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The Topography of the Frogs

  • G. T. W. Hooker (a1)


To attempt to relate the fantasies of Old Comedy to reality is no doubt a hazardous business. But the burlesque must have been based on facts, and familiar facts at that, if it was to be effective; and it may enlarge our understanding of the Frogs, and heighten our appreciation of its humour, to inquire what relation the journey of Dionysos may have had to places which were known to Aristophanes' audience. The places alluded to in the course of the journey have been identified in various more or less conflicting ways since at least the time when the Arguments to the play were written. There has been little hesitation over accepting at any rate some of these identifications, for it would certainly have been funny to see Dionysos call on Herakles in, say, Thebes or Tiryns; proceed from there to the Acheron or the Styx; and finally meet the souls of the Initiates in the underworld, moving in an everlasting procession to a ghostly Eleusis. But the fun would surely have been much more pointed had it been more consistent and relevant to the everyday life of the Athenians themselves; and it is the purpose of this article to suggest that it did in fact possess this consistency and relevance—that Dionysos was actually represented as following a route perfectly familiar to the audience, visiting places well known to them and indeed even in view to them as they sat in the theatre. At the beginning of the play Dionysos is on his way to call on Herakles and ask him what route he followed when he went down to the underworld to fetch Kerberos. Dionysos quickly reaches the house of Herakles, and if we take the indications of the play literally at this point we may conclude that this house was not far from Athens. It soon becomes clear that this conclusion is right. Herakles shows by his intimate knowledge of affairs at Athens that he lives in or near the city, and it is easy to see where he lives. He is not the Herakles at Melite, from whom he is sharply distinguished (501); but since Xanthias, when impersonating him, claims to be thinking of the Herakleia in Diomeia (650 f.), he must be the Herakles honoured in that festival. The Herakleia in Diomeia were the principal festival of Herakles at Athens, and were held at Kynosarges, a place outside the walls and not far from the Diomeian gate. There was a Herakleion there, between the city wall and the llissos; and that is evidently the house of Herakles in the Frogs.



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1 Cf. Harp., Suid., s.v. Ἡράκλεια Deubner, L., Attische Feste 226. On Kynosarges see Judeich, W., Topographie von Athen 2169 f., 422 f.

2 Dem. lix 76.

3 Cf. Deubner, 100.

4 ii 15.3–

5 Dem. loc. cit.

6 Cf. Strabo viii 5.1 (description of Sparta). The argument that Strabo, or his source, here refers to the sanctuary of Dionysos at Athens (Bölte, F., AM xxxiv (1909) 388–92) is commonly accepted, but it is not conclusive. Bölte's interpretation of the passage depends largely on the punctuation which he adopts; and while it is improbable, as he suggests, that such a sanctuary, otherwise unknown, existed at Sparta, it is hardly less improbable that Strabo appended to his account of Sparta a reference to Athens without noticing, or warning his readers, what he was doing.

7 Dem. loc. cit.

8 Ibid., 78; the number of the Gerairai (and, by implication, of the altars) is given in AB 1.231.32, EM 227.35.

9 Sch. Ar. Ran. 216.

10 Dem. lix 73.

11 Judeich, , Rhein. Mus. xlvii (1892) 59, n. i.

12 ii 15.3–5; cf. A. W. Gomme, Historical Commentary on Thucydides, ad. loc.

13 Judeich, , Topographie von Athen 2382–6; cf. Gomme, ii 56 f.

14 Kritias 111 a–d.

15 Ibid., 112a.

16 IG i2 94.29–38; cf. Wheeler, J. R., AJA iii (1887) 3849.

17 Lycurg. 86–7.

18 i 19.6.

19 Koumanoudes, S. A., AE 1884, 161–4.

20 Topographie von Athen 2 161, n. 1.

21 viii 35.

22 Cf. n. 6 above.

23 i 20.3.

24 Steph. Byz. s.v.

The Topography of the Frogs

  • G. T. W. Hooker (a1)


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