Ancient Athenian Drama

Euripides: The Bacchae

5th century BC, Ancient Greek.

King Penthus speaking to Dionysus: Were you a beast before? You have become a bull.

When Dionysus was born from the thigh of the Almighty One, Zeus gave him the horns of a bull and put writhing snakes in his hair; for which reason the Maenads, the followers of Dionysus, twine in their locks wild snakes that they have caught on the mountainside.

So sing the revellers, the followers of Dionysus, who have followed him to Greece from Phrygia. The blind Theban seer Teiresias, as he prepares to climb the mountainside above Boeotian Thebes and join the women of that city who are dancing and revelling there, says: We have no use for theological subtleties. The beliefs we have inherited, as old as time, cannot be overthrown by any argument. 'There are but two gods,' he tells us: 'Demeter, who is the Earth, and Dionysus.'

'I freed myself,' says Dionysus as he emerges later from King Pentheus’s prison. 'When he thought he was tying me up he was instead tying up the feet and legs of a bull in the stables; I stood aside and watched. Then I destroyed his palace, I shook it to the ground!'

You are a bull I see leading me forward now! says King Pentheus, as Dionysus leads him towards the mountainside to his death. A pair of horns seem to have grown upon your head. Were you a beast before? You have become a bull.

Story fragment retold from: Vellacott, Philip, 1954, revised 1973. Euripedes: The Bacchae and other plays (Penguin Classics). Translated from Ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. The Bacchae, pp 191–244.

See for yourself

Euripides – Wikipedia

Dionysus – Wikipedia

Teiresias – Wikipedia

Maenad (Bacchantes) – Wikipedia

Euripides: The Bacchantes – English translation, Internet Classics Archive (download plain text version)

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