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The Bacchae

Context
The three great Greek tragedians Aeschylus (525456 B.C.) Sophocles (497405 B.C.) and
Euripides (485406 B.C.) wrote a composite ninety-two plays, of which seventeen survived.
Most of these were composed in the years between the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks at
Salamis in 480 B.C. and the defeat of Athens by Sparta in 404 B.C. During that time, Athens
experienced tremendous political, social and economic change. In 525 B.C. the tyrannical
Pisistratus and his sons were in command, but just five years later a series of swift
constitutional changes were begun, culminating in the establishment of democracy. Abroad, the
Persian Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great, had already absorbed all of Asia Minor and
extended its influence over the Ionian Greeks. The Athenians pushed back the Persians in 480
B.C. and embarked upon a tremendously expansive age, matching internal democracy with
imperialism abroad. The extension of Athenian commerce and political influence throughout
the Mediterranean brought in great revenue, stabilized the nascent state, and provided the funds
necessary to adorn the Acropolis with public buildings graced by an unmatched purity of style.
For many, Pericles (460429 B.C.), one of the greatest rulers of Athenian history, was the
living embodiment of the achievements of this period.
Naturally, Athens's power aroused jealousy in the two other prominent Greek powers: Sparta
and Corinth. In 432 B.C. a Peloponnesian coalition under Sparta launched a long and costly war
against Athens, concluding in a costly Spartan victory in 404 B.C. Although Euripides himself
died two years before the final Athenian defeat, in his lifetime he had witnessed both the sharp
rise and precipitous fall of Athenian power in the Mediterranean.
Euripides was born c. 485 at Phyla in Attica, probably of a good family. He made his home in
Salamis, most likely in the estate of his father, and it is said that he composed his works in a
cave by the sea. He held a lay priesthood in the cult of Zeus. Evidence in his own plays and
other documents connects him with leading philosophical circles and thinkers of his day,
including Protagoras and Socrates. Considered something of a loner, he spent his entire life
upon his estate, living with family. In 4087, he left Athens to go north all the way to
Macedonia; it is not known why he chose to leave his homeland so late in life. In Macedonia he
wrote his last play, The Bacchae, and was buried there.
Euripides wrote for Athens and the surrounding Attica, and these geographical and historical
limits gave his plays an intense and narrow focus. Euripides, like other Greek dramatists of the
era, was a man of his times, participating enthusiastically in the social and political life of his
community. He is generally considered the most tragic and least polite of the major dramatists,
and can be understood as foreshadowing the individualism of the coming Hellenistic age in his
writings.
The Bacchae was not performed during Euripides' lifetime, only reaching the amphitheater
after his death. The play won first prize at the annual contest where it was performed,
ironically, a prize that had eluded Euripides all his life. It is considered to be in the same class
as Aeschylus's Agamemnon and Sophocles' Oedipus the King.

In Euripides's time the story of the Bacchus was familiar to all and had been written about by
many, including Aeschylus. Our records concerning the history of the cult of Dionysus at the
time of Euripides are extremely scant, although sources are plentiful for later periods of the
cult. During his lifetime Euripides saw the incursion of strong Asian influences into cult
practices and beliefs. Even the god himself mutated, taking on new forms and absorbing new
powers: Dionysus was the God of theatre, the God of ecstatic female worshippers, God of
fertility and the wildness of rampant nature, and, of course, the God of vine and husbandry. He
was often worshipped in the form of a phallus. As a counterpoint to this ecstatic, wild virility,
Dionysus was also intimately linked to Hades, the God of the underworld.
Performances of Greek plays always took place in the open air, and audiences sat on benches
inserted into the slope of a circular and recessed hillside. Chorus and actors shared a round
dancing floor. The effect for the audience was a spectacle not just of words and emotions but
also of music and choreography. Forecourts, courtyards, and streets were the main settings of
most dramas, while enclosed, private chambers were generally avoided. Characters were played
by multiple actors, and so masks were essential for identifying who was who throughout the
play. Since the personality of any particular actor was thus severed from the role he played, the
burden of dramatic emphasis was carried by the language itself. The productions were funded
both by the state and by private patrons. The playwrights usually directed their own works and
retained primary artistic control. The term chorus denotes the body of dancers and singers.
Tragically, we have lost both the music and choreography of the time, so we must depend
solely on the written texts to reconstruct the performances. Dialogue and lyrics were sung both
by the characters and the chorus. There were many different types of metres, and each was
associated with a certain emotion, such as anger, grief, joy or haste. Greek metre depends on an
alternation of long and short syllables and not on the idea of stressed vs. unstressed syllables
such as in English drama.

Plot Overview
Dionysus, the god of wine, prophecy, religious ecstasy, and fertility, returns to his birthplace in
Thebes in order to clear his mother's name and to punish the insolent city state for refusing to
allow people to worship him. The background to his return is presented in the prologue, in
which Dionysus tells the story of his mother, Semele, once a princess in the royal Theban house
of Cadmus. She had an affair with Zeus, the king of the gods, and became pregnant. As revenge,
Zeus's jealous wife Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to appear in his divine form. Zeus,
too powerful for a mortal to behold, emerged from the sky as a bolt of lightning and burnt
Semele to a cinder. He managed, however, to rescue his unborn son Dionysus and stitched the
baby into his thigh. Semele's family claimed that she had been struck by lightning for lying
about Zeus and that her child, the product of an illicit human affair, had died with her,
maligning her name and rejecting the young god Dionysus.
The action of the play begins with Dionysus's return to Thebes years later. He arrives in town
disguised as the stranger, accompanied by a band of bacchants, to punish the family for their
treatment of his mother and their refusal to offer him sacrifices. During Dionysus's absence,
Semele's father, Cadmus, had handed the kingdom over to his proud grandson Pentheus. It was
Pentheus's decision to not allow the worship of Dionysus in Thebes. Dionysus tells the audience
that when he arrived in Thebes he drove Semele's sisters mad, and they fled to Mt. Cithaeron to
worship him and perform his rites on the mountainside.
As the ruler of the state and preserver of social order, Pentheus finds himself threatened by the
Dionysian rites bringing the women from the city into the forest. Unconvinced of their
divinely-caused insanity, he sees their drunken cavorting as an illicit attempt to escape the
mores and legal codes regulating Theban society. His response is therefore a political one, as he
orders his soldiers to arrest the Lydian stranger and his maenads, whom he sees as the root of
the troubles. Deviously, Dionysus allows himself to be easily arrested and taken to Pentheus
with the others. In the first of three encounters, Dionysus begins the long process of trapping
Pentheus and leading him to his death. The encounter begins with the powerful Pentheus
thinking he has caught the delicate stranger. He orders his androgynous prisoner to be chained,
bound, and tortured but soon finds it impossible to do so. When Pentheus tries to tie Dionysus
he ties only a bull, when Pentheus plunges a knife into Dionysus the blade passes only through
shadow. Suddenly an earthquake shakes the palace, a fire starts, and Pentheus is left weak and
puzzled.
In their second exchange, Dionysus tries to persuade Pentheus to abandon his destructive path,
but Pentheus does not relent. A cowherd arrives and describes his sighting of the maddened
women of Cadmus. All the women were seen resting blissfully in the forest, feasting on milk,
honey and wine that sprang from the ground. They played music, suckled wild animals and
sang and danced with joy. But when they saw the cowherd, they flew into a murderous rage and
chased after him. The cowherd barely escaped, but the herd of cattle was captured and torn
apart by hand by the maenads, including Pentheus's mother Agaue.
Pentheus is left intrigued and excited by the messenger's marvelous and frightening tale.
Dionysus takes note of Pentheus's interest and offers him a chance to see the maenads for

himself, undetected. Pentheus, on the verge of launching a military expedition to arrest the
band, suddenly cannot resist the opportunity to see the forbidden. He agrees to do all Dionysus
suggests, dressing himself in a wig and long skirts. The effeminate Pentheus, stripped of his
masculinity and authority, is revealed as a vain, boastful and lecherous creature. Once in the
woods, Pentheus cannot see the bacchants from the ground, and wants to mount a tree for a
better vantage. Dionysus miraculously bends a tall fir tree, puts Pentheus on top, and gently
straightens the tree. At once the maenads see him, and Dionysus orders them to attack the
vulnerable ruler. With rolling eyes and frenzied cries the women attack, bringing Pentheus
down and dragging him to the ground. As he falls Pentheus reaches out for his mother's face
and pleads with her to recognize her son. But Agaue, driven mad by Dionysus, proceeds to rip
her son to death.
At the palace the chorus is exultant and sings the praise of Dionysus. Agaue returns home with
Pentheus's head in her hands. She is still deluded and boasts to all about the young lion she
hunted and beheaded. Old Cadmus, who knows what has happened, sadly approaches his
daughter and draws her mind back to the palace, her family and finally what she is holding in
her hands. Agaue begins to weep. Cadmus remarks that the god has punished the family rightly
but excessively. In the end, Dionysus finally appears in his true form to the city. He banishes
Agaue from Thebes and ordains that Cadmus and his wife will turn into snakes, destined to
invade Greek lands with a horde of barbarians.

Character List
Dionysus - Originator, protagonist and central axis of The Bacchae, this god of wine, theater
and group ecstasy appears mostly in disguise as a beautiful, longhaired, wine-flushed Lydian,
the Stranger. His non-human forms and powers are also felt acutely throughout the play and
Dionysus the god is clearly different from Dionysus in disguise, as the Stranger, and yet they
are the same. Still, they exist in their different forms simultaneously, so while the audience and
the chorus hear the divine god give the command for the earthquake, the Stranger is inside the
palace torturing Pentheus. Dionysus is the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, daughter of
Cadmus.
Read an in-depth analysis of Dionysus.
Pentheus - Pentheus is the king of Thebes, son of Agaue, grandson of Cadmus and the first
cousin of Dionysus. Structurally Pentheus is Dionysus's foil, thus he is a preserver of law and
order, a military man, a stern patriarch, and ultimately a doomed mortal. Pentheus is not
merely a mirror or inverted double of Dionysus; he is puritanical and obstinate, but also curious
and voyeuristic.
Read an in-depth analysis of Pentheus.
Agaue - Mother of Pentheus and daughter of Cadmus. Agaue is already one of the maenads (a
worshipper of Dionysus participating in orgiastic rites, from the Greek mainad to be mad) at
the start of the play. Even though she only enters the play at the very end, her scene is the most
powerful and tragic in the play.
Cadmus - Former king of Thebes, father of Agaue and Semele, grandfather of Pentheus and
Dionysus. Cadmus is the only one in his family to declare allegiance to Dionysus.
Servant - He captures the Stranger and brings him to Pentheus in Scene II.
First Messenger - One of three anonymous witnesses in the play. The first messenger is a
cowherd who spies on the maenads and comes back to relate the incident to Pentheus.
Second Messenger - The second messenger accompanied Pentheus and Dionysus up the
mountain and witnessed the death of his king. He returns to the palace to relate the event to the
chorus.
Chorus - Female bacchants from Lydia, led by Dionysus in his human form as the Stranger.
Tiresias - A famous Theban seer and friend of Cadmus. Tiresias persuades Cadmus to worship
Dionysus.

Character Analysis
Dionysus
The principal subject of the The Bacchae, Dionysus, possesses a multitude of powers and can
take a variety of forms. In Euripides's conception of the god, however, his numerous forms
conform to the logic of duality, that is, they are both one thing and its opposite simultaneously.
Thus, Dionysus is presented as being both inside and outside the play's action. Physically, he is
both beautiful and fearful. By birth, he is both divine and human, the son of Zeus and a mortal
woman. By origin, he is both Greek and Asiatic, his cult associated with Asia Minor. His cult
names provide insight into the nature of his relationship with humankind: the bacchants call
him Bromios, "the roaring one", and also Lysios, "the god of letting go". Dionysus's gifts allow
humans to let go of their troubles through wine, to let go of their identities through theater, and
to let go of their individuality through cult worship. For humans, his ability to allow them to let
go, when practiced in moderation, opens them to the festive, communal side of life. As the
Stranger, or Dionysus's human form, says, "Dionysus, as a god in perfect essence: a terrible
one, but to men most gentle."
But this letting go, like everything associated with Dionysus, also has its potential dark aspect.
There is no inherent limit to the powers of bellowing Dionysus. Festivity can turn to destructive
excess, and instead of providing a necessary temporary release, can overpower life itself.
Without self-control, Dionysus's powers can drive humans to let go of their sanity, to let go of
their judgment and, in the end, to let go of their very humanity. The supreme importance of
self-control is embodied by none other than the disguised Dionysus. While Euripides vividly
illustrates the full extent of Dionysus's ecstatic powers upon his followers, the Stranger himself
is calm, self-possessed and patient. He alone displays self-control and wisdom, and these traits
distinguish him from the mortals who surround him. While he is able to sting men with
madness, he is the picture of sanity, suggesting that he is not the agent of the tragedy, but
perhaps that mortals themselves are responsible for their bloody discord.
Pentheus
Euripides builds the principal dynamic of The Bacchae around the conflict between Pentheus
and Dionysus, and sets up several interesting parallels between them. Pentheus, the King of
Thebes, and Dionysus are both grandsons of old Cadmus, but while Pentheus is his chosen heir,
Dionysus is not even recognized by the king, nor allowed in the city. They are both young and
powerful and want to establish their authority over Thebes, but the kinds of authority they want
to erect conflict with one another. Pentheus wants to establish an earthly, rational authority as
the single legal sovereign, so much so that he adamantly refuses to allow even the worship of
Dionysus. Dionysus wants to establish his joyful divine authority over the city and contest
Pentheus's project of a purely rational civic order. As guardian of social order, Pentheus is
repulsed by the cult and disturbed by the idea of women roaming freely in the wild, for the
order that Pentheus represents is not just the legal order, but the proper order of all of life,
including the supposedly proper control of women. Dionysus is seen as threatening all this, and
so Pentheus states that the "effeminate stranger is introducing a new disease for our women and
dishonoring their beds." Pentheus continuous refusal to accept Dionysus leads to his downfall.

But even though he is obsessed with law and order, Pentheus is also shown to be vain,
obstinate, suspicious, and arrogant. The old seer Tiresias describes Pentheus's principal fault
well when he says, "do not be too confident that / sovereignty is what rules men nor if you hold
an opinion, take that opinion for good sense." In the end, Pentheus too falls victim to
Dionysus's madness, and lets his illicit desire to see the maenads carry him to his death.
The Messengers
It was a common convention of Greek theater that distant, violent, or complex actions were not
dramatized, but rather took place offstage and then were described onstage by a messenger. In
the case of The Bacchae, this convention is used to bestow even more power on the already
fantastical events and also to grant a certain respect to the Dionysian rites by not showing them
directly. Indeed, the actors and audience find out about the practices of the bacchants
principally through messengers, who often arrive out of breath and frightened. The use of the
convention thus accords with historical practice, since, as one of the mystery cults that
flourished in Greece alongside state religion, Dionysian cults required that their rites be kept
secret from outsiders. When Pentheus asks the disguised Dionysus to tell him what the cult's
worship consists of, Dionysus responds, "they may not be uttered to those of men who are not
bacchants." Messengers provide the means both for preserving the mystery of the bacchic
worship and for making it vividly real for the audience.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


Themes
The Balance between Control and Freedom in a Healthy Society or Mind

Euripides was writing during the beginning of the Dionysian invasion from the Near East, and
so his play signals Dionysus's still incomplete integration into Greek religious and social life.
Once Dionysus had been established as a legitimate god in the Greek pantheon, he became
associated with civic forms such as theater, wine festivals, democracy and general revelry. But
for Euripides, the relation between Dionysus and the established social order was still being
contested. His play attempts to answer the question of whether there can be a space for the
irrational within a well-structured and ordered space, either interior or exterior. The Bacchae
depicts a struggle to the death between the twin forces of control (restraint) and freedom
(release), and permits Dionysus to provide an answer to this question. The god's implicit
message is that not only is there space within society for the irrational, but that such a space
must be allowed for that society to exist and thrive. By denying or opposing the irrational, as
Pentheus did, the person who opposes it, or the society that denies it, will be torn apart. The
story of Pentheus and Thebes demonstrates the necessity of self-control, moderation, and
wisdom in avoiding the twin extremes of the tyranny of order and the murderous frenzy of
collective passion.
The Nature of Theater

As the last work of his life, Euripides chose to write a play that discussed, among other themes,
the origin and nature of his own art. The Bacchae deals with the different relationships of
theater to various aspects of society, including its relationship to art itself. First, Euripides
asserts the centrality of theater to Dionysian ritual. The rites alluded to in the play were replete
with masked dancers, choral performances and processions of citizens in costumes. Dionysus,
the god of the mask, offers his worshippers the freedom to be someone other than themselves,
and in doing so, the chance to achieve a religious ecstasy through theater itself. Second,
Euripides comments upon the relation of the individual self to the theater as spectacle and
performance. In the beginning of the play, Pentheus is an external spectator and onlooker,
gazing upon the bacchic rites with a removed, disapproving gaze. But when offered the chance
by Dionysus, he moves from the margins to center stage of the drama himself. But Pentheus
cannot navigate the dangers of the move, and loses control, losing himself to the role he wishes
to play. He emasculates himself, loses his original identity as the rational sovereign, and
exposes himself to the drama and its consequencesin his case, death. Third, Euripides wants
to comment upon the play as an art form. He masterfully both draws the audience's attention to
the artifice of the play, to its conventions and techniques, while at the same time asserting the
seductive power of that very artifice, both over the characters in the play and over the audience
itself.
Duality

One of the principal moral messages of the play extols the importance of maintaining
fundamental balances in one's social and natural life, and Euripides demonstrates this principle

in the structure and content of the The Bacchae. The play is sprinkled throughout with
oppositions, doubles and pairings that can be organized into three categories. First, Euripides
establishes a number of pairings between and even within characters: Dionysus takes two forms
on stage, Pentheus serves as his double, and they switch roles in the course of the play. Cadmus
and Tiresias are a pair, and the bacchic chorus and the mad women of Thebes provide a
contrasting set. Second, there are formal dualities, including the chorus versus the main action
of the drama, and the events recounted versus the events enacted. Third, thematic dualities
feature strongly. The wild mountain is contrasted with the walled city, and the mortal denies
albeit futilelythe divine. Men face off against women, and the irrational does battle with the
rational.
Motifs
Hunting

Euripides uses hunting as a central motif in the play, and it holds a defining place in several
relationships, the roles of hunter and hunted shifting, or reversing, as the relationships change.
First, Dionysus begins in the position of the hunted, the quarry of Pentheus and his men. Soon,
the god inverts this relationship. Second, the chorus, in its odes, explicitly uses the hunting
motif, identifying with the hunted Stranger early in the play, and as his position changes, so
does their identification and imagery. This inversion is clearly demarcated in Interlude III. The
Chorus first celebrates a fawn's escape from hunters as it races joyfully by the woods and river.
But the free fawn changes into the divine hunter, returning for revenge upon his one-time
pursuer: "the gods keep/ hidden in subtle ways/ the long foot of time, and/ hunt down the
impious one." Third, Agaue returns to the palace, demented, boasting of her catch, which she
refers to as "a fortunate quarry indeed." The instant she regains her senses, she stops using the
word "hunt," and instead uses the word "murder"demonstrating once again the fundamental
danger contained within Dionysus.
Disguise

Much of the tension and action of the play comes about due to two important disguises, that is,
Dionysus disguised as the Stranger, and Pentheus as the female bacchant. The use of disguise
was a comment on theater itself and its powers. More specifically, Pentheus's disguise
resonates in other ways. Bacchic ritual often involved costumed enactments representing the
death of an old self and the rebirth of a new self dedicated to the deity. Pentheus, not a willing
devotee but an impious imposter, is literally killed after being dressed by Dionysus, with no
possibility of being reborn into the cult. Pentheus's cross- dressing echoes the common Greek
notion of the rite of passage, usually from boyhood to manhood and the position of warrior. In
this sense, Pentheus's cross- dressing would have appeared to Ancient Greek audiences as a
failed rite of passage, since he never realizes his transformation and induction into the cult.
Nature's Gifts and Curses

Dionysus, in his human form as the Stranger, acts upon people, and in his divine form acts upon
nature. These supernatural acts have two distinct modes, which reproduce the duality of his
creativity and destructiveness. On the one hand, earthquakes, fires, and flashes of white light
destroy the royal palace and wreak havoc. On the other, the maenads experience the positive

side of his supernatural powers, receiving the gifts of the earth: wine, honey and milk issue
forth from the ground for them.
Symbols
Fawnskin

Fawnskins are the key garb for bacchic ritual, described as "the sacred cloak." It is the first
item mentioned by both the two old men and by Pentheus when they decide to dress as
bacchants. The mountain dancers strive to emulate the speed and freedom of the fawn. In Greek
lyric poetry, the fawn was the traditional symbol for playfulness. The fawn also plays into the
hunting motif, central to the play, embodying the paradigmatic quarry. As the chorus sings in
Interlude III: "Shall I in night-long dances ever set white foot in bacchis celebration, hurling
my throat to the dewy air of heaven, like a fawn playing in the green pleasures of a meadow,
when it has escaped the terrifying hunt."
Hair

In Greek visual art and the lyrical poetry of the time, Dionysus was commonly depicted as
being graceful, with effeminate features and long, flowing hair. As Pentheus is both drawn to
and disgusted by the bacchic revelry, so is he fascinated and revolted by the Stranger's looks,
especially the Stranger's hair. He comments upon the hair several times, and when asked what
he would do to his prisoner, his immediate response is: "first I shall cut off your delicate
locks," to which Dionysus responds, "my long hair is sacred; I am growing it for the god." This
exchange proves a revelation, for while the Stranger could have been growing his hair as a
promise to a god, as was common practice, his hair is long simply because he is the god
himself. When their roles are reversed and Pentheus is imprisoned by Dionysus, they mention
hair first. At that point, hair symbolizes Pentheus's weakness or femininity, as Dionysus chides
Pentheus: "But this curl has fallen out of its proper place, not as I fixed it under the snood
well we whose care it is to look after you shall put it back in position; now hold your head
straight." Dionysus's dominance over Pentheus is complete as he tucks the other man's hair into
place in a moment not devoid of sexual overtones.
Bull

The bull is one of Dionysus's most common incarnations in Greek art and religious imagery. It
expresses the god's power, leadership, virility, and his potency as a force of nature. The epithets
used for him in cultic practice and in poetry often allude to his bullish form. Crucially, the
shape of the god and his victim is sometimes the same, as in the case of the bull, often offered
as a sacrifice in his honor. In the play, the maenads tear apart bulls in the frenzy of their
sparagmos (the ritual dismemberment of animals) in the cowherd's speech. Pentheus, in
particular, sees Dionysus in his bull-like form. When he thinks he is tying up the Stranger, he
finds himself wrestling with a bull in the stables of the palace. Once he goes mad, he sees the
Stranger as a bull.

Prologue and Parodos


Summary

Prologue (Lines 163)


Dionysus, son of Zeus, addresses the audience, describing to us how Thebes is his birthplace
and is also the ancestral home of his mortal mother, Semele. After Semele's affair with Zeus,
his wife, the jealous goddess Hera, taunted the woman for never having known her lover in his
true, divine, form. Semele fell for Hera's ploy and begged Zeus to appear to her as a divinity; he
came from above as a bolt of lightning, and the mortal Semele, unable to behold him, was
burned to death. Zeus rescued the unborn fetus and stitched him into his thigh. Dionysus was
not acknowledged by the house of Cadmus, and Semele's family accused her of having a mortal
lover and lying about Zeus, dying at his hands as punishment. Dionysus now returns from the
East, at last to exact retribution for their disrespectful treatment of his mother's memory and
their refusal to permit him to be worshipped or to offer him his sacrificial due. He appears in
Thebes in the guise of a male Lydian leader of female bacchants to show the royal family,
"even against its will," that he is indeed a god and deserves proper consideration. By the time
Dionysus arrives, he has already made mad the women of the palace and driven them to the
hills of Mt. Cithaeron, where they, the maenads, sing, dance, and perform bacchic rites.
Semele's father, old Cadmus, has turned his kingdom over to his grandson Pentheus. Pentheus
violently refuses to worship Dionysus in the face of the bacchanal madness and miracles
abounding around him. The prologue ends as Dionysus bids his group of worshippers to take up
the drum.
Parados or Ode of Entry (Lines 64169)
The chorus enters from both sides of the stage, exalting Dionysus. The ode they chant consists
of three segments: a)(Prelude): a call for holy silence b)(Hymn in four parts): a declaration of
the blessed state of a maenad, a summary of Dionysus's birth, a call to Thebes to worship the
Bacchae and a history of the place of the drum in their cult. c)(Epode or refrain): further
description of the ecstasy of the bacchants.
Analysis

Prologue
Traditionally, the first song or direct address in Greek theater establishes the background and
history of the play, clears up any potential confusion and then launches into the story. A
prologue also predicts the general outcome and structure of the play, but conceals a few twists
and key details. The prologue of The Bacchae recounts material that would have been very
familiar to the audiences of the time: the birth, cult and history of Dionysian worship.
Euripides, however, is known for his innovations and refinements of classical literary
traditions, and he demonstrates this talent through his astute use of the prologue and his
recasting of the Dionysian myth.
Instead of using the prologue to merely sketch the main moral of the story, or to establish the

pre-eminence of the gods above, dictating human action, Euripides uses the prologue to
establish Dionysus as a direct human agent. Dionysus, instead of being only a mysterious,
transcendent god, here also appears in mortal form as a character within the drama. Euripides's
decision to have Dionysus appear as a mortal is not merely a theatrical device, but is also a
comment on the nature of this complex god and that which he represents. Euripides is signaling
the central role that disguise and recognition play within the play, and is also pointing to the
importance of epiphanies, masks and masking, and shape-changing in the cults and myths of
Dionysus. As a god born of a mortal mother, Dionysus comes both from the Olympian heights
and the human world; Euripides highlights this by showing him both outside and inside the
play. It is appropriate for Dionysus to walk, talk and interact with mortals because of the very
communal and intimate emotions brought forth in his worshippers by his power.
Thereby in the prologue Euripides introduces the key to Dionysus' nature: ambiguity. The god
not only embodies differences (belief and madness, celebration and destruction) but in his
actions demonstrates a similar fluidity. His punishment of Pentheus, for example which
proves excessive, gruesome and terribleis brought about in an extremely subtle, devious and
gradual manner. Finally, the prologue puts the audience in a privileged position by letting it in
on Dionysus's secret. None of the other characters in the play know who the Stranger from
Lydia really is, and this dramatic irony heightens the sense of unavoidable tragedy in an
already powerful play.
Parodos
In Euripides's time, the extensive use of the chorus had become outmoded, yet Euripides gave
the device new life by fusing it with elements from the play itself. The chorus is traditionally a
unified singing and dancing body removed from the central actions of the play. Euripides
equated these features with the characteristics of the Bacchae, a nomadic cult that worshipped
Dionysus through song and dance. The chorus became the Bacchae, and vice-versa. Euripides
lets the chorus fulfill its classical function but also gives it a deeper narrative meaning. On the
one hand, the chorus comments on the actions of the play, provides a moral voice and links the
segments of the play temporally. In The Bacchae, it is also given the role of describing
Dionysian rites from within, expressing common reactions, and, most importantly, heightening
the drama, hysteria and passion of the play through dance and music. The chorus also serves the
function of extolling the more benign, joyful and celebratory side of Dionysus. They are a
group of willing devotees of Dionysus that followed the Stranger from the East to Thebes.
While their songs are at times bloodthirsty, their actions are not.
But the chorus is not the only group of women worshippers of the god. The mad maenads on
Mt. Cithairon embody Dionysus's other side. The deity has driven these women mad against
their will, and they represent a violent rupture from the social order. The maenads, in
counterpoint to the chorus, are never shown openly on stage, nor are they given a voice. Only
the mad, solitary and tragic Agaue is brought on stage. On top of the mountain, those women
embody the darker, wilder and destructive aspect of Dionysus. The tension between these two
oppositional, but complementary, groups of women echoes the main tension in the play,
namely the tension between Pentheus, as the champion of order, and Dionysus, as the harbinger
of disordered abandon.

Scene I & Choral Interlude I


Summary

Scene I
Tiresias, an old, wise seer of Thebes arrives at the palace and calls for Cadmus to come meet
him. These old friends have decided to don fawnskins and worship Dionysus on Mt. Cithaeron.
As they begin to dance and start their journey up the mountain, they feel a surprisingly youthful
glee in their limbs. Pentheus appears on stage and does not see the old men, lost in his own
thoughts, enraged as he is by the recent news of the runaway women. He considers the bacchic
rites to be simply a thin veil to cover licentious, depraved and drunken behavior. As king he has
already ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all the maenads, but his campaign to bring the
maenads back to civilization has been made harder by the recent arrival of a foreign Dionysian
wizard with long hair, wine-flushed cheeks and a large group of female followers.
As Pentheus is growling about what he will do with this enchanter's haironce he manages to
catch himhe sees his grandfather and Tiresias dressed in bacchic style and launches into a
admonishing tirade against them and their foolishness. Tiresias argues back, explaining that if
Demeter, an esteemed god, is the god of solid nourishment, that is, food, then Dionysus is the
god of liquid nourishment, that is, wine. Dionysus's gift releases pain, brings sleep and gives
joy, he explains. Further, Tiresias continues to argue that the story concerning Zeus sewing
Dionysus into his thigh rests on mistaken interpretations and a confused etymology. The old,
blind seer ends his response to Pentheus by concluding that Dionysus was a powerful god,
master of frenzy, inspiration, panic and prophecy, and so deserves respect on account of his
ecstatic power.
In reply Pentheus spitefully threatens to destroy Tiresias's religious objects and sacrificial
stores. The two old men hurry away, hoping that Pentheus does not bring calamity upon the
family through his unremitting rejection of Dionysus, but knowing that he will.
Choral Interlude I
The chorus sings the first interlude, or Stasimon, in four parts. They first call upon Holiness, a
minor deity, to witness Pentheus's sacrilegious insolence against Dionysus, and then glorify the
quiet life that does not indulge folly and recklessness. In the second half of the song, the chorus
talks lovingly about escaping to Cyprus, the isle of Aphrodite, where they can perform their
rites in beauty and peace. This mood is invoked again in the last section where they praise
Dionysus for the peace, gaiety, and moderate life he brings.
ANALYSIS

Euripides is interested not only in the nature of Dionysus but in the nature of religious belief
itself, and so he provides a number of arguments both for and against worshipping the god. In
Scene I the two old men articulate the wrong reasons for taking up the new religion: selfpreservation and fear. Pentheus, while rejecting the worship of Dionysus, also displays the most
extreme and violent form of the same tendency: self-preservation, upholding the family name

and rigid rationality. The first half of the scene is also meant to be somewhat burlesque and a
jibe at an overly intellectual Athenian breed of that time. Pentheus's entry is key to establishing
his character and his position on the new religion. His self-absorption and short-temper are
evident from the start as is his preoccupation with sex. His understanding of the Dionysian
religion goes no further than the crude, tabloid, and schoolboy-fantasy level. Dionysian cults
allowed women to indulge in the open expression of violent emotions, unlike 5th century
Athens, which, like Pentheus, required women to be modest, self- controlled, and possessors of
good sense. This ideal of female virtues also implied a certain submission to male authority. At
the arrival of the Dionysian cult the city of Thebes must decide what women can and should do.
Pentheus stresses authoritarian nature of this concept of femininity, whereas the chorus aims
for a basic sense of good mental health and a balanced mind.
Pentheus's reaction to the old men is once more typical of his tyrannical, hotheaded and
aggressive nature. One should, however, remember that, as a ruler and guardian of the state,
Pentheus is somewhat justified in his desire to not just curtail but crush what he sees as a
decadent and immoral cult. Tiresias's arguments in defense of Dionysus are meant to be
somewhat clever and dry, as opposed to wise. Tiresias rationalizes the necessity of believing in
Dionysus in two ways, first he tries to explain away the fantastical elements of Dionysus's birth
as etymological confusion. Then he tries to weave the god into the established Pantheon of gods
by comparing him with Demeter, and powers of other gods such as Apollo and Pan.
One crucial and accurate part of Tiresias's speech concerns his calling Pentheus mad. This is
one of many inversions of sanity and madness in the play. The nature of madness itself one of
the major themes. Tiresias here says that extreme rigidity, even though in the service of sanity,
is a dangerous form of madness. Moreover to stick to what one thinks, to the point of waging a
war against the gods is surely the greatest folly. The chorus parallels the tone and mood of the
play at each stage, like a cardiograph. The first ode is a balanced song, extolling the joys of a
healthy, restrained life and gentle pleasures but it contains many veiled references to the more
violent aspects of Dionysian worship and pleasure.

Scene II & Interlude II


Summary

Scene II
A servant leads the disguised Dionysus into the palace courtyard and presents him to a very
pleased Pentheus. The servant tells Pentheus of the remarkably easy arrest of the Stranger
(Dionysus), who did not even attempt to flee but gently offered up his own hands to the guard.
Not only did the Stranger exhibit a remarkable coolness at the face of authority but he even
smiled at the servant. In fact the Stranger was so well behaved that the servant felt ashamed and
was compelled to tell the stranger that he was only working on orders from his master. The
servant also tells Pentheus that his other prisoners, the Theban women who were driven mad by
Dionysus, had all mysteriously escaped to the mountains to continue their singing and dancing.
Those who saw them escape say that the chains came miraculously undone by themselves and
the doors unbarred themselves. This last miracle and the Stranger's impeccable behavior
impressed the servant, and he tries to hint to Pentheus that the king's behavior might be wrong.
But the eager Pentheus is all too happy with his new prisoner and does not pay attention to the
many signs of Dionysus's divinity. The aggressive king concentrates on interrogating the
prisoner and flaunting his power over him.
Pentheus begins by asking the Stranger where he comes from and on whose authority he now
introduces these rites to Thebes. The Stranger tells the king that Dionysus himself initiated
him. Pentheus then tries to scornfully insult and pervert the myth of Dionysus's birth and
powers. The Stranger remains untouched by anger and states clearly that the god himself
instructed him on various bacchic rites. The arrogant king immediately wants to know, and thus
mock, these rites but his jibes are brushed away by the calm Dionysus who merely says, "it is
not lawful for you to hearthough it is worth knowing." As Pentheus has been impious,
continues the Stranger, he is not allowed to know what the rites consist of or what the god's true
nature is. Pentheus is enraged when he is denied access to this information and he persists in
using other rhetorical tools in the hope of tricking the Stranger, all to no avail. The only thing
Pentheus learns is that he is unable to learn anything and has only exposed his own anger and
futility. As in earlier scenes, when faced by a foe, Pentheus resorts to crude physical acts:
arrest, imprison, and destroy. Pentheus ends their first encounter by promising to cut off
Dionysus' hair, destroy his possessions, and lock him up for good. The Stranger calmly states
that his god will free him and then chain and punish Pentheus. Pentheus screams that Dionysus
to be chained in the dark palace stables at once.
Interlude II
The second interlude or Stasimon is made up of three parts and is simple and direct. The first
section reproaches not just Pentheus but all of Thebes for rejecting Dionysus. They once more
tell the story of the birth of Dionysus stressing his connection to Zeus and fire. In contrast the
second section describes Pentheus's lowly ancestry; the house of Cadmus was said to have
descended from a dragon's tooth planted in the earth. Pentheus, a "wild-faced monster" and a
murderous man, must be punished. The chorus calls upon its Lord to punish this monster who

has locked up its leader in a dark dungeon. The final section meditates on where the god "rearer
of beasts" may be. The chorus imagines him to be in Nysa, a mountain associated with a
different story of another city that resisted the god. Then the chorus wonders if he is in the
wooded recesses of Olympus (home of the Greek gods). The chorus asks if he may be in Pieria,
birthplace of the Muses, a region of pleasant rivers and valleys to the north of Mt. Olympus; a
common symbol of the relaxation and happiness that Dionysus's worshippers attach to him.
Lastly, the Chorus thinks he may be crossing the two rivers Axios and Lydias on his way to
Thebes from Olympus.
ANALYSIS

The principal axis of the play is the relationship between Pentheus and Dionysus, laid out over
three episodes. The role and power dynamic of each of the characters is completely reversed
during the three encounters. Like a seesaw, the fall of one is at the expense of the other. One
may argue that the disparity in power is clearly superficial, for Dionysus has the power to open
and orchestrate the entire narrative of the play. As a god he has decided to arrange an illusion to
best teach Thebes a lesson and to fully reveal Pentheus's faults. This twin-position of Dionysus
as actor and author is demonstrated amply in this scene as Pentheus questions the Stranger on
the nature of the god.
In this first of the three rendezvous, a pretty and effeminate Dionysus, the Stranger, enters as
the prisoner of the commanding, interrogative Pentheus. Once the two start to converse
however, Pentheus begins to lose his authoritative position, for Dionysus is calm and true in all
his responses. Pentheus's response to such profundity is of course anger and then force, "you
must pay penalty for your foul sophistries!" At some points in this scene, the god seems to give
Pentheus room to either learn or repent but Pentheus refuses to see anything in the new religion
except his basest, preconceived fantasies.
In a key moment of delicious dramatic irony, as well as psychological revelation, Pentheus
sarcastically says that the stranger's god will surely come to rescue him: "Dionysus: Even now
he is close by and sees what I suffer. Pentheus: Well, where is he? He is not visible to my eyes.
Dionysus: Here, with me, but you, because of your impiety, do not behold him." Pentheus is
blinded by his ignorance and doomed by his refusal to see beyond what is right before his eyes.
His foolishness is further heightened by the fact that the audience knows who the Stranger
really is and begins to understand the impertinence of Pentheus's manner. One should also
remember that in all the previous accounts of Dionysus's miracles, listed by Tiresias and the
servant, Pentheus also refused to acknowledge the new god's powers. The one thing the king
keeps returning to is the power of his authority and his ability to enforce it. In this scene and
for the first time in the play, we see the limits of Pentheus's authority. The king cannot even
begin to mock the Stranger's beliefs and rites, for he does not and cannot know what they are.
Even the arrest of the Stranger was not really Pentheus's success, for the Stranger wanted to be
lead to the king and thus walked into the palace himself.
Unlike the first ode, the chorus in this interlude now hankers for action and justice. However,
the chorus is not completely bloodthirsty as it does return to a description of various peaceful
mountains, rivers and valleys at the very end. Another point to notice is the manner in which
the chorus echoes the major point of the second scene: the confrontation of the two principal

characters of the play. They devote one verse to Dionysus and the next to his antithesis,
Pentheus. Dionysus's divine birth from fire and the heavens is sharply contrasted to Pentheus's
bestial and earthy origins. Finally, the chorus's ode forms a neat bridge between two scenes as
their cry to Dionysus for justice is answered by his booming divine voice offstage.

Scene III & Interlude III


Summary

Scene III
There is a flash of white light and the chorus hears the divine voice of the god Dionysus
offstage answering their prayers for justice from the scene before. Dionysus calls on the spirit
of the earthquake to shake the palace and the chorus watches the columns of Pentheus' palace
collapse. The god summons fire next and the flames on his mother Semele's tomb flare up. The
chorus is stunned and flings itself on the ground in mounting hysteria. Dionysus then enters in
his disguised form as the Stranger and the chorus' leader and asks the women to rise. The
women greet their leader as though he were the god himself and in that moment they
unconsciously recognize the twin-position of Dionysus. However they soon revert to addressing
their leader as a mortal and ask him how he was set free from the palace stables and the grip of
Pentheus. The Stranger, barely bothering to hide his supernatural powers replies that he freed
himself. When the chorus mentions knots and chains, Dionysus replies that he used the powers
of illusion to trick Pentheus into thinking he was binding him but what the king bound was in
fact a bull. The Stranger says that at this point the god Dionysus shook up the palace with an
earthquake and started a fire at Semele's tomb.
The audience now begins to hear about the miracles from inside the palace. Once the fire flared
up, Pentheus assumed that the whole palace was up in flames and ran around ordering his
servants to put out the fire with water. During this confusion Pentheus suddenly remembered
his prisoner and ran back to try and seize him. But instead of stabbing the Stranger with his
sword, Pentheus is again tricked into piercing shadows on the wall. Finally the Stranger lists
the other humiliations Dionysus subjects Pentheus to, such as breaking the palace completely.
As the stranger walked out of the ruins he saw Pentheus collapse exhausted to the ground.
As he finishes telling his story to the chorus, the Stranger hears Pentheus' footsteps. The
harassed Pentheus enters, ready for battle and carnage, still unwilling to acknowledge the
divinity and power of Dionysus. Dionysus asks him to stay calm and reminds him that no
matter how many reinforcements arrive, how high the walls, god will triumph. Pentheus
continues to hanker for action and is interrupted by a messenger, a cowherd who saw the
bacchants at Mt. Cithaeron and who has come to tell his king, Pentheus. The cowherd first asks
if he may speak honestly and without fear of punishment for what he says may go against what
Pentheus believes. Pentheus reassures him, eager to learn more about the rites he is forbidden
to know.
The cowherd saw the three bands of women, including Semele's sisters, sleeping peacefully and
decently in the open air. They showed no signs of drunken misbehavior and wantonness. As the
sun came up they heard the sound of cattle nearby and sprung up in joy, letting down their hair.
They pulled up their fawnskins, donned garlands and played with forest creaturessome even
suckled wolf cubs. When they pierced rocks, milk, honey and wine leapt out. The cowherd tells
Pentheus that had he been there he would have been convinced of Dionysus's divinity. The
excited cowherds got a little ambitious however and decided to try and capture Pentheus's

mother Agaue and bring her back to the palace. As they try and ambush Agaue they are
discovered by the women. The furious maenads attacked the men and the herds with their bare
hands. The cowherds got away, but the unfortunate cattle were torn to bits at the hands of the
frenzied women. The cowherd ends his story with another plea that the king receive the new,
powerful god, and his gifts, into Thebes. But once again Pentheus ignores the supernatural signs
in this story and focuses on the unruliness and madness of the maenads. He is shocked that
mere women can yield such power and he decides to capture and kill all of them.
Dionysus steps in at this point and begins to tempt and ensnare Pentheus's imagination. The
stranger promises to show Pentheus the rites of the maenads and the king is fascinated.
Dionysus further argues that the king must go in disguise and thus avoid the same fate as the
cattle. Pentheus is suspicious for a moment but soon capitulates. Dionysus begins to describe
each item of the disguise the king must wear: long hair, long skirts, a thyrsus and a fawnskin.
Pentheus is thrilled at the opportunity of being able to see first hand all he has imagined and
suspected thus far. Dionysus further argues that this covert action is better than spilling blood.
Pentheus is ensnared.
Interlude III
The third interlude, like the third scene is also in three parts. Unlike the last interlude, the tone
of the chorus is now relieved, triumphant and exhilarated. Once more the chorus goes over the
events of the last scene and is heartened by the success of their leader, Dionysus. They imagine
themselves to be a deer, running through the forest, free from the clutches of a hunter. 'What is
wisdom?' they ask themselves and decide that wisdom is vengeance. They now see the hand of
god working and sense that justice is near. They sing about both glorious escape and the sweet
joys of divine revenge.
ANALYSIS

The longest and pivotal scene of the play is divided into three parts: the palace miracles told
twice; the cowherd's account of the fantastical activities of the maddened bacchants on the
mountain; the second exchange between Pentheus and Dionysus in which Pentheus agrees to
dress up as a woman.
The divine voice of Dionysus is heard from offstage and is solemn, grand and terrifying and
this commanding and powerful form of the god is directly contrasted with the Stranger, who
walks on stage straight after. The Stranger is calm, collected, and even a little amused.
Dionysus the god is clearly different from Dionysus in disguise, and yet they are the same.
Moreover they exist in their different forms simultaneously, as is shown in the double telling of
the same miracles. While the audience and the chorus were hearing the divine god give the
command for the earthquake, the Stranger was inside the palace torturing Pentheus.
Since the start of the play Dionysus has been demonstrating the range and intensity of his
powers. While the initial powers were benign and peaceful, he is now beginning to show his
fearful aspect. Dionysus first uses force to (literally) shake up Pentheus and his palace, then
illusion to neutralize Pentheus' brute physical responses. All the series of little illusions
Pentheus wrestling with a bull, running around the palace in panic and battling with shadows

are meant to be somewhat comic. Dionysus is beginning to strip the king of his so called
powers and turn him into an object of ridicule.
The toppling of the palace is both a visual symbol for Pentheus's collapsing authority and a sign
of the imminent disintegration of his sanity, for Pentheus will soon be dismantled
psychologically. Dionysus knows that Pentheus has a rather obsessive fascination with the
secret activities of the maenads and so the Stranger uses this to bait the king. Pentheus is
completely enraptured with the idea and thus agrees to dress up as a woman. Pentheus's
inability to make sensible decisions is clearly exposed. By the end of this scene not only have
the roles of king and prisoner inverted themselves, but so have the male-female and hunterprey relationships. This last switch of hunter-prey is picked up by the chorus in the third and
most poetic interlude of the play. The song opens with a sensation of joyful relief, expressed in
the simile of a fawn who has escaped its hunter and is running in the forest free and alone. In
contrast the chorus' now clamor for sweet revenge. They call their god a hunter who has begun
to destroy the impious Pentheus. In just this one simile the chorus points to the ambiguity that
lies at the heart of Dionysus and his rites. By recapitulating the recent power shift using
bacchic motifs, the chorus turns the story of Pentheus into yet another story of the triumph of
their god and thus acts as the perfect propaganda machine.

Scene IV & Interlude IV


Summary

Scene IV
As he does in Scene II, Dionysus takes the stage and calls upon Pentheus to enter. Pentheus, "so
eager to see what [he] should not see, and strive to achieve what should not be sought," enters
dressed as a female bacchant. It is the god Dionysus who now overtly controls the conversation
and manipulates Pentheus as he would a puppet. The transvestite Pentheus, stung by a little
Dionysian madness, sees everything double and hallucinates, believing that the Stranger is a
bull. They converse in couplets, mostly about what Pentheus is wearing and how he looks. The
foolish king is very pleased with his costume and asks Dionysus whether he walks and stands
like his mother. Dionysus humors the vain and ridiculous king, even tucking in a stray curl. Just
as a director would correct an actor, or a parent a child, Dionysus arranges Pentheus's hair, skirt
and posture. The god pretends to serve the king but begins to allude that a special fate awaits
him. Pentheus is excited about his mission and cannot wait to catch the maenads. With each
line, Pentheus's pathetic sense of self- importance grows, as does the violence in Dionysus's
warnings. The scene ends with a speedy, dramatic exchange between the two in half-lines,
where Dionysus declares that Pentheus will be brought back to Thebes in a special state and at
the hands of his mother. Dionysus hustles Pentheus out and declares himself the winner of this
contest.
Interlude IV
Bloodthirsty and vengeful, this fourth song resembles the third in form but not in tone or metre.
The excited women in the chorus summon the spirit of Frenzy and urge it to the mountaintop,
which Pentheus, at that moment, climbs towards. They imagine the mad Agaue standing on a
cliff, catching the lurking Pentheus and crying out to her fellow maenads to attack him. The
chorus' imagining of the scene is not a foreshadowing of the exact details of Pentheus's death,
but rather a re-working of the cowherd's account of the attack on the cattle. The chorus sings
about Pentheus's vicious impiety and stresses the dangers of failing to honor the gods and lead
a balanced life. The chorus summons Dionysus in his awesome, bestial forms of bull, snake,
and lion and demands the blood of Pentheus.
ANALYSIS

In this last encounter between the two principle characters, the audience sees a fully
transformed Pentheus. He has compromised his social authority, his sexuality, identity, and
even his mind. The king is now ready to be led into Dionysus's hilly realm, chained by
fawnskins, garlands and long hair. Pentheus's transformation is not just external but internal,
and this is shown by his thinking that he sees a double sun. In the Greek literary tradition,
seeing a double sun symbolized insanity and here Pentheus's sighting of the double sun signals
the complete disintegration of his mind. Ironically, it is in his mad state that Pentheus sees the
true form of the Strangeras a horned bull. As in many other parts of the play, this inversion
of sanity and madness points to the power Dionysus yields over the human mind and the folly
of trying to control Dionysus with reason.

This cross-dressing scene has many levels of meanings that are both tragic and comic. If
examined in ritual terms, this final encounter can be called two things. First, it is an epiphany,
or a true appearance, of the god in his bull- like form (see Symbols). The bacchants crave such
an appearance of the god at all times and this is his second such appearance, the first being the
divine voice heard in the third scene. Second, it is also a "dedication" of Pentheus as a sacrifice
to the god. Pentheus is ritually dressed, prepared, and led to the slaughter, all for the glory of
the god. Third, the scene also uses the bacchic ritual structure of procession-to-contest-tocelebration. Pentheus is not mystically transformed or reborn, as in bacchic rituals, for, after
all, this is a charade of a ritual. Pentheus is guilty not only of denying Dionysus and insulting
him but also of being a sacrilegious imposter who wishes to spy on the god's devotees. This
scene suggests that because Pentheus has infringed upon the rituals of Dionysus, it is fitting
that he die in a ritual fashion. On yet another level, the god shows how Pentheuswho had all
along claimed that bacchic rites were a charade and a cover for drunken misbehavior and sexual
transgressionwill find out how real these bacchic rituals are. If examined in theatrical terms,
this final encounter also becomes richly self- referential, as Euripides calls attention to the
theater's creation of illusion, the use of masks, and the place of what is true and what is false.
More specifically, this is a comic reference to the tradition in Greek drama of the role of
women being played by men. Besides a humorous gesture to theater, this scene also illustrates
the more serious and dangerous aspects of that art. Pentheus is shown to completely lose his
identity as a man and as a king and end up being seduced by the role he is playing. He is so lost
in his part that he cannot see the death that awaits him, even when Dionysus explicitly states it.
Here, acting transforms not just one's physical appearance but also one's being. Second,
Dionysus, the god of theater, is himself playing a role while directing the entire charade and
thus once more demonstrates his mastery over truth, illusion and man. Perhaps actors are truly
at the mercy of the theatre gods.

Scene V & Interlude V


Summary

Scene V
The whole scene, besides a brief exchange of greetings, is taken up by the Second Messenger's
account of Pentheus's death, an account delivered to the chorus. The chorus women had called
for Pentheus's blood in their last ode, and that is what they got. The mourning messenger enters
the palace courtyard and tells the chorus that his master, Pentheus, is dead. The chorus rejoices
at the news, shocking the messenger with its bloodthirstiness, and asks him to give an in-depth
explanation of the death.
The messenger begins his tale. The three men climbed up the hill and found themselves in a
valley looking onto a glen enclosed by cliffs. The women were sitting within the glen and under
some fir trees, mending their robes and garlands. Pentheus could not see the throng of women
and got impatient for a better view. He tells the Stranger that he cannot see anything and that he
wants to climb the cliffs and perch on a tree and thus catch the women in all their
shamefulness. In response, the Stranger amazingly lowers a tall fir tree with his hands and puts
Pentheus on the tip of the tree. The Stranger then slowly straightens the tree. The moment the
tree is straightened, Pentheus is exposed to the maenads and the Stranger disappears. A voice
from the heavens declares Pentheus an enemy and commands his furious bacchants to destroy
him. As in scene III the divine voice is accompanied by a fiery glow in the heavens and
followed by an eerie silence. Led by Agaue, whose mouth is frothing and whose eyes are
rolling, the bacchants reach the tree and try to stone the king with rocks and branches. But
Pentheus, stuck on a tree, was too high for their missiles. They try to tear out the roots of the
tree but do not have a lever strong enough. Finally they form a circle round the tree and use
their hands to shake and drag the tree down. Pentheus falls to the ground, helpless. He makes
one last effort to save himself and piteously cries out to his mother to recognize him and
forgive his errors. But the queen, driven mad by the bacchic rites, does not respond and instead
grasps her son's arm and pulls it out if its socket. All the other maenads tear apart his body and
scatter the pieces all over the hillside. The crazed mother then seizes her son's decapitated
head, as if it is a trophy, and begins to walk towards Thebes thanking Dionysus, whom she
refers to as her "fellow hunter." The messenger hastily ends his tale here for he wants to leave
before the tragic woman returns.
Interlude V
To maintain the urgency of the moment, the chorus launches into a brief song, first triumphant
over Pentheus's death and then acknowledging the horror of a mother ripping up her son.
ANALYSIS

Pentheus's death in the hands of Dionysus was more or less declared in Dionysus's address to
the audience, but the exact, horrific details were withheld until this very last moment. In this
climactic scene the messenger vividly and carefully retells Pentheus's gory and brutal
sparagmos, or ritual dismemberment. Each particular detail of Pentheus's death reinforces,

echoes or builds on previous hints given in the play.


Importantly, this scene can also be seen as a summary of the main characters and dynamics.
When the three men reach the glen, Pentheus is unable to see the maenads, the way that he
cannot see Dionysus's powers or person throughout the play. It is his own greed and folly of
wanting to see what is forbidden that traps him. All of these details suggest that he is not
merely a Dionysian scapegoat but actually responsible for his own fate. When Dionysus arches
the tall fir tree and releases it slowly, he displays both his supernatural powers and also his
self-control and patience. Once Pentheus falls to the ground, he reaches out to stroke his
mother's cheek and begs her not to kill him and it is only at this last moment that Pentheus
understands the full extent of Dionysus' powers. The god's control over human minds is
stronger than even the most fundamental bond between a mother and a son. Pentheus's death
turns slightly tragic only at the very end because he seems repentant when he acknowledges his
errors. There is no doubt that the audience feels the greatest pathos for his mother Agaue.
This dramatic scene can also be seen as composed of multiple narrative and spatial circles,
which then implode into each other. At the core rest the maenads, happy among themselves and
in their tasks. They are encircled by Dionysus, Pentheus, and the messenger. The chorus
restlessly watches over and encircles this arrangement and finally the audience watches over
the chorus. Once the maenads discover Pentheus, he becomes part of the main circle. And, in
the same manner, once the chorus hears the news of the messenger, it becomes an active
character in the main action of the play.
The norms of Greek theater required that distant, violent actions happen offstage. In The
Bacchae this tradition helps add force and shock to the drama instead of diminishing it. A
carefully written account told by a compelling voice is ultimately more powerful than an
enactment of something as visceral as the dismemberment of a human body. For no theatrical
production could stage Pentheus's dramatic dismemberment at the hands of maenads
completely convincingly. Such horror could only take place in the imaginations of the audience
themselves.

Conclusion & Coda


Summary

Conclusion
Agaue, still possessed by the god, triumphantly enters the palace gates with the head of her son
in her arms, thinking it a lion's head. She converses with the chorus rapidly, unable to contain
her excitement at the result of her "happy hunting." The chorus echoes her deluded words sadly,
but still humoring her madness. The queen is "overjoyedat achieving great and manifest
things" and wishes to share her joy with her father and her son, Pentheus, and asks that they be
summoned. She even calls for her son to come and nail the head of her hunt to the wall of the
palace. Cadmus enters the palace, bringing with him the rest of Pentheus's remains. He is full
of sadness for his daughter and bemoans the destruction of his lineage at the hands of Bromios.
Agaue greets her father happily and continues to boast about her hunt. The father gently brings
his daughter's mind back to the present moment and to what she holds in her hands through a
series of questions. First he asks her to look at the sky and see if it appears as it always does.
The queen replies that the sky is brighter for it seems to have a holy glow. Cadmus then
suggests that perhaps there is an excitement inside her that colors what is outside. Once Agaue
begins to understand this difference, she comes out of her trance. Cadmus then asks her whom
she married and to whom she gave birth. Once she takes his name, Cadmus asks her to tell him
what she is holding. She first replies a lion, but then declares "what I see is grief, deep grief,
and misery for me!" She does not, however, remember why she holds the head of her son and
has to be told by her father, thus intensifying the tragedy of the situation.
At this point a large chunk of the text is missing. The scene picks up with the two still
lamenting their fate and examining the reasons for Pentheus's death. Cadmus remembers his
grandson fondly and talks of how Pentheus had to pay for the sins of the entire family, for they
denied Dionysus at the time of his birth. Once again there is an ellipsis in the text and the scene
continues with Dionysus on stage, in his divine form, on the roof of the palace. Dionysus
proclaims the future of the family: Agaue will be banished from Thebes while Cadmus and his
wife will turn into serpents and invade Greek lands with barbarian hordes. Finally however the
god Ares will rescue Cadmus and his wife and send them to the land of the blessed. Cadmus
and Agaue lament their fates and exchange tearful final goodbyes.
Coda
The chorus chants the last unremarkable five lines of the play and marches off the stage. It
sings about the power of the gods and the gods' ability to obtain the improbable. Euripides used
the very same verses in three other plays.
ANALYSIS

The Bacchae is a family tragedy, but as any audience will attest, it is more singularly Agaue's
tragedy, which is all the more remarkable given that the queen only appears on stage for one
scene. In fact, besides Pentheus, the Cadmus family (Cadmus and Agaue) only appears in the

first and last scenes, while the core of the drama exclusively involves Dionysus and Pentheus.
By keeping the Cadmus family at the periphery of the main action, Euripides uses them as
background, frame and context. They amplify and filter the core events, but have no part in
those events as physical characters on the stage. They also serve as commentators and critics
(in theatrical terms they are an audience) on the core events and it is largely in the last scene
that they get to flesh out various themes. Both members do accept responsibility for what
happened to Pentheus, but in two different ways they also criticize Dionysus's justice. Agaue's
heart- wrenching grief and murderous guilt testifies to Dionysus's excessive, harsh and cruel
revenge. Cadmus reproaches Dionysus twice, directly saying that the god's retributive justice
did not fit the offense. However, the god merely brushes these two laments aside with the
fatalistic comment that Zeus set up a world of harsh gods.
While Euripides follows a number of formal classical traditions in The Bacchae, such as a
complicated chorus and the use of messenger, he diverges quite starkly from Aristotle's ideal of
drama. In classical Greek drama, and as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics, there is also a
moment of recognition at the very end when our hero, full of hubris, realizes his error and
passes from ignorance to knowledge. This is tied to the moment of catharsis for the audience,
or the moment of the release of the emotions that had been built up before. Finally, there is a
hearty lament. Pentheus does not truly repent and re-evaluate his mistake, nor indulge in
metaphysical musings. He merely uses the word "error" in the one line where he begs his
mother not to kill him. Importantly, too, the audience does not explicitly learn anything about
Dionysus except that he wants Pentheus to show deference toward him. And the main "secret"
of the play, Dionysus's disguise, is known from the start. Instead, Euripides writes a shocking,
long, and pathos-filled lament. This disproportionate (in classical terms) emphasis on the
lament signals two things: both the excessive cruelty and the absolute power of Dionysus.
One of the reasons that the last scenedepicting a demented Agaue proudly brandishing the
head of her sonis effective because it is a acted out on the main stage instead of being
relayed by messengers. Previously, all the gory, disturbing and violent actions of the play, such
as the killing of the cattle and the palace miracles, had taken place offstage and were
subsequently retold to the audience as a story. When this scene is actually played out, the
audience is still fresh and able to be deeply shocked. Euripides does not flinch from gruesome
touches such as having Agaue piece together the son she tore apart. Moreover, in this last
gesture, the audience realizes that it is not just Pentheus's body that must be reconstructed but
also the moral of the story and the future of both Cadmus and Agaue. Tragically, some pieces
will always be missing.

Important Quotations Explained


Cadmus: [B]ut your reprisals are too severe!
Dionysus: Yes, because I am a god, and you insulted me.
Cadmus: Gods should not resemble men in their anger!
Dionysus: Long ago Zeus my father approved these things.
In the last scene of the play, old Cadmus is filled with grief at the death of his grandson, and he
sums up the recent events and tries to make sense of them. Like Agaue he realizes that
Pentheus was wrong in insulting and apposing Dionysus, but he also thinks that the god was too
harsh. Cadmus repeats this last heart-felt sentiment twice in the last scene and is the only
character in the play to directly reproach Dionysus. The structure of the last scene, the length of
the lament and the intensity of the pity we feel for Agaue are such that Euripides himself seems
to weigh onto Cadmus's side, even though the playwright's portrayal of Pentheus has been
unfavorable throughout. Dionysus's answer to Cadmus's objection implies that no punishment
can be too great for insulting a god. The chorus supports this sentiment, insisting throughout
the play that the punishment for impiety must be death. However, Cadmus correctly recognizes
that the god was not just punishing impiety but taking revenge for his wounded pride, a motive
one would hope gods could overcome.
Dionysus: Follow, and I shall go as your escort and protector, though another shall bring
you back
Pentheus: Yes, my mother
Dionysus: as a sight for all.
Pentheus: It is for this that I come.
Dionysus: You will be carried here
Pentheus: That is pampering me
Dionysus: In your mother's arms.
Pentheus: And you will make me really spoiled!
Dionysus: Yes, spoiled-in a special way.
This quick exchange of half-lines between the two primary characters of the play in scene four
accelerates the drama and emotional tension of the previous three scenes and represents a
climax in its own right. Dionysus here is sketching out Pentheus's fate in the next scene when
"another shall bring you back." The god further says that Pentheus's mother will bring him back
"as a sight for all" and she does indeed bring his head back as a hunting trophy. The last two

lines are a play on the word 'spoil,' a word rooted in the verb "to break up" and thus an ironic
allusion to Pentheus's dismemberment. In this short exchange, we can clearly see Pentheus
completely under Dionysus's sway, following his every instruction. We also notice Pentheus's
complete egoism in the way he interprets all of Dionysus's words in the manner that most
favors him, and thus makes himself absurd to the audience, which understands full-well
Dionysus's plans.
You have a glib tongue, as though in your right mind, Yet in your words there is no real
sense Wretched man, how ignorant you are of what you are saying! Before you were out of
your mind-but now you are raving mad.
In the first of the many inversions of sanity and madness in the play, Tiresias tries in scene one
to make Pentheus see the irrationality of his reasoning and the rational basis for Dionysus's
madness. Inversions of the meanings and fluidity of 'madness' comprise a major theme in the
play. Some of the questions raised by these inversions, and not necessarily answered by the
play, are: What constitutes Pentheus's madness? What does it imply about the state of madness
when its god is so controlled? Is religious ecstasy madness, or is rationalism madness? Can one
induce madness or do the gods impose it? Must a society make room for a little collective
madness or disintegration as in wine drinking and theater? Can a society indulge the benign
forms of madness and exclude the more horrific forms?
What is wisdom? Or what fairer gift from the gods in men's eyes than to hold the hand of
power over the head of one's enemies? And 'what is fair is always followed.'
This dense refrain from the third ode is an attempt by the chorus to find a moral reason to
justify revenge. Its last segment is a proverb from Plato, which seems to mean that one pursues
what is to one's advantage, which is what one finds beautiful or "fair." If there is no "fairer gift
from the gods in men's eyes" than defeating one's enemies, then subduing one's enemies is a
gift from god. The chorus twists the meaning of the word fair, using it to mean 'fine' in one
place and 'advantageous' in another. Another reason this refrain is important is because it goes
against what the chorus has been preaching so far. In the first ode, wisdom meant obeying the
gods and the laws and living moderately. In the present circumstances, the chorus finds a
special argument to deal with Pentheus and their desire to see him punished. Therefore, when
they try to define wisdom here, they say that as complications arise and dilemma follows
dilemma, why look further than one's personal advantage at present? This advantage lies in
destroying their persecutor, an act which has been sanctioned conveniently by the gods.
Wisdom, therefore, now demands the punishment of Pentheus.
Agaue: Father, since you see how my fortunes have utterly changed
[long passage missing from original text]
Dionysus: you shall be turned into a serpent, and your wife shall change into a savage
form of a snake
This is the first of the two major lacunas in the last scene and it is impossible to tell how
Agaue's utterance was completed or how long it was. In his commentary to the play, Geoffrey

S. Kirk talks of an ancient summary, dated in 3 A.D., that does show what happened in these
gaps, for it uses Agaue's lament as an example of arousing pity effectively. The ancient Greek
author of the summary refers to Agaue as accusing herself for her child's death, holding each
one of his limbs and lamenting piece by piece. In such a case, the missing chunk (of text) must
have been quite long, also however the addition of just one verse would not have provided a
sufficiently dramatic occasion for the entry and epiphany of Dionysus.
In our version, the god appears on top of the building at the back of the stage, a place reserved
for the presentation of gods in their own person, which was usually a stern, bearded mask. And
if the god appears at the very end of the play to terminate the action from this special position
it is called a deus ex machina (the Latin phase meaning "god in a machine" because in some
texts the god appears on a crane). This last trope is not a convenient cover for an unresolved
play or an inadequate conclusion, but rather is Euripides attempt to be loyal to the underlying
Greek myth upon which the play is based, that of Dionysus's power and ultimate control.
Dionysus has been both the director and an actor throughout the play and therefore his
appearance is particularly apt.

Key Facts
full title The Bacchae
author Euripides
type of work Play
genre Tragedy
language Greek
time and place written Macedonia, 406 BCE
date of first publication Performed first in 409 or 408 BCE
publisher Euripides's sons first put the play on after his death.
narrator not applicable (drama)
point of view not applicable (drama)
tone Euripides's moral tone and position in this tale, like Dionysus's nature, is highly
ambiguous. The playwright neither condemns nor glorifies Dionysus but rather explores the
multiple forms of the god and his relation to the human individual and society.
tense not applicable (drama)
setting (time) 406 BCE
setting (place) Royal Palace at Thebes, including a tomb and ruined house on one side of the
stage.
protagonist Dionysus
major conflict Dionysus the protagonist arrives in Thebes to demonstrate his divinity and
punish the family of Cadmus. The King of Thebes, Pentheus, is a violent opponent of Dionysian
worship and rites.
rising action Dionysus disguises himself as a Lydian bacchant, the Stranger, and along with
his group of maenads, enters Thebes. Pentheus orders soldiers to arrest him, Dionysus only too
willingly allows himself to be taken. In three encounters Dionysus talks, tricks, and converts
Pentheus into becoming a voyeuristic transvestite who goes to watch the bacchic rites.
climax A frenzied Agaue dismembers her own son Pentheus.
falling action Agaue takes her son's head back to Thebes still under the delusion that it is a

lion's head. Cadmus finally makes her see the truth.


themes The balance between control and freedom in a healthy society or mind; the nature of
theater; duality
motifs Hunting; disguise; nature's gifts and curses
symbols Fawnskin; Hair; Bull
foreshadowing Pentheus's fate is foreshadowed very early in the play. In the first scene the
old seer Tiresias warns Pentheus not to offend the gods or he will suffer the same fate as
Actaeon "whom the carnivorous hounds he reared tore apart when he boasted that he was better
at hunting than [the goddess] Artemis."

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics


Study Questions
Why is Dionysus, as the Stranger, perceived as dangerous by Pentheus?
The long-haired, ruddy-cheeked, laughing Dionysus displays no overtly frightening qualities,
but Pentheus takes an instant dislike to him. To Pentheusmdash;the ruler of Thebes and the
protector of law and orderthe luxurious stranger is Eastern and Barbarian, insidiously
beautiful and suspiciously charming. In Pentheus's scheme, in a tightly controlled society such
as his there can be no room even for Dionysus's less intense powers, for even they involve
relaxing restraints and breaking barriers, antithetical to Pentheus's sovereign rigor. Pentheus
sees himself as protecting a civilized society and does not want a force in his realm that he
cannot imprison, let alone control. As the chorus sings, Dionysus not only disrupts civic order.
Dionysus is "that which cannot be conquered." His fundamental antipathy towards Dionysus
and what he represents leads Pentheus to brand the bacchic revelers as profligate, accusing
them of lawlessness. Aside from the threat to the kingdom, Dionysus appears to Pentheus as a
threat to him personally. He realizes, in the course of their conversations, that Dionysus has the
upper hand, that is, that the reasoning of irrationality is stronger than himself. He is driven to
question his own beliefs, and loses his willpower, ending up in Dionysus's grasp. He is finally
forced to acknowledge that the licentiousness he had condemned is what he is drawn to and
wants to witness.
Can Dionysus be called a champion of women?
Historically the cults of Dionysus had male members, but in the play, curiously, both the
chorus and the mountaintop maenads are exclusively women. This is made more remarkable by
the fact that none of Dionysus's powers are specifically meant to benefit women. That said, we
might ask, why are women shown to be Dionysus's primary devotees? One answer lies in
perceptions of the female gender and the nature of the god. Driven to madness before the action
even begins, women are portrayed in the play as vulnerable and prone to frenzy and hysteria
such a perception is common to many cultures. The madness of the women forms a backdrop,
assumed to nature itself and its power. Supposedly submissive by nature, women were also
seen as more suited to the submission inherent in collective cult practices. Such an analysis is
supported by the manner in which Pentheus goes mad. His descent into insanity is signaled by
his dressing like a woman, his feminine fussing over his clothes, and his affected speech. Far
from Dionysus being a champion of women, in the play women are victims as much as men
are. While Pentheus's death is justified, though perhaps excessive, the tragedy that befalls his
mother, Agaue, is surely the weightier one, for she is innocent and must live to bear the burden.
Do Euripides's sympathies lie with either Dionysus or Pentheus? Does he articulate a clear
moral position in the play?
While Euripides certainly draws a very clear line between the established positions of Dionysus
and Pentheus, the position of the playwright himself is clearly ambiguous. When Euripides
splits the god to both divine and mortal, he also splits his own judgment of the deity. On the

one hand he creates a calm, attractive Dionysus, one who interacts with mortals and tries to
persuade personally. On the other hand, the divine form of Dionysus, which speaks from
offstage, is intractable, curt and ruthless. The question arises, however, if the dark, divine side
of Dionysus's character is the necessary corollary to the festive, lighter side. Pentheus believes
that the dangerous potential in Dionysian disorder is great enough so as to justify disallowing
even the innocent pleasures of wine and song. Euripides's answer, however, is not firm. He
hints only at the importance of wisdom in maintaining the chaos of Dionysian passion at a
distance while enjoying the communal festivities promised by the Stranger and unjustly
rejected by Pentheus. Despite what Euripides may think about the moral integrity of Dionysus,
Euripides indicates that Dionysus's moral ambiguity is part of the absurdity associated with
having faith in the Gods. When Cadmus tells Dionysus that he should not act with human-like
vengeance, Dionysus retorts, "Long ago Zeus my father approved these things." Like the
unpleasant or absurd nature of many religious texts and stories, accepting Dionysus means
putting ultimate faith in the knowledge of the Gods and what they have pre-ordained.
Suggested Essay Topics
Does Pentheus have a 'tragic flaw' in his character? If so, what is it? What are the various
character traits attributed to King Pentheus: (a) as a king? (b) as a man?
What is the role of the chorus in the play? Is the chorus morally neutral?
Is there perhaps a second tragedy in the drama such as that of Agaue?
What are the various qualities of character of the God Dionysus?
How does Dionysus gain and wield influence over Pentheus as the play proceeds? To what
extent does Pentheus have the power to resist Dionysus?

Quiz
How is Dionysus related to Pentheus?
(A) They are brothers
(B) Pentheus is Dionysus's alter ego
(C) Dionysus is Pentheus's son
(D) Dionysus and Pentheus are first cousins
Why does Dionysus return to Thebes?
(A) To seduce the women of the city
(B) To kill Pentheus
(C) To please Zeus
(D) To punish the house of Cadmus for denying his divinity
How was Dionysus born?
(A) From lightening
(B) From the thigh of Zeus
(C) From a bull
(D) From Hera
What do the maenads wear?
(A) Woolen cloaks
(B) A garland of flowers
(C) Fawnskins
(D) Birthday suits
At the start of the play, what does Tiresias ask Cadmus to do?
(A) Attend a singing and dancing festival
(B) Flee Thebes and join the Zeus cult
(C) Put on ivy and deerskin and join the bacchantes in the mountains
(D) Rescue Agaue from the mountains
What is Dionysus's primary attribute according to Tiresias?
(A) He is the god of wine and thus eases pain and brings joy
(B) He is the god of destruction and must be placated
(C) He is the god illusion
(D) He is the god of good health and longevity
How does the Stranger (Dionysus) respond to his arrest?
(A) He turns into many snakes and slithers off

(B) He is gentle and offers his hands willingly


(C) He threatens the guards but does not put up a physical fight
(D) The guards are unable to chain him, and he disappears into the hills
What is the first thing Pentheus wants to do to his prisoner Dionysus?
(A) Cut off his locks
(B) Cut off his hands
(C) Imprison him
(D) Take his thyrsus
According to Dionysus what character trait is responsible for Pentheus's ignorance and inability
to see the divinity of Dionysus?
(A) Arrogance
(B) Anger
(C) Impiety
(D) Lust
After Dionysus's imprisonment what is the first disaster to strike the palace?
(A) A fire
(B) An earthquake
(C) A flood
(D) Hornets
What is the first illusion Pentheus suffers in the hands of Dionysus?
(A) He ties up a bull instead of the Stranger
(B) He thinks his palace is destroyed
(C) He sees his mother die
(D) He sees a group of dancing women
According to the cowherd, what were the bacchants doing when he first saw them?
(A) Drinking wine and dancing
(B) Tearing up animals and eating raw flesh
(C) They were sleeping peacefully and then they woke up to the rising sun
(D) Cavorting with strangers
According to the cowherd, what comes out of the ground when the bacchants strike it?
(A) Blood
(B) Milk
(C) Milk, water, honey and wine
(D) Honey
According to the cowherd what do the bacchants plan to do when they find out he is spying on

them?
(A) Wait to see if he is male or female and then sing a gender appropriate song
(B) Invite him to join their feast
(C) Attack him and tear him to pieces
(D) Seduce him
What is the one forest creature closely associated with the bacchants?
(A) Lion
(B) Snake
(C) Fox
(D) Bull
How does Dionysus finally tempt Pentheus?
(A) With the possibility of watching the rites of the bacchants
(B) With the possibility of extending his kingdom
(C) With the possibility of killing the bacchants
(D) With the possibility of rescuing his mother
What disguise must Pentheus wear when he leaves the city with Dionysus?
(A) He must dress as a deer
(B) He must dress as a male bacchant
(C) He must dress as a female bacchant
(D) He must dress as a shepherd
As Pentheus leaves the city, what does he see Dionysus turn into?
(A) A fawn
(B) A female bacchant
(C) A lion
(D) A bull
What act does Pentheus's imagination dwell upon when he is about to spy on the bacchants?
(A) Love-making
(B) Tearing a heifer's body apart with their hands
(C) Drinking wine and dancing with abandon on the hill
(D) Suckling baby wolves
How does Pentheus become vulnerable to the bacchants?
(A) He creeps in too close and is seen
(B) He climbs a fir tree and is seen
(C) He gasps and is heard, then seen
(D) He brazenly walks into their circle

What are Pentheus's last words?


(A) He begs Dionysus for forgiveness
(B) He pleads with this mother to recognize him as her son
(C) He cries out against Dionysus and fate
(D) He weeps
What does Agaue proudly think she is carrying into the city?
(A) The head of a bull
(B) The head of a young lion
(C) The head of Thebes's enemy
(D) The head of the Stranger
How does Agaue recognize her prey?
(A) Cadmus reminds her of who she is and asks what is in her hands
(B) Cadmus tells her
(C) Dionysus lifts the delusion and makes her see
(D) The chorus tells her
What does Dionysus ordain for Cadmus?
(A) He will set out on sea and remain shipwrecked till his death
(B) He will remain in ruined Thebes and tell all who come about the penalties of disparaging a
god
(C) He will follow his daughter to the ends of the world
(D) He will turn into a snake and, with a horde of barbarians, invade cities
What does Dionysus ordain for Agaue?
(A) She will lead her father to Hades
(B) She will die from a snakebite
(C) She will be exiled, with her sisters but apart from her father
(D) She will be a bacchant roaming the hills till the end of her life

Suggestions for Further Reading


Dodd, E.R. The Greeks and the Irrationals. Boston, Beacon Press, 1957.
Knott, Jan. The Eating of the Gods: An Interpretation of Greek Tragedy. New York: Random
House, 1974.
Carpenter, Thomas H. and Christopher A. Faraone, Eds. Masks of Dionysus. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1993.
Oranje, Hans. Euripides' Bacchae: the play and its audience. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1984.
Segal, Erich, Ed. Euripides: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1968.
Winnington-Ingram, R.P. Euripides and Dionysus: An Interpretation of the Bacchae.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948.
Rosenmeyer, Thomas. The Masks of Tragedy; Essays on Six Greek Tragedies. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1963.
Segal, Charles. Introduction in Bakkhai, trans. by Reginald Gibbons. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2001. Greek Tragedies in New Translations Series.
Winkler, John J., and Froma I. Zeithin. Nothing to do with Dionysus? Athenian Drama in its
Social Context. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

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Table of Contents
Prologue and Parodos
in-depth analysis of Dionysus.
in-depth analysis of Pentheus.