Before the play begins . . .
Euripides, the great tragic playwright, has recently died, and Athens has undergone years of political turmoil. Dionysus, the god of parties and of drama, decides that the two phenomena are causally related, and he makes a plan to retrieve Euripides from the Underworld to save the city.
In the play . . .
Dionysus, equipped with a Heracles costume and accompanied by his slave Xanthias, visits his brother Heracles to ask advice about going to the Underworld, since, of course, Heracles has been there before. The hero tells the pair what to expect, and they go on their way. They meet a Corpse during his funeral procession, and then Dionysus gets a ride with Charon the boatman (Xanthias has to walk). On his way across the lake, Dionysus runs into some singing frogs, and then he reunites with Xanthias.
Xanthias gets his revenge for having to walk, and the pair asks a band of Initiates of the Mysteries how to find Pluto’s house. They knock on the door of the only to find that “Heracles” (Dionysus) doesn’t get the welcome he expects. Hijinks ensue with a series of Underworld residents.
Finally, the pair is admitted to the house, where they learn there’s quite a commotion going on: Euripides has challenged the long-dead Aeschylus for the Throne of Tragedy, but there hasn’t been a knowledgeable judge to decide the case until the arrival of Dionysus.
The rest of the play is the battle between the two tragedians: the two of them stake their claims for their achievements and roast each other’s poetry and music. Dionysus can’t get enough of either of them. Pluto finally makes him decide, and says he can take the victor home.
And so Dionysus makes his choice…