Thursday, September 24, 2015
Chorus in Aristophanes' Frogs
Who will win the contest and be granted the grand position to bring life back to an ailing Athens? The aggressive match is between the newly deceased Euripides and the long deceased Aeschylus. Dionysus descends to the underworld and will determine who bears more weight and could turn Athens around. However, the most influential force of any Grecian contest relies on the Muses, the source of the knowledge of arts and sciences. They are the “experts” in the Dionysian rituals and festivals. In the following two stanzas the chorus summons their bright presence to preside over the fierce debate between the two angry poets.
When men of sage and subtle mind
In fierce debate their views do vent,
And strive some priceless phrase to find
To mask each specious argument,
The Zeus’s virgin daughters nine
Stand by to watch the sport divine.
Come then today, you Muses bright!
Two worse foes never took the field:
For one is armed with words of might,
And one the sword of wit does wield.
O heavenly maids, your presence lend!
The Game’s afoot! Descend, descend!
It is alluded to in the first stanza that whenever there is a debate, such as this fierce one, the nine Muses stand by as spectators. Alas, is that all they are—spectators? I would surmise their purpose is more than bystanders. The chorus would agree and knew well the importance of the Muses at the contests. They continue on chanting their wisdom. With their iambic trimeter, they call down the Muses to descend below to witness and give favor to the contest. In the penultimate line of the second stanza, the “heavenly maids” will lend their presence, which one can assume that by their presence, they impart something substantial. I imagine that they grant encouragement, strength and hope for the best man to win.
In comparing the chorus of Frogs to the choruses of the former poets, Aeschylus and Sophocles, I find it exceedingly interesting that the chorus’ in Aristophanes’ Frogs has less substance than the antecedents. It would seem that the characteristics of the singular figures are becoming more in tune to the logic and wisdom or the irrationality and folly of their choices and rely less on a wisdom-bearing chorus. Therefore, I deduce that, apart from the chorus leader, the chorus’ effect on the audience or reader is weaker and less convincing than those of the former poets. It may be that Euripides’ characters are portrayed as real and human and more reasonable, whereas, those of Aeschylus’ are more heroic and stay closer to the moral themes denoting the ideal virtue, relying on the chorus to convince the audience of the ideal. Regardless, the influence and spirit of the Muses will always linger on.