Bacchae – Working Script

Script for you!




 by Euripides,

translated into English

by William Arrowsmith



Copyright © 1959, The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, Illinois); ppb 1968.

Based on the Oxford text of Gilbert Murray, supplemented by the commentary of E.R. Dodds.


Cast of Characters

 Dionysos:               a young god; long-haired, young/ancient, male, effeminate and frighteningly attractive; uncanny, and given to irony and mystery; god of wine, theater, madness; son of Zeus and Semele, to whom Zeus appeared as a thunderbolt, incinerating her (while she was pregnant) as well as producing Dionysos; a “friend to humanity” (bringing wine) and also deadly to humans (bringing wine-induced madness); aka Bromius, Evvius, Iacchos, Bacchus

Chorus of Bacchae:     female, any age, followers of Dionysos, they live on the eerie borderline between human and animal; sweet, innocent, maidens and powerful, deadly killers by turns; may have a totem animal that is a second identity: deer, heron, eagle, rabbit, fox, swan, lion/tiger, panther, wolf, tortoise, snake, hedgehog; aka Maenads, Bacchantes

Teiresias:          a very old (100s+) prophet, male/female, follower of Dionysos; has lived several normal lifetimes, as both male and female; honors the power of the gods in all forms; a strongly moral presence, if a bit mischievous and sarcastic

 Cadmus:               an old king (80s/90s), king of Thebes, father of Agave, Ino, & Semele (by his wife, Harmonia, who does not appear in the play), grandfather of Pentheus (and, through his daughter Semele, of Dionysos); loves Pentheus very much; has been dubious about his grandson Dionysos’ divinity in the past, but is now a believer—perhaps somewhat strategically, due to his pride of family and protective instincts about his daughters

Pentheus:               a young king, (20s) king of Thebes, grandson and youthful protector of Cadmus, son of Agave and Echion, and so first cousin of Dionysos; loves and shields Cadmus; a non-believer in Dionysos’ divinity, and not willing to hold beliefs strategically, he is horrified by the Bacchae and suspects them and the “Stranger” (Dionysos himself, pretending throughout the scenes with Pentheus to be a priest or servant of the god) of sexual license & debauchery

Attendant:          any age, possibly younger rather than older; impressionable, dutiful, worried

Cattle Herder:          a cattle herder from Mt. Cithaeron; any age/gender, but probably older rather than younger; mature; has a poetic eye and a poetic way of speaking; not easily frightened, even in the face of authority; used to directing cattle and people; reverent toward gods and nature; open to new ideas, aware of his/her own limits; an exciting storyteller, especially when the story is true

Messenger:          any age, attendant on Pentheus; trusted servant; become a believer in Dionysos’ power through fear and terrifying experience; has seen miracles, and horrible destruction

Agave (dances; sings):               a middle-aged (40s/50s) queen, daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus, sister of Semele and Ino; cursed to go mad, and become one of the Bacchae against her will, because she disrespected Dionysos; she takes the animal form of a swan, and dances in a trio with her sisters, INO and AUTONOË

Ino (non-speaking; dances):     daughter of Cadmus, sister of Agave and Autonoë & Semele, cursed along with Agave and Autonoë to become one of the Bacchae; Ino nursed and raised her nephew, the baby Dionysos, when her sister Semele was killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt; later, she will be transformed into the sea goddess Leucothea; she takes the animal form of a seabird, and dances in a trio with AGAVE and AUTONOË

Autonoë (non-speaking; dances):   daughter of Cadmus, sister of Agave, Ino, and Semele, cursed along with Agave & Ino to become one of the Bacchae; mother of Actaeon, a hunter; she takes the animal form of a seabird, and dances in a trio with AGAVE and INO









Ancient Greece.



Today or tomorrow.




SETTING:                    Before THE ROYAL PALACE at Thebes.

Cast take places as the audience is entering. LEFT is the way to Cithaeron (a local hill); RIGHT, to the city. In the ORCHESTRA stands, still smoking, the vine-covered TOMB/SHRINE of Semele, mother of Dionysos. A group of MUSICIANS are placed generally UR. Five BACCHAE are sitting scattered through the audience; others are offstage. INO sits over tomb of Semele as guard and mourner. AUTONOË stands as a bird-statue UR, near and partially obscured by the MUSICIANS, and close to the Palace entrance.



(Enter DIONYSOS from above the audience.

We hear his voice first.)




(earthshakingly) I have returned!


I am Dionysos, the son of Zeus,

come back to Thebes, this land where I was born.

My mother was Cadmus’ daughter, Semele by name,

midwived by fire, delivered by the lightning’s blast.


And here I stand, a god incognito,

disguised as man, beside the stream of Dirce                    5

and the waters of Ismenus. There before the palace

I see my lightning-married mother’s grave,

and there upon the ruins of her shattered house

the living fire of Zeus still smolders on

in deathless witness of Hera’s violence and rage

against my mother.


(pauses at the shrine, impressed)


But Cadmus wins my praise:                              10

he has made this tomb a shrine, sacred to my mother.

It was I who screened her grave with the green

of the clustering vine.


Far behind me lie

those golden-rivered lands, Lydia and Phrygia,

where my journeying began. Overland I went,

across the steppes of Persia where the sun strikes hotly

down, through Bactrian fastness and the grim waste          15

of Media. Thence to rich Arabia I came;

and so, along all Asia’s swarming littoral

of towered cities where Greeks and foreign nations,

mingling, live, my progress made. There

I taught my dances to the feet of living men,

establishing my mysteries and rites

that I might be revealed on earth for what I am:

a god.

And thence to Thebes.

This city, first          20

in Hellas, now shrills and echoes to my women’s cries,

their ecstasy of joy. Here in Thebes

I bound the fawn-skin to the women’s flesh and armed

their hands with shafts of ivy. For I have come               25

to refute that slander spoken by my mother’s sisters—

those who least had right to slander her.

They said that Dionysos was no son of Zeus,

but Semele had slept beside a man in love

and fathered off her shame on Zeus—a fraud, they sneered,     30

contrived by Cadmus to protect his daughter’s name.

They said she lied, and Zeus in anger at that lie

blasted her with lightning.

Because of that offense

I have stung them with frenzy, hounded them from home

up to the mountains where they wander, crazed of mind,

and compelled to wear my orgies’ livery.

Every woman in Thebes — but the women only —                35

I drove from home, mad. There they sit,

rich and poor alike, even the daughters of Cadmus,

beneath the silver firs on the roofless rocks.

Like it or not, this city must learn its lesson:

it lacks initiation in my mysteries;                         40

that I shall vindicate my mother Semele

and stand revealed to mortal eyes as the god

she bore to Zeus.

Cadmus the king has abdicated,

leaving his throne and power to his grandson Pentheus;

who now revolts against divinity, in me;                    45

thrusts me from his offerings; forgets my name

in his prayers. Therefore I shall prove to him

and every man in Thebes that I am god

indeed. and when my worship is established here,

and all is well, then I shall go my way

and be revealed to other men in other lands.                    50


But if the men of Thebes attempt to force

my Bacchae from the mountainside by threat of arms,

I shall marshal my Maenads and take the field.

To these ends I have laid my deity aside

and go disguised as a man.




On, my women,                    55

women who worship me, women whom I led

out of Asia where Tmolus heaves its rampart

over Lydia!

On, comrades of my progress here!

Come, and with your native Phrygian drum —

Rhea’s drum and mine — pound at the palace doors               60

of Pentheus! Let the city of Thebes behold you,

while I return among Cithaeron’s forest glens

where my Bacchae wait and join their whirling dances.


PARODOS (Chorus Entrance Dance and Song): “Blessed are the dancers”


(including Agave, Ino, Autonoë, and Dionysos)


(entering from different places or standing & stretching

into formation; drumming is heard throughout, and

some of the BACCHAE carry castanets, wear ankle shakers, or use small frame drums)


Out of the land of Asia,

down from holy Tmolus,

speeding the service of god,

for Bromius we come!


Hard are the labors of god;

hard, but his service is sweet.

Sweet to serve, sweet to cry:

Bacchus!  Evohé!


(calling out, spoken:)


—You on the streets!

—You on the roads!

—Make way!

—Let every mouth be hushed. Let no ill-omened words

profane your tongues.

—Make way! Fall back!


—For now I raise the old, old hymn to Dionysus.



—Blessèd, blessed are those who know the mysteries of god.

—Blessèd is s/he who hallows his/her life in the worship of god,

s/he whom the spirit of god possesseth, who is one

with those who belong to the holy body of god.

Blessèd are the dancers and those who are purified,

            who dance on the hill in the holy dance of god.

—Blessèd are the thyrsus-bearers, those who wield in their hands

the holy wand of god.

—Blessèd are those who wear the crown of the ivy of god.

—Blessèd, blessed are they: Dionysus is their god!


—On, Bacchae, on, you Bacchae,

bear your god in triumph home!

Bear on the god, son of god,

escort your Dionysus home!

Bear him down from Phrygian hill,

attend him through the streets of Hellas!


—So his mother bore him once

in labor bitter; lightning-struck,

forced by fire that flared from Zeus,

consumed, she died, untimely torn,

in childbed dead by blow of light!

Of light the son was born!


—Zeus it was who saved his son;

with speed outrunning mortal eye,

bore him to a private place,

bound the boy with clasps of gold;

in his thigh as in a womb,

concealed his son from Hera’s eyes.


—And when the weaving Fates fulfilled the time,

the bull-horned god was born of Zeus. In joy

he crowned his son, set serpents on his head—

wherefrom, in piety, descends to us

the Maenad’s writhing crown, her chevelure of snakes.


—O Thebes, nurse of Semele,

crown your hair with ivy!

Grow green with bryony!

Redden with berries! O city,

with boughs of oak and fir,

come dance the dance of god!

Fringe your skins of dappled fawn

with tufts of twisted wool!

Handle with holy care

the violent wand of god!

And let the dance begin!

He is Bromius who runs

to the mountain!

                        to the mountain!

where the throng of women waits,

driven from shuttle and loom,

possessed by Dionysus!


—And I praise the holies of Crete,

the caves of the dancing Curetes,

there where Zeus was born,

where helmed in triple tier

around the primal drum

the Corybantes danced. They,

they were the first of all

whose whirling feet kept time

to the strict beat of the taut hide

and the squeal of the wailing flute.

Then from them to Rhea’s hands

the holy drum was handed down;

but, stolen by the raving Satyrs,

fell at last to me and now

accompanies the dance

which every other year

celebrates your name:



—He is sweet upon the mountains. He drops to the earth

from the running packs.

He wears the holy fawn-skin. He hunts the wild goat

and kills it.

He delights in the raw flesh.

He runs to the mountains of Phrygia, to the mountains

of Lydia he runs!

He is Bromius who leads us! Evohé!


—With milk the earth flows! It flows with wine!

It runs with the nectar of bees!


—Like frankincense in its fragrance

is the blaze of the torch he bears.

Flames float out from his trailing wand

as he runs, as he dances,

kindling the stragglers,

spurring with cries,

and his long curls stream to the wind!


—And he cries, as they cry, Evohé!

On, Bacchae!

On, Bacchae!

Follow, glory of golden Tmolus,

hymning god

with a rumble of drums,

with a cry, Evohé! to the Evian god,

with a cry of Phrygian cries,

when the holy flute like honey plays

the sacred song of those who go

to the mountain!

                        to the mountain!


—Then, in ecstasy, like a colt by its grazing mother,

the Bacchante runs with flying feet, she leaps!





(Enter TEIRESIAS L, from the MOUNTAIN, dressed

in fawn-skin and crowned with ivy. He is blind, and uses his thyrsus as a staff.)




Ho there, who keeps the gates?

Summon Cadmus –               170

Cadmus, Agenor’s son, the stranger from Sidon

who built the towers of our Thebes.

Go, someone.

Say Teiresias wants him. He will know what errand

brings me, that agreement, age with age, we made               175

to deck our wands, to dress in skins of fawn

and crown our heads with ivy.


(Enter CADMUS from the PALACE, UC, dressed

in fawn-skin also and crowned with ivy. He also uses his

thyrsus as a staff.)




My old friend,

I knew it must be you when I heard your summons.

For “there’s a wisdom in his voice that makes

the man of wisdom known.”

But here I am,

dressed in the costume of the god, prepared to go.          180

Insofar as we are able, Teiresias, we must

do honor to this god, for he was born

my daughter’s son, who has been revealed to men,

the god, Dionysos.

Where shall we go, where

shall we tread the dance, tossing our white heads

in the dances of god?

Expound to me, Teiresias.          185

For in such matters you are wise.


I could dance night and day, untiringly

beating the earth with my thyrsus! And how sweet it is

to forget my old age.




It is the same with me.

I too feel young, young enough to dance.                    190




Good. Shall we take our chariots to the mountain?




Walking would be better. It shows more honor

to the god.




So be it. I shall lead, my old age

conducting yours.




The god will guide us there

with no effort on our part.




Are we the only men               195

who will dance for Bacchus?




They are all blind.

Only we can see.




But we delay too long.

Here, take my arm.




Link my hand in yours.




I am a man, nothing more. I do not scoff

at heaven.




We do not trifle with divinity.                    200

No, we are the heirs of customs and traditions

hallowed by age and handed down to us

by our fathers. No quibbling logic can topple them,

whatever subtleties this clever age invents.

People may say: “Aren’t you ashamed? At your age,

going dancing, wreathing your head with ivy?”               205

Well, I am not ashamed. Did the god declare

that just the young or just the old should dance?

No, he desires his honor from all mankind.

He wants no one excluded from his worship.




Because you cannot see, Teiresias, let me be                    210

interpreter for you this once. Here comes

the man to whom I left my throne, Echion’s son,

Pentheus, hastening toward the palace. He seems

excited and disturbed. Yes, listen to him.


(Enter PENTHEUS with ATTENDANTS, from the CITY, R)




I happened to be away, out of the city,                     215

but reports reached me of some strange mischief here,

stories of our women leaving home to frisk

in mock ecstasies among the thickets on the mountain,

dancing in honor of the latest divinity,

a certain Dionysos, whoever he may be!                         220

In their midst stand bowls brimming with wine.

And then, one by one, the women wander off

to hidden nooks where they serve the lusts of men.

Priestesses of Bacchus they claim they are,

but it’s really Aphrodite they adore.                         225

I have captured some of them; my jailers

have locked them away in the safety of our prison.

Those who run at large shall be hunted down

out of the mountains like the animals they are –

yes, my own mother Agave, and Ino

and Autonoë, the mother of Actaeon.                         230

In no time at all I shall have them trapped

in iron nets and stop this obscene disorder.


I am also told a foreigner has come to Thebes

from Lydia, one of those charlatan magicians,

with long soft curls smelling of perfumes,                    235

with flushed cheeks and the spells of Aphrodite

in his eyes. His days and nights he spends

with women and girls, dangling before them the joys

of initiation in his mysteries.

But let me bring him underneath that roof

and I’ll stop his pounding with his wand and tossing          240

his head. By god, I’ll have his head cut off!

And this is the man who claims that Dionysos

is a god and was sewn into the thigh of Zeus,

when, in point of fact, that same blast of lightning

consumed him and his mother both for her lie                    245

that she had lain with Zeus in love. Whoever

this stranger is, aren’t such impostures,

such unruliness, worthy of hanging?


(suddenly sees TEIRESIAS and CADMUS)



But this is incredible! Teiresias the seer

tricked out in a dappled fawn-skin!

And you,

you, my own grandfather, playing at the bacchant               250

with a wand!

Sir, I shrink to see your old age

so foolish. Shake that ivy off, grandfather!

Now drop that wand. Drop it, I say.





I see: this is your doing, Teiresias.                         255

Yes, you want still another god revealed to men

so you can pocket the profits from burnt offerings

and bird-watching. By heaven, only your age

restrains me now from sending you to prison

with those Bacchic women for importing here to Thebes

these filthy mysteries. When once you see                    260

the glint of wine shining at the feasts of women,

then you may be sure the festival is rotten.




What blasphemy! Stranger, have you no respect

for heaven? For Cadmus who sowed the dragon teeth?

Will the son of Echion disgrace his house?                    265




Give a wise man an honest brief to plead

and his eloquence is no remarkable achievement.

But you are glib; your phrases come rolling out

smoothly on the tongue, as though your words were wise

instead of foolish. The man whose glibness flows

from his conceit of speech declares the thing he is:          270

a worthless and a stupid citizen.

I tell you,

this god whom you ridicule shall someday have

enormous power and prestige throughout Hellas.

Mankind, young man, possesses two supreme blessings.

First of these is the goddess Demeter, or Earth –               275

whichever name you choose to call her by.

It was she who gave to man the nourishing grain.

But after her there came the son of Semele,

who matched her present by inventing liquid wine

as his gift to man. For filled with that good gift,

suffering mankind forgets its grief; from it                    280

comes sleep; with it oblivion of the troubles

of the day. There is no other medicine

for misery. And when we pour libations

to the gods, we pour the god of wine himself

that through his intercession man may win                    285

the favor of heaven.


Moreover, Dionysos is a god of prophecy. His worshippers,

like madmen, are endowed with mantic powers.

For when the god enters the body of a man                    300

he fills him with the breath of prophecy.

Someday          305

you shall even see him bounding with his torches

among the crags at Delphi, leaping the pastures

that stretch between the peaks, whirling and waving

his thyrsus: great throughout Hellas.

Mark my words,

Pentheus. Do not be so certain that power                     310

is what matters in the life of man; do not mistake

for wisdom the fantasies of your sick mind.

Welcome the god to Thebes; crown your head;

pour him libations and join his revels.


You are pleased when men stand outside your doors

and the city glorifies the name of Pentheus.                    320

And so the god: he too delights in glory.

But Cadmus and I, whom you ridicule, will crown

our heads with ivy and join the dances of the god –

an ancient foolish pair perhaps, but dance

we must. Nothing you have said would make me

change my mind or flout the will of heaven.                    325

You are mad, grievously mad, beyond the power

of any drugs to cure, for you are drugged

with madness.




Apollo would approve your words.

Wisely you honor Bromius: a great god.





My boy,

Teiresias advises well. Your home is here                    330

with us, with our customs and traditions, not

outside, alone. Your mind is distracted now,

and what you think is sheer delirium.

Even if this Dionysos is no god,

as you assert, persuade yourself that he is.

The fiction is a noble one, for Semele will seem               335

to be the mother of a god, and this confers

no small distinction on our family.

You saw

that dreadful death your cousin Actaeon died

when those man-eating hounds he had raised himself

savaged him and tore his body limb from limb

because he boasted that his prowess in the hunt surpassed     340

the skill of Artemis.

Do not let his fate be yours.

Here let me wreathe your head with leaves of ivy.

Then come with us and glorify the god.




Take your hands off me! Go worship your Bacchus,

but do not wipe your madness off on me.

By god, I’ll make him pay, the man who taught you               345

this folly of yours.




Go, someone, this instant,

to the place where this prophet prophesies.

Pry it up with crowbars, heave it over,

upside down; demolish everything you see.

Throw his fillets out to wind and weather.                    350

That will provoke him more than anything.

As for the rest of you, go and scour the city

for that effeminate stranger, the man who infects our women

with this strange disease and pollutes our beds.

And when you take him, clap him in chains                    355

and march him here. He shall die as he deserves –

by being stoned to death. He shall come to rue

his merrymaking here in Thebes.


(ATTENDANTS go to search – L, R, and

in the wings; they remain stage side, quietly searching

even through the audience during the CHORUS’ PEACE SONG; exit PENTHEUS into PALACE UC, finishing sending ATTENDANTS out, dismissing TEIRESIAS and CADMUS with angry gestures, and walking into PALACE over the next lines of TEIRESIAS)


(Meanwhile, TEIRESIAS and CADMUS are moving slowly

DL toward SHRINE)




Reckless fool,

you do not know the consequences of your words.

You talked madness before, but this is raving


Cadmus, let us go and pray                         360

for this raving fool and for this city too,

pray to the god that no awful vengeance strike

from heaven.

Take your staff and follow me.

Support me with your hands, and I shall help you too

lest we stumble and fall, a sight of shame,

two old men together.

But go we must,                         365

acknowledging the service that we owe to god,

Bacchus, the son of Zeus.

And yet take care

lest someday your house repent of Pentheus

in its sufferings. I speak not prophecy

but fact. The words of fools finish in folly.



(ATTENDANTS continue their search through the space

during the DANCE, and finally locate DIONYSOS and take him into custody by end of DANCE; he goes willingly)



“Peace Song” (lines 370-432)

(gently; gracefully; lyrically)


—Holiness, queen of heaven,

Holiness on golden wing

who hover over earth,

do you hear what Pentheus says?

Do you hear his blasphemy

against the prince of the blessed,

the god of garlands and banquets,

Bromius, Semele’s son?

These blessings he gave:

laughter to the flute

and the loosing of cares

when the shining wine is spilled

at the feast of the gods,

and the wine-bowl casts its sleep

on feasters crowned with ivy.


—A tongue without reins,

defiance, unwisdom—

their end is disaster.

But the life of quiet good,

the wisdom that accepts—

these abide unshaken,

preserving, sustaining

the houses of men.

Far in the air of heaven,

the sons of heaven live.

But they watch the lives of men.

And what passes for wisdom is not;

unwise are those who aspire,

who outrange the limits of man.

Briefly, we live. Briefly,

then die. Wherefore, I say,

he who hunts a glory, he who tracks

some boundless, superhuman dream,

may lose his harvest here and now

and garner death. Such men are mad,

their counsels evil.


—O let me come to Cyprus,

island of Aphrodite,

homes of the loves that cast

their spells on the hearts of men!

Or Paphos where the hundred-

mouthed barbarian river

brings ripeness without rain!

To Pieria, haunt of the Muses,

and the holy hill of Olympus!

O Bromius, leader, god of joy,

Bromius, take me there!

There the lovely Graces go,

and there Desire, and there

the right is mine to worship

as I please.


—The deity, the son of Zeus,

in feast, in festival, delights.

He loves the goddess Peace,

generous of good,

preserver of the young.

To rich and poor he gives

the simple gift of wine,

the gladness of the grape.

But him who scoffs he hates,

and him who mocks his life,

the happiness of those

for whom the day is blessed

but doubly blessed the night;

whose simple wisdom shuns the thoughts

of proud uncommon men and all

their god-encroaching dreams.

But what the common people do,

the things that simple men believe,

I too believe and do.











Pentheus, here we are; not empty-handed, either.

We captured the quarry you sent us out to catch.               435

But our prey here was tame: refused to run

or hide, held out his hands as willing as you please,

completely unafraid. His ruddy cheeks were flushed

as though with wine, and he stood there smiling,

making no objection when we roped his hands                    440

and marched him here. It made me feel ashamed.

“Listen, stranger,” I said, “I am not to blame.

We act under orders from Pentheus. He ordered

your arrest.”

As for those women you clapped in chains

and sent to the dungeon, they’re gone, clean away,          445

went skipping off to the fields crying on their god

Bromius. The chains on their legs snapped apart

by themselves. Untouched by any human hand,

the doors swung wide, opening of their own accord.

Sir, this stranger who has come to Thebes is full           450

of many miracles. I know no more than that.

The rest is your affair.




Untie his hands.

We have him in our net. He may be quick,

but he cannot escape us now, I think.





you are attractive, stranger, at least to women –

which explains, I think, your presence here in Thebes.

Your curls are long. You do not wrestle, I take it.          455

And what fair skin you have – you must take care of it –

no daylight complexion; no, it comes from the night

when you hunt Aphrodite with your beauty.

Now then,

who are you and from where?




It is nothing                    460

to boast of and easily told. You have heard, I suppose,

of Mount Tmolus and her flowers?




I know the place.

It rings the city of Sardis.




I come from there.

My country is Lydia.




Who is this god whose worship

you have imported into Hellas?




Dionysus, the son of Zeus.     465

He initiated me.




You have some local Zeus

who spawns new gods?




He is the same as yours—

the Zeus who married Semele.




How did you see him?

In a dream or face to face?




Face to face.

He gave me his rites.




What form do they take,               470

these mysteries of yours?




It is forbidden

to tell the uninitiated.




Tell me the benefits

that those who know your mysteries enjoy.




I am forbidden to say. But they are worth knowing.




Your answers are designed to make me curious.




No:               475

our mysteries abhor an unbelieving man.




You say you saw the god. What form did he assume?




Whatever form he wished. The choice was his,

not mine.




You evade the question.




“Talk sense to a fool

and he calls you foolish.”




Have you introduced your rites     480

to other cities too? Or is Thebes the first?




Foreigners everywhere now dance for Dionysos.




They are more ignorant than Greeks.




In this matter

they are not. Customs differ.




Do you hold your rites

during the day or night?




Mostly by night.                    485

The darkness is well suited to devotion.




Better suited to lechery and seducing women.




You can find debauchery by daylight too.




You shall regret these clever answers.




And you,

your stupid blasphemies.




What a bold bacchant!               490

You wrestle well – when it comes to words.




Tell me,

what punishment do you propose?




First of all,

I shall cut off your girlish curls.




My hair is holy.

My curls belong to god.


(PENTHEUS shears off DIONYSOS’ curls)




Second, you will surrender

your wand.




          You take it. It belongs to Dionysos.               495


(PENTHEUS takes the thyrsus)




Last, I shall place you under guard and confine you

in the palace.




The god himself will set me free

whenever I wish.




You will be with your women in prison

when you call on him for help.




He is here now

and sees what I endure from you.




Where is he?               500

I cannot see him.




With me. Your blasphemies

have made you blind.





Seize him. He is mocking me

and Thebes.




I give you sober warning, fools:

place no chains on me.




But I say: chain him.

And I am the stronger here.



(while he speaks, the BACCHAE begin to drum, and

continue through the end of the episode)


You do not know               505

the limits of your strength. You do not know

what you do. You do not know who you are.




I am Pentheus, the son of Echion and Agave.




Pentheus: you shall repent that name.




Off with him.

Chain his hands; lock him in the stables by the palace.

Since he desires the darkness, give him what he wants.          510

Let him dance down there in the dark.


(As attendants bind DIONYSOS, the drumming becomes louder

and more agitated)


As for these women,

your accomplices in making trouble here,

I shall have them sold as slaves or put to work

at my looms. That will silence their drums.






I go,          515

though not to suffer, since that cannot be.

But Dionysos whom you outrage by your acts,

who you deny is god, will call you to account.

When you set chains on me, you manacle the god.



the BACCHAE sweep through the stage, from wings and sides

where they have been drumming, leaving drums; percussion is picked up by musicians)




“Song to Break the Chains”

(lines 520-575)


O Dirce, holy river,

child of Achelöus’ water,

yours the springs that welcomed once

divinity, the son of Zeus!

For Zeus the father snatched his son

from deathless flame, crying:

Dithyrambus, come!

Enter my male womb.

I name you Bacchus and to Thebes

proclaim you by that name.

But now, O blessed Dirce,

you banish me when to your banks I come,

crowned with ivy, bringing revels.

O Dirce, why am I rejected?

By the clustered grapes I swear,

by Dionysus’ wine,

someday you shall come to know

the name of Bromius!


—With fury, with fury, he rages,

Pentheus, son of Echion,

born of the breed of Earth,

spawned by the dragon, whelped by Earth!

Inhuman, a rabid beast,

a giant in wildness raging,

storming, defying the children of heaven.

He has threatened me with bonds

though my body is bound to god.

He cages my comrades with chains;

he has cast them in prison darkness.

O lord, son of Zeus, do you see?

O Dionysus, do you see

how in shackles we are held

unbreakably, in the bonds of oppressors?

Descend from Olympus, lord!

Come, whirl your wand of gold

and quell with death this beast of blood

whose violence abuses man and god



—O lord, where do you wave your wand

among the running companies of god?

There on Nysa, mother of beasts?

There on the ridges of Corycia?

Or there among the forests of Olympus

where Orpheus fingered his lyre

and mustered with music the trees,

mustered the wilderness beasts?

O Pieria, you are blessed!

Evvius honors you. He comes to dance,

bringing his Bacchae, fording the race

where Axios runs, bringing his Maenads

whirling over Lydia,

generous father of rivers

and famed for his lovely waters

that fatten a land of good horses.





(Thunder & lightning; earth tremors; the PALACE shakes)



(from within PALACE)



Hear me! Ho, Bacchae!

Ho, Bacchae! Hear my cry!




Who cries?

Who calls me with that cry

of Evvius? Where are you, lord?




Ho! Again I cry –                                             580

the son of Zeus and Semele!




O lord, lord Bromius!

Bromius, come to us now!




Let the earthquake come! Shatter the floor of the world!     585




Look there, how the palace of Pentheus totters!

Look, the palace is collapsing!

Dionysos is within. Adore him!

We adore him!

Look there!

Above the pillars, how the great stones

gape and crack!

Listen. Bromius cries his victory!




Launch the blazing thunderbolt of god! O lightnings,

come! Consume with flame the palace of Pentheus!           595


(A burst of lightning flares, flames leap up from the tomb of Semele; thunder crashes)



(sings, dances, and falls down prostrate

at end of the following short, rhythmic/percussion song)



look how the fire leaps up

on the holy tomb of Semele,

the flame of Zeus of Thunders,

his lightnings, still alive,

blazing where they fell!

Down, Maenads,

fall to the ground in awe! He walks

among the ruins he has made!

He has brought the high house low!

He comes, our god, the son of Zeus!


(Enter DIONYSOS from UC, through rubble of PALACE)




What, women of Asia? Were you so overcome with fright

you fell to the ground? I think then you must have seen     605

how Bacchus jostled the palace of Pentheus. But come, rise.

Do not be afraid.




O greatest light of our holy revels,

how glad I am to see your face! Without you I was lost.




Did you despair when they led me away to cast me down          610

in the darkness of Pentheus’ prison?




What else could I do?

Where would I turn for help if something happened to you?

But how did you escape that godless man?




With ease.

No effort was required.




But the manacles on your wrists?     615




There I, in turn, humiliated him, outrage for outrage.

He seemed to think that he was chaining me but never once

so much as touched my hanbds. He fed on his desires.

Inside the stable he intended as my jail, instead of me,

he found a bull and tried to rope its knees and hooves.

He was panting desperately, biting his lips with his teeth,     620

his whole body drenched with sweat, while I sat nearby,

quietly watching. But at that moment Bacchus came,

shook the palace and touched his mother’s grave with tongues

of fire. Imagining the palace was in flames,

Pentheus went rushing here and there, shouting to his slaves   625

to bring him water. Every hand was put to work: in vain.

Then, afraid I might escape, he suddenly stopped short,

drew his sword and rushed to the palace. There, it seems,

Bromius had made a shape, a phantom which resembled me,     630

within the court. Bursting in, Pentheus thrust and stabbed

at that thing of gleaming air as though he thought it me.

And then, once again, the god humiliated him.

He razed the palace to the ground where it lies, shattered

in utter ruin – his reward for my imprisonment.

At that bitter sight, Pentheus dropped his sword, exhausted   635

by the struggle. A man, a man, and nothing more,

yet he presumed to wage a war with god.

For my part,

I left the palace quietly and made my way outside.

For Pentheus I care nothing.


(inside the palace, stomping and kicking sounds are heard)


But judging from the sound

of tramping feet inside the court, I think our man

will soon be here. What, I wonder, will he have to say? 640

But let him bluster. I shall not be touched to rage.

Wise men know constraint: our passions are controlled.






But this is mortifying. That stranger, that man

I clapped in irons, has escaped.




What! You?               645

Well, what do you have to say for yourself?

How did you escape? Answer me.




Your anger

walks too heavily. Tread lightly here.



How did you escape?




Don’t you remember?

Someone, I said, would set me free.



Someone?               650

But who? Who is this mysterious someone?




He who makes the grape grow its clusters for mankind.




A splendid contribution, that.




You disparage the gift that is his chiefest glory.




If I catch him here, he will not escape my anger.

I shall order every gate in every tower

to be bolted tight.




And so? Could not a god

hurdle your city walls?




You are clever – very –               655

but not where it counts.




Where it counts the most,

there I am clever.


(Enter a CATTLE HERDER from Mount Cithaeron, L)

But hear this messenger

who brings you news from the mountain of Cithaeron.

We shall remain where we are. Do not fear:

we will not run away.




Pentheus, king of Thebes,             660

I come from Cithaeron where the gleaming flakes of snow

fall on and on forever –




Get to the point.

What is your message, man?




Sir, I have seen

the holy Maenads, the women who ran barefoot                    665

and crazy from the city, and I wanted to report

to you and Thebes what weird fantastic things,

what miracles and more than miracles,

these women do. But may I speak freely

in my own way and words, or should I make it short?

I fear the harsh impatience of your nature, sire,               670

too kingly and too quick to anger.




Speak freely.

You have my promise: I shall not punish you.

Displeasure with a man who speaks the truth is wrong.

However, the more terrible this tale of yours,

that much more terrible will the punishment                    675

I impose upon that man who taught our womenfolk

this strange new magic.


(during the following speech, the BACCHAE perform

the “Strange New Magic Dance” around the CATTLE HERDER; drums/percussion is supplied by musicians)




About that hour

when the sun lets loose its light to warm the earth,

our grazing herds of cows had just begun to climb

the path along the mountain ridge. Suddenly

I saw three companies of dancing women,                         680

one led by Autonoë, the second captained

by your mother Agave, while Ino led the third.

There they lay in the deep sleep of exhaustion,

some resting on boughs of fir, others sleeping

where they fell, here and there among the oak leaves —          685

but all modestly and soberly, not, as you think,

drunk with wine, nor wandering, led astray

by the music of the flute, to hunt their Aphrodite

through the woods.

But your mother heard the lowing

of our hornèd herds, and springing to her feet,               690

gave a great cry to waken them from sleep.

And they too, rubbing the bloom of soft sleep

from their eyes, rose up lightly and straight –

a lovely sight to see: all as one,

the old women and the young and the unmarried girls.

First they let their hair fall loose, down                    695

over their shoulders, and those whose straps had slipped

fastened their skins of fawn with writhing snakes

that licked their cheeks. Breasts swollen with milk,

new mothers who had left their babies behind at home

nestled gazelles and young wolves in their arms,               700

suckling them. Then they crowned their hair with leaves,

ivy and oak and flowering bryony. One woman

struck her thyrsus against a rock and a fountain

of cool water came bubbling up. Another drove               705

her fennel in the ground, and where it struck the earth,

at the touch of god, a spring of wine poured out.

Those who wanted milk scratched at the soil

with bare fingers and the white milk came welling up.          710

Pure honey spurted, streaming, from their wands.

If you had been there and seen these wonders for yourself,

you would have gone down on your knees and prayed

to the god you now deny.

We cowherds and shepherds

gathered in small groups, wondering and arguing               715

among ourselves at these fantastic things,

the awful miracles those women did.

But then a city fellow with the knack of words

rose to his feet and said: “All you who live

upon the pastures of the mountain, what do you say?

Shall we earn a little favor with King Pentheus               720

by hunting his mother Agave out of the revels?”

Falling in with his suggestion, we withdrew

and set ourselves in ambush, hidden by the leaves

among the undergrowth. Then at a signal

all the Bacchae whirled their wands for the revels

to begin. With one voice they cried aloud:

“O Iacchus! Son of Zeus!” “O Bromius!” they cried               725

until the beasts and all the mountain seemed

wild with divinity. And when they ran,

everything ran with them.

It happened, however,

that Agave ran near the ambush where I lay

concealed. leaping up, I tried to seize her,                    730

but she gave a cry: “Hounds who run with me,

men are hunting us down! Follow, follow me!

Use your wands for weapons.”

At this we fled

and barely missed being torn to pieces by the women.

Unarmed, they swooped down upon the herds of cattle          735

grazing there on the green of the meadow. And then

you could have seen a single woman with bare hands

tear a fat calf, still bellowing with fright,

in two, while others clawed the heifers to pieces.

There were ribs and cloven hooves scattered everywhere,     740

and scraps smeared with blood hung from the fir trees.

And bulls, their raging fury gathered in their horns,

lowered their heads to charge, then fell, stumbling

to the earth, pulled down by hordes of women                    745

and stripped of flesh and skin more quickly, sire,

than you could blink your royal eyes. Then,

carried up by their own speed, they flew like birds

across the spreading fields along Asopus’ stream

where most of all the ground is good for harvesting.          750

Like invaders they swooped on Hysiae

and on Erythrae in the foothills of Cithaeron.

Everything in sight they pillaged and destroyed.

They snatched the children from their homes. And when

they piled their plunder on their backs, it stayed in place, 755

untied. Nothing, neither bronze nor iron,

fell to the dark earth. Flames flickered

in their curls and did not burn them. Then the villagers,

furious at what the women did, took to arms.

And there, sire, was something terrible to see.               760

For the men’s spears were pointed and sharp, and yet

drew no blood, whereas the wands the women threw

inflicted wounds. And then the men ran,

routed by women! Some god, I say, was with them.

The Bacchae then returned where they had started,               765

by the springs the god had made, and washed their hands

while the snakes licked away the drops of blood

that dabbled their cheeks.

Whoever this god may be,

sire, welcome him to Thebes. For he is great.               769






I tremble               775

to speak the words of freedom before the tyrant.

But let the truth be told: there is no god

greater than Dionysos.




Like a blazing fire

this Bacchic violence spreads. It comes too close.

We are disgraced, humiliated in the eyes

of Hellas. This is no time for hesitation.                    780


(turning to an ATTENDANT)


You there. Go down quickly to the Electran gates

and order out all heavy-armored infantry;

call up the fastest troops among our cavalry,

the mobile squadrons and the archers. We march

against the Bacchae! Affairs are out of hand                    785

when we tamely endure such conduct in our women.





(extremely and disturbingly quietly)


Pentheus, you do not hear, or else you disregard

my words of warning. You have done me wrong,

and yet, in spite of that, I warn you once

again: do not take arms against a god.

Stay quiet here. Bromius will not let you                    790

drive his women from their revels on the mountain.




Don’t you lecture me. You escaped from prison.

Or shall I punish you again?




If I were you,

I would offer him a sacrifice, not rage

and kick against necessity, a man defying                    795





I shall give your god the sacrifice

that he deserves. His victims will be his women.

I shall make a great slaughter in the woods of Cithaeron.




You will all be routed, shamefully defeated,

when their wands of ivy turn back your shields

of bronze.




It is hopeless to wrestle with this man.          800

Nothing on earth will make him hold his tongue.





you can still save the situation.





By accepting orders from my own slaves?





I undertake to lead the women back to Thebes.

Without bloodshed.




This is some trap.




A trap?               805

How so, if I save you by my own devices?




I know.

You and they have conspired to establish your rites





True, I have conspired — with god.




Bring my armor, someone. And you stop talking.               810


(PENTHEUS strides L toward the MOUNTAIN, but

stops as if by magic when DIONYSOS commands him; a “new idea”)





Would you like to see their revels on the mountain?




I would pay a great sum to see that sight.




Why are you so passionately curious?




Of course

I’d be sorry to see them drunk –




But for all your sorrow,          815

you’d like very much to see them?




Yes, very much.

I could crouch beneath the fir trees, out of sight.




But if you try to hide, they may track you down.




Your point is well taken. I will go openly.





Shall I lead you there now? Are you ready to go?




The sooner the better. The loss of even a moment               820

would be disappointing now.




First, however,

you must dress yourself in women’s clothes.





You want me, a man, to wear a woman’s dress. But why?




If they knew you were a man, they would kill you instantly.




True. You are an old hand at cunning, I see.




Dionysos taught me everything I know.                         825




Your advice is to the point. What I fail to see

is what we do.




I shall go inside with you

and help you dress.




Dress? In a woman’s dress,

you mean? I would die of shame.




Very well.

Then you no longer hanker to see the Maenads?




What is this costume I must wear?




On your head                    830

I shall set a wig with long curls.




And then?




Next, robes to your feet and a net for your hair.




Yes? Go on.




Then a thyrsus for your hand

and a skin of dappled fawn.




I could not bear it.            835

I cannot bring myself to dress in women’s clothes.




Then you must fight the Bacchae. That means bloodshed.




Right. First we must go and reconnoiter.





Surely a wiser course than that of hunting bad

with worse.




But how can we pass through the city

without being seen?




We shall take deserted streets.       840

I will lead the way.




Any way you like,

provided those women of Bacchus don’t jeer at me.

First, however, I shall ponder your advice,

whether to go or not.




Do as you please.

I am ready, whatever you decide.



(as in a trance)



Either I shall marchwith my army to the mountain              845

or act on your advice.


(Exit PENTHEUS into the palace UC)




Women, our prey now thrashes

in the net we threw. He shall see the Bacchae

and pay the price with death.

O Dionysos,

now action rests with you. And you are near.

Punish this man. But first distract his wits;               850

bewilder him with madness. For sane of mind

this man would never wear a woman’s dress;

but obsess his soul and he will not refuse.

After those threats with which he was so fierce,

I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes,

paraded through the streets, a woman.


I shall go and costume Pentheus in the clothes

which he must wear to Hades when he dies, butchered

by the hands of his mother. He shall come to know

Dionysos, son of Zeus, consummate god,

most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind.


(Exit DIONYSOS into the palace UC)




“Dance like a fawn”

(aka “Live day by day”)

(lines 862-916)


—When shall I dance once more

with bare feet the all-night dances,

tossing my head for joy

in the damp air, in the dew,

as a running fawn might frisk

for the green joy of the wide fields,

free from fear of the hunt,

free from the circling beaters

and the nets of woven mesh

and the hunters hallooing on

their yelping packs? And then, hard pressed,

she sprints with the quickness of wind,

bounding over the marsh, leaping

to frisk, leaping for joy,

gay with the green of the leaves,

to dance for joy in the forest,

to dance where the darkness is deepest,

         where no man is.


—What is wisdom? What gift of the gods

is held in honor like this:

to hold your hand victorious

over the heads of those you hate?

Honor is precious forever.


—Slow but unmistakable

the might of the gods moves on.

It punishes that man,

infatuate of soul

and hardened in his pride,

who disregards the gods.

The gods are crafty:

they lie in ambush

a long step of time

to hunt the unholy.

Beyond the old beliefs,

no thought, no act shall go.

Small, small is the cost

to believe in this:

whatever is god is strong;

whatever long time has sanctioned,

that is a law forever;

the law tradition makes

is the law of nature.


—What is wisdom? What gift of the gods

is held in honor like this:

to hold your hand victorious

over the heads of those you hate?

Honor is precious forever.


—Blessèd is he who escapes a storm at sea,

         who comes home to his harbor.

—Blessèd is he who emerges from under affliction.

—In various ways one man outraces another in the race for wealth and power.

—Ten thousand men possess ten thousand hopes.

—A few bear fruit in happiness; the others go awry.

—But he who garners day by day the good of life,

         he is happiest. Blessèd is he.


(re-enter UC DIONYSOS through the palace gate; stops and calls)




Pentheus if you are still so curious to see

forbidden sights, so bent on evil still,

come out. Let us see you in your woman’s dress,

disguised in Maenad clothes to you may go and spy            915

upon your mother and her company.


(Enter PENTHEUS UC through the palace gate, wearing a long linen dress, a fawn-skin beneath; carrying a thyrsus in his hand; on his head, a wig with long curls bound by a snood.

He is possessed by the god.)





you look exactly like one of the daughters of Cadmus.




I seem to see two suns blazing in the heavens.

And now two Thebes, two cities, and each

with seven gates. And you – you are a bull                    920

who walks before me there. Horns have sprouted

from your head. Have you always been a beast?

But now I see a bull.




It is the god you see.

Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce

and goes with us. You see what you could not

when you were blind.






Do I look like anyone?                    925

Like Ino or my mother Agave?




So much alike

I almost might be seeing one of them. But look:

one of your curls has come loose from under the snood

where I tucked it.




It must have worked loose               930

when I was dancing for joy and shaking my head.




Then let me be your maid and tuck it back.

Hold still.




Arrange it. I am in your hands



(DIONYSOS tucks the curl back in)




And now your strap has slipped. Yes,               935

and your robe hangs askew at the ankles.




I think so.

At least on my right leg. But on the left the hem

lies straight.




You will think me the best of friends

when you see to your surprise how chaste the Bacchae are.     940




But to be a real Bacchante, should I hold

the wand in my right hand? Or this way?





In your right hand. And raise it as you raise

your right foot. I commend your change of heart.




Could I lift Cithaeron up, do you think?

Shoulder the cliffs, Bacchae and all?




If you wanted.

Your mind was once unsound, but now you think

as sane men do.




Should we take crowbars with us?

Or should I put my shoulder to the cliffs

and heave them up?




What? And destroy the haunts

of the nymphs, the holy groves where Pan plays

his woodland pipe?




You are right. In any case,

women should not be mastered by brute strength.

I will hide myself beneath the firs instead.




You will find all the ambush you deserve,                    955

creeping up to spy on the Maenads.





I can see them already, there among the bushes,

mating like birds, caught in the toils of love.




Exactly. This is your mission: you go to watch.

You may surprise them – or they may surprise you.               960




Then lead me through the very heart of Thebes,

since I, alone of all this city, dare to go.





You and you alone will suffer for your city.

A great ordeal awaits you. But you are worthy

of your fate. I shall lead you safely there;                    965

someone else shall bring you back.




(still trance-like)


Yes, my mother.




An example to all men.




It is for that I go.




You will be carried home –




O luxury!




cradled in your mother’s arms.




You will spoil me.




I mean to spoil you.




I go to my reward.                    970




You are an extraordinary young man, and you go

to an extraordinary experience. You shall win

a glory towering to heaven and usurping



Agave and you daughters of Cadmus,

reach out your hands! I bring this young man

to a great ordeal. The victor? Bromius.                         975

Bromius – and I. The rest the event shall show.






“I hunt another game”

(lines 977-1021)


—Run to the mountain, fleet hounds of madness!

Run, run to the revels of Cadmus’ daughters!

Sting them against the man in women’s clothes,

the madman who spies on the Maenads, who peers

from behind the rocks, who spies from a vantage!

His mother shall see him first. She will cry

to the Maenads: “Who is this spy who has come

to the mountains to peer at the mountain-revels

of the women of Thebes? What bore him, Bacchae?

This man was born of no woman. Some lioness

gave him birth, some one of the Libyan gorgons!”


—O Justice, principle of order, spirit of custom,

come! Be manifest; reveal yourself with a sword!

Stab through the throat that godless man,

the mocker who goes, flouting custom and outraging god!

O Justice, stab the evil earth-born spawn of Echion!


—Uncontrollable, the unbeliever goes,

in spitting rage, rebellious and amok,

madly assaulting the mysteries of god,

profaning the rites of the mother of god.

Against the unassailable he runs, with rage

obsessed. Headlong he runs to death.

For death the gods exact, curbing by that bit

the mouths of men. They humble us with death

that we remember what we are who are not god,

but men. We run to death. Wherefore, I say,

accept, accept:

humility is wise; humility is blest.

But what the world calls wise I do not want.

Elsewhere the chase. I hunt another game,

those great, those manifest, those certain goals,

achieving which, our mortal lives are blest.

Let these things be the quarry of my chase:

purity, humility; an unrebellious soul,

accepting all. Let me go the customary way,

the timeless, honored, beaten path of those who walk

with reverence and awe beneath the sons of heaven.


O Justice, principle of order, spirit of custom,

come! Be manifest; reveal yourself with a sword!

Stab through the throat that godless man,

the mocker who goes, flouting custom and outraging god!

O Justice, stab the evil earth-born spawn of Echion!


O Dionysus, reveal yourself a bull! Be manifest,

a snake with darting heads, a lion breathing fire!

O Bacchus, come! Come with your smile!

Cast your noose about this man who hunts

your Bacchae! Bring him down, trampled

underfoot by the murderous herd of your Maenads!



(Enter a MESSENGER L from the MOUNTAIN)




How prosperous in Hellas these halls once were,

this house founded by Cadmus, the stranger from Sidon          1025

who sowed the dragon seed in the land of the snake!

I am a slave and nothing more, yet even so

I mourn the fortunes of this fallen house.




What is it?

Is there news of the Bacchae?




This is my news:

Pentheus, the son of Echion, is dead.                         1030




All hail to Bromius! Our god is a great god!




What is this you say, women? You dare to rejoice

at these disasters which destroy this house?




I am no Greek. I hail my god

in my own way. No longer need I

shrink with fear of prison.                                   1035




If you suppose this city is so short of men –




Dionysos, Dionysos, not Thebes,

has power over me.




Your feelings might be forgiven, then. But this,

this exultation in disaster – it is not right.               1040




Tell us how the mocker died.

How was he killed?




(hesitantly beginning, still unsure of their good will)


There were three of us in all: Pentheus and I,

attending my master, and that stranger who volunteered

his services as guide. Leaving behind us

the last outlying farms of Thebes, we forded

the Asopus and struck into the barren scrubland               1045

of Cithaeron.

There in a grassy glen we halted,

unmoving, silent, without a word,

so we might see but not be seen. From that vantage,          1050

in a hollow cut from the sheer rock of the cliffs,

a place where water ran and the pines grew dense

with shade, we saw the Maenads sitting, their hands

busily moving at their happy tasks. Some

wound the stalks of their tattered wands with tendrils      1055

of fresh ivy; others, frisking like fillies

newly freed from the painted bridles, chanted

in Bacchic songs, responsively.

But Pentheus –

unhappy man – could not quite see the companies

of women. “Stranger,” he said, “from where I stand,

I cannot see these counterfeited Maenads.                    1060

But if I climbed that towering fir that overhangs

the banks, then I could see their shameless orgies


And now the stranger worked a miracle.

Reaching for the highest branch of a great fir,

he bent it down, down, down to the dark earth,               1065

till it was curved the way a taut bow bends

or like a rim of wood when forced about the circle

of a wheel. Like that he forced that mountain fir

down to the ground. No mortal could have done it.

Then he seated Pentheus at the highest tip                    1070

and with his hands let the trunk rise straightly up,

slowly and gently, lest it throw its rider.

And the tree rose, towering to heaven, with my master

huddled at the top. And now the Maenads saw him

more clearly than he saw them. But barely had they seen,     1075

when the stranger vanished and there came a great voice

out of heaven – Dionysos’, it must have been –

crying: “Women, I bring you the man who has mocked

at you and me and at our holy mysteries.                    1080

Take vengeance upon him.” And as he spoke

a flash of awful fire bound earth and heaven.

The high air hushed, and along the forest glen

the leaves hung still; you could hear no cry of beasts.     1085


(all noise, including WOODLAND SOUNDS, has stopped)


The Bacchae heard that voice but missed its words,

and leaping up, they stared, peering everywhere.

Again that voice.


(playback of DIONYSOS’ voice, quote 1079-1081,

in deep, echoing sound, behind following sentences)


And now they knew his cry,

the clear command of god. And breaking loose

like startled doves, through grove and torrent,               1090

over jagged rocks, they flew, their feet maddened

by the breath of god. And when they saw my master

perching in his tree, they climbed a great stone               1095

that towered opposite his perch andshowered him

with stones and javelins of fir, while the others

hurled their wands. And yet they missed their target,

poor Pentheus in his perch, barely out of reach               1100

of their eager hands, treed, unable to escape.

Finally they splintered branches from the oaks

and with those bars of wood tried to lever up the tree

by prying at the roots. But every effort failed.               1105

Then Agave cried out: “Maenads, make a circle

about the trunk and grip it with your hands.

Unless we take this climbing beast, he will reveal

the secrets of the god.” With that, thousands of hands

tore the fir tree from the earth,


(SOUNDS of falling tree, tearing of branches)


and down, down               1110

from his high perch fell Pentheus, tumbling

to the ground, sobbing and screaming as he fell,

for he knew his end was near. His own mother,

like a priestess with her victim, fell upon him

first. But snatching off his wig and snood                    1115

so she would recognize his face, he touched her cheeks,

screaming, “No, no Mother! I am Pentheus,

your own son, the child you bore to Echion!

Pity me, spare me, Mother! I have done a wrong,               1120

but do not kill your own son for my offense.”

But she was foaming at the mouth, and her crazed eyes

rolling with frenzy. She was mad, stark mad,

possessed by Bacchus. Ignoring his cries of pity,

she seized his left arm at the wrist; then, planting          1125

her foot upon his chest, she pulled, wrenching away

the arm at the shoulder – not by her own strength,

for the god had put inhuman power in her hands.

Ino, meanwhile, on the other side, was scratching off

his flesh. Then Autonoë and the whole horde                     1130

of Bacchae swarmed upon him. Shouts everywhere,

he screaming with what little breath was left,

they shrieking in triumph. One tore off an arm,

another a foot still warm in its shoe. His ribs

were clawed clean of flesh and every hand                    1135

was smeared with blood as they played ball with scraps

of Pentheus’ body.

The pitiful remains lie scattered,

one piece among the sharp rocks, others

lying lost among the leaves in the depths

of the forest. His mother, picking up his head,               1140

impaled it on her wand. She seems to think it is

some mountain lion’s head which she carries in triumph

through the thick of Cithaeron. Leaving her sisters

at the Maenad dances, she is coming here, gloating

over her grisly prize. She calls upon Bacchus:               1145

he is her “fellow-huntsman,” “comrade of the chase,

crowned with victory.” But all the victory

she carries home is her own grief.


before Agave returns, let me leave

this scene of sorrow. Humility,

a sense of reverence before the sons of heaven –

of all the prizes that a mortal man might win,

these, I say, are wisest; these are best.






“Glorious the Game”

(lines 1152-1168)


—We dance to the glory of Bacchus!

We dance to the death of Pentheus,

the death of the spawn of the dragon!

He dressed in a women’s dress;

he took the lovely thyrsus;

it waved him down to death,

led by a bull to Hades.

Hail, Bacchae! Hail, women of Thebes!

Your victory is fair, fair the prize,

this famous prize of grief!

Glorious the game! To fold your child

in your arms, streaming with his blood!







(lines 1168-1199)





Bacchae of Asia –

We bring this branch to the palace,

this fresh-cut spray from the mountains,

Happy was the hunting.


The whelp of a wild mountain lion,

and snared by me without a noose.

Look, look at the prize I bring.



On Cithaeron –


Our prize was killed.


I struck him first.

The Maenads call me “Agave the blest.”


Cadmus’ –




After me, they reached the prey.

After me.

Happy was the hunting.



Speak, speak!





I see.

I welcome our fellow-reveler of god.






Where was he caught?



On Cithaeron?


Who killed him?




And then?








Happy indeed.







Then share my glory,

share the feast.


See, the whelp is young and tender.

Beneath the soft mane of its hair,

the down is blooming on the cheeks.


Our god is wise. Cunningly, cleverly,

Bacchus the hunter lashed the Maenads

against his prey.


You praise me now?


The men of Thebes –


Will praise his mother. She caught

a great quarry, this lion’s cub.


Extraordinary skill.


Proud and happy.

I have won the trophy of the chase, a great prize, manifest to all.


Happy was the hunting.





Share, unhappy woman?






With that mane, he looks a beast.






Our king is a hunter.


I praise you.


And Pentheus, your son?





Extraordinary catch.


You are proud?






Happy was the hunting.



Then, poor woman, show the citizens of Thebes          1200

this great prize, this trophy you have won

in the hunt.


(AGAVE exhibits her thyrsus with the head of Pentheus impaled upon the point)




You citizens of this towered city,

men of Thebes, behold the trophy of your women’s

hunting! This is the quarry of our chase, taken

not with nets nor spears of bronze but by the white

and delicate hands of women. What are they worth,

your boastings now and all that uselessness

your armor is, since we, with our bare hands,

captured this quarry and tore its bleeding body

limb from limb?

— But where is my father Cadmus?          1210

He should come. And my son. Where is Pentheus?

Fetch him. I will have him set his ladder up

against the wall and, there upon the beam,

nail the head of this wild lion I have killed

as a trophy of my hunt.


(Enter CADMUS, with ATTENDANTS bearing the dismembered body of PENTHEUS on a bier)




Follow me, attendants.

Bear your dreadful burden in and set it down,

there before the palace.


This was Pentheus

whose body, after long and weary searchings

I painfully assembled from Cithaeron’s glens

where it lay, scattered in shreds, dismembered

throughout the forest, no two pieces                    1220

in a single place.

Old Teiresias and I

had returned to Thebes from the orgies on the mountain

before I learned of this atrocious crime

my daughters did. And so I hurried back

to the mountain to recover the body of this boy

murdered by the Maenads. There among the oaks

I found Aristaeus’ wife, the mother of Actaeon,

Autonoë, and with her Ino, both

still stung with madness. But Agave, they said

was on her way to Thebes, still possessed.               1230

And what they said was true, for there she is,

and not a happy sight.





Now, Father,

yours can be the proudest boast of living men.

For you are now the father of the bravest daughters

in the world. All of your daughters are brave,          1235

but I above the rest. I have left my shuttle

at the loom; I raised my sight to higher things—

to hunting animals with my bare hands.

You see?

Here in my hands I hold the quarry of my chase,

a trophy for our house. Take it, Father, take it.          1240

Glory in my kill and invite your friends to share

the feast of triumph. For you are blest, Father,

by this great deed I have done.




O gods,

how terribly I pity you and then myself.

Justly – too, too justly – has lord Bromius,

this god of our own blood, destroyed us all,               1250

every one.


[woods SOUNDS fade back in slowly during next speech]




How scowling and crabbed is old age

in men. I hope my son takes after his mother

and wins, as she has done, the laurels of the chase

when he goes hunting with the younger men of Thebes.

But all my son can do is quarrel with god.               1255

He should be scolded, Father, and you are the one

who should scold him. Yes, someone call him out

so he can see his mother’s triumph.




Enough. No more.

When you realize the horror you have done,

you shall suffer terribly. But if, with luck,                1260

your present madness lasts until you die,

you will think you are happy — even though you are not.




Why do you reproach me? Is there something wrong?




First raise your eyes to the heavens.





There.                   1265

But why?




Does it look the same as it did before?

Or has it changed?





It seems – somehow – clearer,

brighter than it was before.




Do you still feel

the same flurry inside you?






The same – flurry?

No, I feel – somehow – calmer. I feel as though –            1270

my mind were somehow – changing.




Can you still hear me?

Can you answer clearly?




No. I have forgotten

what we were saying, Father.




Who was your husband?




Echion – a man, they said, born of the dragon seed.




What was the name of the child you bore your husband?       1275








And whose head do you hold in your hands?




A lion’s head – or so the hunters told me.




Look directly at it. Just a quick glance.




What is it? What am I holding in my hands?                   1280




Look more closely still. Study it carefully.




No! O gods, I see the greatest grief there is.




Does it look like a lion now?




No, no. It is –

Pentheus’ head – I hold –




And mourned by me               1285

before you ever knew.




But who killed him?

Why am I holding him?




O savage truth,

what a time to come!




For god’s sake, speak.

My heart is beating with terror.




You killed him.

You and your sisters.




But where was he killed?

Here at home? Where?




He was killed on Cithaeron,

there where the hounds tore Actaeon to pieces.




But why? Why had Pentheus gone to Cithaeron?




He went to your revels to mock the god.




But we

what were we doing on the mountain?




You were mad.               1295

The whole city was possessed.




Now, now I see:

Dionysos has destroyed us all.




You outraged him.

You denied that he was truly god.





where is my poor boy’s body now?




There it is.

I gathered the pieces with great difficulty.



(pause to consider the dismembered body piece by piece)


But why should Pentheus suffer for my crime?




He, like you, blasphemed the god. And so

the god has brought us all to ruin at one blow,

you, your sisters, and this boy. All our house

the god as utterly destroyed and, with it,

  1. For I have no sons left, no male heir;      1305

and I have lived only to see this boy,

this branch of your own body, most horribly

and foully killed.


(to the corpse)


To you my house looked up.

Child, you were the stay of my house; you were

my daughter’s son. Of you this city stood in awe.          1310

No one who once had seen your face dared outrage

the old man, or if he did, you punished him.

Now I must go, a banished and dishonored man –

I, Cadmus the great, who sowed the soldiery

of Thebes and harvested a great harvest. My son,           1315

dearest to me of all men – for even dead,

I count you still the man I love the most –

never again will your hand touch my chin;

no more, child, will you hug me and call me

“Grandfather” and say, “Who is wronging you?               1320

Does anyone trouble you or vex your heart, old man?

Tell me, Grandfather, and I will punish him.”

No, now there is no grief for me, the mourning

for you; pity for your mother; and for her sisters,


If there is still any mortal man               1325

who despises or defies the gods, let him look

on this boy’s death and believe in the gods.




Cadmus, I pity you. Your daughter’s son

has died as he deserved, and yet his death

bears hard on you.




O Father, now you can see

how everything has changed. I am in anguish now,

tormented, who walked in triumph minutes past,

exulting in my kill. And that prize I carried home

with such pride was my own curse. Upon these hands

I bear the curse of my son’s blood. How then

with these accursed hands may I touch his body?

How can I, accursed with such a curse, hold him

to my breast? O gods, what dirge can I sing?

Where is a shroud to cover up his corpse?

O my child, what hands will give you proper care

unless with my own hands I lift my curse?

As best we can, we shall make him whole again.



(she slowly lifts up and arranges the pieces of

the body brought in by CADMUS on the bier,

lamenting– the head is the last, and she

lifts it up, shows it to the audience,

then begins a procession, with the

ATTENDANTS carrying the bier;

music is Greek lament

music something like ;

the BACCHAE accompany her on her procession around the space, into the cavea and back)


(speaking final benediction)


O dearest, dearest face!

Pretty boyish mouth! Now with this veil

I shroud your head, gathering with loving care

these mangled bloody limbs, this flesh I brought

to birth.




Let this scene teach those who see these things:

Dionysos is the son of Zeus.


(DIONYSOS appears in epiphany)




I am Dionysos,

the son of Zeus, returned to Thebes, revealed,

a god to men. But the men of Thebes blasphemed me.

They slandered me; they said I came of mortal man,

and not content with speaking blasphemies,

they dared to threaten my person with violence.

These crimes this people whom I cherished well

did from malice to their benefactor. Therefore,

I now disclose the sufferings in store for them.

Like enemies, they shall be driven from this city

to other lands; there, submitting to the yoke

of slavery, they shall wear out wretched lives,

captives of war, enduring much indignity.


(indicating the corpse of PENTHEUS)


This man has found the death which he deserved,

torn to pieces among the jagged rocks.

You are my witnesses: he came with outrage;

he attempted to chain my hands, abusing me

and therefore he has rightly perished by the hands

of those who should the least of all have murdered him.

What he suffers, he suffers justly.

Upon you,

Agave, and on your sisters I pronounce this doom:

you shall leave this city in expiation

of the murder you have done. You are unclean,

and it would be a sacrilege that murderers

should remain at peace beside the graves of those

whom they have killed.


(turning to CADMUS)


Next I shall disclose the trials

which await this man. You, Cadmus, shall be changed        1330

to a serpent, and your wife, the child of Ares,

immortal Harmonia, shall undergo your doom,

a serpent too. With her, it is your fate

to go a journey in a car drawn on by oxen,

leading behind you a great barbarian host.

For thus decrees the oracle of Zeus.

With a host so huge its numbers cannot be counted,       1335

you shall ravage many cities; but when your army

plunders the shrine of Apollo, its homecoming

shall be perilous and hard. Yet in the end

the god Ares shall save Harmonia and you

and bring you both to live among the blest.


So say I, born of no mortal father,

Dionysos, true son of Zeus.


If then,

when you would not, you had muzzled your madness,

you should have an ally now in the son of Zeus.




We implore you, Dionysos. We have done wrong.




Too late. When there was time, you did not know me.       1345




We have learned. But your sentence is too harsh.




I am a god. I was blasphemed by you.





Gods should be exempt from human passions.




Long ago my father Zeus ordained these things.


(for remainder, DIONYSOS watches scenes, wandering from

group to group on stage, heading generally for the

Cavea, and exiting slowly up into

the audience, and disappears)




It is fated, father. We must go.


(embracing CADMUS)


O Father,

to be banished, to live without you!





Poor child,

like a white swan warding its weak old father,             1365

why do you clasp those white arms about my neck?




Banished! Where shall I go?




I do not know,

my child. Your father can no longer help you.





Farewell, father.




Farewell to you, unhappy child.

Fare well. But you shall find your faring hard.




Lead me, guides, where my sisters wait,

poor sisters of my exile. Let me go

where I shall never see Cithaeron more,

where that accursed hill may not see me,

where I shall find no trace of thyrsus!


That I leave to other Bacchae.



CADMUS exits into Palace; BACCHAE sing their

final song as they exit L toward the MOUNTAIN;

the bier with PENTHEUS’ body is left DR,

as a parallel to the Tomb of Semele DL;

the MUSICIANS remain onstage alone)




“The gods have many shapes”

(lines 1388-1394)

chanting – exit song/dance


The gods have many shapes.

The gods bring many things

to their accomplishment.

And what was most expected

has not been accomplished.

But god has found his way

for what no man expected.

So ends the play.




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