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Underworld Journey: Comparative Study Between Aristophanes' The Frogs and Virgil's Aeneid (Book VI)

February 14, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 218

The descent to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse number of religions from around the world, including Christianity. The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or with heightened knowledge. The ability to enter the realm of the dead while still alive, and to return, is a proof of the classical hero's exceptional status as more than mortal.

Virgil, the greatest of all Roman poets, modeled his masterpiece, The Aeneid (30-19 BC), on the ancient Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, written by Homer. On the other hand Aristophanes (448-385 BC), Athenian playwright, is considered one of the greatest writers of comedy in literary history. The Frogs is one of his masterpieces. The ingenuity of the plot, incidental extravagances, the fresh and sparkling wit, the delicate literary criticism, the sweet bursts of lyric song, and the unrivalled snatches of parody make Aristophanes' The Frogs the greatest literary satire in any language. The Aeneid is divided into different books. Of them, Book VI is very significant because it gives an account of underworld which is visited and experienced by Aeneas, the Trojan hero after the fall of troy. However, the story of Aristophanes' The Frogs can be related to that of Virgil's The Aeneid (Book VI) regarding journey to the underworld especially regarding theme, characters, places, description of the underworld etc.

The beginning part of these two journeys can be compared. Before starting the journey to the Underworld, Aeneas, the Trojan hero visited Cumaean Sibyl. She in her prophetic vision told Aeneas that very soon he would have fight in a battle in Latium. It was Sibyl who instructed Aeneas to pluck the Golden Bough. Aeneas was escorted by her to Hades through the cave of Avernus. They reached the river Styx, on the one side of which they could see the ghosts of the unburied dead. In The Frogs we see that Dionysus, the patron god of Drama as the hero of the play starts journey to Underworld accompanying with his slave Xanthias. Unsure about the best way to break into the Underworld and ever unsteady in his valor, he devises an ingenious plan. He will put on the disguise of Heracles who in the last and most spectacular of his famous labors forced his way into Hades' realm and stole the watchdog of Hell, the three headed hound Cerberus. Dionysus figures that, if Hades' guards see "Heracles" coming again, they will all run away and let him enter without a fight. However, dressing himself up lion's skin and club complete, as Heracles and accompanied by his slave Xanthias with the baggage, he starts on his perilous journey. If we compare The Frogs with The Aeneid, we see that Dionysus acts as a hero in The Frogs who actually is a god (god of drama) while Aeneas; a human being acts the role of a hero in The Aeneid. The Golden Bough which has a magical effect for rescuing oneself from any danger can be compared to the dress of lion's skin wore by Dionysus.

The main purpose of their underworld journey is to get instruction of building (Aeneid) or saving country (The Frogs) from the dead who were great in their lifetime. We can see that in both journeys there is presence of Charon who is the aged boatman who ferried the souls of the dead across a river separating the world of the living from the world of the dead and brought them to the gates of the underworld. In both pieces protagonists have to request Charon to carry them throughout the river Styx (Aeneid) which is also called the lake Acheron (The Frogs) and the river is same to both journeys though in different names. In Aeneid we can see that Aeneid is suggested about the precondition and procedures of the journey by Helenus. Similarly, Dionysus is suggested by Heracles who is his semi brother.

In both journeys protagonists meets many souls, phantoms, ugly cretures. Cerberus, a monstrous dog is found in both journey. Cerberus, a three-headed, dragon-tailed dog that guards the entrance to the lower world, or Hades. The monster permitted all spirits to enter Hades, but would allow none to leave. Sibyl who gives the guideline and stays with Aeneas as a companion in the journey can be compared to both Heracles (from whom Dionysus gives suggestion before starting journey) and Xanthias. Xanthias is a comic figure who works as a servant of Dionysus. Sibyl is a female prophet who guided the Trojan prince Aeneas through the underworld to visit his father Anchises and her role in the journey was very noteworthy because without her prophecy and assistance.

The experiences Aeneas and Dionysus gathered in their journey to the hell is not same. But in both The Frogs and The Aeneid Hell is described as dark and muddy, ugly and full of dangerous creatures ever seen. Aeneas' experience in the journey is bitterer than Dionysus' experience. In the epic Aeneid the underworld journey performs serious purpose and in the other writing we can find that throughout the comedy seriousness is absent and it is replaced by humor, irony and witty remarks. There can be found many comic incidents throughout the journey made by Dionysus like Dionysus' disguising himself as a slave and Xanthius' disguise as a master which is made because of the fear of Dionysus of Empusa.

We can see that in Aeneid the hero Aeneas acts bravely and remains determined and confident throughout the Journey. On the other hand in The Frogs the hero Dionysus is found coward, self-seeking, carnal, unmanly person and in throughout the journey to the Hades. In Frogs we observe chorus is present throughout the journey and in The Aeneid there is no chorus. We can find that Aeneas is prophesized to establish roman empire and to descend to the Hades to meet his dead father Anchises to get suggestions about what to be done. But in the case of the frogs there is no existence of prophecy about Dionysuss' underworld journey.

A striking difference between the journeys of these two pieces is the difference of the treatment of nature in the description of two journeys. In the Aeneid we can find an elaborate description of the environment and natural scenery of the Hades. For example there is a description of Dis with shadow and light like a wood land in a moonlit night. On the other hand there is no such description in the frogs of the journey made by Dionysus.Another important dissimilarity is that in the description of journey made by Aeneis there is elaborate description of the creatures faced by Aeneas. I Aeneid Charon is described as old man having the vigor of ever young with beard of fiery red color. We can find the presence of song and dance in the journey of Dionysus in the frogs but there is no such item in the journey made by Aeneas in the Aeneid.

Although The Frogs and Aeneid are different type of literary work a number of some similarities between this two pieces regarding journey to the Underworld are noticeable. In The Frogs the situation was very much funny and satirical but in The Aeneid it was serious. Indeed, it is Patriotic zeal which is common similarity in both pieces.

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