Aristophanes’ “Oresteia”: An Unnoticed Silence in the Frogs

  Sfyroeras, Pavlos. 2023. “Aristophanes’ 'Oresteia': An Unnoticed Silence in the Frogs.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

Halfway through Aristophanes’ Frogs (830), Dionysus re-emerges on stage accompanying the two tragic poets, Aeschylus and Euripides, but also (as most scholars surmise) Pluto, the god of the Underworld, at whose initiative and under whose aegis the upcoming contest is to be held (784–785). [1] Aeschylus initially refrains from speaking, but his supercilious silence, noted by both Dionysus and Euripides (832–834; cf. 911–920), lasts for only ten lines (830–839). Ιt is certainly significant, chiefly because it illustrates in miniature the well-known silence of Aeschylean figures. [2] Yet it has also diverted the critics’ attention from Pluto. This seemingly secondary character remains silent much longer, almost through the entire agon, until (six hundred lines later) his unsolicited and unforeseen intervention at 1414 shakes Dionysus out of his paralyzing inability to reach a decision and dispenses authoritative advice: [3]

Δι. ἅνδρες φίλοι, κἀγὼ μὲν αὐτοὺς οὐ κρινῶ.
οὐ γὰρ δι᾽ ἔχθρας οὐδετέρῳ γενήσομαι·
τὸν μὲν γὰρ ἡγοῦμαι σοφόν, τῷ δ᾽ ἥδομαι.
Πλ. οὐδὲν ἄρα πράξεις ὧνπερ ἦλθες οὕνεκα.
Δι. ἐὰν δὲ κρίνω; Πλ. τὸν ἕτερον λαβὼν ἄπει,
ὁπότερον ἂν κρίνῃς, ἵν᾽ ἔλθῃς μὴ μάτην.

Frogs 1411–1416
Dionysus: The men are my friends, and I won’t judge them—
I won’t become the enemy of either.
For I consider one of them to be clever, but I take pleasure in the other.
Pluto: You won’t then achieve any of the things for the sake of which you came.
Dionysus: And if I judge? Pluto: Take either of them,
whichever one you choose, and go away, so that you won’t have come in vain.

With these lines, Pluto has found his voice and takes the lead in bringing about the denouement of the play. A little later he nudges Dionysus to reach a decision (1466), he invites the god and Aeschylus to a feast (1479–1480), and finally he sings his farewell as the poet is escorted back to Athens.

I find it surprising that Pluto’s extraordinary silence, lasting for over one third of the comedy, has been neglected for so long, and I believe it is high time it emerged from the shadow cast by the towering figure of Aeschylus. In order to shed light on it and make a case for its significance, I wish to argue that Aristophanes’ treatment of Pluto becomes the focus of a sophisticated paratragic play with Pylades in the Choephori. First, and most obviously, Aeschylus’ victory is foreshadowed by Aristophanes’ adaptation of an Aeschylean dramatic technique, through which the comic poet intimates a certain affinity with his tragic predecessor. What is more, that intertextual allusion momentarily assimilates Aristophanes’ Dionysus to Aeschylus’ Orestes, so that the god’s eventual choice of Aeschylus suggests a gendered understanding of poetic creativity and proposes a masculine model for it. Finally, Aristophanes formulates what might be called “a poetics of silence” that applies equally, yet differently, to both tragedy and comedy.
Let us first recall the moment where Pylades breaks his silence in Choephori 900–902, as it constitutes a central intertext:

Ορ. Πυλάδη, τί δράσω; μητέρ᾽ αἰδεσθῶ κτανεῖν;
Πυ. ποῦ δαὶ τὸ λοιπὸν Λοξίου μαντεύματα
τὰ πυθόχρηστα, πιστά τ᾽ εὐορκώματα;
ἅπαντας ἐχθροὺς τῶν θεῶν ἡγοῦ πλέον.
Ορ. κρίνω σε νικᾶν, καὶ παραινεῖς μοι καλῶς.

Choephori 899–903
Orestes: What am I to do, Pylades? Shall I refrain from killing my mother?
Pylades: Where do they go then, from now on, the oracles of Apollo,
declared at Delphi, and our trusted oaths?
Consider any human more of an enemy than the gods.
Orestes: I judge you the winner—you advise me well.

Among the handful of critics who have paid any attention to Pluto’s silence, only a couple have correlated its unexpected breaking with the words of Pylades. [4] Alan Sommerstein, for instance, simply notes (1997:229 ad 830) that Pluto’s sudden utterance at 1414 “may be almost as effective a surprise as the three-line speech of Pylades” (italics mine). By alerting us to the analogy of dramatic effect, he points in the right direction, but does not go as far as Niall Slater, who, ever sensitive to nuances of performance, also stresses the similarity of the tragic and the comic surprise and wonders whether this is “deliberately and deeply ironically so,” given the following:

Pylades speaks to remind Orestes of the ‘faithful oaths’ (πιστά τ᾽ εὐορκώματα) they must keep. Pluto tells Dionysus he may take with him the poet he considers the better—which allows him to break the oath that he swore. [5]

This may be true enough, but Aeschylus’ victory is yet to come, so any irony, I suspect, would not be perceived by the audience. Yet, the deliberate allusion to the Choephori, which Slater notes, has important implications extending well beyond this passage.

What do Pluto and Pylades have in common? We may begin with stagecraft. In his study of Aeschylean silences, Oliver Taplin (1972:79–80) distinguishes Aeschylus’ use of silent characters such as Niobe and Achilles at the opening of tragedies (which the Aristophanic Euripides criticizes in Frogs 911–920) from silences that are significant only in their breaking, as is the case of Pylades in Choephori 900. But while Euripides’ criticism of Aeschylus does not, strictly speaking, apply to Pylades, it nevertheless sheds light on the perspective of the Athenian audience, who would be intent on figuring out when or even whether —as in Pylades’ case— a silence might be broken. [6] The difference between “when” and “whether” is in fact crucial, since with Pylades we are given no indication at all that he might speak, although several characters acknowledge his presence, on or off stage (20, 208, 561–562, 713, 741, 839–841, 848). Unlike, say, Cassandra’s silent presence in the Agamemnon, which elicits comments from both the chorus and Clytaemestra (1035–1067), no one in the Choephori takes note of Pylades’ silence or speculates as to its cause. Such attention would give the game away; on the basis of its absence, the spectators have every reason to believe that Pylades, who seems to operate as Orestes’ shadow, is a mute extra. [7] In fact, I can think of no other character, tragic or comic, who spends so much time on stage in a silence that is not commented on and then speaks —in other words, who is presumed for a long time to be a mute extra (κωφὸν πρόσωπον) but turns out not to be—except, that is, Pluto in the Frogs. [8] Pluto’s unobtrusive presence must lead the spectators, if they even bother to think about it at all, to the conclusion that he is a muta persona. The three verses that suddenly shatter Pluto’s silence, therefore, must recall the Aeschylean precedent, which is the only available parallel in all extant drama.
The analogy between Pluto and Pylades is reinforced if, as is most likely, both are played by the “last actor” available in each dramatic genre, i.e. the fourth for comedy and the third for tragedy. In the case of the Frogs, according to the ancient scholia, Apollonius defended the view that lines 1414–1416 were spoken not by the chorus but by Pluto played by the fourth actor. [9] In the case of the Choephori, I follow the scholia in assigning Pylades’ words at lines 900–902 to the third actor, so that the Servant exits at 887 and Pylades enters with Orestes at 892. [10] In other words, both Pylades and Pluto must have been assumed by the audiences of their respective plays to be mute extras by the time of their first utterance.
While neither Pylades nor Pluto breaks his silence with the ox-like bombastic words of a Niobe or an Achilles (Frogs 924–926), their sudden interventions are equally and similarly momentous. In ending their silence, both characters bring about the resolution of an impasse and urge the protagonist to action. At this moment of indecision in the agon of the Frogs, Dionysus interrupts Aeschylus to state that he is stuck, to the extent that we cannot even tell who τὸν μέν and τῷ δέ (1413) refer to. In “considering one of them to be clever and taking pleasure in the other,” he cannot distinguish between the two any more than we can. By refusing to judge, in effect he threatens to break off the contest (οὐ κρινῶ, 1411), thus ending his trip in futility. It is at this point that Pluto intervenes, with the result that Dionysus re-considers the contest, although he is not relieved of his ambivalence (δυσκρίτως γ᾽ ἔχω, 1433) until later, when he declares: “I have judged Aeschylus to be the the winner” (ἔκρινα νικᾶν Αἰσχύλον, 1473). [11] A comparable situation, even at the lexical level, is found in the Choephori, where Orestes responds instantly to Pylades’ intervention with the telling “I am judging you to be the winner” (κρίνω σε νικᾶν, 903). This is a pivotal moment not only in this play, but in the entire tragic trilogy; [12] the phrasing of the passage reveals that here also we have to do with a contest, not between two poets, to be sure, but between two conflicting principles of equal strength, pitting obedience to the Delphic oracle against the bonds of motherhood. [13]
I shall return to those dilemmas, but let me first point out that, by having Pluto play a Pylades-like role, Aristophanes demonstrates his acuteness as a reader of Aeschylus in yet another way. The god of the Underworld in the Frogs turns out to be homologous to a character whose name could be playfully etymologized as “Gate of Hades” (<πύλη + ᾋδης). Such etymologizing should not surprise us, as it is not unlike what we find, for instance, in Plato’s Cratylus. It is significant here in light of the mythological background or even the antecedents of the Aeschylean version. As Garvie (1970, 1986) has suggested, Pylades, son of Strophios, looks like an instantiation of Hermes, primarily in his associations with the Underworld. These chthonic aspects pervade the Choephori, starting with the play’s opening, quoted verbatim in Frogs 1126–1128. [14] It is not necessary to repeat Garvie’s arguments; suffice it to note that Hermes’ titles include Pylios, Pylaios, Propylaios, Pyledokos, Stropheus, and Strophaios. Thus, when Aristophanes substitutes Pluto for Pylades, he may also reveal the underlying layers of Aeschylus’ version. In this light, moreover, Dionysus’ invocation of Zeus soter (“saviour”) (1433), echoing the very words with which Aeacus opens the second half of the Frogs after the parabasis (738), is more than a generic phrase, especially given the play’s emphasis on the salvation of the polis (1419, 1436). This title of Zeus as the recipient of the third libation, which expresses his chthonic aspects, is transferred to Hermes for the first time at Choephori 1–2. [15] Even Dionysus’ eventual oath-breaking (1471; cf. 101–102), while it constitutes ‒ in Slater’s view‒ an ironic inversion of Pylades’ appeal to “faithful oaths” (πιστά τ᾽ εὐορκώματα, 901), is in keeping with Hermes’ functions. It is reminiscent, for example, of the gift of deceptive oath-swearing, said to be bestowed by Hermes upon Autolycus (κλεπτοσύνῃ θ᾽ ὅρκῳ τε, Odyssey 19.396). [16] It has been suggested (Garvie 1986:xiv–xv) that Aeschylus drew on an earlier version of the myth featuring Hermes as Orestes’ guide; regardless of that, Aristophanes’ decision to model his own scene on the Choephori shows his profound understanding of the mythological underpinnings of the Aeschylean account.
Is it fair to expect the spectators of the Frogs to pick up such subtleties? How readily could they recognize in the breaking of Pluto’s silence the allusion to a moment, however significant and memorable, of a tragedy originally produced half a century earlier? I believe we should credit the Aristophanic audience with a high degree of sophistication, evident not only in the chorus’ confidence that the spectators can understand the jokes because “each one has a book” (1114), but also in the rich texture of Aristophanes’ plays in general. [17] Yet, the transparency of the paratragic allusion has as much to do with Aeschylus’ claim that his poetry did not die with him (ὅτι ἡ ποίησις οὐ συντέθνηκέ μοι, 868). This of course needs to be properly understood in the context of the reperformance of Aeschylean and other drama starting in the fifth century. The particulars and even the historicity of the Athenian decree that uniquely allowed the posthumous reperformance of Aeschylus’ tragedies may be in doubt: could Aeschylus’ plays be selected as official entries for the dramatic competition of the City Dionysia or the Lenaia? Were they simply restaged in deme festivals? [18] But whatever the form, occasion, and circumstances of the revivals of Aeschylean drama, it is not unreasonable to assume that, partly through those revivals, the audience was familiar with the details of the Choephori. [19] The very agon of the Frogs, after all, which depends for its full reception on such familiarity with the verbal and visual details of the Aeschylean corpus, produces a comparison between the Aeschylean and Euripidean tropes, whose effect would be all the sharper if it replicated an actual juxtaposition of the two poets in the context of the dramatic festival. [20]
If Pluto is then meant to recall Pylades, the intertextual allusion has wide-ranging implications. First, and most obviously, Aristophanes turns the tables on Euripides, whose criticism of the Choephori he implicitly rejects. Apart from the possible underlying connections that bind Hermes, Pylades, and Pluto together, the mere paratragic use of a memorable and central moment from the Choephori rebuffs Euripides’ attack on that play’s opening and reverses its effects. In addition, by relying on an Aeschylean dramatic technique, Aristophanes implicitly dismisses yet another part of Euripides’ case against Aeschylus: his use of silent characters (911–926). [21] Thus, the intervention of Pluto, one might say, kills two Euripidean birds with one “Aeschylean” stone and anticipates the older dramatist’s victory.
We can appreciate even further this intimation of a critical preference for Aeschylus over Euripides, if we place Pluto’s silence and its allusion to the Oresteia in a somewhat broader context. Three years before the production of the Frogs, Euripides staged his Orestes, a production unmistakably evoked in Frogs 303–304. [22] In this Euripidean version Pylades is loquacious ever since his first appearance (729), until he is asked to talk (1591) but remains silent (1592), as Euripides has now transferred his role to a non-speaking actor, so that Apollo can appear as deus ex machina (1625). But Euripides’ handling of the shift goes beyond mere dramatic necessity. Frank Nisetich has convincingly interpreted the sudden silencing of Pylades in Orestes as a complete inversion of the Choephori, yet to similar effect: in both tragedians the voice of Pylades modulates into the utterances of Apollo, who speaks through Pylades in the Choephori, but instead of Pylades in the Orestes. [23] I would complement Nisetich’s analysis by adding that Aristophanes, three years after the Orestes, reverts to the Choephori model, where Pylades unexpectedly bursts into speech, in a pointed gesture of favoring the Aeschylean version over the Euripidean subversion. The tacit dismissal of the recent Orestes in the Frogs underlines even more boldly Aeschylus’ victory. [24]
Aeschylus’ victory may be earned through the Choephori, but it will be celebrated by way of the Eumenides. The procession that, at Pluto’s behest, escorts Aeschylus to Athens by the light of torches (φαίνετε τοίνυν ὑμεῖς τούτῳ λαμπάδας ἱεράς, χἄμα προπέμπετε, Frogs 1524–1525) is not unique in the Frogs; it is paralleled, for instance, by the torch-lit celebrations that seal the Lysistrata (1217) and the Plutus (1194). But, as has been noted, the conclusion of the Frogs reprises closely the end of the Eumenides, where the Erinyes are taken to their shrine in Athens “by the sacred light of these escorts” (πρὸς φῶς ἱερῶν τῶνδε προπομπῶν, Eumenides 1005). Further, the comic chorus’ invitation to the chthonic gods to provide the polis with “good counsels for great goods” (μεγάλων ἀγαθῶν ἀγαθὰς ἐπινοίας, Frogs 1529–1530) seems to be adapted from Athena’s wish that, with the help of the new chthonic residents of Athens, the citizens may have “a good mind for good things” (εἴη δ᾽ ἀγαθῶν ἀγαθὴ διάνοια πολίταις, Eumenides 1012–1013). [25] Such verbal echoes probably combine with visual effects to reinforce the analogy. Grim and menacing at times (Frogs 835–839, 847–848), Aeschylus returns from the Underworld to benefit the city, just as the Erinyes, terrifying chthonic deities which become benevolent, are tamed and incorporated in Athens. [26] By using a device from the repertoire of Aeschylus’ art to foreshadow his victory, Aristophanes succeeds at the same time in fashioning his own play after the Oresteia.
The progression from the Choephori to the Eumenides reveals yet another aspect of Aeschylus’ victory. The patterning of Pluto on Pylades transforms, ipso facto, Dionysus into an Orestes of sorts, who —as Euripides is made to remind us in his criticism of the Choephori— enters a dangerous realm under cover to reclaim what is his own. This is not unlike the descent of the comic Dionysus, who first disguises himself (108–115) and then swaps identities with his slave twice (494–497; 579–588) in his attempt to resurrect a tragic poet. [27] Moreover, the god’s moment of indecision, as we saw, is comparable to Orestes’ impasse, at least in terms of intensity, as both characters need to avoid incurring the enmity of someone important —a poet (Frogs 1412) or the gods (Choephori 902). But even the content of their dilemmas is worth exploring a little more. The terms of Orestes’ tragic dilemma, his need to choose between the bonds of motherhood and an oracle that enjoins loyalty to the dead father, are further clarified at Eumenides 657–666, where the issue boils down to two mutually exclusive accounts of human reproduction, centered on maternity and paternity respectively. [28] Just as the Oresteia ultimately, however problematically, vindicates the male generative power, so does Dionysus. By playing Orestes to Pluto’s Pylades, Dionysus replicates Orestes’ choice: in choosing Aeschylus, he returns in effect to his initial search for a γόνιμος ποιητής, a “fertile poet” who would produce well-born phrases (96–97); in this way, he upholds the value of male potency in the sphere of poetry. [29]
To be sure, Dionysus’ repudiation of Euripides is not as radical an act as Orestes’ matricide. Yet, it is still envisioned as rejection of the female voice or, more generally, of feminine or effeminate discourse. [30] To the silences and ox-like words of Aeschylean characters, Euripides juxtaposes his own “democratic” drama, which gives equal weight to the voices of “a woman, a slave no less than a master, a maiden, and an old woman” (949–952). By Euripides’ own admission, his drama effaces hierarchical distinctions of class and gender; what stands out in particular is the prominence of women, young and old. This emphasis on the female voice is immediately followed (ἔπειτα) by Euripides’ claim to have taught his audience to λαλεῖν “talk, chatter, babble, prattle” (954). The sequence is not accidental; that becomes clear a little later, when the nominal form of the verbal root is once again paired with the presence of women on the tragic stage: Aeschylus’ objections to the Euripidean “Phaedras” and “Stheneboeas” (1043–1051) precede (εἶτ᾽ αὖ, 1069) his accusation that his younger rival taught the audience to practice chattering and babbling (λαλιὰν ἐπιτηδεῦσαι καὶ στωμυλίαν, 1069; cf. 815), which emptied the wrestling-schools of young men.
Far from being idiosyncratic or unique to the Frogs, this use of the root λαλ-, nominal or verbal, is consonant with what we find elsewhere in the Aristophanic corpus, where it often denotes modes of speech that are female (e.g. Lysistrata 442, 356, 627; Thesmophoriazusae 393, 717; cf. Peace 539) or effeminate (e.g. Thesmophoriazusae 138, 267, 578, 1083, 1087, 1097, 1108–1109). This is not its exclusive emphasis, to be sure: in addition to women or effeminate men such as Agathon, it is also pinned on new politicians and orators, active in the Assembly or the lawcourts (Acharnians 21, 705, 716, 933; Knights 295, 1381; Peace 653; Frogs 679; Ecclesiazusae 119, 302), on sophists and the youths under their influence (Clouds 931, 1053, 1394; Frogs 1492), and on old men past their prime (Wasps 1135; Clouds 505). [31] It is not always possible to draw clearcut distinctions; yet even this is instructive, since sophistic arguments, political oratory, modern tragic discourse, idle gossip, and female chatter are all viewed as versions of inane talk that often blend into each other.
Far from being accidental, therefore, this semantic osmosis further reveals that these applications of λαλεῖν have something in common; they indeed seem to be unified by the insinuation of a lack of manliness. Unlike λέγειν, which characterizes the Athenian citizen, λαλεῖν cannot be the mode of speaking of a true man in his prime, who says what he means and means what he says. Verbal efficacy can thus be correlated with sexual potency, while ineffectual loquacity is the verbal equivalent of effeminacy and impotence, so aptly symbolized by the sterile “pissing” of the loquacious young tragedians (95). [32] In this light, although Euripides is initially sought as more fertile and “male” than his younger contemporaries, who are “more garrulous by a mile” (πλεῖν ἢ σταδίῳ λαλίστερα, 91) than him, he turns out to be virtually a “woman” by comparison to Aeschylus, exponent of the old military ethos and paragon of traditional manliness (1013–1043; cf. 1008), whose silent characters Dionysus prefers to the chatterboxes of current tragedy (νῦν οἱ λαλοῦντες, 916–917). [33] The ultimate rejection of Euripides, who is blamed for introducing feminine discourse into the city, can thus be described as Dionysus’ version of killing the mother. Forced by Pluto to play momentarily the role of Orestes, in other words, Dionysus not only repudiates the female voice, but also subscribes to the case for the (pro)creative potency of the male, and chooses the poet who puts it forth —in the Oresteia.
By thus re-enacting a crucial moment of the Oresteia and by anticipating Aeschylus’ victory, Pluto’ silence represents a refutation of Euripides’ earlier criticism of Aeschylean silences and an acceptance of Aeschylean poetics and ideology. What is more, it dovetails with what might be called the comic poetics of silence that is put forth in the Frogs. As the play opens, Dionysus’ servant Xanthias, who represents the voice or spirit of comedy, tries to insert into the comic performance some of the funny and vulgar words that Dionysus hates. [34] Dionysus’ attempt to impose a measure of silence on comedy corresponds therefore to his frustration with the chattering (λαλεῖν) of the current tragedians, which renders the tragic discourse ineffectual. Not surprisingly, the god of theater finds the silence of the Aeschylean characters of old more pleasing than the empty talk of the current tragic poets, a criticism with which Aeschylus predictably concurs (1069). Consequently, Aristophanes intimates that his own comedy and Aeschylean tragedy are aligned in their pursuit of a kind of silence. [35] They both wish to suppress what is vulgar, manifested as τὸ φορτικόν in comedy and as τὸ πονηρόν in tragedy (Frogs 1053). [36]
This convergence of comic and tragic poetics that I discern in the Frogs achieves more than a simple anticipation of Aeschylus’ victory. As Heiden 1991 has convincingly argued, Aristophanes can hardly have endorsed unequivocally a return to the times and poetics of Aeschylus. [37] Yet, the comic poet does use Aeschylean tropes in order to appropriate the vitality and substantiveness of Aeschylean poetics, so that Aeschylus’ victory is transformed into a manifesto for a renewed Aristophanic comedy. Twice in the play, in fact, the comic chorus renounces eloquence, glib rhetoric, and excessive speech (354; 1491–1499). In other words, salvation in the Frogs does not come from Aeschylus himself, but from Aristophanes’ own use of Aeschylus. Through Aeschylus’ victory, foreshadowed and expedited by the paratragic allusion to an Aeschylean silent character, the comic poet seeks to revitalize his own voice, to claim possession of effective speech, and to assert his authority in the polis.


Beta, S. 1999. “La ‘parola inutile’ nella commedia antica.” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 63:49–66.
Biles, Z. P. 2006–2007. “Aeschylus’ Afterlife: Reperformance by Decree in 5th c. Athens?” Illinois Classical Studies 31/32:206–242.
———. 2011. Aristophanes and the Poetics of Comic Competition. Cambridge.
Brown, A. L. 2018. Aeschylus. Libation Bearers. Liverpool.
Cantarella, R. 1965. “Aristoph., Plut. 422–25 e le riprése eschìlee.” Atti dell’Academia Nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti. Classe di scienze morali, storice e filologiche, ser. 8, 20:363–381. Repr. in Scritti Minori sul teatro Greco, 227–248, Brescia, 1970.
Dearden, C. W. 1976. The Stage of Aristophanes. London.
Dover, K. 1993. Aristophanes. Frogs. Oxford.
Garvie, A. F. 1970. “The Opening of the Choephori.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 17:79–91.
———. 1986. Aeschylus. Choephori. Oxford.
Goldhill, S. 2004. Aeschylus: The Oresteia. 2nd ed. Cambridge.
Hanink, J. and A. S. Uhlig. 2016. “Aeschylus and His Afterlife in the Classical Period: ‘My Poetry Did Not Die with Me’.” In The Reception of Aeschylus’ Plays through Shifting Models and Frontiers, ed. S. E. Constantinidis, 51–79. Leiden.
Heiden, B. 1991. “Tragedy and Comedy in the Frogs of Aristophanes.” Ramus 20:95–111.
———. 1994. “Two Notes on the Frogs.” LCM 19:8–12
Hourmouziades, N. 2003. Ὅροι καὶ μετασχηματισμοὶ στὴν Ἀρχαία Ἑλληνικὴ Τραγωδία. Athens.
Lada-Richards, I. 1999. Initiating Dionysus. Ritual and Theatre in Aristophanes’ Frogs. Oxford.
Lamari, A. A. 2015. “Aeschylus and the Beginning of Tragic Reperformances.” In Trends in Classics 7.2: Reperformances of Drama in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BC: Authors and Contexts, 189–206. Berlin.
MacDowell, D. M. 1959. “Aristophanes, Frogs (1407–1467).” Classical Quarterly, n.s., 9:261–268. Repr. in Aristophanes und die alte Komödie, ed. H.-J. Newiger, 364–375. Darmstadt, 1975.
———. 1994. “The Number of Speaking Actors in Old Comedy.” Classical Quarterly 44:325–335.
Marshall, C. W. 1996. “Literary Awareness in Euripides and His Audience.” In Worthington 1996:81–98.
———. 1997. “Comic Technique and the Fourth Actor.” Classical Quarterly 47:77–84.
———. 1999. “Review of A. H. Sommerstein, ed. and tr., Aristophanes: Frogs.” Echos du Monde Classique 43 [n.s. 18]:145–50.
———. 2003. “Casting the Oresteia.” The Classical Journal 98:257–274.
———. 2013. “Three Actors in Old Comedy, Again.” In Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre, ed. G. W. M. Harrison and V. Liapis, 257–278. Leiden.
Merry, W. W. 1905. The Frogs. 5th ed. Oxford.
Montiglio, S. 2000. Silence in the Land of Logos. Princeton.
Newiger, H.-J. 1961. “Elektra in Aristophanes’ Wolken.” Hermes 89:422–430.
Nisetich, F. J. 1986. “The Silencing of Pylades (Orestes 1591–92).” American Journal of Philology 107:46–54.
Paley, F. A. 1877. Aristophanis Ranae. Cambridge.
Radermacher, L. 1954. Aristophanes Frösche. Vienna.
Rau, P. 1967. Paratragodia. Untersuchung einer komischen Form des Aristophanes. Munich.
Revermann, M. 2006. “The Competence of Theatre Audience in Fifth- and Fourth-Century Athens.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 126:99–124.
Rogers, B. B. 1902. The Frogs of Aristophanes. London.
Rosenbloom, D. 2017. “The Comedians’ Aeschylus.” In Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Aeschylus, ed. R. Futo Kennedy, 54-87. Leiden
Scharffenberger, E. W. 1998. “Parody, Satire, Irony, and Politics: From Euripides’ Orestes to Aristophanes’ Frogs.” Text & Presentation: Journal of the Comparative Drama Conference 19:111–122.
———. 2007. “‘Deinos Eribremetas’: The Sounds and Sense of Aeschylus in Aristophanes’ Frogs.” The Classical World 100:229–249.
Segal, C. P. 1961. “The Character and Cults of Dionysus and the Unity of Frogs.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 65:207–242.
Sfyroeras. P. 1995. “What Wealth Has to Do with Dionysus: From Economy to Poetics in Aristophanes’ Plutus.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 36:231–261.
———. 2001. “Silence and Comic Language in Aristophanes.” In The Language of Silence, vol. 1, ed. S. Jäkel and A. Timonen, 50–70. Turku.
———. 2008. “Πόθος Εὐριπίδου: Reading Andromeda in Aristophanes’ Frogs.” American Journal of Philology 129:299–317.
———. 2009. “The Comic Poetics of Apollo in Aristophanes’ Knights.” In Apolline Politics and Poetics, ed. L. Athanassaki, R. P. Martin, and J. P. Miller, 501–519. Athens.
Slater, N. W. 1996. “Literacy and Old Comedy.” In Worthington 1996:99–112.
———. 2002. Spectator Politics. Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes. Philadelphia.
Sommerstein, A. 1996. Aristophanes Frogs. Warminster.
Stanford, W. B. 1963. Aristophanes The Frogs. 2nd ed. London.
Suter, A. 1997. “Back from the Dead: Euripides’ Orestes and Aristophanes’ Frogs.” New England Classical Journal 25:3–7.
Taplin, O. 1972. “Aeschylean Silences and Silences in Aeschylus.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 76:57–97.
———. 1977. The Stagecraft of Aeschylus. Oxford.
Telò, M. 2010. “Embodying the Tragic Father(s): Autobiography and Intertextuality in Aristophanes.” Classical Antiquity 29:278–326.
van Leeuwen, J. 1896. Aristophanis Ranae. Leiden.
Whitman, C. H. 1969. “Ληκύθιον ἀπώλεσεν.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 73:109–112.
Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von. 1929. “Lesefrüchte 258.” Hermes 64:470–476. Repr. in Kleine Schriften, vol. 4, 488–494. Berlin, 1962.
Woodbury, L. 1976. “Aristophanes’ Frogs and Athenian Literacy: Ran. 52–53, 1114.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 106:349–357.
Worthington, I., ed. 1996. Voice Into Text: Orality and Literacy in Ancient Greece. Mnemosyne Suppl. 157. Leiden.
Zeitlin, F. I. 1978. “The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in the Oresteia.” Arethusa 11:149–184.


[ back ] 1. Given the explicit reference in 784–785, it would be bizarre not to have Pluto present through the contest, and that underlies the communis opinio: Rogers 1902:127 (ad 830); Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1929:473 (1962:491); Stanford 1963:193 (ad 1414 ff); Dover 1993:295–296 (ad 830–74); Sommerstein 1996:229 (ad 830); Dearden 1976:69–70, 174. Among the few dissenting views, Radermacher 1954:263, 334 suggests that Pluto may enter after 1410, while MacDowell 1959:261–262 postulates a lacuna around 1410 that would have included Pluto’s entrance, and that is followed by Wilson 2007 in his OCT. Yet, such guesses are unnecessary. The question whether the ekkyklema is used (Sommerstein 1996:229; Dearden 1976:69–70) or not (Dover 1993:295–296), is secondary to my purposes.
[ back ] 2. Taplin 1972:60.
[ back ] 3. Attribution of these lines is not in doubt, although the Scholiast knows of an ancient dispute on whether the speaker is Pluto or the chorus; see below. It is uncertain whether 1414 is a question (Rogers 1902; Hall and Geldart 1907; Stanford 1963) or a statement (Paley 1877; van Leeuwen 1896; MacDowell 1959; Dover 1993; Sommerstein 1996; Wilson 2007 [whose text I print]). I accept the latter, but the argument is not affected. All translations are by the author.
[ back ] 4. The insightful remarks by Rogers 1902:127 (ad 830), 214 (ad 1414) do not include Pylades, first adduced as a parallel by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1929:473 (1962:491) in a brief parenthesis. Even Montiglio 2000, the most extensive treatment of silence in Greek literature, omits Pluto.
[ back ] 5. Slater 2002:202, with n. 94, where he rightly castigates Rogers’ view that “it is idle to enquire” about the oath indicated by ὤμοσας (1469).
[ back ] 6. Euripides’ criticism is evidence that the spectators would think in this way about a poet’s dramatic manipulation of their expectations on silence; see Hourmouziades 2003:208–209.
[ back ] 7. Garvie 1986:274–276; Brown 2018:402.
[ back ] 8. None of the tragic examples in Taplin 1972:96 qualifies: Iole remains a muta persona in Sophocles’ Trachiniae, and in Euripides’ Phoenissae Menoeceus’ silence lasts for only seventy lines (from 908, when Creon draws attention to it, to 977, when he speaks). Hence, Pylades is unique and the only known parallel for Pluto. Yet Taplin may be right that “Aeschylean” silences, as described in Frogs 911–920, are rare in Aeschylus, that Niobe and Achilles, singled out by Aristophanes’ Euripides, are not rivalled in Aeschylus’ extant corpus, and that “Aeschylean” silence may be a comic construct.
[ back ] 9. Dover 1993:369; Radermacher 1954:334–335, who however finds even his own curtailed version of Pluto’ silence (1415–1478) uncomfortable (“unbequem”); MacDowell 1994. Marshall 1997 and 2013 raises serious doubts regarding the existence of a fourth actor in comedy, but I cannot follow his suggestion (1997:82–83; 1999:149–150) that Pluto acquired a voice only in a revised version of the Frogs.
[ back ] 10. Garvie 1986:xlix; Marshall 2003:261–262; pace Taplin 1972:79n68; 1977:353. Without committing, Brown 2018:402 stresses the dramatic shock. The alternative that the Servant spoke from within would make staging easier but diminish the effect.
[ back ] 11. I concur with MacDowell 1959 in his elucidation of the logic of the exchange here.
[ back ] 12. The centrality of this moment for the Oresteia as a whole cannot be overstated; see Marshall 2003:262–263.
[ back ] 13. This becomes especially clear at this point, when Pylades’ appeal to the oracle is strikingly juxtaposed with the visual statement of Clytaemestra’s baring her breast, an act which for the first time brings out Orestes’ reluctance and hesitation: Garvie 1986:xxxii; Marshall 2003:262. The terms of the conflict in Orestes’ case will not be fully set out until later in the Eumenides, but already in the Choephori we see traces of a dilemma (269–274, 297–298, 1032).
[ back ] 14. See Garvie 1970:86; 1986:xiv–xv; also 1986:75–76 (ad 124b–126); 1986:242 (ad 727–728).
[ back ] 15. See Garvie 1986:49; 1970. For Zeus soter and the third libation: Choephori 1, 577–578, 1073–1074 (with Garvie’s notes); Eumenides 759–760.
[ back ] 16. As noted by Garvie 1970:87, Autolycus is also located in Phocis. It may be significant that Dionysus resorts to deceptive oath-swearing (1469–1471) after the intervention of Pluto, who then seems to parallel Hermes in inspiring this kind of deception.
[ back ] 17. On Frogs 1114 see Dover 1993:34–35; Woodbury 1976:353–356. Both take “having a book” to indicate a certain sophistication rather than possession of books. The issue of literacy in comedy, on which see Slater 1996, is important but not crucial for my point; see Marshall 1996; Revermann 2006.
[ back ] 18. The evidence is collected and assessed by Lamari 2015, whose account seems to me more compelling than Hanink and Uhlig 2016 and Biles 2006–2007. See also Cantarella 1965 [1970]; Dover 1993:23n.37; Rosenbloom 2017:61–64.
[ back ] 19. Nisetich 1986 argues that Euripides’ Orestes 1591–1592 can only be appreciated fully in light of Choephori 900. Might we envision a reperformance of the Oresteia, or of the Choephori alone, shortly before 408 BCE, besides the one posited by Newiger 1961 for the 420s BCE? Further, could Frogs 1124 (see Dover 1993:332; Sommerstein 1997:257) point to the restaging of single plays?
[ back ] 20. Lamari 2015:201–202.
[ back ] 21. On Euripides’ criticism of Aeschylean silences see Montiglio 2000:216–219. Taplin 1972 suggests that we should refrain from concluding, on the basis of Euripides’ criticism, that Aeschylus made wide use of this device (more than the other dramatists). Even if Taplin is correct, it remains significant that Aristophanes proceeds to undermine the criticism he himself puts in Euripides’ mouth.
[ back ] 22. Stanford 1963:99–100; Dover 1993:231; Slater 2002:187. Rau 1967:129 detects further allusions to the Orestes in Frogs 1313–1316.
[ back ] 23. Nisetich 1986, esp. 53–54 for further bibliography on the influence of the Choephori on the Orestes.
[ back ] 24. My reading thus differs from Suter 1997 and Scharffenberger 1998, who take at face value the debt of Aristophanes’ Frogs to Euripides’ Orestes.
[ back ] 25. See Dover 1993:384; Sommerstein 1996:298; Lada-Richards 1999:326–327. Also note the dactylic rhythm in both passages and the unsurprising similarity between κατὰ γαίας (Frogs 1529) and κατὰ γῆς (Eumenides 1007).
[ back ] 26. One wonders in fact whether Aeschylus is a visual reminder of the Erinyes, not unlike Penia in Plutus, as suggested by Cantarella 1965; see also Sfyroeras 1995.
[ back ] 27. Interestingly, both Orestes and Dionysus hide from the chorus and eavesdrop on the chorus’ words about them (Frogs 315, Choephori 20–21).
[ back ] 28. It would be beyond the scope of this paper to even scratch the surface of the question of gender in the Oresteia; suffice to mention Zeitlin 1978 and Goldhill 2004:33–48.
[ back ] 29. In Sfyroeras 2008 I explore how the link between male fertility and poetic creativity plays out in the Frogs through the feminine aspects of Dionysus. Here I touch upon his transition to a more masculine self, on which see Segal 1961 and Lada-Richards 1999. My remarks complement the argument made by Telò 2010 that, in his plays of the 420s, Aristophanes aims to restore the tragic father’s authority.
[ back ] 30. On the two opposite types of discourse in Frogs see especially Segal 1961.
[ back ] 31. It is worth tracing λαλεῖν in Ecclesiazusae. First, its application to Praxagora’s lamp (16) foregrounds its associations with female talk. The double use of λαλεῖν at 119–120 proves the affinity between female talk and the new politicians’ oratory (cf. 230, where Praxagora is a woman disguised as an orator), while at 129 the verb connects political activity and sexual perversion (cf. Acharnians 716). The apparent exception at 1085 is explained by a role reversal: the Hag plays the aggressor and treats the Youth as a sex object. For a good discussion of λαλεῖν and related terms in comedy see Beta 1999; cf. Dover 1993:22.
[ back ] 32. On the significance of this passage see Sfyroeras 2008.
[ back ] 33. One might here adduce the joke of Euripides’ lost little oil-flask (ληκύθιον), most persuasively read by Whitman 1969 as implying that Euripides has lost his sexual virility; cf. Dover 1993:337–339. Contrast Aeschylus’ emphasis on ἄνδρα ποιητήν (1008).
[ back ] 34. On Xanthias as comic poet, even as Aristophanes, see Heiden 1994:11–12.
[ back ] 35. I argue for a similar poetics of silence in Knights in Sfyroeras 2009. On silence generally in Aristophanes see Sfyroeras 2001.
[ back ] 36. For repudiations of φόρτος / φορτικόν as vulgarity or crudeness in comedy see Nubes 524–525; Vespae 66; Peace 748; Lysistrata 1217–1220, Plutus 796. In its combination of terms, Peace 748 looks forward to the definition in Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1128a4–5 (οἱ μὲν οὖν τῷ γελοίῳ ὑπερβάλλοντες βωμολόχοι δοκοῦσιν εἶναι καὶ φορτικοί).
[ back ] 37. My reading is most compatible with Heiden 1991, from which I differ only in emphasis. Scharffenberger 2011 seems to go too far in interrogating Aeschylus’ victory. For some important affinities between Aeschylus and Aristophanes see Biles 2011:244–250; Rosenbloom 2017.