The Bacchae – Euripides

“Remember this! No amount of Bacchic reveling can corrupt an honest woman.”

The Bacchae is about the god Dionysus whom is angry with the King of Thebes for not recognising him as a god and vows revenge.

Caravaggio – Baccahus

Gods that are angry is a very common theme in ancient plays and literature. You can’t escape the gods. Considering that this play would have been performed in a ritual with the god Dionysus at it’s centre and where the actions of the women in this play would have been similar to the actions of Dionysus’s worshippers just days or even hours before must have put an eerie feel to it. Euclide was at the time in some hot waters as people were starting to question him as someone who rejected the gods. This play, while not putting the god in a nice light, does have a feel of ‘you worship them either by your own free will, or by force and you do not want to know what I will do if I have to use force’. This is the angry, vengeful god of Oedipus Rex. It’s also the tragic god in that you question why the people who end up suffering have to be the one suffering.

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”

William Adolphe Bouguereau-The Youth of Bacchus

It has been argued that the play is about the rational (the King) vs. the irrational (Dionysus). I have no problem seeing Dionysus as the irrational, but considering that the King is a very young brute, “Dream not thou that force is power” is a line directed as him, I find it difficult to argue that the King is rational in any way. Wanting to be rational yes, but being too young/naive/not understanding the world to be able to actually be rational. To me personally it’s much more about emotion and how we relate to our own emotions. It starts with Dionysus being nothing but angry over being snubbed his identity as a god. He turns the women of Thebes into his worshippers. Women at this time in history were considered nothing but emotions. In a different play Lysistrata (which is a very funny comedy) the women try to get their husbands to end a war by denying them sex. The fact that the women where able to say no to sex when the men approached them was seen as divine intervention. Since most of Dinoysus followers, The Bacchae, were women they were also connected much closely to human emotions. So you have a god full of emotions driving the part of

Nicolas Poussin – Bacchanal before a herm

humans whom are driven by emotions, to act out on their emotions, and the king thinking he can use brute force or a form for logic to hinder these acts of emotions. In his use of this form for logic he does things that hint at his own emotional side, especially his desires, but he rejects them. It ends tragic. So having too much emotions will turn you into an animal or a brute, but denying your emotions will also turn out tragic.

“He is life’s liberating force.
He is release of limbs and communion through dance.
He is laughter, and music in flutes.
He is repose from all cares — he is sleep!
When his blood bursts from the grape
and flows across tables laid in his honor
to fuse with our blood,
he gently, gradually, wraps us in shadows
of ivy-cool sleep.”

And don’t anger Dionysus.


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