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Bacchae by Euripides

Dramatis Personae


DIONYSUS: divine son of Zeus and Semele.

TIRESIAS: an old blind prophet.

CADMUS: grandfather of both Dionysus and Pentheus, an old man.

PENTHEUS: young king of Thebes, grandson of Cadmus, cousin of Dionysus.

AGAVE: mother of Pentheus, daughter of Cadmus, sister of Semele.

FIRST MESSENGER: a cattle herder.

SECOND MESSENGER: an attendant on Pentheus.

CHORUS OF BACCHAE: worshippers of Dionysus who have

followed him from Asia, also called Maenads or Bacchants.

SOLDIERS and ATTENDANTS around Pentheus.


[The action takes place in front of the royal palace of Thebes. Enter




I’ve arrived here in the land of Thebes,

I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, born to him

from Semele, Cadmus’ daughter, delivered

by a fiery midwife—Zeus’ lightning flash.1

Yes, I’ve changed my form from god to human,

appearing here at these streams of Dirce,

the waters of Ismenus. I see my mother’s tomb—

for she was wiped out by that lightning bolt.

It’s there, by the palace, with that rubble,

the remnants of her house, still smoldering                                         10

from Zeus’ living fire—Hera’s undying outrage

against my mother. But I praise Cadmus.                                                             [10]

He’s made his daughter’s shrine a sacred place.

I have myself completely covered it

with leafy shoots of grape-bearing vines.

I’ve left the fabulously wealthy East,

lands of Lydians and Phrygians,

Persia’s sun-drenched plains, walled towns in Bactria.

I’ve moved across the bleak lands of the Medes,

through rich Arabia, all Asian lands,                                                 20

along the salt-sea coast, through those cities

with their beautifully constructed towers,

full of barbarians and Greeks all intermingled.

Now I’ve come to Thebes, city of Greeks,                                                         [20]

only after I’ve set those eastern lands

dancing in the mysteries I established,

making known to men my own divinity.

Thebes is the first city of the Greeks

where I’ve roused people to shout out my cries,

with this deerskin draped around my body,                                     30

this ivy spear, a thyrsus, in my hand.2

For my mother’s sisters have acted badly,

something they, of all people, should avoid.

They stated aloud that I, Dionysus,

was no child of Zeus, claiming Semele,

once she was pregnant by some mortal man,

attributed her bad luck in bed to Zeus,

a story made up (they said) to trick Cadmus.                                                     [30]

Those sisters state that’s why Zeus killed her,

because she lied about the man she’d slept with.                             40

So I’ve driven those women from their homes

in a frenzy—they now live in the mountains,

out of their minds. I’ve made them put on costumes,

outfits appropriate for my mysteries.

All Theban offspring—or, at least, all women—

I’ve driven in a crazed fit from their homes.

Now they sit out there among the rocks,

underneath green pine trees, no roof overhead,

Cadmus’ daughters in their company as well.

For this city has to learn, though against its will,                             50

that it has yet to be initiated

into my Dionysian rites. Here I plead                                                                 [40]

the cause of my own mother, Semele,

appearing as a god to mortal men,

the one she bore to Zeus. Now Cadmus,

the old king, has just transferred his power,

his royal authority, to Pentheus,

his daughter’s son, who, in my case at least,

fights against the gods, prohibiting me

all sacrificial offerings. When he prays,                                             60

he chooses to ignore me. For this neglect

I’ll demonstrate to him, to all in Thebes,

that I was born a god. Once these things here

have been made right, I’ll move on somewhere else,

to some other land, revealing who I am.

But if Thebans in this city, in their anger,                                                         [50]

try to make those Bacchic women leave,

to drive them from the mountains forcibly,

then I, commander of these Maenads,

will fight them.3 That’s why I’ve transformed myself,                     70

assumed a mortal shape, altered my looks,

so I resemble any human being.


[Enter the Chorus of Bacchae, dressed in ritual deerskin, carrying

small drums like tambourines]


But you there, you women who’ve left Tmolus,

backbone of Lydia, my band of worshippers,

whom I’ve led here from barbarian lands,

my comrades on the road and when we rest,

take up your drums, those instruments of yours

from Phrygian cities, first invented

by mother Rhea and myself.4 Move round here,

beat those drums by Pentheus’ palace,                                             80             [60]

let Cadmus’ city see you, while I go,

in person, to the clefts of Mount Cithaeron,

to my Bacchae, to join their dancing.

[Exit Dionysus]


CHORUS [singing and dancing]



From Asia, from sacred Tmolus

I’ve come to dance,

to move swiftly in my dance—

for Bromius—

sweet and easy task,

to cry out in celebration,

hailing great god Bacchus.5                                                                 90


Who’s in the street? Who’s there? Who?

Let him stay inside

out of our way.

Let every mouth be pure,                                                                                     [70]

completely holy,

speak no profanities.

In my hymn I celebrate

our old eternal custom,

hailing Dionysus.


O, blessed is the man,                                                                             100

the fortunate man who knows

the rituals of the gods,

who leads a pious life,

whose spirit merges

with these Bacchic celebrations,

frenzied dancing in the mountains,

our purifying rites—

one who reveres these mysteries

from Cybele, our great mother,

who, waving the thyrsus,                                                                     110         [80]

forehead crowned with ivy,

serves Dionysus.6


On Bacchae! Bacchae, move!

Bring home Bromius, our god,

son of god, great Dionysus,

from Phrygian mountains

to spacious roads of Greece—

Hail Bromius!


His mother dropped him early,

as her womb, in forceful birth pangs,                                                 120

was struck by Zeus’ flying lightning bolt,                                                         [90]

a blast which took her life.

Then Zeus, son of Cronos,

at once hid him away

in a secret birthing chamber,

buried in his thigh,

shut in with golden clasps,

concealed from Hera.


Fates made him perfect.

Then Zeus gave birth to him,                                                             130         [100]

the god with ox’s horns,

crowned with wreaths of snakes—

that’s why the Maenads

twist in their hair

wild snakes they capture.


O Thebes, nursemaid of Semele,

put on your ivy crown,

flaunt your green yew,

flaunt its sweet fruit!

Consecrate yourselves to Bacchus,                                                 140

with stems of oak or fir,                                                                                         [110]

Dress yourselves in spotted fawn skins,

trimmed with white sheep’s wool.

As you wave your thyrsus,

revere the violence it contains.

All the earth will dance at once.

Whoever leads our dancing—

that one is Bromius!

To the mountain, to the mountain,

where the pack of women waits,                                                         150

all stung to frenzied madness

to leave their weaving shuttles,

goaded on by Dionysus.


O you dark chambers of the Curetes,                                                                 [120]

you sacred caves in Crete,

birthplace of Zeus,

where the Corybantes in their caves,

men with triple helmets, made for me

this circle of stretched hide.7

In their wild ecstatic dancing,                                                             160

they mixed this drum beat

with the sweet seductive tones

of flutes from Phrygia,

then gave it to mother Rhea

to beat time for the Bacchae,

when they sang in ecstasy.

Nearby, orgiastic satyrs,                                                                                     [130]

in ritual worship of the mother goddess,

took that drum, then brought it

into their biennial dance,                                                                     170

bringing joy to Dionysus.


He’s welcome in the mountains,

when he sinks down to the ground,

after the running dance,

wrapped in holy deerskin,

hunting the goat’s blood,

blood of the slain beast,

devouring its raw flesh with joy,

rushing off into the mountains,

in Phrygia, in Lydia,                                                                             180         [140]

leading the dance—

Bromius—Evoë! 8


The land flows with milk,

the land flows with wine,

the land flows with honey from the bees.

He holds the torch up high,

our leader, the Bacchic One,

blazing flame of pine,

sweet smoke like Syrian incense,

trailing from his thyrsus.                                                                     190

As he dances, he runs,

here and there,

rousing the stragglers,

stirring them with his cries,

thick hair rippling in the breeze.                                                                         [150]

Among the Maenads’ shouts

his voice reverberates:

“On Bacchants, on!

With the glitter of Tmolus,

which flows with gold,                                                                         200

chant songs to Dionysus,

to the loud beat of our drums.

Celebrate the god of joy

with your own joy,

with Phrygian cries and shouts!

When sweet sacred pipes                                                                                     [160]

play out their rhythmic holy song,

in time to the dancing wanderers,

then to the mountains,

on, on to the mountains.”                                                                     210

Then the bacchanalian woman

is filled with total joy—

like a foal in pasture

right beside her mother—

her swift feet skip in playful dance.


Bacchae by Eurpides - an excerpt

1Semele, Cadmus’ daughter and Dionysus’ mother, had an affair with Zeus.Hera, Zeus’ wife, tricked Zeus into destroying Semele with a lightning bolt.Zeus took Dionysus and concealed him in his thigh to hide him from Hera.

2A thyrsus (pl. thyrsoi) is a hollow plant stalk, usually decorated with ivy, and carried as a symbol of Dionysus in the dancing celebrations (where it can acquire magical powers).

3The Maenads, who make up the Chorus in the play, are the female followers of Dionysus, who have come with him from the east, from Phrygia in Asia Minor.


4Rhea is Zeus’ mother. The drums referred to are like tambourines. Tmolus is a river in Asia Minor.

5Bromius and Bacchus are alternative names for Dionysus.
6Cybele is an eastern mother goddess.

7The Curetes and Corybantes are attendants on the goddess Cybele. They banged their drums to drown out the cries of the infant Zeus, whom Rhea was hiding in a cave on Crete to protect him from his father Cronos.

8Evoë is a cry of celebration in the Bacchic rituals.