Ancient History & Civilisation



The Bacchae is in some ways the quintessential Greek tragedy, not only because of its emotional intensity and potent dramatic ironies, but because it deals with the god of the dramatic festivals. It dramatizes the vengeance of Dionysus, newly arrived in Greece, upon the hapless King Pentheus, who not only refuses to offer him worship but threatens and imprisons him and tries to hunt down his followers. The theme is traditional. Aeschylus had composed a Pentheus, and indeed seems to have presented a whole trilogy which dealt with Dionysus’ confrontation with his opponents. This is a recurring theme in Greek mythology: a mortal defies a god, and is punished (thus in the Iliad Patroclus overreaches himself in battle, defying the warning of Apollo to fall back, and Apollo strikes him down; and Niobe, who boasted she had borne more children than the goddess Leto, was forced to witness Leto’s children Apollo and Artemis destroying her own). Gods can work their will from afar (as does Aphrodite in Hippolytus or Hera in Heracles), but here the god not only appears in the prologue, but dominates the play, playing an active part in the events, though in disguise. Here again we have a recurring motif, that of the god who walks among men in order to test their piety. As far as we can see, it was uncommon by this date for a god to play so prominent a part in the action of a Greek tragedy: elsewhere in Euripides’ work they figure in prologue or epilogue, occasionally in both, but the main part of the play focuses on the human actors. Things were different on the stage of Aeschylus, and this is one of a number of ways in which the play can be seen as ‘archaic’ in design.

The story patterns we have already identified in the play make it obvious that the conclusion will be the triumphant vengeance of the god and the punishment of the human transgressor: such is the nature of Greek religion, at least as presented in serious drama. But the position is complicated by the identity of the god. All Greek divinities have their terrifying aspects, but Dionysus is a particularly complex figure, hard to assess. He is a bringer of joy and celebration, but also the cause of violence and madness. Even the gift of wine is two-edged, but Dionysus is far more than the god of drinking: he is a god of inspiration and intoxication in every form. In this play he is also a god of the wild: he and his votaries are at home on the mountain-side, and the departure of the Theban women for the hills is seen by Pentheus as a threat to the political order of the male-dominated polis. Dionysus is represented as a new arrival in Greece, exotic, alien, sinister, yet seductive. In the play itself he and the cult he represents are seen in many different lights, none of which does full justice to the god. Does he bring salvation or chaos, ecstasy or insanity? He himself declares that he is ‘most gentle to mortals’, but also ‘most terrible’ (861).

It has often been assumed that the Bacchae shows us what the Greeks actually believed about Dionysus, and that Bacchic rites involving slaughter of beasts (perhaps even men) were practised in ancient Greece, if only in prehistoric times. Caution is necessary here: the play is a mythical drama, set in the distant past. The idea that Dionysus was originally a foreign god and only imported into Greek religion at a relatively late stage has been exploded by the discovery of the god’s name in Linear B tablets, over 500 years before Euripides’ birth (cf. note 3). Similarly the play must not be treated as a window on to Athenian reality. It is indeed important that the terrible events of the play take place in Thebes, not Athens: as often, other cities suffer horrors and experience supernatural assaults of a kind which the tragic poets refrain from inflicting on their own city, even in myth. Even in the mythical world of the play, it is made clear that Agaue and the rest of the Theban women are not ‘normal’ maenads, unlike the chorus: they have been driven mad by Dionysus and forced to the hills: at one point they are experiencing a wondrous closeness to nature and performing miracles, at another they are filled with supernatural strength and murderous violence. This kind of maenadism cannot correspond with any historical reality. It seems, in any case, that actual maenadism (meaning the ecstatic worship of Dionysus by women) was not a feature of Athenian cults of the gods, though there is clear evidence that it did exist in Thebes – in a more moderate and regulated form than the uncontrollable and violent frenzy of the Theban women in the Bacchae. Athenian women sometimes journeyed to take part in the Theban celebrations, but at fixed times and for a brief period, after which they returned to their accustomed domestic lives. In short, myth exaggerates and tragedy dramatizes: what is terrible and dangerous in myth is orderly and ritualized in cult. Art and poetry naturally prefer the more dramatic and exotic versions of Dionysiac ritual.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the play is the interaction between Dionysus and Pentheus, whereby the king, at first blustering defiance of the god, gradually falls under his influence and becomes first his butt, finally his victim. The characterization of Pentheus is a fascinating study. He could have been made a majestic but misguided king, rather like Eteocles in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes or Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone. Or he might have been a stock tyrant, like Lycus in the Heracles, whose overthrow no spectator mourns: the play would have been a straightforward vindication of the god. Instead we find something typically Euripidean: a young ruler who shares some of the features of the tyrant (aggressive outspokenness, a tendency to bully, a refusal to listen to reason), but also one who is weak and perhaps uncertain of himself. He repeatedly assumes that the Bacchic rites mask some form of sexual orgy, persisting in this belief even after the messenger has insisted on its falsehood. His taunting of Dionysus for his good looks also has a whiff of sexuality about it. It is his secret eagerness to see the Bacchants ‘lying together in the bushes’ that Dionysus discerns and exploits. In the later scenes he is not himself – mesmerized or maddened, for Dionysus is a god who presides over delusion and madness – but the god’s manipulation of his victim would not be so disturbing if we did not feel that he is drawing out something in Pentheus himself. No two readers will think exactly alike about Pentheus’ psychology; but the macabre scenes in which we witness Dionysus attaining the dominant role, the king dressing up as a maenad, and his excited anticipation of his triumphal return from the mountain make an unforgettable sequence. There are a number of indications, both within the play and in vase-paintings of the myth, that the ‘standard’ version may have involved Pentheus unsuccessfully attacking Dionysus and his followers at the head of an army; but the plot of the Bacchae involves his dressing up as a maenad in order to spy on them. The hypothesis that this is Euripides’ innovation cannot be proved, but has seemed likely to many.

In the Orestes, as we have seen, Euripides carried his innovations of tragic form and style to unparalleled extremes: disruption of regular act divisions, play with dramatic conventions, the tour de force of the Phrygian’s song, and so forth. A few years later, theBacchae represents a decisive change of direction, back not only to a traditional theme famously handled by Aeschylus, but also to more austere metrical and formal practice. The play contains no sustained agon, unlike almost every play by this poet (the dispute between Pentheus, Cadmus and Teiresias does not have the highly rhetorical quality we find in the agon-scenes of the other plays in this volume). Choral odes predominate over actor-lyric: there are no monodies of the type mocked by Aristophanes, only the short lyric exchange between Agaue and the chorus, a mere thirty lines. The chorus’s role is less peripheral, and their odes are long, frequent and important: they also lack the mannerisms and love of repetition which we meet so often in the Orestes. Some of what they sing recalls the grandeur of Aeschylean meditation on the workings of divine justice, and there are also specific imitations of Aeschylus’ Dionysiac plays. The imitation of Aeschylus goes so far that Euripides even revives the refrain, virtually unknown elsewhere in his work (this may also owe something to songs performed in religious contexts). The whole play is more tightly constructed than others of this period, lacking digressions and extraneous characters. The emotions and pathos of the finale have special force because they are framed in so relatively rigid a form.

Despite the archaizing touches, the play remains very recognizably the work of Euripides. The interest in ecstatic or irrational religious cult is already attested in a well-known fragment of the Cretans, an early play (fr. 472), which mentions initiation, night-time feasting, eating of flesh and other exotic practices. The ode in the Helen invoking the Mountain Mother, Cybele, also belongs to this world: the rites of Dionysus and Rhea/Cybele are akin, as is mentioned more than once in the Bacchae. Some other dramatic elements seem familiar from the poet’s earlier work: the avenging god reminds us of Aphrodite’s punishment of the hero of Hippolytus; the violence inflicted by women recalls Medea and Hecuba; the scene in which Agaue is coaxed back to sanity by Cadmus is reminiscent of the awakening of Heracles from madness; the painful parting of Agaue and Cadmus at the end of the play resembles the departure into exile of Orestes, parted from his sister in the Electra. But while we may readily identify certain items in the tragedian’s repertoire, the ingredients do not account for the compound: the Bacchae retains its unique status as a drama of divine persecution and religious fanaticism.

The greatest of Euripides’ dramas is naturally the most difficult to sum up. At one time it was regarded as an authentically religious drama, evidence that at the end of his life the poet had renounced the philosophic or sceptical beliefs which many had detected in his work. This position is hard to maintain: although Pentheus’ defiance of the god is wrong and his punishment inevitable, the severity of divine retribution, involving the killing of a son by his mother, dismays any audience, and Cadmus at the end of the play protests that the god ‘goes too far’. The prophet Teiresias does not make a very effective advocate of Dionysiac worship: in that scene we can surely see some hint of the ‘sceptical’ Euripides, poking fun at Teiresias’ self-interested appropriation of the new god. However, the antithetical position, to see the play as an attack on Dionysus or a critique of ecstatic religion (or of the irrational in general) seems equally misguided. The play cannot be reduced to simplistic formulae like these. Even the conclusion of the sensitive study by Winnington-Ingram, that ‘Euripides recognized Dionysus but hated him’, seems vulnerable, not only because it looks behind the play to the playwright’s supposed personal opinions, now irrecoverable, but because ‘Dionysus’ is made to stand for a whole medley of things, including mob emotion and unthinking collective action. Interpreters can understand the play on many levels and find within it many polarities: man versus god, culture versus nature, individual versus group, foreigner versus Greek, reason versus unreason, inhibition or repression versus self-fulfilment. Gender, sexuality and the family are also clearly significant aspects: it is the women who respond to the Dionysiac command, abandoning their homes and families; it is Agaue his mother who leads the way in the slaughter of her son. Both son and mother expect that the other will take delight in their success; the bond between them is clearly a close and intimate one. Seldom has the truth of Aristotle’s precept that tragedy is most effective when played out between members of the family been so clearly demonstrated.

No single reading can exhaust this paradigmatic tragedy. From another angle, the play can be seen in metatextual terms: a play about playing parts. Cadmus and Teiresias dress up as Bacchic worshippers, a scene which does not lack humour; the same scene is echoed later in the play when Pentheus, under the sway of the god, goes as far as to don female attire and practises carrying the Bacchic thyrsus. Illusion and delusion are widely prevalent in the play: at one point Dionysus eludes his captor and leaves him struggling to bind a bull, under the impression that he has Dionysus in his power; soon afterwards the god creates a double of himself. Dionysus himself, of course, is in disguise throughout: the god of tragedy tries his hand at the typically tragic technique of ironic double-meaning (e.g. lines 498, 502, 518). In one key scene Dionysus asks the question which has perplexed theorists of tragedy: ‘would you really like to see what gives you pain?’ (815). Dionysus, ironic questioner and stage-manager of the action, is a double of the poet himself. The difference is that the god lacks the dramatist’s compassion.


DIONYSUS (also called Bacchus, Bromius, Evius)

CHORUS of Bacchants, women of Asia

TEIRESIAS, the blind prophet of Thebes

CADMUS, founder and former King of Thebes

PENTHEUS, King of Thebes and grandson of Cadmus

SERVANT of Pentheus

FIRST MESSENGER, a herdsman from Cithaeron

SECOND MESSENGER, a servant of Pentheus

AGAUE, mother of Pentheus and daughter of Cadmus Guards, attendants

[The scene is outside the royal palace on the citadel of Thebes. There is a tomb on stage, with smoke rising from it, and a surrounding fence covered with ivy-shoots.]


DIONYSUS: Newly arrived in this land of Thebes, I am Dionysus, son of Zeus, whom Semele, child of Cadmus, once bore, delivered by the lightning-flame.1 I have changed my appearance from a god’s to a man’s,2 as I come to Dirce’s stream and the waters of Ismenus. And here close by the palace I see the tomb of my mother, whose life the thunderbolt ended, and the wreckage of her home that smoulders with the still living flame of Zeus’ fire, immortal token of Hera’s [10] outrage against my mother. Cadmus has my approval: he has consecrated this ground as holy, where his daughter may have her tomb. But the green vine that clusters round it in a wreath was my work. I come from Lydia’s fields3 abundant in gold, and Phrygia’s. Persia’s sunny uplands have I traversed, Bactria’s walled cities and the bleak land of the Medes, rich Arabia, too, and all of Asia that lies by the salt sea and boasts fair-towered cities full of mingled Greeks and barbarians together. [20] Now to this city of Greeks have I come first, to make my godhead plain for mortal men to see, now that I have set those peoples dancing and instituted there my worship.

First in the land of Greece I have made this city of Thebes resound to women’s cries, dressing them in fawnskins and putting the thyrsus in their hands, my ivy-bound spear. My mother’s sisters – they should have been the last ones to do this – claimed that Dionysus was no son of Zeus. Semele, they said, had been seduced by some mortal and was attributing to Zeus the loss of her virginity – a pretence they ascribed to Cadmus. Because of this lie she had told about her lover, they [30] announced gloatingly, Zeus had killed her.

For this reason I have spurred those same sisters to madness and driven them in distraction from their houses. They now have the mountain as their home and their wits have deserted them. I have made them wear the dress that suits my worship. So all the female seed of Cadmus’ people, all the womenfolk, I have caused to quit their homes in frenzy. With the daughters of Cadmus in their midst they sit beneath the green firs, on rocks open to the sky. This city must learn its lesson, however reluctantly, that it lacks the blessing of my rites. I must defend [40] the cause of Semele, my mother, by showing myself to mortals as the god she bore to Zeus.

Now Cadmus has given the kingship and its powers to Pentheus, his daughter’s son, who makes war on divinity in my person by thrusting me away from his sacrifices and making no mention of me in his prayers. Because of this I mean to [50] reveal myself as a true god to him and to everyone in Thebes. When I have settled matters here satisfactorily, I shall turn my steps to another land and reveal myself there. But if the people of Thebes, growing angry, take up arms and seek to drive my followers from the mountain, I shall engage them, leading my maenads into battle.4 This is why I have assumed mortal shape and transformed myself into the likeness of a man.

[He addresses the CHORUS, who are beginning to file into the orchestra, as if in response to his will.]

Ho, my band of worshippers, you women who left Tmolus that stands guard over Lydia! I brought you from among barbarians and you have been my companions on the march and at rest. Now rouse the kettledrums native to the land of the Phrygians, the invention of Mother Rhea and myself,5[60] come, beat them around the palace of Pentheus here, so that Cadmus’ citizens may see! I will go to where my Bacchants are, in Cithaeron’s glens, and join in their dances. [Exit DIONYSUS.]

CHORUS [chanting as they enter] :6 From Asia’s land I come, forsaking sacred Tmolus, in my eagerness to perform my joyous labours for the Roaring One,7 the toil that brings no toil, crying ‘Evoe’8 to the Lord of Bacchants. Who is in the street? Who is in the street? Who is in [70] the house? Let him make way, let every man make himself wholly pure by keeping reverent silence. For I am about to sing to Dionysus hymns ever honoured by custom.

[singing:] [Strophe:] Blessed is the man who has the good fortune to know the gods’ mysteries, who consecrates his life and makes his soul one with the throng, worshipping Bacchus in the mountains with holy purifications. Observing the rites of Cybele, the Great Mother, [80] he whirls his thyrsus on high as, garlanded with ivy, he serves Dionysus. On you Bacchants, on you Bacchants! Bring home the Roaring One, god and son of god, Dionysus, from the mountains of Phrygia to the spacious streets of Greece, bring the Roaring One!

[Antistrophe:] While his mother was carrying him,9 Zeus’ [90] thunderbolt flew, and, in forced pains of labour she bore him, shed untimely from her womb, and died from the stroke of the lightning. At once Zeus, son of Cronus, stored him in a secret birth-chamber and concealed him in his own thigh, fastening him with golden clasps, hidden from the eyes of Hera. And when the Fates had brought round [100] the appointed time, he gave birth to a god with bull’s horns10 and crowned him with a garland of serpents, whence it is that maenads entwine in their hair wild serpents they have caught.11

[Strophe:] O Thebes, nurse of Semele, garland yourself with ivy! Teem, teem with green, bright-berried bryony, and become true [110] Bacchants by wearing sprigs of oak or fir! Trim the hems of your dappled fawnskins with white tufts of braided wool, and show reverence when you wield the wand with its violence. Soon the whole land will be dancing, when the Roaring One leads his groups of worshippers to the mountain, to the mountain, where the female throng awaits him, driven from their places at loom and shuttle by the madness of Dionysus.

[Antistrophe:] O secret chamber of the Curetes,12 sacred haunts of Crete that saw the birth of Zeus, where the Corybantes with triple [120] helmet devised for me in the cavern this circle of stretched hide; and in the fierce dance of ecstasy they blended its sound with the sweet-voiced breath of Phrygian flutes and placed it in the hands of Mother Rhea to beat time for the joyous cries of her worshippers; and from the goddess mother the crazed Satyrs took it for their own, and joined [130] it to the dances of the second-year feast that delights Dionysus.13

[Epode:] He is a delight to see14 on the mountains when he leaves the running bands to fall to the ground, wearing his holy garment of fawnskin, hunting the blood of the slaughtered goat, carnivorous delight,15 as he rushes on to the mountains of Phrygia, of Lydia; he [140] is the Roaring One, the leader of our dance. Evoe! The ground flows with milk, flows with wine, flows with the nectar of bees. The Bacchic One raises on high the pine torch, its blazing flame fragrant as fumes of Syrian frankincense, and makes it stream from his wand, as with running and dancing he spurs on the stragglers and stirs them with his call, tossing his delicate curls in the air. Among the worshippers’ 150 cries his voice bellows: ‘On you Bacchants, on you Bacchants, you pride of Tmolus that flows with gold, sing the praises of Dionysus to the booming kettledrums, celebrating with “Evoe!” the god Evius, with Phrygian crying and clamour, when the holy and melodious flute sends out its notes of holy joyfulness, fit measures as you troop to the [160] mountain, to the mountain!’ Oh, with happy heart, then, like a filly at its mother’s side as she grazes in the pasture, leaps the worshipper, gambolling on swift feet!

[Enter TEIRESIAS,16 old and blind, in the costume of a Bacchant.]

TEIRESIAS: Who is on duty at the gates? Call Cadmus out of the palace, Agenor’s son, who left Sidon’s town and founded [170] this towered city of the Thebans!17

One of you, go and announce that Teiresias is seeking him. He himself knows my reasons for coming and the pact we made, one old man with another older still, to bind the thyrsus and wear fawnskins and crown our heads with shoots of ivy.

[Enter from the palace CADMUS, similarly dressed.]

CADMUS: My dear friend, for I heard and recognized your voice inside the palace – the wise voice of a wise man! Here I am [180] ready, wearing the god’s livery as you see. He is my own daughter’s child, and, so far as we have the strength, we must exalt him to greatness. Where must I go and dance? Where set my foot and shake this grey head? Explain to me, Teiresias, one old man to another; you have the wisdom. Night or day I will never tire of pounding my thyrsus on the ground; in my pleasure I have forgotten that I am old.

TEIRESIAS: Then you feel as I do. I, too, am young again; I, [190] too, will attempt the dance.

CADMUS: Shall we not go to the mountain by carriage?18

TEIRESIAS: This would not be showing the same honour to the god.

CADMUS: Shall I take you – one old man playing nursemaid to another?

TEIRESIAS: The god will lead us there with no effort.

CADMUS: Are we the only Thebans prepared to dance for Bacchus?

TEIRESIAS: Yes; we are alone in being of sound mind; the rest are not.

CADMUS: We waste time delaying; take hold of my hand!

TEIRESIAS [stretching out his hand]: There, clasp it and make a pair of them.

CADMUS: I am of mortal birth and so do not despise the gods.

TEIRESIAS: We do not chop logic when speaking of divinity.19 [200] The traditions of our forefathers that we have inherited, as old as time, shall not be overthrown by any clever argument, though it be devised by the subtlest of wits.

CADMUS: It will be said I have no shame at my age, intending to dance with my head bound with ivy.

TEIRESIAS: No; the god has made no distinction between young and old, in calling them to the dance. He wishes to receive honour from all alike and to be exalted without exception.

CADMUS: Since you do not see this light, Teiresias, I will serve as your interpreter now. Here comes Pentheus, Echion’s son, [210] to whom I have entrusted sovereignty of Thebes. He is hurrying towards the palace. How excited he is!20 What news will he have to tell?

[PENTHEUS enters in haste with attendants. He is at first unaware of CADMUS and TEIRESIAS.21]

PENTHEUS: I’ve been out of the country, as it happens, but tales of strange goings-on in Thebes,22 criminal actions, have brought me back. They say our womenfolk have left home on a pretence of Bacchic worship, and are frolicking in the dark mountain-glens, honouring with dances the parvenu god [220] Dionysus, whoever he may be. In the middle of their bands, I hear, stand mixing bowls filled to the brim, and one by one they creep off to lonely places to serve the lusts of men.23 In this, of course, they pretend to be inspired priestesses of their god, but actually they rank Aphrodite above Bacchus. Some of them I have caught, and my guards hold them fast with tied wrists in the public gaol.24 The rest who are still at large I’ll hunt from the mountain; I’ll bind them in iron nets and soon put an end to this pernicious revelling! [230]

They say that some foreigner has arrived from the land of Lydia, a wizard conjuror, with fragrant golden curls and the flush of wine in his complexion. In his eyes he has the charms of Aphrodite, and day and night he escorts young women, luring them with the prospect of his joyous mysteries. If I catch him inside the borders of this land, I’ll cut his head off his shoulders25 and put a stop to his making his thyrsus ring and shaking his locks! This is the man who says that Dionysus [240] is a god, this the man who says he was once sewn into the thigh of Zeus, when in fact he was destroyed by the fiery lightning bolt, he and his mother, because she falsely named Zeus as her lover!26 Is this not monstrous, does it not merit the hangman’s noose, to commit acts of such insolence, whoever the stranger may be?

[He suddenly becomes aware of the two old men.]

But here’s another sight to marvel at! It’s the prophet Teiresias I see in dappled fawnskins and my own mother’s father – how [250] ridiculous – playing the Bacchant, complete with wand! [To CADMUS:] Sir, I am embarrassed by the sight of you both – so old, so foolish! Shake off that ivy! Rid your hand of the thyrsus, Grandfather! You’re the one who put him up to this, Teiresias! You want to foist one more god as a novelty on mankind and so to scan the flight of birds and take more fees for burned sacrifice!27 If your grey hairs did not protect you, [260] I’d have you bound and sitting among the Bacchants for seeking to import these pernicious rites! Where women are concerned, when the grape gleams liquid at feasts, I say there is nothing wholesome left in their ceremonies!

CHORUS-LEADER: What blasphemy! Stranger, have you no reverence for the gods, or for Cadmus who sowed the earth-born crop?28 Will you disgrace the family of Echion, though you are his son?

TEIRESIAS: When a clever man has an honest case to make, it is no great task for him to speak well. You possess a fluent tongue, as if you were a man of sense, but your words lack [270] all judgement. The good speaker whose influence rests on self-assurance proves to be a bad citizen; for he lacks intelligence.29

This new god30 whom you mock will achieve a greatness I cannot describe throughout Greece. Men enjoy two great blessings, young man: firstly, the goddess Demeter, the Earth – call her by whichever name you will – who sustains mankind by means of dry foods; then there is he who came afterwards, Semele’s son, who invented the liquid draught of the grape to match her gift and introduced it to mortals. This it is that [280] puts an end to the sorrows of wretched men, when they get their fill of the flowing vine, this that confers sleep on them and forgetfulness of daily troubles. There is no other antidote to suffering. He, a god himself, is poured out in honour of the gods, so that he is the cause of man’s blessings.31

Do you mock the notion that he was sewn into the thigh of Zeus? I will instruct you in the truth of this. When Zeus snatched him from the lightning flames and carried the infant child to Olympus, Hera wanted to cast him out of heaven. [290] But Zeus devised a plan to counter this, as well a god might. He broke off a portion of the ether that envelops the earth, and giving this to Hera as a hostage he rescued Dionysus from her spitefulness. But in time mortals said that Zeus’ thigh was host to the god, making up the story by the change of a word, for he served as hostage once to Hera, god to goddess. And he is a prophet, this god. For those who experience his power and those who are touched by madness possess no small measure of prophecy. When the god enters the body in full strength, he [300] makes men mad and gives them the gift of prophecy. He also has assumed a certain part of Ares’ functions. For when troops are armed and standing in ranks, they are sometimes struck with panic before lifting a spear. This, too, is a madness sent by Dionysus.

You shall yet see him on Delphi’s rocky summit,32 bounding across the upland with its twin peaks, brandishing and flourishing his Bacchic wand, a mighty force throughout Greece.

Take to heart what I say, Pentheus: don’t be too sure that force is what controls human affairs; and, if you have a thought [310] and your thought is unhealthy, do not think your folly is wisdom. Receive the god into your land, pour libations, worship Bacchus and garland your head! It is not for Dionysus to force women to show chastity in the affairs of love; this lies in their own nature. You should reflect on this: even in performing the rites of Bacchus the woman of virtue will not be corrupted. Don’t you see how pleased you are when crowds line the gates and the name of ‘Pentheus’ swells in the [320] praise of your people? He, too, I think, takes pleasure in receiving honour.33 Now Cadmus, whom you laugh at, and I will wear wreaths of ivy and join in the dancing, two old grey heads together, but dance we must. I will not be persuaded by your words to fight against the gods. For you are mad, most painfully mad; you can find no cure for your malady, either with drugs or without them.

CHORUS-LEADER: Old man, these words of yours bring credit to Phoebus, and in honouring the Roaring One, a mighty god, you show good sense.

CADMUS [to PENTHEUS]: My boy, it is good advice that Teiresias [330] has given you: live with us and not beyond the bounds of convention. For you are up in the air at the moment; you have your senses but you are senseless. Even if, as you say, this god does not exist, say that he does.34To declare that he is Semele’s child is a lie that does us credit: people will think she gave birth to a god and the honour will reflect on us, on the whole family. You recall the pitiful end of Actaeon,35 torn apart by the ravenous hounds he had reared, because he [340] boasted that he was a greater hunter in the mountain glades than Artemis.

Do not let this fate overtake you! [He moves towards PENTHEUS.] Come here, let me put this crown of ivy on your head; join us in giving honour to the god!

PENTHEUS [stepping back in revulsion]: Hands off! Go and play your Bacchic games, but don’t smear me with your stupidity! [Turning to face TEIRESIAS:] This man, though, your instructor in folly, will answer to me! [To his attendants:] Quick, one of you, go to this fellow’s seat where he watches birds, heave it up with crowbars, and turn it upside down! Throw everything there into confusion, fling his holy ribbons to the winds [350] and breezes! This way I will cause him greater torment than anything. And you others, go through the town and track down the womanish stranger, who infects our women with his new-fangled disease and pollutes their beds. Once he is caught, bind him and bring him here to face the penalty of being stoned to death, after seeing a painful end to his revelling in Thebes. [PENTHEUS leaves, preceded by his attendants.]

TEIRESIAS: Wicked man, you do not know what you are saying. Now you are truly mad; before you had lost your [360] head. Let us go, Cadmus, and make our prayers for him, savage though he is, and for the city, asking the god to do nothing untoward.36Keep me company with your staff of ivy, and try to hold me up, as I shall you. It would be shameful for two old men to fall; still, let it happen, if it must. We must serve our master, Bacchus, the son of Zeus. But I only hope that Pentheus does not bring sorrow37 on your house, Cadmus, and prove his name true. It is not prophecy that makes me say this, but the facts; a fool speaks foolish words.

[The two old men leave the stage.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: Holiness, queen among the gods! Holiness, who fly over the earth on your golden wings, do you hear these words of [370] Pentheus? Do you hear his unholy contempt for the Roaring One, Semele’s son, the god who is first among the Blessed Ones, where fair garlands adorn delightful pleasures? These are his gifts: to make men dance together as one, to rejoice at the sound of the flute, and to [380] put an end to care, when the liquid gleam of the grape enters the feasts of the gods and in the ivy-wreathed feasts of men the wine-bowl casts its veil of sleep over them.

[Antistrophe:] The end of tongues uncurbed and lawless foolishness is unhappiness; but the life of quiet contentment and good sense survives the buffeting of the sea and keeps homes together; for though [390] they dwell far off in the sky, yet the heavenly ones observe the deeds of men.

To be clever is not to be wise,38 and thoughts that go beyond mortal limits spell a short life. In view of this who would pursue great ambitions rather than accept his present lot? These are the ways of madmen, in my verdict, whose wits have left them. [400]

[Strophe:] Oh, that I might come to Cyprus,39 Aphrodite’s isle, where dwell the Loves who cast their spell on mortal hearts, to Paphos, enriched without rain by streams of the barbarian river with its hundred mouths, and to the fairest land of Pieria, that the Muses have as their home, on the holy slope of Olympus. Oh, take me there, Roaring [410] One, Roaring One, god who leads your Bacchants, spirit of joy! There are the Graces, there is Desire, there your worshippers have leave to celebrate your name.

[Antistrophe:] The god, the son of Zeus, delights in feasts, and [420] loves Peace, bestower of wealth, goddess who nurtures young men. Equally to rich and lowly he gives the joy of wine that knows no grief; but he hates the man who has no care for this: by day and blissful night to live the life of blessedness, and in true wisdom to keep mind and understanding apart from men of excess. Whatever [430] humanity at large believes and makes its rule of conduct, that I would accept.

[Enter a SOLDIER with one or more companions. They bring with them the Lydian stranger, his arms trussed behind him, and make straight for PENTHEUS, who enters from the opposite side of the stage, with attendants.]

SOLDIER: Here we are, Pentheus, we’ve caught the prey you sent us after40 – a successful mission! But we found this a tame beast; he didn’t turn and run from us, but surrendered his hands willingly. He didn’t turn pale, or change his ruddy complexion, but with a smile41 told us to bind and take him prisoner, and he waited, making my task easy. I was ashamed, [440] and said to him, ‘Stranger, it’s not my idea to take you prisoner; these are the orders of Pentheus, who sent me.’

But the Bacchants you imprisoned, the ones you seized and put in chains in the public gaol – they’re loosed and are dancing away to the mountain-glades, calling upon Bromius their god. Without the action of any guard the fetters were loosed from their ankles, and the bolts let the doors swing open untouched by mortal hand. Full of many wonders has [450] this man come here to Thebes – but what comes next is yours to consider.

PENTHEUS: Untie his hands; now that he’s in the net, he’s not quick enough to escape me. [He turns from the soldiers to examine DIONYSUS.] Well, stranger, your body is not without beauty,42 to women’s taste, at least, which is your reason for being in Thebes. Those locks of yours are long, not a wrestler’s, then, and they ripple right down your cheek, most alluringly. Your skin is fair, a deliberate ploy as you keep out of the sun’s rays and in the shade, using your prettiness to hunt Aphrodite! First then tell me your birth. [460]

DIONYSUS: I can tell you this without hesitation; it is easy to answer. You know of flowery Tmolus, I take it, from hearsay?

PENTHEUS: I do; it encloses in its embrace the town of Sardis.

DIONYSUS: That is my home, and Lydia is my native land.

PENTHEUS: How is it that you are bringing these rites to Greece?

DIONYSUS: Dionysus himself initiated me,43 the son of Zeus.

PENTHEUS: Is there a Zeus there who fathers new gods?44

DIONYSUS: No, it is the one who wedded Semele here.

PENTHEUS: Did he compel you in the hours of night or to your face, when you were awake?

DIONYSUS: He saw me and I him, and he gave me his rites. [470]

PENTHEUS: What is the nature of these rites of yours?

DIONYSUS: They are secrets that only Bacchus’ initiates may know.

PENTHEUS: What benefit do they bring to his worshippers?

DIONYSUS: You are not permitted to learn, but it is knowledge worth having.

PENTHEUS: A false answer but a clever one, to make me want to hear!

DIONYSUS: The god’s rites hate the man who practises impiety.

PENTHEUS: This god, since you say you saw him clearly, how did he look?

DIONYSUS: As he wished to be; I did not order it.

PENTHEUS: Again you sidetrack me – with a clever and meaningless answer!

DIONYSUS: He who speaks wisdom to a fool will be thought a fool himself. [480]

PENTHEUS: Is this the first place you have come to with your god?

DIONYSUS: Every one of the foreigners is dancing these rites.

PENTHEUS: That’s because they have much less sense than Greeks.45

DIONYSUS: In this case they have more; their customs, however, differ.

PENTHEUS: Do you perform these rituals by night or in the daytime?

DIONYSUS: By night, for the most part; darkness confers sanctity.

PENTHEUS: That spells trickery and corruption for women!

DIONYSUS: In daytime also immoral behaviour is to be found.

PENTHEUS: You must be punished for your vile sophistries!

DIONYSUS: As must you for your folly and impiety towards the [490] god.

PENTHEUS: He’s a bold one, our bacchant, quite the practised speaker!

DIONYSUS: Tell me what I must suffer; what terrible thing are you going to do to me?

PENTHEUS: First I’ll cut off your love-locks.

DIONYSUS: My hair is sacred; I grow it in the god’s honour.

PENTHEUS: Then hand over that wand you carry.

DIONYSUS: Take it from me yourself; I carry this for Dionysus.

PENTHEUS: I will put you in prison and keep you under guard.

DIONYSUS: The god himself will set me free, whenever I wish.

PENTHEUS: Yes, when you call on him, standing there among your bacchants!

DIONYSUS: This very moment he is near me and witnesses [500] what I am suffering.

PENTHEUS [looking round]: And where is he, then? I certainly don’t see him!

DIONYSUS: Where I am; but you are impious yourself, and so do not see him.

PENTHEUS [to the soldiers]: Seize him! He is mocking me and Thebes!

DIONYSUS: I tell you, do not bind me – I have control of my senses and you have not.

PENTHEUS: And I say bind – my authority exceeds yours.

DIONYSUS: You do not know what your life is, or what you do, or who you are.

PENTHEUS: I am Pentheus, son of Agaue; my father was Echion.

DIONYSUS: You have a name that makes you ripe for disaster.46

PENTHEUS: Away with you! [To the soldiers:] Shut him up in the neighbouring stables, so he can peer into the darkness there! [To DIONYSUS, as he is taken away:] Dance away now! [510] As for these women you have brought with you as your partners in crime, either I’ll sell them into slavery, or I’ll stop their hands from beating and thumping their drums and keep them at the loom as servants.

DIONYSUS: I will go; for I do not have to suffer what is not to be. Be sure, however, that this insolence of yours will be punished by Dionysus, whose existence you deny. When you wrong me, you are leading him off to prison.47

[DIONYSUS is escorted into the palace by the soldiers and attendants, followed by Pentheus.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: Daughter of Achelous, sovereign Dirce,48 blessed [520] maiden, for you did once receive in your springs the infant son of Zeus, when from the deathless flames Zeus his sire snatched and hid him in his thigh, crying thus: ‘Come, Dithyrambus, enter this my male womb; I reveal you, O Bacchus, to Thebes, that she call you by this name!’49 But you, blessed Dirce, are thrusting me away when [530] on your banks I try to join in the rites, wearing the garland with my fellow worshippers!

Why do you reject me? Why do you shun me? The day will come, yes, by the clustering joy of Dionysus’ vine, the day will come when you shall take thought for the Roaring One.

[Antistrophe:] Pentheus shows his origin from the earth, that he is sprung from the dragon of old,50 he whom Echion the earthly sired – a savage monster, not a mortal man, but like some murderous giant [540] to stand against the gods; soon he will fasten me, the Roaring One’s servant, in his snares, and even now he holds my partner in the holy band inside his palace, hidden away in the darkness of its prison. Do you see this, Dionysus, son of Zeus, your prophets in conflict with [550] oppression? Come down from Olympus, lord,51 shaking your golden thyrsus, and crush the arrogance of this murderous man!

[Epode:] Where, then, on Nysa, nurse of beasts, or on Corycian peaks, Dionysus, do you wave your wand over the band of worshippers? Perhaps it is in the glades of Olympus, thickly wooded, [560] where once Orpheus played his lyre and gathered the trees by his music, gathered the beasts of the wild.

O Pieria, blessed are you! The god of joy honours you, and he shall come to set you dancing in his holy rites, and over Axius’ [570] swift-flowing stream shall he lead his whirling maenads, and over father Lydias,52 giver of prosperous happiness to men, who, I hear tell, makes fertile with his waters a land of noble horses.

[The voice of DIONYSUS suddenly rings out from inside the palace.53]

DIONYSUS: Ho, my Bacchants, hear, hear my voice!

CHORUS: What cry is this, what cry? Where does it come from, this summons to me from the Lord of Joy?

[580] DIONYSUS: Io, io! Again I call, the son of Semele, the son of Zeus!

CHORUS: Io, io! Master, Master! Come to us now, to the band of your worshippers, o Roaring One, Roaring One!

DIONYSUS: Shake the earth’s floor, o sovereign spirit of Earthquake!

CHORUS: Ah! Ah! Soon the house of Pentheus shall be shaken to its [590] fall! Dionysus is in the palace; revere him!

SOME OF THE CHORUS: O, we revere him!

OTHERS: Do you see the stone lintels there gape apart on their columns? The Roaring One is raising his cry of triumph within the palace!

DIONYSUS: Kindle the gleaming flame of the lightning; destroy, destroy with fire the house of Pentheus!

[Lightning flashes above the palace and Semele’s monument.]

CHORUS: Ah! Ah! Do you not see flames? Do you not perceive, around Semele’s holy tomb, the flame of Zeus’ lightning, left long ago when he struck her with his bolt? Cast your trembling bodies [600] down, cast them to the ground, maenads! For our lord is making high things low, he is assaulting this house, the son of Zeus!

[DIONYSUS, still disguised as the Stranger, enters from the palace.]

DIONYSUS: Women of Asia,54 are you so stricken with fear that you have fallen to the ground? You were aware, it seems, of Dionysus making Pentheus’ house shake. Rise up and take heart – stop this trembling!

CHORUS-LEADER: O our greatest light in the worship we rejoice in, what happiness to see you – we were forsaken and alone!

DIONYSUS: Did you despair when I was taken inside to be thrown into Pentheus’ dark dungeon? [610]

CHORUS-LEADER: Of course; who was there to protect me if you should come to grief? But how did you win your freedom after meeting with that man of sin?

DIONYSUS: I saved myself, easily and without effort.55

CHORUS-LEADER: Did he not tie your wrists in the bonds of a prisoner?

DIONYSUS: That was where I made a fool of him, for he imagined he was binding me, when in fact he neither touched nor grasped me, but fed on hopes. He found a bull near the stall where he was leading me to be imprisoned, and tried to throw his ropes round this creature’s knees and hooves, panting with rage and biting his lips, while sweat dripped from his [620] body.56 I sat quietly beside him, watching. It was at that time that Bacchus came and made the palace shake, and kindled the fire on his mother’s tomb. When Pentheus saw this, he thought the palace was on fire, and started to rush in all directions, giving orders to his servants to fetch water, and every slave was busy at his task, but his labours were all for nothing. Then, supposing that I had escaped, he gave up on this task and, seizing his dark sword, he dashed inside the palace. And then it was that the Roaring One fashioned, or so I imagine – I give you my own guess here – a phantom in [630] the courtyard. And Pentheus, launching himself at this in a rush, started stabbing at the bright air, supposing he was putting me to the sword. But Bacchus did not stop at this; there were other indignities he had in store for him. He brought his palace crashing to the ground, and all is in ruin: Pentheus has seen a painful end to my imprisonment. He has dropped his sword, exhausted from his efforts; for, though a man, he dared to fight against a god. I calmly left the palace and have come to you, thinking no more of Pentheus.

Soon, it seems to me (there is certainly the sound of feet inside), he will appear in front of the gates. Whatever will he say after this? I will receive him calmly, though he comes out [640] breathing fury. A modest and gentle temper is the mark of a wise man.

[PENTHEUS enters.]

PENTHEUS: This is outrageous! The stranger has escaped me, the fellow who was clapped in irons a moment ago! [He catches sight of DIONYSUS.] Aha! Here is the man! What’s the meaning of this? How do you come to be out here, showing yourself before my palace gates?

DIONYSUS: Stop there! Calm that angry temper of yours!

PENTHEUS: How is it you have slipped your bonds and come out here?

DIONYSUS: Did I not say, did you not hear, that someone would set me free?

[650] PENTHEUS: Who? The words you speak are always strange.

DIONYSUS: The one who makes the clustered vine grow for mortals.57

PENTHEUS: [A shameful gift – to make men lose their senses!]

DIONYSUS: You make an insult of the gift that brings honour to Dionysus.

PENTHEUS [to his guards]: Bar every gate round the circuit of these walls!

DIONYSUS: What of that? Do gods not leap over walls as well?

PENTHEUS: Oh, you are clever, clever – except where cleverness is needed!58

DIONYSUS: Where it is needed most I am clever enough. But listen first to this man and note what he has to tell, the one who is here from the mountain to bring you some news. I shall stay at your side; I will not run away.

[A MESSENGER enters.59]

MESSENGER: Pentheus, lord of this Theban land, I come here from Cithaeron, where the white snow’s gleaming falls never [660] relax their grip.

PENTHEUS: And what important news is it you bring?

MESSENGER: I saw the wild women, the Bacchants, whose white limbs sped away from this land in frenzy, like spears in flight. I am here, my lord, as I want to tell you and your people their actions, strange, more than wonderful. Please say if may describe these events freely to you, or if I should keep a check on my tongue. I fear your quick temper, my lord, your sharpness to anger and all-too-kingly manner.60 [670]

PENTHEUS: Speak; you will come to no harm from me, whatever your story. The more shocking your account of the Bacchants’ behaviour, the more I will punish this fellow who taught our women these tricks.

MESSENGER: The cattle pasturing in herds were just climbing up to the hill-country, at the time when the sun sends out his rays to warm the earth. I saw three bands of female worshippers,61 one of which Autonoe led, the second your [680] mother, Agaue, and the third Ino. They were all sleeping, their bodies relaxed, some resting their backs against pine-greenery, others with their heads laid at random on the ground, amid the oak-leaves. It was a chaste sight – they weren’t, as you say, drunk with wine and with the sound of the flute, hunting the Cyprian in lonely places in the wood.62

When your mother heard the lowing of our horned herds, she stood up in the midst of the Bacchants and cried out to them to shake the sleep from their limbs. And, casting the [690] deep sleep from their eyes, they sprang to their feet, a marvellous sight for its good order, young and old – and among them girls as yet unwed. First they let their hair hang loose over their shoulders and secured their fawnskins where the bands that fastened them had loosened, and tied dappled hides round themselves with snakes that licked their cheeks.

Some of them held in their arms young deer or wild wolf-cubs, and offered them their white milk – all the women [700] whose breasts were still full, as they had recently given birth and left their infants behind. Then they put on wreaths of ivy and oak and flowering bryony. One of them took her thyrsus and dashed it against a rock, causing a dewy stream of water to spring forth. Another thrust her wand into the level soil, and there the god made a fountain of wine spout up. Those who desired a draught of white liquid scraped the earth with [710] their fingertips and were rewarded with lively jets of milk: and from their ivy wands dripped sweet streams of honey. Had you been there and witnessed these things, you would have entreated with prayer the god you now criticize.

We herdsmen and shepherds came together to confer and debate with each other. And one fellow who hung about in town a good deal and had a ready tongue63 addressed us all: ‘You men who call these holy uplands of the mountain your home, what do you say to hunting Pentheus’ mother Agaue [720] from her Bacchic revels and obliging our king?’ This seemed a good plan to us, and so we set our ambush, hiding ourselves in the leafy bushes. At the appointed time the women began to wave their wands for the Bacchic rites, all calling together with one voice on Bromius, offspring of Zeus, as Lord of Cries. The whole mountain and its wild creatures were possessed by the god,64 and their motion made all things move.

Agaue happened to run past me and I jumped out in my eagerness to grab hold of her, deserting the place of ambush [730] where we had been hiding. But she cried out: ‘Ho, my fleet-footed hounds, we are being hunted by these men! Follow me, follow, armed with thyrsus in hand!’

Now we took to our heels and escaped being torn apart by the Bacchants, but they, with weaponless hands, attacked the cattle that were grazing on the grass. One of them you might have seen using her hands to wrench asunder a young heifer with swollen udders – how the creature bellowed! Others were rending and tearing apart full-grown cows. You might [740] have seen ribs or cloven hooves flung everywhere; and bloodstained pieces hung dripping from the pine-branches. Bulls that had been proud creatures before, with anger rising in their horns, were wrestled to the ground, dragged down by the countless hands of young women. They were stripped of the flesh they wore faster than you could have closed those royal eyes of yours.

On they went, soaring like birds in flight, across the plain stretched below, that produces rich crops of corn by Asopus’ stream for the folk of Thebes, and, like an invading army, [750] they swooped on Hysiae and Erythrae on the lower foothills of Cithaeron, scattering everything and turning it upside down. They snatched children from their homes, and all that they put on their shoulders stayed there without the help of fastenings and did not fall. They carried fire on their hair and it did not burn them.

But the villagers, being plundered by the Bacchants, ran in their anger to take up arms. This was the moment when I saw that dreadful sight, my lord. No blood was drawn by their [760] pointed spears, whether they used bronze or iron, but the Bacchants, hurling their wands from their hands, inflicted wounds and made those villagers turn and run – women routing men – surely the work of some god. Then back they went to the place they had started from, to the very springs the god had caused to well up for them, and they washed off the blood, while snakes licked clean the gory stains from their cheeks.

So welcome this god into Thebes, master, whoever he may be! He is great in many ways, but this above all they say of [770] him, I hear, that the vine which puts an end to sorrow is his gift to men. Take away wine and there is no Cyprian any more, or any other pleasure left to man.65

CHORUS-LEADER: I hesitate to speak with freedom to the king but nonetheless it shall be said: no god is greater than Dionysus.


PENTHEUS: Already it blazes up at our feet like fire, this Bacchic insolence, making our credit in the eyes of Greeks small indeed! This is no time to show fear. [To one of his attendants:] On your way! Go to the Electran Gate and tell them to [780]assemble66 – all my shieldbearers, and those who ride their swift horses, all those who wield the light shield and whose hands pull the bowstring: we march against the Bacchants! It is intolerable if we are to let women treat us in this manner!

DIONYSUS: You hear my words, Pentheus,67 but you pay no attention to them. Despite your harsh treatment of me, I say you should not take up arms against a god but be calm instead. [790] The Roaring One will not stand by while you try to clear his worshippers from the hills of joy.

PENTHEUS: Spare me your lectures!68 You have escaped from prison: try to keep your freedom – or I’ll clap you in irons again!

DIONYSUS: I would sacrifice to him rather than kick against the goad in your rage, a mortal fighting against a god.

PENTHEUS: I will make him a sacrifice – of women’s blood, as they deserve; I’ll spread it far and wide among the glens of Cithaeron.

DIONYSUS: You will all be put to flight; and that will be a disgrace, when your shields of beaten bronze turn before the wands of Bacchants!

PENTHEUS: I am locked in combat with this stranger, but find [800] no way to throw him: in prison or out of it he will not keep silent!

DIONYSUS: My good fellow,69 it is still possible for us to settle this matter sensibly.

PENTHEUS: What am I to do? Play servant to my own servants?

DIONYSUS: I will bring the women here – no need for conflict!

PENTHEUS: Ah, I sense a cunning trick against me now!

DIONYSUS: What kind of trick is it, if I want to save you by my scheme?

PENTHEUS: It’s a pact you’ve made with them, to keep you all Bacchants for ever!

DIONYSUS: I did make a pact, have no doubt of that, but with the god.

PENTHEUS [to his attendants]: Bring my weapons to me here! [To DIONYSUS:] No more words from you! [He turns away.]

DIONYSUS: Ah!70 [Pause.] Do you want to see them,71 huddled [810] together there on the mountain slopes?

PENTHEUS: Oh, yes! I’d give a treasury of gold for that!

DIONYSUS: Why this sudden desire for such a thing?

PENTHEUS [recovering himself]: I wouldn’t enjoy seeing them drunk.

DIONYSUS: And yet you’d enjoy looking at something that distressed you?

PENTHEUS: Certainly I would, but privately, seated under the firs.

DIONYSUS: But they will track you down, even if you get there without their notice.

PENTHEUS: Well, then, I’ll go openly; that was a good point you made.

DIONYSUS: Should I be your guide, then? Will you attempt the journey?

PENTHEUS: Lead me without delay! I grudge you every moment. [820]

DIONYSUS: Then put on a linen dress over your flesh.

PENTHEUS: What? Am I to give up being a man and rank as a woman?72

DIONYSUS: They may kill you, if you are seen there as a man.

PENTHEUS: Another good point! What a clever fellow you have been all the while!

DIONYSUS: Dionysus was my instructor in this wisdom.

PENTHEUS: How, then, would this advice you give me be properly carried out?

DIONYSUS: I will come inside the palace and dress you there.

PENTHEUS: In what dress? A woman’s? I am ashamed.

DIONYSUS: Have you lost your eagerness to view the maenads?

PENTHEUS: What dress do you speak of putting on me? [830]

DIONYSUS: I’ll place on your head a wig with flowing hair.

PENTHEUS: What is the second item in my costume?

DIONYSUS: Robes that reach your feet; and on your brow will be a headband.

PENTHEUS: Is there any other feature you mean to add to these?

DIONYSUS: A thyrsus in your hand and a dappled fawnskin.

PENTHEUS: I could not bring myself to put on female dress.

DIONYSUS: But you will cause bloodshed if you join battle with the Bacchants.

PENTHEUS: You are right; I must first make a reconnaissance.

DIONYSUS: That’s certainly a wiser course than hunting evil by evil means.

PENTHEUS: How shall I make my way through the town without [840] Cadmus’ folk seeing me?

DIONYSUS: We will go by deserted streets; I will be your guide.

PENTHEUS: Anything is better than being laughed at by the Bacchants.

DIONYSUS: Let us go into the palace73 [and make the necessary preparations].

PENTHEUS: [Wait; I myself] shall consider my decision.

DIONYSUS: By all means; in any case I am prepared.

PENTHEUS: I think I will go in; either I’ll set out with my army or I’ll take your advice.74

[PENTHEUS enters the palace and DIONYSUS turns to address the CHORUS.]

DIONYSUS: Women, the man is swimming into the net. He will go to the Bacchants and there he will be punished with death. Dionysus, now it is for you to act! You are not far [850] away. Let us take revenge on him! First rob him of his wits, instilling in him a light-headed fantasy. For never in his senses will he agree to put on female clothing, but once out of his mind he’ll put it on. I want him to be mocked by the Thebans as he is led through their town in women’s dress, after those dire threats he made earlier. I will go to dress Pentheus in the garments he will take with him to Hades’ realm, when he has been slaughtered by his mother’s hands. He shall learn that [860] Dionysus, son of Zeus, is by turns75 a god most terrible and most gracious to mankind.

[DIONYSUS goes into the palace.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: Shall it ever come, the time when I tread, white-footed in ecstasy, in the night-long dances, my head flung back to the dewy air? Like a fawn at play amid the green joys of a meadow, when she has escaped the terrors of the hunt, leaping over the woven nets and cheating her watchers, while the huntsman cries out to his [870] coursing pack and quickens their pace. Storm-swift, with toil of hard racing, she gallops over the fields by the river, delighting in places devoid of men and in the leafy shade of the forest.

What is wisdom? Or what heaven-sent gift is more honourable in men’s eyes than to hold one’s hand in triumph over the head of an enemy? Honour is ever cherished.76 [880]

[Antistrophe:] Slow to advance, yet sure, is the might of heaven; it punishes those mortals who honour ruthlessness and, in the madness of their thoughts, do not give glory to the gods. Subtly they conceal the leisurely stride of time, as they hunt down the man who fails to honour them. For never is it right to think or act beyond what custom [890] has prescribed.77 It is no great expense to accept that power lies with the divine – whatever the divine may be – and that what has become accepted through long ages is everlasting and grounded in nature.

What is wisdom? Or what heaven-sent gift is more honourable in the eyes of men than to hold one’s hand in triumph over the head of an enemy? Honour is ever cherished. [900]

[Epode:] Happy the man who has escaped storm at sea and found harbour; happy the man who has surmounted toils. In diverse ways one man outstrips another in prosperity and power. Countless men, besides, nourish countless hopes; some of these end in happiness for mortals, others vanish. The man whose life is happy day by day is [910] the one I count blessed.

[DIONYSUS comes out of the palace, followed by PENTHEUS, dressed as a Bacchant.]

DIONYSUS: You there, eager to see what you should not – yes, it’s you I mean. Pentheus, you who are bent on prying into what should remain secret, come out in front of the palace! Let me see you dressed like a woman, a maenad, a Bacchant, on your way to spy on your mother and her company!

[PENTHEUS comes out in Bacchic dress, no longer in possession of his faculties.] Well, you do look like one of the daughters of Cadmus!

PENTHEUS: Hey! I think I see two suns and two Thebes, two cities with seven gates! And you, my guide, look just like a [920] bull, with horns growing on your head. Were you perhaps a beast all along? You certainly have become a bull now.78

DIONYSUS: The god accompanies us; he was hostile before, but now is in league with us; now you see what you should see.79

PENTHEUS [throwing his head back in exaggerated imitation of a typical maenad]: Well, how do I look? Do I not have the very pose of Ino, or Agaue, my mother?

DIONYSUS: I seem to see their very selves, as I look at you. [He moves forward to adjust PENTHEUS’ wig.] But this lock of hair is out of position, not as I arranged it under your headband.

[930] PENTHEUS: I dislodged it inside, when I was shaking my hair this way and that, behaving as Bacchants do.

DIONYSUS: There, I’ll put it back in place; I’m your valet now. Straighten your head!

PENTHEUS: There you are! You must be my dresser now; I am completely in your hands.80

DIONYSUS: Your girdle is loose, and the pleats of your dress are not hanging straight below the ankle.

PENTHEUS: I agree, at least at my right ankle. [He looks over his shoulder at the back of his left leg.] On this side the dress hangs straight by my ankle.

DIONYSUS: I’m sure you’ll think me first among your friends, when you see what you do not expect – Bacchants behaving [940] purely.

PENTHEUS: Shall I look more like a Bacchant if I hold the thyrsus in my right hand or in this one?

DIONYSUS: The correct hand is the right, and you should lift and ground it in time with the right foot. I am glad that you have undergone a change of mind.

PENTHEUS: Would I be able to carry on my shoulders Cithaeron and its glens, Bacchants included?

DIONYSUS: You would, should it be your wish; before you were not of sound mind, but now you are … as you should be.

PENTHEUS: Should I carry crowbars with me or put my shoulder or arms under the peaks and heave them up with my bare hands? [950]

DIONYSUS: You wouldn’t want to destroy the shrines of the Nymphs and the haunts of Pan, where he plays his pipes, would you?

PENTHEUS: Good point; force is not the way to defeat women; I will conceal myself under the firs.

DIONYSUS: You will get all the concealment you should find if you go to spy on maenads.

PENTHEUS: Imagine it – there they lie now, I fancy, like mating birds in the bushes, snuggling together in the joyous nets of love!

DIONYSUS: Isn’t this the very reason for your vigilant mission? Perhaps you will catch them unawares – [aside:] unless you are caught first. [960]

PENTHEUS: Take me through the midst of the land of Thebes;81 I am the only man among them to dare this deed.

DIONYSUS: You are the only one who bears the burden for this city,82 the only one. And so you face the trial you have deserved. Now follow; I will escort you there safely, but another will bring you back from there …

PENTHEUS: Yes, my mother!

DIONYSUS: A sight to strike every eye.

PENTHEUS: It is for this reason I go!

DIONYSUS: You shall ride home …

PENTHEUS: You mean to pamper me!

DIONYSUS: … in your mother’s arms.

PENTHEUS: You really want to spoil me!

DIONYSUS: To spoil you, yes – in my own way.

PENTHEUS: I go to claim only what I deserve. [970]

[PENTHEUS begins to leave the stage.]

DIONYSUS: You are formidable, formidable, and formidable are the sufferings you will find there, such as will earn you renown that towers to heaven.83 Stretch out your hands, Agaue, and you, her sisters, daughters of Cadmus! I bring this young man to a great contest, whose winner shall be myself and the Roaring One. The rest the event will show.

[DIONYSUS follows PENTHEUS offstage.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: On, swift hounds of Madness,84 on to the mountain, where Cadmus’ daughters are joined in worship! Rouse them [980] to frenzy against the one disguised in woman’s clothes, who spies on the maenads in his madness. First his mother will see him,85 as he watches from a smooth rock or crag, and will call out to the maenads: ‘Who is he that has come to the mountain, my Bacchants, has come to the mountain, tracking down the mountain-dancing daughters of Cadmus? What creature is his mother? For he is not sprung of [990] women’s blood; a lioness gave him birth, or Libyan Gorgons.’

Let Justice come for all to see, let her come sword in hand, stabbing through the throat to his death the godless, the lawless, the unjust man, the earth-born offspring of Echion!

[Antistrophe:] This man with unjust intent and lawless anger at your rites, god of Bacchants, and your mother’s, sets forth with mad [1000] craft and deluded spirit to master by violent means what may not be conquered. Death will discipline his purpose.86But acceptance without protest of what the gods decide, and to abide by the mortal lot, means a life free of sorrow. I feel no envy of those who seek out wisdom in moderation. But the other things are great and not hidden from view, leading our lives ever towards beauty. May it be my aim to be reverent and holy by day and on through the night, and, rejecting all customs [1010] that transgress justice, to know the gods!

Let Justice come for all to see, let her come sword in hand, stabbing through the throat to his death the godless, the lawless, the unjust man, the earth-born offspring of Echion!

[Epode:] Appear as bull or many-headed serpent to view, or as a flaming lion to the eye! Come, Bacchus, beast-god, over the hunter of Bacchants fling with smiling face the net of death,87 when he has [1020] fallen among the maenad herd!

[A MESSENGER enters,88 the personal attendant of PENTHEUS.]

MESSENGER: O house that once in earlier days was counted happy by all Greeks, how I grieve for you, slave though I am!

CHORUS-LEADER: What is it? Do you have some news of the Bacchants?

MESSENGER: Pentheus is dead, son of Echion, his sire. [1030]

CHORUS-LEADER: [breaking into song]: O Bromius, my master, you are shown to be a mighty god!

MESSENGER: What do you mean? Why did you say that? Do you take pleasure in the misfortune of one who was my master, woman?

CHORUS-LEADER: A foreigner am I, and in barbaric strains I hail my god; no more do I cower in fear of chains!

MESSENGER: Do you think Thebes so lacking in men [that you shall not be punished for this?]

CHORUS-LEADER: Dionysus, Dionysus, not Thebes, has power over me!

MESSENGER: I can sympathize with you, but to rejoice in the doing of a foul deed, there is no honour, women, in that. [1040]

CHORUS-LEADER: Tell me, speak! How did he meet his end, the enemy of justice in his unjust mission?

MESSENGER: When we had left behind89 the farms of this Theban land and crossed Asopus’ waters, we started to strike into the foothills of Cithaeron, Pentheus and I (for I was attending my master) and the stranger who was leading the way on our mission. First we sat down in a grassy glade, making sure no sound came from our feet or tongues, so that we might see without being seen. A ravine, bound with cliffs, [1050] lay there, with pines casting their shadow over the stream that rushed through it. There the maenads were sitting, their hands employed in pleasant tasks. Some of them were restoring to a worn-out wand its crown of ivy locks, others, with the joy of young mares released from the painted yoke, were singing bacchic antiphonies. But Pentheus, wretched man, not seeing the throng of women, spoke: ‘Stranger, where we stand my [1060] eyes cannot see the maenads’ mischief. But on the banks, if I climbed into a tall pine-tree, I would get a clear view of their shameful behaviour.’

Then my eyes saw miracles worked by the stranger. He seized the topmost branch of a pine where it soared into the sky, and began to force it down, down, down to the dark earth, until it was bent round like a bow, or a rounded wheel traced by a compass in a whirling circuit. In this way the stranger pulled down that mountain trunk with his hands and bent it to the ground, a feat no mortal could perform. He [1070] seated Pentheus on the branches of the pine and then he let the stem pass through his hands until it straightened; but gently, taking care the mount did not unseat its rider. High into the high heavens it soared, with my master sitting on the top. Then he saw the maenads, but not so well as they saw him. He was just becoming visible on his lofty perch, when the stranger no longer could be seen, and from the sky a voice – it was Dionysus, I guess – rang out: ‘Young women, I bring you the man who makes a mockery of you and me and my [1080] rites. Punish him!’ As the voice spoke these words, a flash of awful fire appeared set between heaven and earth. Hushed was the air, hushed the leaves of the forest glade, not a cry from a single beast could you have heard.

But the Bacchants’ ears had not clearly taken in the voice, though they stood up and stared around them. Then he issued a second command. When they understood the clear order of Bacchus, Cadmus’ daughters and all the Bacchants with them [1090] sped out with the swiftness of doves, and through the glade, over its torrent and boulders they leaped, maddened with the inspiration of the god. And when they saw my master seated in the pine-tree, first they climbed a cliff towering opposite and began to pelt him furiously with stones. Some used branches of fir as javelins against him, while others hurled their holy wands through the air at Pentheus, a cruel target to aim at, but to no effect. For the wretched man was sitting too [1100] high for their desperate attempts, trapped in his helplessness. In the end they used branches of oak to destroy the roots of his tree, attempting to prise them up with crowbars not of iron. When their efforts ended in failure, Agaue spoke: ‘Come, my maenads, form a circle and seize hold of the trunk, so we can capture this climbing beast.90 He must not reveal our secret dances for the god!’ Then they put their countless hands on the pine and pulled it up from the earth. And headlong [1110] from his lofty perch to the ground below, with unending shrieks, fell Pentheus. For he realized his fatal hour had come. His mother was first to attack him, initiating as priestess the bloody rite. He threw the headband from his hair, so that the wretched Agaue might recognize him and stay her murderous hands. Touching her cheek, he spoke these words: ‘Mother, it is I, your son, Pentheus, whom you bore in the house of Echion! O Mother, pity me, and do not kill your son because of my offences!’91 But Agaue, foaming at the mouth and [1120] rolling distorted eyes, her senses gone, was in the grip of Bacchus and deaf to his entreaties. She grabbed his left arm below the elbow, set her foot against the doomed man’s ribs and tore out the shoulder, not by strength but by ease of hand that was the gift of the god. Ino worked away at the other side, tearing at his flesh, while Autonoe and the whole horde [1130] of Bacchants pressed home their attack. All was one confused shout – he screaming with the little breath he had left, the women yelling in triumph. One of them was carrying an arm, another a foot, still covered by its sandal; his ribs were stripped bare by the clawing nails, and every woman had blood on her hands, as she tossed Pentheus’ flesh in sport like a ball.92

His body lies scattered, part beneath the jagged rocks, part in the green depths of the woodland – no easy thing to find. His wretched head his mother has. She seized it in her hands, [1140] and, sticking it on the top of her holy wand, now carries it, as if it were a mountain lion’s, through the midst of Cithaeron, leaving her sisters behind with the bands of maenads. Exulting in her ill-fated quarry, she is coming inside these city walls, calling on Bacchus as her ‘fellow-huntsman’, her ‘comrade in the chase’, ‘the giver of triumph’ – though what he gives her in triumph is tears!

I shall remove myself from this calamitous scene before Agaue reaches the palace. To be virtuous in one’s life and [1150] show the gods reverence is the noblest course; it is also, I think, the greatest wisdom a man can possess.


CHORUS: Let us dance for the Bacchic god, let us celebrate with cries the fate of Pentheus, offspring of the dragon, who donned women’s clothing and took up the blessed fennel wand, weaponry of death, and had a bull to guide him to his end.

[1160] Bacchants of Cadmus’ town, famous is the song of triumph you have fashioned, but its ending is lamentation and tears. A noble contest – to clasp a child with a hand that drips with his blood!93

Enough; I see Agaue, mother of Pentheus, rushing towards the palace, her eyes rolling. Give her welcome into the revelling band of the god of joy!

[AGAUE enters,94 dancing. She carries the head of PENTHEUS in her arms.]

AGAUE [Strophe]: Bacchants of Asia

CHORUS: Why do you call on me, woman?

AGAUE: I bring from the mountain a curling thing, freshly cut, to the [1170] palace, a blessed trophy of the hunt!

CHORUS: I see, and will accept you as partner in the revel.

AGAUE: I seized him without snares, this young whelp [of a mountain lion], as you may see.

CHORUS: In what desolate place?

AGAUE: Cithaeron

CHORUS: Cithaeron?

AGAUE: … brought him death.

CHORUS: Who struck the blow?

AGAUE: That honour fell first to me. ‘Blessed Agaue’, they call me in the worshipping band! [1180]

CHORUS: Who else?

AGAUE: Cadmus it was

CHORUS: Cadmus?

AGAUE: … whose daughters laid hands on this beast – but not before me, not before me! This was a happy hunting!

[Antistrophe:] Share now in the feast!95

CHORUS: Share in what, you wretch?

AGAUE [caressing the head:] Young is the calf; under his crest of delicate hair the down has grown but lately on his cheek.

CHORUS: Yes, his hair makes him look like a beast of the wild.

AGAUE: The Bacchic god, a skilful huntsman, skilfully96 loosed his maenads on this beast. [1190]

CHORUS: Yes, our lord is a hunter.

AGAUE: Do you praise me?

CHORUS: I praise you.

AGAUE: Soon the people of Cadmus

CHORUS: Yes, and Pentheus, your son

AGAUE: … will praise his mother, for capturing this prey in lion shape.

CHORUS: No ordinary prey.

AGAUE: No ordinary killing.

CHORUS: Are you exultant?

AGAUE: Joy is mine, for I have achieved great things, great things for all to see, by this hunting!

CHORUS-LEADER: Then, you wretch, show the citizens your spoil of victory that you have brought with you. [1200]

AGAUE [she has stopped dancing]: You who dwell in the fair-towered city of the Theban land, come to view this prey, the beast that we daughters of Cadmus have hunted down, not with thonged javelins of Thessaly, not with nets, but with the white blades of our hands! After that should huntsmen wield spears, and get themselves useless weapons from the armourers? We with nothing but our hands caught this beast and tore apart his limbs! Where is my old father? Let him [1210] come near. And Pentheus, my son, where is he? Let him take a sturdy ladder and set it against the house, so he may climb up and nail this head to the façade – this lion’s head I bring back from my hunting!

[CADMUS now enters97 with attendants who carry the ruined body of PENTHEUS.]

CADMUS: Follow me, bearing the woeful burden that was Pentheus, follow me, servants, to the house where I am bringing this body. My search was endless and cost me much toil; in Cithaeron’s glades I found him, scattered, with no two pieces [1220] on the same part of ground. I had already returned with old Teiresias from the Bacchants and was inside the city’s walls when I heard news of my daughters’ fearful deeds. Back I turned my steps to the mountain, to fetch home the son whom the maenads had killed. There I saw Autonoe, who once bore Actaeon to Aristaeus, and with her Ino, still stricken with madness, poor creatures, in the woodland; but the other, [1230] Agaue, I was told, was coming here on frenzied feet. What I heard was true enough; I see her now, a sight that brings no happiness.

AGAUE: Father, you may make the proudest of boasts – you have sired by far the finest daughters in the world! I mean them all, but foremost myself, who left the shuttle by the loom and have risen to higher things – hunting beasts with my hands! I bring here in my arms, as you see, this prize of my valour, to be hung on your palace roof. [She holds out

[1240] PENTHEUS’ head.] Here, father, take it in your hands! Exult in my hunting and invite your friends to a feast. You are blessed, blessed in such a feat performed by my hands!

CADMUS: O sorrow beyond measure – no eyes can bear the sight! Pity the hands that did the bloody deed! Fair is the sacrifice you have offered the gods that makes you invite all Thebes together with me to a feast. Oh, I grieve for these woes, first your own, and then mine! How he has destroyed us, the god, the king who is the Roaring One – justly but [1250] excessively, though he is our own kin!98

AGAUE: How churlish a thing in men is old age, with its scowling face! If only my son were a skilful hunter, taking after his mother’s ways, so as to join in hunting beasts with the young men of Thebes! But all he is capable of is opposing the gods. You must take him to task, father! Won’t anyone call him here into my sight, to witness my good fortune?

CADMUS: Oh, what pain, what sorrow! If ever you come to know what you have done, you will know grief past bearing. If you remain to the end in this state, you will not deserve the [1260] name ‘fortunate’ but in your fancy you will have escaped misfortune.

AGAUE: What cause for shame is here?99 What is there to make one grieve?

CADMUS: First turn your eyes to yonder sky.

AGAUE: There. Why do you tell me to look at it?

CADMUS: Does it seem the same to you or changed?

AGAUE: It is brighter than before, more translucent.

CADMUS: And the excitement you felt inside you, is it still there?

AGAUE: I don’t understand what you say; but I’m becoming – somehow – rational, and changing from my earlier feelings. [1270]

CADMUS: Can you hear at all? Can you give clear answers?

AGAUE: Yes, for I have actually forgotten what we said a moment ago, Father.

CADMUS: Whose house was it you entered on the day of your wedding?

AGAUE: You gave me to Echion, seed of the Dragon, men say.

CADMUS: Who was the child born in his house to your husband?

AGAUE: Pentheus, born to me and his father both.

CADMUS: Well, then, whose head is it you have in your arms?

AGAUE: A lion’s – or so the hunting women said.

CADMUS: Look properly now; it is a small effort to look.

AGAUE: Ah, what do I see? What is this prize I am carrying in my hands? [1280]

CADMUS: Look at it closely and understand more clearly.

AGAUE: Oh, no, no! I see my greatest sorrow!

CADMUS: You don’t still think it looks like a lion?

AGAUE: No, it is Pentheus’ head I hold – oh, misery!

CADMUS: I shed tears for him long before you recognized him.

AGAUE: Who was his killer? How did he come into my hands?

CADMUS: O unhappy truth, how untimely your presence here!

AGAUE: Speak! My heart beats in terror at what is to come!

CADMUS: You killed him, you and your sisters.

[1290] AGAUE: Where did he die? Was it at home? Where?

CADMUS: It was where Actaeon’s hounds once tore him apart.

AGAUE: Why did he go to Cithaeron, this ill-fated man?

CADMUS: He went there to insult the god and your acts of worship.

AGAUE: What of us? How did we come to be there?

CADMUS: You had become mad; the whole city was in the power of Bacchus.

AGAUE: Dionysus is our destroyer; now I understand.

CADMUS: Yes, for the contempt that was shown to him; you did not regard him as a god.

AGAUE: My son’s dear body – where is it, Father?

CADMUS [he gestures to the bier with Pentheus’ remains]: Here I bring it – not easily discovered.

[1300] AGAUE: Is it all decently arranged, limb to limb?100


What part did Pentheus have in my madness?

CADMUS: He proved himself to be like you; he did not revere the god. So Dionysus has involved all together in a single ruin, both you and this man. He has destroyed our house and me as well; having no male offspring of my own, I have seen this fruit of your womb, poor girl, most foully and wretchedly slain. O my child, through you the house had gained its sight again; it was you, my daughter’s child, who held my palace [1310] together and kept our citizens in awe. No one, seeing your face, would dare insult the old man; otherwise you would make him suffer as he deserved. But now I shall be an exile from my home, dishonoured – I, Cadmus the great, who sowed the Theban race and reaped that splendid harvest! O dearest of men (though you are alive no more, I will still number you, child, among my loved ones), never again will you touch this chin of mine with your hand and embrace me, child, calling me ‘Grandfather’ and saying, ‘Who wrongs you, who dishonours you, sir? Who vexes your heart with his[1320] annoying ways? Tell me, so I may punish the one who wrongs you, Grandfather!’

But now it is sorrow for me and misery for you, pity for your mother and misery for her sisters. If there is anyone who holds deities in contempt, let him consider this man’s death and believe in the gods.101

CHORUS-LEADER: Your lot is painful in my sight, Cadmus, but your grandson has the justice he deserves, though it brings you pain.102

AGAUE: Father, you see how great is the change in my fortunes …103


DIONYSUS [speaking from above the stage-building] : [ … ] You will be transformed into a snake, and your spouse, becoming a [1330] beast, will take on the form of a serpent, the lady Harmonia, daughter of Ares, whom you, a mortal born, took to wife. With your spouse at your side, as the oracle of Zeus says, you will drive a cattle-drawn chariot, and, leading barbarians in a mighty host, you will sack many cities. But when they plunder the oracle of Loxias, they will win for themselves a miserable homecoming. From this Ares will save you and Harmonia, and he will transport you alive to the land of the blessed.104

I, Dionysus, speak these words as the son of no mortal father but of Zeus. If you had possessed the sense to show [1340] wisdom, when you would not, you would have won the son of Zeus as your ally and now know happiness.

CADMUS: Dionysus, we beseech you, we have done wrong!105

DIONYSUS: Too late you came to know me; when you should have, you did not.

CADMUS: This we acknowledge; but you come upon us with a hand too heavy.

DIONYSUS: Yes, for I, a god born, was treated by you with contempt.

CADMUS: Gods should not be like mortals in temper.

DIONYSUS: Long ago my father Zeus gave his consent to this.

[1350] AGAUE: Ah, it is decided, Father, our woeful exile!

DIONYSUS: Why, then, do you delay what must be?

[DIONYSUS leaves the stage.106]

CADMUS: My child, how fearful a calamity we have all come to – you, poor creature, your sisters, and my unhappy self. I shall go in my old age to share a home with barbarians, and there is yet for me the oracle’s command to lead a disparate host of foreigners against Greece. The daughter of Ares, Harmonia, my wife, shall assume the form of a savage snake, while I, a snake myself, shall take her at my side, as I lead an army of spearsmen against the altars and tombs of the Greeks. [1360] There will be no end to my wretched sufferings, and no peace shall I have, even when I have made the voyage down plunging Acheron.

AGAUE [embracing CADMUS]: Father, I must go into exile without you to share my path!107

CADMUS: Why do you throw your arms around me, unhappy child, as the young swan shelters the old, feeble and grey in his plumage?

AGAUE: Oh, where am I to turn, now I am banished from my country?

CADMUS: I do not know, child; your father is of little help.

AGAUE: Farewell, my house! Farewell, city of my fathers! I am leaving [1370] you in misery, driven from my marital bed.

CADMUS: Go now, daughter, to the house of Aristaeus108

[ … ]

AGAUE: I grieve for you, Father.

CADMUS: And I for you, child; and I weep for your sisters.

AGAUE: Terribly has Lord Dionysus brought this outrage upon your house!

CADMUS: Yes, for terrible was his treatment109 at our hands, having his name go without honour in Thebes.

AGAUE: Farewell, Father!

CADMUS: Farewell, wretched Daughter! But you will not find it easy to fare well. [1380]

AGAUE: Take me, friends, where I shall find the unhappy sisters who are to share my exile. Oh, to go where foul Cithaeron may not see me, nor I Cithaeron, to a place where no dedicated thyrsus may stir the memory! Let other Bacchants care for these things!

[AGAUE leaves the stage. CADMUS also leaves, in the opposite direction.]

CHORUS: Many are the forms taken by the plans of the gods and many the things they accomplish beyond men’s hopes. What men expect does not happen; for the unexpected heaven finds a way. And [1390] so it has turned out here today.110

[Exit CHORUS.]

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