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By David Grene, Richmond Lattimore
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2013The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Characters DIONYSUS (also called Bacchus, Bromius, Dithyrambus, Euhius, and Iacchus)
CHORUS of Asian Bacchae (female followers of Dionysus, also called Bacchants and maenads)
TEIRESIAS, Theban seer
CADMUS, father of Semele (Dionysus' mother) and of Agave
PENTHEUS, king of Thebes
ATTENDANT of Pentheus
FIRST MESSENGER, a shepherd
SECOND MESSENGER, a servant of Pentheus
AGAVE, daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus
Scene: Pentheus' palace at Thebes. In front of it stands the tomb of Semele.
(Enter Dionysus from the side.)
I am Dionysus, 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 and the waters of Ismenus. There before the palace I see my lightning-blasted 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. But Cadmus wins my praise: he has made this tomb a shrine, sacred to his daughter. It was I who screened her grave with the green of the clustering vine.
Far behind me lie the gold-rich lands of 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 of Media. Thence to blessed Arabia I came; and so, along all Asia's swarming littoral of towered cities where barbarians and Greeks, 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 to mortals for what I am: a god. And thence to Thebes. This city, first in Hellas, now shrills and echoes to my women's cries, their ecstasy of joy. Here in Thebes I bound the fawnskin to the women's flesh and armed their hands with shaft s of ivy. For I have come to refute that slander spoken by my mother's sisters— those who least had right to slander her. They said that Dionysus was no son of Zeus, but Semele had slept beside a man in love and foisted offher shame on Zeus—a fraud, they sneered, 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 them to wear my ritual uniform. Every woman in Thebes—but the women only— I drove from home, mad. There they sit, all of them, together with 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; so 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 revolts against divinity, in me; thrusts me from his offerings; omits my name from his prayers. Therefore I shall prove to him and everyone 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. But if the town of Thebes attempts to force my Bacchae from the mountainside with weapons, I shall marshal my maenads and take the field. To these ends I have laid divinity aside and go disguised as man.
(Calling toward the side.)
On, my women, 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 invention and mine—pound at the doors of Pentheus' palace! Let the city of Thebes behold you, while I myself go to Cithaeron's glens where my Bacchae wait, and join their whirling dances.
(Exit Dionysus to one side. Enter the Chorus of Asian Bacchae from the other.)
CHORUS [singing] Out of the land of Asia, down from holy Tmolus, speeding the god's service, for Bromius we come! Hard are the labors of god; hard, but his service is sweet. Sweet to serve, sweet to cry: Bacchus! Euhoi! You on the streets! You on the roads! You in the palace! Come out! Let every mouth be hushed. Let no ill-omened words profane your tongues. For now I shall raise the old, old hymn to Dionysus.
Blessed, those who know the god's mysteries,° happy those who sanctify their lives, whose souls are initiated into the holy company, dancing on the mountains the holy dance of the god, and those who keep the rites of Cybele the Mother, and who shake the thyrsus, who wear the crown of ivy. Dionysus is their god! On, Bacchae, on, you Bacchae, bring the god, son of god, bring Bromius home, from Phry gian mountains, to the broad streets of Hellas—Bromius!
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! Zeus it was who saved his son, swiftly bore him to a private place, concealed his son from Hera's eyes in his thigh as in a womb, binding it with clasps of gold. And when the weaving Fates fulfilled the time, the bull-horned god was born of Zeus. He crowned his son with garlands, wherefrom descends to us the maenad's writhing crown, wild creatures in our hair.
O Thebes, nurse of Semele, crown your head 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 tuft s of twisted wool! Handle with holy care the violent wand of god! And at once the whole land shall dance when Bromius leads the holy company 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 the Cory bantes invented this leather drum. They were the first of all whose whirling feet kept time to the strict beat of the taut hide and the sweet cry of the Phrygian pipes. Then from them to Rhea's hands the holy drum was handed down, to give the beat for maenads' dances; and, taken up by the raving satyrs, it now accompanies the dance which every other year celebrates your name: Dionysus!
He is sweet upon the mountains, when he drops to the earth from the running packs. He wears the holy fawnskin. He hunts the wild goat and kills it. He delights in raw flesh. He runs to the mountains of Phrygia, of Lydia, Bromius, who leads us! Euhoi! 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, flaming from his trailing fennel 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,° "On, Bacchae! On, Bacchae! Follow, glory of golden Tmolus, hymning Dionysus with a rumble of drums, with the cry, Euhoi! to the Euhoian god, with cries in Phrygian melodies, when the holy pipe like honey plays the sacred song for those who go to the mountain! to the mountain!" Then, in ecstasy, like a colt by its grazing mother, the bacchant runs with flying feet, she leaps!
(Enter Teiresias from the side, dressed in the bacchant's fawnskin and ivy crown, and carrying a thyrsus.)&/
Excerpted from EURIPIDES V by David Grene. Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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