Oedipus's curse[ edit ] In the Thebaidthe brothers were cursed by their father for their disrespect towards him on two occasions. The first of these occurred when they served him using the silver table of Cadmus and a golden cup, which he had forbidden. Enraged, Oedipus prayed to Zeus that the brothers would die by each other's hand. His sons argued over the throne, but Eteocles gained the support of the Thebans and expelled Polynices, who went to Oedipus to ask for his blessing to retake the city, but instead was cursed to die by his brother's hand.
His human mother, Semelebecame pregnant by Zeus, king of the gods. At the moment of her death, however, Zeus saved the unborn Dionysushiding it from Hera by sewing the foetus up in his own thigh until it was ready to be born.
Meanwhile, Dionysus has travelled throughout Asia gathering a Bacchae antigone of female worshippers the Bacchae, or Bacchantes, of the title, who are the Chorus of the playand has returned to his birthplace, Thebes, to take revenge on the ruling house of Cadmus for their refusal to worship him, and to vindicate his mother, Semele.
Asa the play begins, Dionysus has driven the women of Thebes, including his aunts Agave, Autonoe and Ino, into an ecstatic frenzy, sending them dancing and hunting on Mount Cithaeron. It is clear from his questions, however, that Pentheus himself is also deeply interested in the Dionysiac rites, and when the stranger refuses to reveal the rites fully to him, the frustrated Pentheus has him Bacchae antigone locked up.
A herdsman brings sensational reports from Mount Cithaeron that the Maenads are behaving especially strangely and performing incredible feats and miracles, and that the guards are unable to harm them with their weapons, while the women appear able to defeat them with only sticks.
Pentheus is now even more eager to see the ecstatic women, and Dionysus wishing to humiliate and punish him convinces the king to dress as a female Maenad to avoid detection and go to the rites himself.
Another messenger then reports how the god took his vengeance a step further than just humiliation, helping Pentheus up to the top of a tree for a better view of the Maenads but then alerting the women to the snooper in their midst.
Driven wild by this intrusion, the women tore the trapped Pentheus down and ripped his body apart, piece by piece.
Cadmus remarks that the god has punished the family rightly but excessively. Dionysus finally appears in his true form, and sends Agave and her sisters into exile, the family now all but destroyed.
Still not satisfied, though, Dionysus chastises the family one more time for their impiety and, in a final act of revenge, turns Cadmus and his wife Harmonia into snakes. The old, blind prophet Tiresias is the only one not to suffer, for his efforts in persuading Pentheus to worship Dionysus. It won first prize at the contest, ironically a prize that had eluded Euripides all his life.
Indeed, no play seems to have been more popular in the ancient theatre, or to have been more frequently quoted and imitated. During his lifetime, Euripides saw the incursion of strong Asian and Near Eastern influences into cult practices and beliefs, and the god Dionysus himself still incompletely integrated into Greek religious and social life at that time mutated during this period, taking on new forms and absorbing new powers.
The character of Dionysus himself, in the prologue to the play, highlights the perceived invasion of Greece by Asian religions. The 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, and it depicts a struggle to the death between the forces of control restraint and freedom release.
It demonstrates the necessity of self-control, moderation and wisdom in avoiding the two extremes: Unusually for a Greek drama, the protagonist, Dionysusis himself a god, and a god who is by his very nature contradictory: He blurs the division between comedy and tragedy, and even at the end of the play, Dionysus remains something of a mystery, a complex and difficult figure whose nature is difficult to pin down and describe, unknown and unknowable.
The play is sprinkled throughout with duality oppositions, doubles and pairingsand opposite forces are major themes of the play: For instance, it would be a gross over-simplication to try and attribute the two sides of these forces to the two main characters, Dionysus and Pentheus.
Similarly, all the main characters command a different form of wisdom, but each with its own set of limitations. King Pentheus, for example, is portrayed as young and idealistic, the guardian of a purely rational civic and social order.
The order that Pentheus represents, however, is not just the legal order, but what he sees as the proper order of all of life, including the supposedly proper control of women, and he sees Dionysus and women roaming around freely in the mountains as a direct threat to this vision.
He is also shown to be vain, obstinate, suspicious, arrogant and, ultimately, hypocritical. These foreign practices are seen as especially threatening as they stand to corrupt all the women folk and to encourage the women to revolt against male authority and break the bonds tying them to their narrowly defined domestic sphere within a patriarchal society.
Euripides had an enduring fascination with woman and their social position, and pointed out in this play and in several others how implicit and entrenched the oppression of women was in Greek civilization.
It has been suggested that Euripides wished, in his old age, to reconcile himself to his countrymen, and to atone for his previous attacks on their religious beliefs. However, it is likely that the play was written after his final departure from Athens, and it is anyway doubtful whether the religious jibes of his previous works had given much offence to the majority of his countrymen.
It also seems unlikely that he would have wished his depiction of the fervid enthusiasm of the Bacchantes to be regarded as his own last words on the subject, and even in this play he does not shrink from exposing the imperfections of the legend and alluding to the frailties and vices of the legendary deities.
To some extent, the character of Dionysus himself effectively stage-directs the play, and emulates the author, costume designer, choreographer and artistic director of the play.
Masks and disguises, with all their symbolism, are essential elements in the play. Dionysus offers his worshippers the freedom to be someone other than themselves and, in doing so, the chance to achieve a religious ecstasy through theatre itself. Although Pentheus begins as an external spectator and onlooker, viewing the Bacchic rites with a removed and disapproving gaze, he jumps at the chance offered by Dionysus to move from the margins to centre stage of the drama.
Resources English translation Internet Classics Archive:drama. Whether you’re studying Aeschylus or Angels in America, we can help you understand works written for the stage, including characters, themes, and important quotes. From a general summary to chapter summaries to explanations of famous quotes, the SparkNotes The Bacchae Study Guide has everything you .
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In Euripides’ Bacchae and Sophocles’ Antigone, piety is a major theme consistent among the play. Goldsmith, William She Stoops to Conquer Vicar of Wakefield Graves, Robert I, Claudius Greene, Graham The Comedians The Quiet American.