo! What do you say to that, Euripides?

Euripides
I say that Orestes did not return to his country, for he came there secretly, without the consent of those in power.

Dionysus
Very good indeed! by Hermes! only I have not a notion what it is you mean.

Euripides
Go on.

Dionysus
Come, be quick, Æschylus, continue; and you look out for the faults.

Æschylus
"At the foot of this tomb I invoke my father and beseech him to hearken to me and to hear."

Euripides
Again a repetition, to hearken and to hear are obviously the same thing.

Dionysus
Why, wretched man, he's addressing the dead, whom to call thrice even is not sufficient.

Æschylus
And you, how do you form your prologues?

Euripides
I am going to tell you, and if you find a repetition, an idle word or inappropriate, let me be scouted!

Dionysus
Come, speak; 'tis my turn to listen. Let us hear the beauty of your prologues,

Euripides
"Oedipus was a fortunate man at first ..."

Æschylus
Not at all; he was destined to misfortune before he even existed, since Apollo predicted he would kill his father before ever he was born. How can one say he was fortunate at first?

Euripides
"... and he became the most unfortunate of mortals afterwards."

Æschylus
No, he did not become so, for he never ceased being so. Look at the facts! First of all, when scarcely born, he is exposed in the middle of winter in an earthenware vessel, for fear he might become the murderer of his father, if brought up; then he came to Polybus with his feet swollen; furthermore, while young, he marries an old woman, who is also his mother, and finally he blinds himself.

Dionysus
'Faith! I think he could not have done worse to have been a colleague of Erasinidas.[123]

Euripides
You can chatter as you will, my prologues are very fine.

Æschylus
I will take care not to carp at them verse by verse and word for word;[124] but, and it please the gods, a simple little bottle will suffice me for withering every one of your prologues.

Euripides
You will wither my prologues with a little bottle? [125]

Æschylus
With only one. You make verses of such a kind, that one can adapt what one will to your iambics: a little bit of fluff, a little bottle, a little bag. I am going to prove it.

Euripides
You will prove it?

Æschylus
Yes.

Dionysus
Come, recite.

Euripides
"Ægyptus, according to the most widely spread reports, having landed at Argos with his fifty daughters[126] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Euripides
What little bottle? May the plague seize you!

Dionysus
Recite another prologue to him. We shall see.

Euripides
"Dionysus, who leads the choral dance on Parnassus with the thyrsus in his hand and clothed in skins of fawns[127] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Dionysus
There again his little bottle upsets us.

Euripides
He won't bother us much longer. I have a certain prologue to which he cannot adapt his tag: "There is no perfect happiness; this one is of noble origin, but poor; another of humble birth[128] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Dionysus
Euripides!

Euripides
What's the matter?

Dionysus
Clue up your sails, for this damned little bottle is going to blow a gale.

Euripides
Little I care, by Demeter! I am going to make it burst in his hands.

Dionysus
Then out with it; recite another prologue, but beware, beware of the little bottle.

Euripides
"Cadmus, the son of Agenor, while leaving the city of Sidon[129] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Dionysus
Oh! my poor friend; buy that bottle, do, for it is going to tear all your prologues to ribbons.

Euripides
What? Am I to buy it of him?

Dionysus
If you take my advice.

Euripides
No, not I, for I have many prologues to which he cannot possibly fit his catchword: "Pelops, the son of Tantalus, having started for Pisa on his swift chariot[130] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Dionysus
D'ye see? Again he has popped in his little bottle. Come, Æschylus, he is going to buy it of you at any price, and you can have a splendid one for an obolus.

Euripides
By Zeus, no, not yet! I have plenty of other prologues. "Œneus in the fields one day[131] ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Euripides
Let me first finish the opening verse: "Œneus in the fields one day, having made an abundant harvest and sacrificed the first-fruits to the gods ..."

Æschylus
... lost his little bottle.

Dionysus
During the sacrifice? And who was the thief?

Euripides
Allow him to try with this one: "Zeus, as even Truth has said[132] ..."

Dionysus (to Euripides)
You have lost again; he is going to say, "lost his little bottle," for that bottle sticks to your prologues like a ringworm. But, in the name of the gods, turn now to his choruses.

Euripides
I will prove that he knows nothing of lyric poetry, and that he repeats himself incessantly.

Chorus
What's he going to say now? I am itching to know what criticisms he is going to make on the poet, whose sublime songs so far outclass those of his contemporaries. I cannot imagine with what he is going to reproach the king of the Dionysia, and I tremble for the aggressor.

Euripides
Oh! those wonderful songs! But watch carefully, for I am going to condense them all into a single one.

Dionysus
And I am going to take pebbles to count the fragments.

Euripides
"Oh, Achilles, King of Phthiotis, hearken to the shout of the conquering foe and haste to sustain the assault. We dwellers in the marshes do honour to Hermes, the author of our race. Haste to sustain the assault."

Dionysus
There, Æschylus, you have already two assaults against you.

Euripides
"Oh, son of Atreus, the most illustrious of the Greeks, thou, who rulest so many nations, hearken to me. Haste to the assault."

Dionysus
A third assault. Beware, Æschylus.

Euripides
"Keep silent, for the inspired priestesses are opening the temple of Artemis. Haste to sustain the assault. I have the right to proclaim that our warriors are leaving under propitious auspices. Haste to sustain the assault." [133]

Dionysus
Great gods, what a number of assaults! my kidneys are quite swollen with fatigue; I shall have to go to the bath after all these assaults.

Euripides
Not before you have heard this other song arranged for the music of the cithara.

Dionysus
Come then, continue; but, prithee, no more "assaults."

Euripides
"What! the two powerful monarchs, who reign over the Grecian youth, phlattothrattophlattothrat, are sending the Sphinx, that terrible harbinger of death, phlattothrattophlattothrat. With his avenging arm bearing a spear, phlattothrattophlattothrat, the impetuous bird delivers those who lean to the side of Ajax, phlattothrattophlattothrat, to the dogs who roam in the clouds, phlattothrattophlattothrat." [134]

Dionysus (to Æschylus)
What is this phlattothrat? Does it come from Marathon or have you picked it out of some labourer's chanty?

Æschylus
I took what was good and improved it still more, so that I might not be accused of gathering the same flowers as Phrynichus in the meadow of the Muse. But this man borrows from everybody, from the suggestions of prostitutes, from the sons of Melitus, [135] from the Carian flute-music, from wailing women, from dancing-girls. I am going to prove it, so let a lyre be brought. But what need of a lyre in his case? Where is the girl with the castanets? Come, thou Muse of Euripides; 'tis quite thy business to accompany songs of this sort.

Dionysus
This Muse has surely done fellation in her day, like a Lesbian wanton. [136]

Æschylus
"Ye halcyons, who twitter over the ever-flowing billows of the sea, the damp dew of the waves glistens on your wings; and you spiders, who we-we-we-we-we-weave the long woofs of your webs in the corners of our houses with your nimble feet like the noisy shuttle, there where the dolphin by bounding in the billows, under the influence of the flute, predicts a favourable voyage; thou glorious ornaments of the vine, the slender tendrils that support the grape. Child, throw thine arms about my neck."[137] Do you note the harmonious rhythm?

Dionysus
Yes.

Æschylus
Do you note it?

Dionysus
Yes, undoubtedly.

Æschylus
And does the author of such rubbish dare to criticize my songs? he, who imitates the twelve postures of Cyrené in his poetry?[138] There you have his lyric melodies, but I still want to give you a sample of his monologues. "Oh! dark shadows of the night! what horrible dream are you sending me from the depths of your sombre abysses! Oh! dream, thou bondsman of Pluto, thou inanimate soul, child of the dark night, thou dread phantom in long black garments, how bloodthirsty, bloodthirsty is thy glance! how sharp are thy claws! Handmaidens, kindle the lamp, draw up the dew of the rivers in your vases and make the water hot; I wish to purify myself of this dream sent me by the gods. Oh! king of the ocean, that's right, that's right! Oh! my comrades, behold this wonder. Glycé has robbed me of my cock and has fled. Oh, Nymphs of the mountains! oh! Mania! seize her! How unhappy I am! I was full busy with my work, I was sp-sp-sp-sp-spinning the flax that was on my spindle, I was rounding off the clew that I was to go and sell in the market at dawn; and he flew off, flew off, cleaving the air with his swift wings; he left to me nothing but pain, pain! What tears, tears, poured, poured from my unfortunate eyes! Oh! Cretans, children of Ida, take your bows; help me, haste hither, surround the house. And thou, divine huntress, beautiful Artemis, come with thy hounds and search through the house. And thou also, daughter of Zeus, seize the torches in thy ready hands and go before me to Glycé's home, for I propose to go there and rummage everywhere."[139]

Dionysus
That's enough of choruses.

Æschylus
Yes, faith, enough indeed! I wish now to see my verses weighed in the scales; 'tis the only way to end this poetic struggle.

Dionysus
Well then, come, I am going to sell the poet's genius the same way cheese is sold in the market.

Chorus
Truly clever men are possessed of an inventive mind. Here again is a new idea that is marvellous and strange, and which another would not have thought of; as for myself I would not have believed anyone who had told me of it, I would have treated him as a driveller.

Dionysus
Come, hither to the scales.

Æschylus and Euripides
Here we are.

Dionysus
Let each one hold one of the scales, recite a verse, and not let go until I have cried, "Cuckoo!"

Æschylus and Euripides
We understand.

Dionysus
Well then, recite and keep your hands on the scales.

Euripides
"Would it had pleased the gods that the vessel Argo had never unfurled the wings of her sails!"[140]

Æschylus
"Oh! river Sperchius! oh! meadows, where the oxen graze!"[141]

Dionysus
Cuckoo! let go! Oh! the verse of Æschylus sinks far the lower of the two.

Euripides
And why?

Dionysus
Because, like the wool-merchants, who moisten their wares, he has thrown a river into his verse and has made it quite wet, whereas yours was winged and flew away.

Euripides
Come, another verse! You recite, Æschylus, and you, weigh.

Dionysus
Hold the scales again.

Æschylus and Euripides
Ready.

Dionysus (to Euripides)
You begin.

Euripides
"Eloquence is Persuasion's only sanctuary."[142]

Æschylus
"Death is the only god whom gifts cannot bribe."[143]

Dionysus
Let go! let go! Here again our friend Æschylus' verse drags down the scale; 'tis because he has thrown in Death, the weightiest of all ills.

Euripides
And I Persuasion; my verse is excellent.

Dionysus
Persuasion has both little weight and little sense. But hunt again for a big weighty verse and solid withal, that it may assure you the victory.

Euripides
But where am I to find one—where?

Dionysus
I'll tell you one: "Achilles has thrown two and four."[144] Come, recite! 'tis the last trial.

Euripides
"With his arm he seized a mace, studded with iron."[145]

Æschylus
"Chariot upon chariot and corpse upon corpse."[146]

Dionysus (to Euripides)
There you're foiled again.

Euripides
Why?

Dionysus
There are two chariots and two corpses in the verse; why, 'tis a weight a hundred Egyptians could not lift.[147]

Æschylus
'Tis no longer verse against verse that I wish to weigh, but let him clamber into the scale himself, he, his children, his wife, Cephisophon[148] and all his works; against all these I will place but two of my verses on the other side.

Dionysus
I will not be their umpire, for they are dear to me and I will not have a foe in either of them; meseems the one is mighty clever, while the other simply delights me.

Pluto
Then you are foiled in the object of your voyage.

Dionysus
And if I do decide?

Pluto
You shall take with you whichever of the twain you declare the victor; thus you will not have come in vain.

Dionysus
That's all right! Well then, listen; I have come down to find a poet.

Euripides
And with what intent?

Dionysus
So that the city, when once it has escaped the imminent dangers of the war, may have tragedies produced. I have resolved to take back whichever of the two is prepared to give good advice to the citizens. So first of all, what think you of Alcibiades? For the city is in most difficult labour over this question.

Euripides
And what does it think about it?

Dionysus
What does it think? It regrets him, hates him, and yet wishes to have him, all at the same time. But tell me your opinion, both of you.

Euripides
I hate the citizen who is slow to serve his country, quick to involve it in the greatest troubles, ever alert to his own interests, and a bungler where those of the State are at stake.

Dionysus
That's good, by Posidon! And you, what is your opinion?

Æschylus
A lion's whelp should not be reared within the city. No doubt that's best; but if the lion has been reared, one must submit to his ways.

Dionysus
Zeus, the Deliverer! this puzzles me greatly. The one is clever, the other clear and precise. Now each of you tell me your idea of the best way to save the State.

Euripides
If Cinesias were fitted to Cleocritus as a pair of wings, and the wind were to carry the two of them across the waves of the sea ...

Dionysus
'Twould be funny. But what is he driving at?

Euripides
... they could throw vinegar into the eyes of the foe in the event of a sea-fight. But I know something else I want to tell you.

Dionysus
Go on.

Euripides
When we put trust in what we mistrust and mistrust what we trust....

Dionysus
What? I don't understand. Tell us something less profound, but clearer.

Euripides
If we were to mistrust the citizens, whom we trust, and to employ those whom we to-day neglect, we should be saved. Nothing succeeds with us; very well then, let's do the opposite thing, and our deliverance will be assured.

Dionysus
Very well spoken. You are the most ingenious of men, a true Palamedes![149] Is this fine idea your own or is it Cephisophon's?

Euripides
My very own,—bar the vinegar, which is Cephisophon's.

Dionysus (to Æschylus)
And you, what have you to say?

Æschylus
Tell me first who the commonwealth employs. Are they the just?

Dionysus
Oh! she holds _them_ in abhorrence.

Æschylus
What, are then the wicked those she loves?

Dionysus
Not at all, but she employs them against her will.

Æschylus
Then what deliverance can there be for a city that will neither have cape nor cloak?[150]

Dionysus
Discover, I adjure you, discover a way to save her from shipwreck.

Æschylus
I will tell you the way on earth, but I won't here.

Dionysus
No, send her this blessing from here.

Æschylus
They will be saved when they have learnt that the land of the foe is theirs and their own land belongs to the foe; that their vessels are their true wealth, the only one upon which they can rely.[151]

Dionysus
That's true, but the dicasts devour everything.[152]

Pluto (to Dionysus) Now decide.

Dionysus
'Tis for you to decide, but I choose him whom my heart prefers.

Euripides
You called the gods to witness that you would bear me through; remember your oath and choose your friends.

Dionysus
Yes, "my tongue has sworn."[153] ... But I choose Æschylus.

Euripides
What have you done, you wretch?

Dionysus
I? I have decided that Æschylus is the victor. What then?

Euripides
And you dare to look me in the face after such a shameful deed?

Dionysus
"Why shameful, if the spectators do not think so?"[154]

Euripides
Cruel wretch, will you leave me pitilessly among the dead?

Dionysus
"Who knows if living be not dying,[155] if breathing be not feasting, if sleep be not a fleece?"[156]

Pluto
Enter my halls. Come, Dionysus.

Dionysus
What shall we do there?

Pluto
I want to entertain my guests before they leave.

Dionysus
Well said, by Zeus; 'tis the very thing to please me best.

Chorus
Blessed the man who has perfected wisdom! Everything is happiness for him. Behold Æschylus; thanks to the talent, to the cleverness he has shown, he returns to his country; and his fellow-citizens, his relations, his friends will all hail his return with joy. Let us beware of jabbering with Socrates and of disdaining the sublime notes of the tragic Muse. To pass an idle life reeling off grandiloquent speeches and foolish quibbles, is the part of a madman.

Pluto
Farewell, Æschylus! Go back to earth and may your noble precepts both save our city[157] and cure the mad; there are such, a many of them! Carry this rope from me to Cleophon, this one to Myrmex and Nichomachus, the public receivers, and this other one to Archenomous.[158] Bid them come here at once and without delay; if not, by Apollo, I will brand them with the hot iron.[159] I will make one bundle of them and Adimantus,[160] the son of Leucolophus,[161] and despatch the lot into hell with all possible speed.

Æschylus
I will do your bidding, and do you make Sophocles occupy my seat. Let him take and keep it for me, against I should ever return here. In fact I award him the second place among the tragic poets. As for this impostor, watch that he never usurps my throne, even should he be placed there in spite of himself.

Pluto (to the Chorus of the Initiates)
Escort him with your sacred torches, singing to him as you go his own hymns and choruses.

Chorus
Ye deities of the nether world, grant a pleasant journey to the poet who is leaving us to return to the light of day; grant likewise wise and healthy thoughts to our city. Put an end to the fearful calamities that overwhelm us, to the awful clatter of arms. As for Cleophon and the likes of him, let them go, an it please them, and fight in their own land.[162]

Notes[edit]

  1. These were comic poets contemporary with Aristophanes. Phrynichus, the best known, gained the second prize with his Muses when the present comedy was put upon the stage. Amipsias had gained the first prize over our author's first edition of The Clouds and again over his Birds. Aristophanes is ridiculing vulgar and coarse jests, which, however, he does not always avoid himself.
  2. Instead of the expected "son of Zeus," he calls himself the "son of a wine-jar."
  3. At the sea-fight at Arginusæ the slaves who had distinguished themselves by their bravery were presented with their freedom. This battle had taken place only a few months before the production of The Frogs. Had Xanthias been one of these slaves he could then have treated his master as he says, for he would have been his equal.
  4. The door of the Temple of Heracles, situated in the deme of Melité, close to Athens. This temple contained a very remarkable statue of the god, the work of Eleas, the master of Phidias.
  5. A fabulous monster, half man and half horse.
  6. So also, in The Thesmophoriazusæ, Agathon is described as wearing a saffron robe, which was a mark of effeminacy.
  7. A woman's foot-gear.
  8. He speaks of him as though he were a vessel. Clisthenes, who was scoffed at for his ugliness, was completely beardless, which fact gave him the look of a eunuch. He was accused of prostituting himself.
  9. Heracles cannot believe it. Dionysus had no repute for bravery. His cowardice is one of the subjects for jesting which we shall most often come upon in The Frogs.
  10. A tragedy by Euripides, produced some years earlier, some fragments of which are quoted by Aristophanes in his Thesmophoriazusæ.
  11. An actor of immense stature.
  12. The gluttony of Heracles was a byword. See The Birds.
  13. Euripides, weary, it is said, of the ridicule and envy with which he was assailed in Athens, had retired in his old age to the court of Archelaus, King of Macedonia, where he had met with the utmost hospitality. We are assured that he perished through being torn to pieces by dogs, which set upon him in a lonely spot. His death occurred in 407 B.C., the year before the production of The Frogs.
  14. This is a hemistich, the Scholiast says, from Euripides.
  15. The son of Sophocles. Once, during his father's lifetime, he gained the prize for tragedy, but it was suspected that the piece itself was largely the work of Sophocles himself. It is for this reason that Dionysus wishes to try him when he is dependent on his own resources, now that his father is dead. The death of the latter was quite recent at the time of the production of The Frogs, and the fact lent all the greater interest to this piece.
  16. Agathon was a contemporary of Euripides, and is mentioned in terms of praise by Aristotle for his delineation of the character of Achilles, presumably in his tragedy of Telephus. From the fragments which remain of this author it appears that his style was replete with ornament, particularly antithesis.
  17. Son of Caminus, an inferior poet, often made the butt of Aristophanes' jeers.
  18. A poet apparently, unknown.
  19. Expressions used by Euripides in different tragedies.
  20. Parody of a verse in Euripides' Andromeda, a lost play.
  21. Heracles, being such a glutton, must be a past master in matters of cookery, but this does not justify him in posing as a dramatic critic.
  22. Xanthias, bent double beneath his load, gets more and more out of patience with his master's endless talk with Heracles.
  23. The mortar in which hemlock was pounded.
  24. An allusion to the effect of hemlock.
  25. A quarter of Athens where the Lampadephoria was held in honour of Athené, Hephæstus, and Prometheus, because the first had given the mortals oil, the second had invented the lamp, and the third had stolen fire from heaven. The principal part of this festival consisted in the lampadedromia, or torch-race. This name was given to a race in which the competitors for the prize ran with a torch in their hand; it was essential that the goal should be reached with the torch still alight. The signal for starting was given by throwing a torch from the top of the tower mentioned a few verses later on.
  26. Theseus had descended into Hades with Pirithous to fetch away Persephoné. Aristophanes doubtless wishes to say that in consequence of this descent Pluto established a toll across Acheron, in order to render access to his kingdom less easy, and so that the poor and the greedy, who could not or would not pay, might be kept out.
  27. Morsimus was a minor poet, who is also mentioned with disdain in The Knights, and is there called the son of Philocles. Aristophanes jestingly likens anyone who helps to disseminate his verses to the worst of criminals.
  28. The Pyrrhic dance was a lively and quick-step dance. Cinesias was not a dancer, but a dithyrambic poet, who declaimed with much gesticulation and movement that one might almost think he was performing this dance.
  29. Those initiated into the Mysteries of Demeter, who, according to the belief of the ancients, enjoyed a kind of beatitude after death.
  30. Xanthias, his strength exhausted and his patience gone, prepares to lay down his load. Asses were used for the conveyance from Athens to Eleusis of everything that was necessary for the celebration of the Mysteries. They were often overladen, and from this fact arose the proverb here used by Xanthias, as indicating any heavy burden.
  31. The Ancients believed that meeting this or that person or thing at the outset of a journey was of good or bad omen. The superstition is not entirely dead even to-day.
  32. Dionysus had seated himself on instead of at the oar.
  33. One of the titles given to Dionysus, because of the worship accorded him at Nysa, a town in Ethiopia, where he was brought up by the nymphs.
  34. This was the third day of the Anthesteria or feasts of Dionysus. All kinds of vegetables were cooked in pots and offered to Dionysus and Athené. It was also the day of the dramatic contests.
  35. Dionysus' temple, the Lenæum, was situated in the district of Athens known as the Linnæ, or Marshes, on the south side of the Acropolis.
  36. He points to the audience.
  37. A spectre, which Hecaté sent to frighten men. It took all kinds of hideous shapes. It was exorcised by abuse.
  38. This was one of the monstrosities which credulity attributed to the Empusa.
  39. He is addressing a priest of Bacchus, who occupied a seat reserved for him in the first row of the audience.
  40. A verse from the Orestes of Euripides.—Hegelochus was an actor who, in a recent representation, had spoken the line in such a manner as to lend it an absurd meaning; instead of saying, galenen, which means calm, he had pronounced it galen, which means a cat.
  41. The priest of Bacchus, mentioned several verses back.
  42. High-flown expressions from Euripides' Tragedies.
  43. A second Chorus, comprised of Initiates into the Mysteries of Demeter and Dionysus.
  44. A philosopher, a native of Melos, and originally a dithyrambic poet. He was prosecuted on a charge of atheism.
  45. A comic and dithyrambic poet.
  46. This Thorycion, a toll collector at Aegina, which then belonged to Athens, had taken advantage of his position to send goods to Epidaurus, an Argolian town, thereby defrauding the treasury of the duty of 5 per cent, which was levied on every import and export.
  47. An allusion to Alcibiades, who is said to have obtained a subsidy for the Spartan fleet from Cyrus, satrap of Asia Minor.
  48. An allusion to the dithyrambic poet, Cinesias, who was accused of having sullied, by stooling against it, the pedestal of a statue of Hecaté at one of the street corners of Athens.
  49. Athené.
  50. The route of the procession of the Initiate was from the Ceramicus (a district of Athens) to Eleusis, a distance of twenty-five stadia.
  51. A shaft shot at the choragi by the poet, because they had failed to have new dresses made for the actors on this occasion.
  52. It was at the age of seven that children were entered on the registers of their father's tribe. Aristophanes is accusing Archidemus, who at that time was the head of the popular party, of being no citizen, because his name is not entered upon the registers of any tribe.
  53. At funerals women tore their hair, rent their garments, and beat their bosoms. Aristophanes parodies these demonstrations of grief and attributes them to the effeminate Clisthenes. Sebinus the Anaphlystian is a coined name containing an obscene allusion, implying he was in the habit of allowing connexion with himself a posteriori, and being masturbated by the other in turn.
  54. Callias, the son of Hipponicus, which the poet turns into Hippobinus, i.e. one who treads a mare, was an Athenian general, who had distinguished himself at the battle of Arginusæ; he was notorious for his debauched habits, which he doubtless practised even on board his galleys. He is called a new Heracles, because of the legend that Heracles triumphed over fifty virgins in a single night; no doubt the poet alludes to some exploit of the kind here.
  55. A proverb applied to silly boasters. The Corinthians had sent an envoy to Megara, who, in order to enhance the importance of his city, incessantly repeated the phrase, "The Corinth of Zeus."
  56. Demeter.
  57. Tartessus was an Iberian town, near the Avernian marshes, which were said to be tenanted by reptiles, the progeny of vipers and murænæ, a kind of fish.
  58. Tithrasios was a part of Libya, fabled to be peopled by Gorgons.
  59. "Invoke the god" was the usual formula which immediately followed the offering of the libation in the festival of Dionysus. Here he uses the words after a libation of a new kind and induced by fear.
  60. That is, Heracles, whose temple was at Melité, a suburban deme of Athens.
  61. Whose statues were placed to make the boundaries of land.
  62. One of the Thirty Tyrants, noted for his versatility.
  63. Celon and Hyperbolus were both dead, and are therefore supposed to have become the leaders and patrons of the populace in Hades, the same as they had been on earth.
  64. Already mentioned; one of the chiefs of the popular party in 406 B.C.
  65. Heracles had carried of Cerberus.
  66. Names of Thracian slaves.
  67. As was done to unruly children; he allows every kind of torture with the exception of the mildest.
  68. A deme of Attica, where there was a temple to Heracles. No doubt those present uttered the cry "Oh! oh!" in honour of the god.
  69. He pretends it was not a cry of pain at all, but of astonishment and admiration.
  70. Pretending that it was the thorn causing him pain, and not the lash of the whip.
  71. According to the Scholiast this is a quotation from the Laocoon, a lost play of Sophocles.
  72. A general known for his cowardice; he was accused of not being a citizen, but of Thracian origin; in 406 B.C. he was in disfavour, and he perished shortly after in a popular tumult.
  73. According to Athenian law, the accused was acquitted when the voting was equal.
  74. He had helped to establish the oligarchical government of the Four Hundred, who had just been overthrown.
  75. The fight of Arginusæ; the slaves who had fought there had been accorded their freedom.—The Platæans had had the title of citizens since the battle of Marathon.
  76. Things were not going well for Athens at the time; it was only two years later, 404 B.C., that Lysander took the city.
  77. A demagogue; because he deceived the people, Aristophanes compares him with the washermen who cheated their clients by using some mixture that was cheaper than potash.
  78. Callistrates says that Clidemides was one of Sophocles' sons; Apollonius states him to have been an actor.
  79. Dionysus was, of course, the patron god of the drama and dramatic contests.
  80. The majestic grandeur of Aeschylus' periods, coupled with a touch of parody, is to be recognized in this piece.
  81. It is said that Euripides was the son of a fruit-seller.
  82. Euripides is constantly twitted by Aristophanes with his predilection for ragged beggars and vagabonds as characters in his plays.
  83. Bellerophon, Philoctetes, and Telephus, were all characters in different Tragedies of Euripides.
  84. Sailors, when in danger, sacrificed a black lamb to Typhon, the god of storms.
  85. An allusion to a long monologue of Icarus in the tragedy called The Cretans.
  86. In Æolus, Macareus violates his own sister; in The Clouds, this incest, which Euripides introduced upon the stage, is also mentioned.
  87. The title of one of Euripides' pieces.
  88. The titles of three lost Tragedies of Euripides.
  89. A verse from one of the lost Tragedies of Euripides; the poet was born at Eleusis.
  90. Aristophanes often makes this accusation of religious heterodoxy against Euripides.
  91. A dramatic poet, who lived about the end of the sixth century B.C., and a disciple of Thespis; the scenic art was then comparatively in its infancy.
  92. The Scholiast tells us that Achilles remained mute in the tragedy entitled The Phrygians or The Ransom of Hector, and that his face was veiled; he only spoke a few words at the beginning of the drama during a dialogue with Hermes.—We have no information about the Niobé mentioned here.
  93. The Scholiast tells us that this expression was used in The Myrmidons of Aeschylus; Aristophanes ridicules it again both in the Peace and in The Birds.
  94. An individual apparently noted for his uncouth ugliness.
  95. The beet and the decoctions are intended to indicate the insipidity of Euripides' style.
  96. An intimate friend of Euripides, who is said to have worked with him on his Tragedies, to have been 'ghost' to him in fact.
  97. An allusion to Euripides' obscure birth; his mother had been, so it was said, a vegetable-seller in the public market.
  98. Euripides had introduced every variety of character into his pieces, whereas Aeschylus only staged divinities or heroes.
  99. There are two Cycni, one, the son of Ares, was killed by Heracles according to the testimony of Hesiod in his description of the "Shield of Heracles"; the other, the son of Posidon, who, according to Pindar, perished under the blows of Achilles. It is not known in which Tragedy of Aeschylus this character was introduced.
  100. Memnon, the son of Aurora, was killed by Achilles; in the list of the Tragedies of Aeschylus there is one entitled Memnon.
  101. These two were not poets, but Euripides supposes them disciples of Aeschylus, because of their rude and antiquated manners.
  102. Clitophon and Theramenes were elegants of effeminate habits and adept talkers.
  103. A proverb which was applied to versatile people; the two Greek names, Chios and Ceos, might easily be mistaken for one another. Both, of course, are islands of the Cyclades.
  104. A verse from the Myrmidons of Aeschylus; here Achilles is Aeschylus himself.
  105. The Persæ of Aeschylus (produced 472 B.C.) was received with transports of enthusiasm, reviving as it did memories of the glorious defeat of Xerxes at Salamis, where the poet had fought, only a few years before, 480 B.C.
  106. Nothing is known of this Pantacles, whom Eupolis, in his 'Golden Age,' also describes as awkward.
  107. Aristophanes had by this time modified his opinion of this general, whom he had so flouted in The Acharnians.
  108. Son of Telamon, the King of Salamis and brother of Ajax.
  109. The wife of Proetus, King of Argos. Bellerophon, who had sought refuge at the court of this king after the accidental murder of his brother Bellerus, had disdained her amorous overtures. Therefore she denounced him to her husband as having wanted to attempt her virtue and urged him to cause his death. She killed herself immediately after the departure of the young hero.
  110. Cephisophon, Euripides' friend, is said to have seduced his wife.
  111. Meaning, they have imitated Sthenoboea in everything; like her, they have conceived adulterous passions and, again like her, they have poisoned themselves.
  112. Lycabettus, a mountain of Attica, just outside the walls of Athens, the "Arthur's Seat" of the city. Parnassus, the famous mountain of Phocis, the seat of the temple and oracle of Delphi and the home of the Muses. The whole passage is, of course, in parody of the grandiloquent style of Aeschylus.
  113. An allusion to Œneus, King of Aetolia, and to Telephus, King of Mysia; characters put upon the stage by Euripides.
  114. It was only the rich Athenians who could afford fresh fish, because of their high price; we know how highly the gourmands prized the eels from the Copaic lake.
  115. If Aristophanes is to be believed, the orators were of depraved habits, and exacted infamous complaisances as payment for their lessons in rhetoric.
  116. Aristophanes attributes the general dissoluteness to the influence of Euripides; he suggests that the subtlety of his poetry, by sharpening the wits of the vulgar and even of the coarsest, has instigated them to insubordination.
  117. Augé, who was seduced by Heracles, was delivered in the temple of Athené (Scholiast); it is unknown in what piece this fact is mentioned.—Macareus violates his sister Canacé in the Aeolus.
  118. i.e. they busy themselves with philosophic subtleties. This line is taken from The Phryxus, of which some fragments have come down to us.
  119. In the torch-race the victor was the runner who attained the goal first without having allowed his torch to go out. This race was a very ancient institution. Aristophanes means to say that the old habits had fallen into disuse.
  120. A tetralogy composed of three tragedies, the Agamemnon, the Choëphoræ, the Eumenides, together with a satirical drama, the Proteus.
  121. This is the opening of the Choëphoræ. Aeschylus puts the words in the mouth of Orestes, who is returning to his native land and visiting his father's tomb.
  122. i.e. your jokes are very coarse.
  123. He was one of the Athenian generals in command at Arginusæ; he and his colleagues were condemned to death for not having given burial to the men who fell in that naval fight.
  124. As Euripides had done to those of Aeschylus; that sort of criticism was too low for him.
  125. "I have lost my labour" was a proverbial expression, which was also possibly the refrain of some song. Aeschylus means to say that all Euripides' phrases are cast in the same mould, and that his style is so poor and insipid that one can adapt to it any foolery one wishes; as for the phrase he adds to every one of the phrases his rival recites, he chooses it to insinuate that the work of Euripides is labour lost, and that he would have done just as well not to meddle with tragedy. The joke is mediocre at its best and is kept up far too long.
  126. Prologue of the Archelaus of Euripides, a tragedy now lost.
  127. From prologue of the Hypsipilé of Euripides, a play now lost.
  128. From prologue of the Sthenobœa of Euripides, a play now lost.
  129. From prologue of the Phryxus of Euripides, a play now lost.
  130. From prologue of the Iphigeneia in Tauris of Euripides.
  131. Prologue of The Meleager by Euripides, lost.
  132. Prologue of The Menalippé Sapiens by Euripides, lost.
  133. The whole of these fragments are quoted at random and have no meaning. Euripides, no doubt, wants to show that the choruses of Aeschylus are void of interest or coherence. As to the refrain, "haste to sustain the assault," Euripides possibly wants to insinuate that Aeschylus incessantly repeats himself and that a wearying monotony pervades his choruses. However, all these criticisms are in the main devoid of foundation.
  134. This ridiculous couplet pretends to imitate the redundancy and nonsensicality of Aeschylus' language; it can be seen how superficial and unfair the criticism of Euripides is; probably this is just what Aristophanes wanted to convey by this long and wearisome scene.
  135. The Scholiast conjectures this Melitus to be the same individual who later accused Socrates.
  136. The most infamous practices were attributed to the Lesbian women, amongst others, that of fellation, that is the vile trick of taking a man's penis in the mouth, to give him gratification by sucking and licking it with the tongue. Dionysus means to say that Euripides takes pleasure in describing shameful passions.
  137. Here the criticism only concerns the rhythm and not either the meaning or the style. This passage was sung to one of the airs that Euripides had adopted for his choruses and which have not come down to us; we are therefore absolutely without any data that would enable us to understand and judge a criticism of this kind.
  138. A celebrated courtesan, who was skilled in twelve different postures of Venus. Aeschylus returns to his idea, which he has so often indicated, that Euripides' poetry is low and impure; he at the same time scoffs at the artifices to which Euripides had recourse when inspiration and animation failed him.
  139. No monologue of Euripides that has been preserved bears the faintest resemblance to this specimen which. Aeschylus pretends to be giving here.
  140. Beginning of Euripides' Medea.
  141. Fragment from Aeschylus Philoctetes. The Sperchius is a river in Thessaly, which has its source in the Pindus range and its mouth in the Maliac gulf.
  142. A verse from Euripides' Antigoné. Its meaning is, that it is better to speak well than to speak the truth, if you want to persuade.
  143. From the Niobé, a lost play, of Aeschylus.
  144. From the Telephus of Euripides, in which he introduces Achilles playing at dice. This line was also ridiculed by Eupolis.
  145. From Euripides' Meleager. All these plays, with the one exception of the Medea', are lost.
  146. From the Glaucus Potniensis, a lost play of Aeschylus.
  147. i.e. one hundred porters, either because many of the Athenian porters were Egyptians, or as an allusion to the Pyramids and other great works, which had habituated them to carrying heavy burdens.
  148. Euripides' friend and collaborator.
  149. The invention of weights and measures, of dice, and of the game of chess are attributed to him, also that of four additional letters of the alphabet.
  150. i.e. that cannot decide for either party.
  151. i.e. that a country can always be invaded and that the fleet alone is a safe refuge. This is the same advice as that given by Pericles, and which Thucydides expresses thus, "Let your country be devastated, or even devastate it yourself, and set sail for Laconia with your fleet."
  152. An allusion to the fees of the dicasts, or jurymen; we have already seen that at this period it was two obols, and later three.
  153. A half-line from Euripides' Hippolytus. The full line is: "my tongue has taken an oath, but my mind is unsworn," a bit of casuistry which the critics were never tired of bringing up against the author.
  154. A verse from the Æolus of Euripides, but slightly altered. Euripides said, "Why is it shameful, if the spectators, who enjoy it, do not think so?"
  155. A verse from the Phrixus of Euripides; what follows is a parody.
  156. We have already seen Aeschylus pretending that it was possible to adapt any foolish expression one liked to the verses of Euripides: "a little bottle, a little bag, a little fleece."
  157. Pluto speaks as though he were an Athenian himself.
  158. That they should hang themselves. Cleophon is said to have been an influential alien resident who was opposed to concluding peace; Myrmex and Nicomachus were two officials guilty of peculation of public funds; Archenomus is unknown.
  159. He would brand them as fugitive slaves, if, despite his orders, they refused to come down.
  160. An Athenian admiral.
  161. The real name of the father of Adimantus was Leucolophides, which Aristophanes jestingly turns into Leucolophus, i.e. White Crest.
  162. i.e. in a foreign country; Cleophon, as we have just seen, was not an Athenian.
This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
Original:
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
 
Translation:
This work was published before January 1, 1923 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 101 years or less since publication.