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Kay, H. (1985). Aristophanes' Frogs: Dionysus as the Son-Savior. Am. Imago, 42(2):183-198.

(1985). American Imago, 42(2):183-198

Aristophanes' Frogs: Dionysus as the Son-Savior

Helen Kay

Much has been written on the status of Dionysus as he appears in Aristophanes' Frogs. Yet, this criticism has not addressed itself to the way in which Dionysus identifies himself in the play as the “Son of the Winejar” and the “Son of Zeus.”1 It seems to me significant that the one consistent feature in his self-identification is the role of the son, and it is in this light that I propose to look at the Frogs as a conscious echo of the myth in which the god descends to Hades as the son to rescue his mother Semele and attain for her (together with himself) recognition by the Olympian pantheon. Two issues are therefore at stake: The divinity of Dionysus and the immortality of the maternal figure which, in the Frogs, I shall argue, is located in Athens, the mother-city.

It is first necessary to sift through the conflicting myths which surround the birth of Dionysus in order to establish his maternity and whether or not his godhead would have been assured ab initio. The rule of Olympus was that only the child of two immortals could claim immortality for himself; hence, in some versions, Dionysus is born divine, in others his status is in question. According to those legends which would immediately grant him a seat on Olympus, Dionysus was either the son of Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, or of Demeter, goddess of fertility.2 Both deities express elements of the Dionysian myth of Bacchus as god of the grape, whose annual death and resurrection testified to his chthonic nature. But the most common version of the myth is the one in which Dionysus was either sexually or orally conceived by Semele, the mortal daughter of the King of Thebes.3

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