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The Bacchae is a Greek tragedy written by the playwright Euripides (c. 484-406 BCE) in 407 BCE, which portrays Pentheus as an impious king, for the ruler of Thebes has denied the worship of Dionysus within his city walls. For Pentheus, the god is a destroyer of social and moral values, and the former has returned from abroad only to have his conceptions of the god strengthened. He discovers that this false divinity has caused his women to abandon their domestic roles for the freedom of Mt. Cithaeron in order to worship Dionysus. Despite Pentheus' diligent efforts to maintain control over his people, city, and self, Dionysus proves to be an unstoppable force that the King of Thebes is not able to keep under lock and key.


As with many individuals in antiquity, little is known about the life of Euripides (c. 484-406 BCE). It is speculated that the playwright was born in 484 BCE at Salamis, and he first performed at the Great Dionysia in 455 BCE. Distancing himself from public life, Euripides, unlike both Aeschylus and Sophocles, did not hold military or religious positions. Euripides wrote the Bacchae in 407 BCE, one year after he left Athens to spend the final two years of his life in Pella at the court of King Archelaus. According to William Arrowsmith in his introduction to the text, Euripides' son brought the Bacchae, along with the plays Iphigenia at Aulis and Alcmaeon at Corinth, back to Athens in order to be produced at the City Dionysia. Euripides' Bacchae is the only tragedy out of 18 surviving texts in which the Greek god Dionysus appears, the divinity whom the City Dionysia honors.


The Bacchae, like most Greek tragedies, employs a short list of characters:

  • Dionysus
  • the chorus comprised of maenads
  • Cadmus, the former king of Thebes
  • Tiresias, the blind seer
  • Pentheus, the current king of Thebes and the son of Agaue
  • Pentheus' servant
  • a herdsman
  • Pentheus' attendant
  • Agaue, the daughter of Cadmus and the sister of Semele

The Birth of Dionysus

We learn from Hesiod's Theogony (c. 8th century BCE) that Semele, the daughter of Cadmus (the king of Thebes), bore Dionysus prematurely upon having an affair with Zeus. Dionysus, in his prologue speech of the Bacchae, recounts how his mother was struck by Zeus' thunderbolt at the hands of a jealous and raging Hera. The chorus expands upon this in their first choral ode by singing of how Dionysus was:

suddenly in labor
pangs brought on by force:
Zeus' thunderbolt took wing,
struck him out the womb.
His mother lost her life
in the flash of lighting.

(Woodruff 4-5)

In the Bacchae, Dionysus proves to be an unstoppable force that the King of Thebes is not able to keep under lock & key.

Blasted from his mother's womb prematurely, the chorus then tells of how Zeus sowed Dionysus into his thigh in order to hide him from Hera. In The Library, a work attributed to Apollodorus from the 2nd century CE, it is said that Hera had tricked Semele into asking Zeus to appear to her as he would to Hera. Unable to refuse, Zeus threw a lightning bolt, which subsequently killed Semele and caused her and Zeus' unborn child to be hurled from the womb. Following Semele's death, the writer of The Library claims that her sisters did not believe Semele's tale of having had an affair with Zeus, and it was her lie that caused her, in fact, to be struck down by a thunderbolt. In Euripides' Bacchae, it is for this questioning of his divinity that Dionysus has come to Thebes; he has made his way to the Greek city-state in order to avenge his mother's defamed reputation and, most importantly, to assert his true identity as a divinity.

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Plot Overview


Euripides' Bacchae takes place in the Greek city-state of Thebes, a location commonly used by ancient tragedians. Dionysus himself delivers the prologue speech, in which he reveals his true identity to the audience. Disguised as a stranger, he and his group of Maenads have traveled to Thebes from Asia, and he has chosen this city to be the first in Greece that worships him.

I came here—my first Greek city—
only after I had stated initiations there
and set those places dancing, so that mortals
would see me clearly as divine. Now Thebes,
is my choice to be the first place I have filled
with cries of ecstasy, clothed in fawnskin, put thyrsus
in hand—this ivy-covered spear—because my mother's
sisters—of all people, they should have known better—
said Dionysus was no son of Zeus. (6)

Dionysus has already begun the process of initiation, and he has caused the Theban women to abandon their homes for Mt. Cithaeron in order to partake in the worshipping of the god. He then concludes his speech by establishing that he will reveal to Pentheus his divine status and that he will force the city of Thebes to accept and acknowledge him as the divinity which he is.

Episode I

Following the prologue, Cadmus and Tiresias appear on stage dressed as worshippers of Dionysus. They both have acknowledged his divine nature and accepted his cult into Thebes. In the opening dialogue of the first episode, they discuss with one another where they should perform their dances. Cadmus asks Tiresias:

Where should we go to dance? Where plant
plant our feet and toss our heads, gray as they are?
By my guide in religion, Tiresias, the old leading
the old, since you're so wise. (8)

Pentheus then enters onto the stage with the seer and his uncle. Despite having been away from the city, he has heard about the shameful acts of the Theban women. According to the current king of Thebes, they are “pretending to be Bacchants,” but in fact, they are sleeping with other men instead of worshipping this fake god (9). Both Cadmus and Tiresias then plead with Pentheus to see reason, to proclaim that Dionysus is the son of Zeus. Tiresias criticizes the king:

When a prudent speaker takes up a noble cause,
he'll have no great trouble to speak well.
You, on the other hand, have a tongue that runs on smoothly
and sounds intelligent. But what it says is brainless. (11)

Cadmus echoes Tiresias' sentiment when he says:

Tiresias' advice is excellent, my boy. Stay home
with us, don't cross the threshold of law.
You are flitting about, you know, so thoughtless,
the way you think. (13)

Despite their attempts at persuasion and rationale, Pentheus refuses to acknowledge Dionysus as a god and the son of Zeus, and he vows to imprison the stranger that has infected his citizens with this madness.

Episode II

Pentheus and Dionysus meet on stage for the first time; however, Pentheus does not know that it is the god himself with whom he is speaking, and whom he has put in chains. Dionysus, as the stranger, informs Pentheus of his rituals. When Pentheus tells the stranger that he will remain under guard, the latter claims that Dionysus will release him from his imprisonment.

Dionysus. The god himself will set me free, whenever I want.

Pentheus. Sure he will, whenever you stand among your Bacchae and summon him.

Dionysus. Even now he's very near, and he sees what I am suffering.

Pentheus. Then where is he? He hasn't revealed himself to me.

Dionysus. He is where I am. You do not see him because you lack reverence. (20)

Dionysus adheres to his promise, and in the following episode, he escapes from his chains, causing Pentheus' palace to crumble. Pentheus meets with the stranger outside of his home and demands to know how he escaped. Dionysus and Pentheus are interrupted when the herdsman appears on stage in order to relate to Pentheus what he had just witnessed on Mt. Cithaeron. He and others had attempted to capture Agaue in order to bring her to the king; however, they were spotted by the maenads and were forced to flee. The herdsman then recounts the maenads' tearing apart of animals limb from limb and their destruction of the two villages Hysiae and Erythrae. He concludes by urging Pentheus to accept the worship of Dionysus, just as Tiresias and Cadmus had done in the first episode.

Episode III

Pentheus, in a state of disgust and outrage at the behavior of his female citizens, commands members of his army to prepare to fight the maenads. As the stranger, Dionysus warns the king of his actions and proposes an alternative. Dionysus asks Pentheus, “Would you like to see the women gathered on the mountain?” (32). Surprisingly, Pentheus enthusiastically agrees to see the maenads, despite the condition that he has to dress as a woman. Just as the King of Thebes does not know the true identity of the stranger, he is also ignorant of Dionysus' forthcoming punishment for his lack of reverence. Dionysus exclaims:

Now I'm off to get the fine clothes
I will fit to Pentheus for his trip to Hades when
his mother kills him. Then he will know the son of Zeus,
Dionysus, and realize that he was born a god, bringing
terrors for initiation, and to the people, gentle grace. (35)

Episode IV

Dionysus and a maddened Pentheus arrive on Mt. The god informs Pentheus, “Your mental state used to be unhealthy. Not it is as it should be” (39). Dionysus exits the stage and the chorus yell their orders to the Maenads:

Run, swift hounds of madness, run to mountain!
Find where Cadmus' daughters hold their celebration,
Sting them to fury at the man
who parties in a woman's outfit
and spies in madness on Maenads. (41)

They then finish their choral ode by singing of the death of Pentheus.

Episode V

The fifth episode opens with Pentheus' servant delivering the second messenger speech. This time, however, it is not animals that are being torn apart by the hands of the Maenads, but Pentheus. The messenger tells of Agaue who, while believing her son to be a dangerous lion, tore his body to pieces. Just as Pentheus did not recognize the god Dionysus, his mother did not recognize her own son. The other Maenads, Agaue's sisters, joined in the king's destruction:

Off went one with a forearm,
another took his foot—with its hunting boot. And his ribs
were stripped, flesh torn away. They all had blood on their
hands. They tossed Pentheus' meat like balls in a game of catch. (45)


Following the messenger's speech, Agaue enters the stage for the exodus. Still maddened and under the power of Dionysus, she carries Pentheus' head on a stick, proclaiming triumph over the lion which she believes she has killed. When Cadmus appears on stage he is shocked by the grisly image. He guides his daughter back to sanity, and Agaue truly sees what she is holding. Despite their worshipping of Dionysus, both Cadmus and Agaue are punished by the god, who banishes them from Thebes.

Agaue. I weep for you, Father.

Cadmus. And I for you, my child, and for your sisters. (47)


Dionysus, the god of wine in Greek mythology, allows one to rid themselves of their inner inhibitions. In Euripides' Bacchae, he causes Pentheus to transcend both the physical boundaries of Thebes and those which he has placed around his mind. The king of Thebes works diligently to keep the corruption that Dionysus causes outside of his city, but not even he himself can resist its allure.

Many scholars have provided various readings of Euripides' tragedy. A.J. Podlecki describes the tragedy as follows:

[The Bacchae is a] poetic statement of the tensions set up between an individual and a group when that individual, after being a member, or even standing as head, of the group, with whose collective aims his own individual desires have been identified, suddenly — as often happens in ordinary life — finds himself outside the group, his own will in stark and even disastrous conflict with theirs. (Podlecki, 144).

On the other hand, Christine M. Kalk analyzes the physical transformation that Pentheus undergoes throughout the tragedy, specifically how he metamorphizes from the King of Thebes into a symbol that represents the thyrsus. This transformation illustrates Dionysus' true power. Jean A. LaRue argues that Pentheus is controlled by his sexual obsession with the Maenads. To quote LaRue, “Pentheus' pride struggles with his lustful curiosity, and the latter wins” (LaRue, 212).


The influences of Euripides' corpus can be found not only in the tragedians of the 4th century BCE but also in the works of the Greek comedy playwrights of the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. To quote Bernard Zimmermann, "Through the Roman playwrights Plautus, Terence, and Seneca he left his mark on the whole subsequent tradition of European drama," (Zimmermann, 87).

Euripides portrayed his characters in ways that closely resembled the individuals of his Athenian audience, and they continue to bear semblance to modern readers. With specific regard to the Bacchae, Euripides forces one to question who Dionysus and Pentheus truly are. What part of one's own inner being do both characters represent? How is one better able to understand their own self upon reading the tragedy?


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Bacchae, also called Bacchants, drama produced about 406 bce by Euripides. It is regarded by many as his masterpiece.

In Bacchae the god Dionysus arrives in Greece from Asia intending to introduce his orgiastic worship there. He is disguised as a charismatic young Asian holy man and is accompanied by his women votaries, who make up the play’s chorus. He expects to be accepted first in Thebes, but the Thebans reject his divinity and refuse to worship him, and the city’s young king, Pentheus, tries to arrest him. In the end Dionysus drives Pentheus insane and leads him to the mountains, where Pentheus’s own mother, Agave, and the women of Thebes in a bacchic frenzy tear him to pieces.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper, Senior Editor.


The life of Euripides, one of the great tragic playwrights of Classical Greece, spans the “Golden Age” of 5th century B.C. Athens. This single stretch of a hundred years saw the reign of Pericles, the great Athenian statesman and builder of the Parthenon the final defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Salamis the philosophical teachings of Anaxagoras, Protagoras, and Socrates the construction of the Theatre of Dionysus the playwriting careers of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes and, ultimately, the decline of the Greek Empire following the devastating Peloponnesian War.

Although accounts of Euripides’s life differ, some elements seem relatively certain. He was born on the island of Salamis in 484 B.C. but spent most of his life on the Greek mainland, in Athens. Based on the education he received, and the personal library he reportedly owned, his family was likely at least middle-class. His father, upon hearing a prophecy that his son would one day wear many “crowns of victory,” led him to begin training as an athlete. Later, he studied painting and philosophy before finally turning to the stage and producing his first trilogy of plays in 455 B.C., just after Aeschylus’s death.

Third in the line of great Greek tragedians, behind Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides’s plays were quite different from his traditional-minded predecessors and stirred much controversy when they were presented at the annual theatre festivals (called the Dionysia) in Athens. To begin with, Euripides shared a healthy intellectual skepticism with the philosophers of his day, so his plays challenged traditional beliefs about the roles of women and men in society, the rights and duties of rulers, and even the ways and the existence of the gods. He had been influenced by the Sophists, a group of philosophers who believed that truth and morality are matters of opinion and by the teachings of Sophocles, who sought truth through questioning and logic. His own doubts, about government, religion, and all manner of relationships, are the central focus of his plays.

Additionally, Euripides did not adhere to accepted forms of playwriting. He greatly diminished the role of the chorus in his plays, relegating them to occasional comments on his themes and little or no participation in the action onstage. Furthermore, he was criticized for writing disjointed plots that didn’t rise in a continuous action and for composing awkward prologues that prematurely reveal the outcome of plays. When seeking a resolution for the conflicts in his work, he often turned to the deus ex machina, or “god from the machine,” and hastily ended a play by allowing an actor, costumed as a god, to be flown onto the stage by a crane to settle a dispute, rather than allowing the natural events of the story to run their course.

Perhaps most importantly, Euripides provided characters for his plays that seemed nearer to actual human beings than those of any of his contemporaries. Figures like Medea, Phaedra, and Electra have conflicts rooted in strong desires and psychological realism, unlike the powerful, but predictable, characters in earlier tragedies. It has been said that Aeschylus wrote plays about the gods, Sophocles wrote plays about heroes, and Euripides wrote plays about ordinary humans.

During his fifty year career as a dramatist, Euripides wrote as many as ninety-two plays, yet won only five prizes for best tragedy in competitions. In contrast, Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays and won twenty-four contests. During his lifetime, Euripides was not always appreciated by his audiences or his critics—he, in fact, found himself the object of ridicule among writers of comedies like Aristophanes, who lampooned the tragedian and his techniques in his satire The Frogs. Time, however, has proven Euripides’s merits. While Aeschylus and Sophocles are each represented by only seven surviving plays, eighteen of Euripides’s tragedies still exist, along with a fragment of one of his satyr plays. They have been preserved over the centuries as admirable models of classical tragedy and helpful examples of spoken Greek. Due largely to his progressive ideas and realistic characters, the same qualities that once earned him scorn, he is now one of the most popular and widely-produced writers of antiquity.


The background represents the front of the Castle of Pentheus , King of Thebes. At one side is visible the sacred Tomb of Semelê, a little enclosure overgrown with wild vines, with a cleft in the rocky floor of it from which there issues at times steam or smoke. The God Dionysus is discovered alone.

[As he departs, there comes stealing in from the left a band of fifteen Eastern Women, the light of the sunrise streaming upon their long white robes and ivy-bound hair. They wear fawn-skins over the robes, and carry some of them timbrels, some pipes and other instruments. Many bear the thyrsus, or sacred Wand, made of reed ringed with ivy. They enter stealthily till they see that the place is empty, and then begin their mystic song of worship.

Enter Teiresias . He is an old man and blind, leaning upon a staff and moving with slow stateliness, though wearing the Ivy and the Bacchic fawn-skin.

Enter Cadmus from the Castle. He is even older than Teiresias , and wears the same attire.

[At the first movement of worship his manner begins to change a mysterious strength and exaltation enter into him.

Cadmus (after looking away toward the Mountain).

[The two stand back, partially concealed, while there enters in hot haste Pentheus , followed by a bodyguard. He is speaking to the Soldier in command.

Leader of the Chorus
(the words are not heard by Pentheus ).

[Drawing nearer to Pentheus .

[He makes as if to set the wreath on Pentheus' head.

[Turning upon Teiresias .

[The guards set forth in two bodies Pentheus goes into the Castle.

[The two Old Men go off towards the Mountain.

[As the Chorus ceases, a party of the guards return, leading in the midst of them Dionysus , bound. The Soldier in command stands forth, as Pentheus , hearing the tramp of feet, comes out from the Castle.

[The guards loose the arms of Dionysus Pentheus studies him for a while in silence, then speaks jeeringly. Dionysus remains gentle and unafraid.

[He beckons to the soldiers, who approach Dionysus .

[The soldiers cut off the tress.

[ Pentheus takes the staff.

[The soldiers begin to bind him.

[ Dionysus , without his wand, his hair shorn, and his arms tightly bound, is led off by the guards to his dungeon. Pentheus returns into the Palace.

[An Earthquake suddenly shakes the pillars of the Castle.

[Fire leaps up on the Tomb of Semelê.

[The Maidens cast themselves upon the ground, their eyes earthward. Dionysus , alone and unbound, enters from the Castle.

Enter Pentheus in fury.

[He advances furiously upon him.

Pentheus (to his guard).

[Enter suddenly and in haste a Messenger from the Mountain.

[ Pentheus has started as though to seek his army at the gate.

Pentheus (turning from him).

(after regarding him fixedly, speaks with resignation).

[He fixes his eyes upon Pentheus again, while the armourers bring out his armour then speaks in a tone of command.

(who during the rest of this scene, with a few exceptions, simply speaks the thoughts that Dionysus puts into him, losing power over his own mind).

(somewhat bewildered at what he has said).

Pentheus (after a struggle with himself).

Pentheus (again doubting).

(after hesitating once more and waiting).

[Exit Pentheus into the Castle.

[Exit Dionysus , following Pentheus into the Castle.

Re-enter Dionysus from the Castle.

[Enter Pentheus , clad like a Bacchanal, and strangely excited, a spirit of Bacchic madness overshadowing him.

Dionysus (tending him).

Dionysus (while tending him).

Pentheus (not listening to him).

Pentheus (more wildly).

Pentheus (with a laugh).

[Exit Pentheus towards the Mountain.

[Exit Dionysus following Pentheus .

Enter hastily a Messenger from the Mountain, pale and distraught.

[The Messenger departs into the Castle.

[Enter from the Mountain Agave , mad, and to all seeming wondrously happy, bearing the head of Pentheus in her hand. The Chorus Maidens stand horror-struck at the sight the Leader , also horror-struck, strives to accept it and rejoice in it as the God's deed.

Agave (very calmly and peacefully).

[The Leader tries to speak, but is not able Agave begins gently stroking the head.

Agave (lifting up the head, more excitedly).

Leader (brooding, with horror).

[She goes through the crowd towards the Castle, showing the head and looking for a place to hang it. Enter from the Mountain Cadmus , with attendants, bearing the body of Pentheus on a bier.

(turning from the Palace and seeing him).

Cadmus (after hesitation, resolving himself).

(beginning to tremble, and not looking at what she carries).

Agave (turning from him).

Cadmus (leading her to the bier).

[As there is no answer, she lifts the veil of the bier, and sees.

[A page or more has here been torn out of the MS. from which all our copies of "The Bacchae" are derived. It evidently contained a speech of Agâvê (followed presumably by some words of the Chorus), and an appearance of Dionysus upon a cloud. He must have pronounced judgment upon the Thebans in general, and especially upon the daughters of Cadmus , have justified his own action, and declared his determination to establish his godhead. Where the MS. begins again, we find him addressing Cadmus .]

Agave (turning from him almost with disdain).

[ Agave with her group of attendants goes out on the side away from the Mountain. Dionysus rises upon the Cloud and disappears.

Some Historical Realities

In this section I refer to a few historical matters which help to explain some of the allusions in the text of the Bacchae.

Political Instability in Late Fifth-Century Athens

Thucydides (2, 65.6-10) notes that the death of Pericles in 429 ushered in a new era in Athenian politics, though in fact the trend can be traced back into the 430’s. Thucydides also implies at various points that Athens became vulnerable because political leadership devolved to the young and inexperienced (6, 13.1 and 17.1 cf. 2, 8.1). The traditional model of upper class leadership gave way to a new style of strident demagoguery: Cleon was said to have been the first to take his cloak off to harangue the Assembly (Plutarch Nicias 8 cf. Aristotle Ath.Pol. 28, 3), and he and the other prominent demagogues were said to be men who owed their wealth to commercial activity: they were the nouveaux riches, lacking in the culture and charm of the old style leaders. But it was not just extremist rhetoric that broke down the consensus in society: clearly the failure of Athenian strategies in the war created or exacerbated divisions. This led to two effective coups d’état, when democracy was set aside and replaced by oligarchy: the first in 411, and the second, more horrendous, coup of 404, which resulted in the liquidation of 1 500 citizens (Isocrates 7, 67 Aeschines 3, 235 Aristotle Ath.Pol. 35,4), and the exile of some 5 000 (Isocrates 7, 67).

The political concerns of conservative Athenians are reflected in the Bacchae: in at least seven passages Pentheus is described as young and inexperienced (Bacchae 274, 330, 974-6, 1185-7, 1226, 1308, 1317-9). It is true that in the Athenian system a male was a neanias (or associated term) from the age of eighteen to the age of thirty, thus youth was relative: nevertheless males up to the age of thirty were considered immature, and ineligible for public office.[13] But Euripides also plays on the ambivalence of the Greek word neos, which in one sense means “young”, and in another sense can mean “new” with the connotation of “revolutionary”. Thus Pentheus is “young”, but Pentheus’ view of Dionysus is that he is a new god (256 and 272), one only recently become a god (219), and that Dionysus has driven women to new, or revolutionary, dishonourable behaviour (216). As a responsible king, Pentheus sees it as his duty to challenge this new deity of dubious status, and to stamp out the revolutionary, anarchic behaviour which he inspires.

The Introduction of New Cults

Procession of men (Apaturia?), Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 480 BC, Louvre (G 138) / Photo by Bibi St.-Pol, Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons

An Athenian audience would not have had a problem with understanding Pentheus’ assumption that a new cult could not be imported into Thebes without scrutiny. They would also have appreciated Pentheus’ taunt to the stranger that he came to promote a new cult because he planned to make money from it (255-7).[14] Athenians might defer to an oracle on whatever expiatory or propitiatory ritual a god might require, but when it came to admitting a new cult or establishing a new cult centre, the procedure would be for the Council of 500 (the Boule) to debate the matter and to formulate a proposal for a decision by the Assembly (Ekklesia).[15] Thus what the majority of Athenian adult male citizens deemed right was what would prevail. In the Bacchae one might say that Euripides offers almost a burlesque of the Athenian procedure for approving the establishment of new cults, as Pentheus puts the onus on the stranger to his court to prove the existence of Dionysus as a god. Pentheus clearly does not accept the divinity of Dionysus (Bacchae 216-220), and is unmoved by the miracles (Bacchae 443-772), but his refusal to believe does not stem from atheism, as he is a true believer in the traditional gods of Thebes (Bacchae 45-6 and 247) (cf. Yunis 1988:esp. 77- 81). Indeed, a level of irony in the Bacchae is created by Euripides’ use of the elements of Athenian festivals — pompe (procession), thysia (sacrifice), and agon (contest) – as a framework for the drama, so that, as Kavoulaki (1999:309-312) argues, Pentheus is drawn into the processional rites (the pompe) as a theoros (an official representative sent to observe and participate in a festival), but his motive for going to observe the rituals makes his participation blasphemous, as an Athenian audience would have appreciated. In the traumatic period of the plague (which began in 430) and disasters in the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians had been persuaded to admit new cults, including the cult of Asclepius and the more exotic cult of the Thracian god Bendis. The admission of new cults was not a trivial matter. Rather later they also established a cult centre for the Egyptian god Ammon. At the private level the cult of Sabazius came to Athens in this same period, Sabazius being associated with Dionysus, and the cult being centred in Phrygia and Lydia.

Aristophanes made fun of this attraction to new cults, especially in the Birds and the Clouds. In the latter play Socrates, as the Principal of a sort of cram college, advocates recognition of the Clouds as the true gods.[16] Aristophanes was a satirist and not a scientific historian, but the mud he threw at Socrates stuck, and in 399/8 Socrates found himself on trial on the mutually exclusive charges of atheism and promoting alien gods. In Plato’s account of Socrates’ response to the charges (Apology 19b-c), Socrates alludes to the damaging and false representation of him in Aristophanes’ Clouds. The charges of impiety and his uncompromising attitude to the court cost him his life.

Thus for the Bacchae it is relevant to note that an Athenian audience would have understood Pentheus’ scepticism about the stranger’s advocacy of a new or borderline deity, and would have found it perfectly reasonable for him to hesitate about establishing a new cult in his city. And Euripides rather mocks Cadmus and Teiresias for deciding to join the Bacchic dancers just in case. Their motive is not political correctness, since they will be the only Thebans to dance (195-6),[17] but it could be described as religious correctness.[18]

Athens had four main social classes. Of these social classes were the slaves, the metics, the women, and the citizens.

From 451 Athenian democracy was protected by a very tight definition of citizenship. To retain, or claim, citizenship one had to demonstrate that both parents were citizens (Aristotle Ath. Pol. 26,4), and we are told that when the law was introduced some 4 760 Athenians forfeited citizen rights because they failed to satisfy the new requirements (Philochorus, cited by the scholiast on Aristophanes Wasps 718). Insofar as citizenship meant having political rights, the change of status may not have been too terrible, but in Athenian law from 451 only full citizens had the right to own fixed property. Thereafter full citizenship was only rarely granted to foreigners, and such a donation required a decision by the Popular Assembly the grant to a foreigner of entitlement to own fixed property in Attica likewise required a resolution of the Assembly, and was a fairly rare privilege non-citizens who were allowed to reside in Attica received permission to rent fixed property, but as a rule could never own fixed property, and their status as metics could be revoked. The number of metics living in Attica, mainly in the city and the Peiraeus, was probably always less than 50% of the total number of adult male citizens.[19] Thus the Athenians carefully policed the boundaries of citizenship the resident alien was very much a second-class inhabitant of the polis and the loss of citizenship, and therefore also of the right to own property, could be catastrophic. All this serves to explain the force of Cadmus’ horror at the end of the Bacchae that as an old man he must become an exile and settle as a metic in some barbarian land (1344-5). Athenian attitudes also help to explain Pentheus’ reaction to Dionysus and the Lydian women who arrive as strangers in his city.

Gender Issues

“A ‘feminist’ orientation in Theban religion” seems to have been a reality that would have been known to at least some Athenians (Demand 1982, with quotation from p. 128). It would have been seen by Athenians as another marker of the difference between their two cultures.

This is not the place to get into the debate on male chauvinism in Athens and the position of women in Athenian society. One view is that they were locked away “in almost oriental seclusion” another that a woman’s freedoms varied often inversely with her status, the highborn lady indeed living in virtual seclusion, but the working woman free enough to go about her business.

The factors that bore upon the treatment of women included the special status given to Athenian women by virtue of the law on citizenship, and the young age at which girls were married off, as girls were married from the age of thirteen, and to men who would normally be approaching thirty. Marriages were arranged and dowries were substantial enough and recoverable, to ensure that the marriages were not lightly dissolved. Thus the new husband was very much in loco parentis to his bride, and he was expected to complete his wife’s education.

The age gap between man and wife also helps to explain why Athenian men may have been peculiarly neurotic about their own position and suspicious of their wives. The behaviour of women at funerals was carefully regulated by law, since funerals were an occasion when even the most respectable women might be allowed out and had the opportunity to give vent to their emotions, not to mention the chance to meet other men. Furthermore, as Osborne (1997:187-211, esp. 190 and 208 sq.) argues, orgiastic rites were a reality in classical Athens, and thus the original audience would not have thought of Maenads just as creatures of mythology, but would have associated Maenadism with active religion, and Maenads belonged to the same nightmare world as Amazons for Athenian men.

Book of a lifetime: The Secret History, By Donna Tartt

I had a flirtation with The Secret History before I ever read it. I'd seen all the press that the book and its enigmatic author received and knew that this was the one for me. The problem was that I was still at school and couldn't justify the expense of a hardback. I remember standing in bookshops, picking it off the shelves, reading a page or two before putting it hurriedly back, not wanting to spoil it. In the end my mother ordered it from our local library and the wait began.

When at last it arrived, it was everything that I had hoped. The story of a tight-knit group of classics students at an exclusive private college in Vermont, who in the course of recreating a Bacchanalian rite kill a man and then are forced to murder one of their own number to cover their tracks, it is both boldly intellectual and a page-turner in the true sense. The book might have been written for me its 600 pages contained what I did and still do love most in books: a brooding atmosphere that shimmers with menace, unflinching psychological analysis, fresh and exciting writing and, perhaps best of all for someone doing university entrance papers in Latin and Greek, classics. The book seemed a vindication of the study of classics, a testament to the continuing relevance and importance of those literatures.

It is one of the triumphs of the book that its dark catalyst, the Dionysian rite, which any contemporary reader would approach with cynicism, is carried off with dazzling aplomb. By the time Henry, the linguistic genius and true scholar of the group, tells the story of the night that they ran wild on the mountainsides of Vermont – "wolves howling around us and a bull bellowing in the dark. The river ran white" – we are in Donna Tartt's hands entirely. Nonetheless, she makes that rite entirely credible. Though doubtless most of her readers would struggle with the idea that one of the Greek pantheon appeared to a group of college students on an American hillside in the 1980s, as does her narrator – "You saw Dionysus, I suppose?" – Tartt writes in such a way that we do not question what Henry believes he saw that night.

It is the same effect that Euripides, the most modern and psychologically accurate of the great Greek tragedians, achieves in The Bacchae, the play to which The Secret History is in many ways a homage. Dionysus is there, but the play works equally well without the divine element, as a devastating psychological portrait of a man destroyed by his "fatal flaw". In The Bacchae, Pentheus's flaw is his prurient curiosity about Dionysian rites for Richard Papen, a scholarship student from California, it is "a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs".

Lucie Whitehouse's novel 'The House at Midnight' is published by Bloomsbury

Euripides: Bacchae

Woodruff’s new edition brings the number of available and soon forthcoming English translations of the Bacchae to about two dozen. To situate Woodruff in this glutted market, I will discuss his new edition—his translation in ‘Part 1’ of this review, his introduction and supporting material in ‘Part 2’—with some reference to rival editions. In ‘Part 3’ of this review, I have compiled an annotated list of 22 other translations of the play, including 15 published in the past decade and some older editions still in print. Throughout this review, editions from the annotated list are referred to by asterisk plus translator’s name, e.g., *Arrowsmith. In comparing lines from Woodruff’s translation to those of a rival, I do not intend to suggest that the two versions will compare throughout as they do for the particular lines under consideration. Indeed, in no way does this review aim to conduct an exhaustive comparison. It attempts only to describe each recipe briefly and to give a spoonful of each dish in the unusually diverse potluck of available translations. In addition to a short description and assessment of each edition, the annotated list also reproduces lines 1-5 and 877-881 so that readers can compare something from them according to their own preferences. I offer my own assessment of the lot at the beginning of ‘Part 3’.

Translations differ, of course, according to whether they aim at a literal rendering, for careful study of the text and the thought of the playwright, a dramaturgic rendering, for the practice and study of performance, or a poetic rendering, for the crafting of verses intended to approach the beauty of the original, free from the constraints of the text’s most literal meaning. Woodruff’s translation aims at all three, 1 though his highest priority is to support careful study. His edition is “intended primarily for classroom use”(vii) and aims “first of all at being clear and true to the basic meaning of the text.”(vii) Clarity and faithfulness to Euripides’ “basic meaning,” then, will be the standards by which the translation is assessed. The edition as a whole will be considered according to its suitability for use by undergraduates who do not have a background in classical languages and literature.

Part 1: Woodruff’s translation

At line 10 (Woodruff gives the Greek line numbers in his margin) Dionysus praises the recognition Cadmus has shown to Semele with the words αἰνῶ δὲ Κάδμον, ἄβατον ὃς πέδον τόδε . Woodruff translates “Cadmus, now, he’s done well, / to keep this ground off limits, sacred to his daughter.” These lines exemplify the way Woodruff pursues his aim of rendering Euripides’ ‘basic meaning’. Frequently Woodruff foregoes literal translation in search of a similar expression in modern idiom. One might compare this with the less inventive lines of *Rudall, who gives: “Cadmus I praise—for he has made this ground / sacrosanct, a shrine for his daughter”. This renders αἰνῶ and σηκόν more directly, though Woodruff’s “off limits” for ἄβατον effectively renders a word that others have found unwieldy.

Woodruff very finely and suggestively renders the nuances of κτυπεῖτε in Dionysus’ introduction of the chorus: αἴρεσθε…τύπανα…βασίλεια τ’ἀμφὶ δώματ’ἐλθοῦσαι τάδε | κτυπεῖτε Πενθέως, ὡς ὁπαῖ Κάδμου πόλις . “Take up the drums (58-9) / … Surround this royal home of Pentheus, and strike. / Make the city of Cadmus take notice.” (60-1) Woodruff presents these lines in a way that makes the object of κτυπεῖτε ambiguous, heightening the suggestive nature of the banging and crashing around the house that will soon see much banging and crashing.

In the first sentence of the parodos, the chorus describes its toil on behalf of Dionysus as κάματόν τ’ εὐκάματον (67). Woodruff assigns the ‘toil’ specifically to the yahooing voices in the words immediately following, Βάκ : “I strain my voice—but it’s no strain— / shouting praise of Bacchus”. *Franklin’s chorus sings of “[w]ork that does not weary me”. Another worthy rendering is *Meagher’s “light is the labor in his service”, but this fine expression is then followed by a dreadful and textually unjustified line: “So long as he screams in the ears of my soul.”

At 117 the chorus sings of the θηλυγενὴς ὄχλος that awaits them at the mountain. Woodruff calls this “a throng of women-born”. All other translators, other than those who leave it untranslated, render θηλυγενὴς less awkwardly with ‘female’ or ‘(of) women’. The most effective translation will indicate the unusual ‘womanish’ nature of this mob (cf. Heraclidae 44 and Orestes 108 on the inappropriateness of παρθένοι before the ὄχλος , suggesting the unfeminine nature of the usual ὄχλος ). In general, men of Euripides’ era seem to prefer what is θηλυγενὴς to be ‘orderly’ and ‘temperate’ ( κόσμιον … σῶφρον Plato, Laws 7.802e10), hardly the defining features of an ὄχλος .

At 176 Teiresias calls to the gate to remind of the arrangement he made with Cadmus θύρσους ἀνάπτειν . Woodruff translates: “We made an agreement, he and I, to tie a thyrsus…”. No assistance is given to readers who might wonder what it means to ‘tie’ a thyrsus.

Woodruff embellishes the νεοχμὰ τήνδ’ ἀνὰ πτόλιν κακά (216) which Pentheus has heard while away from Thebes. Rather than hearing of “strange mischief” (*Arrowsmith), of “strange and evil doings” (*Epstein, *Milman), or even of an “astounding scandal” (*Vellacott), Woodruff’s Pentheus has heard that “there’s trouble in the city—a revolution!” Here again Woodruff adds to the text to suggest a mood and meaning beyond what a literal rendition can manage. Woodruff is among the translators who most substantially adorn the lines with which Pentheus makes his first impression. Two decidedly inventive editions also take noteworthy liberties with these lines. In the free and imaginative rendition of *Soyinka, Pentheus cries “I shall have order! Let the city know at once / that Pentheus is here to give back order and sanity. / To think those reports which came to be [ sic ] abroad are true!” Perhaps the most striking first impression is given by *Mahon, whose Pentheus, kicking empty wine skins strewn about, curses (“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”) before introducing the situation: “I’ve been abroad, where I heard strange reports / of scandalous goings-on…”

According to Teiresias, the popularly accepted account of Dionysus’ birth arose when the μέρος αἰθέρος which Zeus gave to Hera as ὅμηρος was instead called μηρός by mortals (287-297). Woodruff’s Teiresias explains this in English by setting up a pun between Zeus’ “showing sky” to Hera and the “sewn in thigh” of the later account: “…After a while, / people began to say he’d been ‘sewn in thigh.’ / They put ‘sewn in thigh’ for ‘showing sky’ because / they heard that Zeus fooled Hera by ‘showing sky’ to her.” This resembles, but does not do better than *Blessington’s juxtaposition of “thigh-piece” with “sky-piece” to transmit the pun. *Esposito attempts to spell things out more completely: “Breaking off a part of the sky that encircles the earth he fashioned one piece / into a dummy Dionysus. Using this as an offering of peace / Zeus palmed off the dummy as the real thing to Hera, thus pacifying / her hostility. Over time humans, changing the word sky, / have come to say that he was sewn in Zeus’ thigh.” Esposito alone presents a pun with four words, as in the original, by attempting to capture (the opposite of) νεικέων with “peace”. A “dummy Dionysus”, though, could certainly be improved upon.

Pentheus’ first command to the effeminate stranger who has just been brought before him is that the stranger declare his γένος . Diggle’s text, adopting Wakefield’s conjecture, has the stranger reply that he has no fear or hesitation to say what is easily said, οὐκ ὄκνος οὐδείς, ῤάιδιον δ’ εἰπεῖν τόδε (461). This is a suggestive line, given what Dionysus does and does not say in the lines to follow. Woodruff translates: “Right away, sir. It’s a simple story.” In this instance, Woodruff’s garnished interpretation of Euripides’ basic meaning does not serve his readers well. Among other complaints one might make about this rendition, one might note that nothing in the text justifies the word “sir”, nor is “sir” appropriate in the context of Dionysus’ far from obedient and respectful responses that follow. By contrast, when the messenger addresses Pentheus as ἄναξ in the following episode at 666, 670, and 760, “sir” is textually justified and appropriate to the character, and is so translated by Woodruff on all three occasions. Only at one place in the play— ὦ τᾶν at 802—could “sir” be a possible utterance of Dionysus to Pentheus, and so it is translated by Woodruff, as well as *Esposito, *Morwood, and *Seaford. But even there the word “sir” seems the wrong choice to convey the “condescension or impatience or urgency” of ὦ τᾶν (Wilkins on Heraclidae 321 cf. Dodds on Bacchae 802), all three of which could be at work at 802. Perhaps the apparent inappropriateness of Dionysus addressing Pentheus as ‘sir’ at any point in the action is one factor that has led most translators to render ὦ τᾶν “friend” (*Arrowsmith, *Bagg, *Epstein, *Franklin, *Hadas, *Meagher, *Milman, *Rudall, *Vellacott, *Walton, *Williams).

Immediately after the palace miracles, a still defiant Pentheus growls at the stranger for suggesting that the king’s efforts to seal off the city will not contain the god. Woodruff’s Pentheus responds: “What a wiseass you are—cunning, except where it counts.” (655: σοφὸς σοφὸς σύ, πλὴν ἃ δεῖ σ’ εἶναι σοφόν ). An endnote on a previous line (pp. 68-69 on 395) provides another occasion for Woodruff to propose that σοφός conveys the sense of ‘wiseass’. It will be left to the reader to determine whether Woodruff’s translation of σοφός in these contexts succeeds in rendering this loaded word. To emphasize the appropriate hue of σοφός in other contexts, Woodruff uses not only ‘cunning’ (655, 656, 824, 839, 1190), but also ‘prudent’ (266), ‘sophistic’ (203), and ‘wise’ and cognates (179, 186, 395, 427, 480, 641, 877, 897, 1005, 1151).

Line 716 is bracketed by Diggle because of its similarity to 667. Except for the last word of each line, both are identical. Woodruff translates both lines without making note of the difficulty. Of the other lines bracketed by Diggle, Woodruff mentions 182, 199-203, 316, 756, 1091-1092, 1244-1245, 1388-1392, and simply translates without comment 229-230, 537, 673, 716, 1025-1026, 1028, 1221. The two most important textual issues—the lacunae after 1300 and 1329—are discussed by Woodruff both in the stage directions and, more substantially, in corresponding endnotes.

When the stranger offers to bring the women to Pentheus without an armed struggle, Pentheus cries οἴμοι and accuses the stranger of further machinations (805). Woodruff renders οἴμοι with “The hell you will.” This translation seems to overstate Pentheus’ defiance of the stranger at a place in the dialogue where Euripides may have meant to represent the young king flinching. At any rate, Woodruff translates οἴμοι more conventionally as an exclamation of woe at 1248 (“Oh,…”).

In the stage directions preceding Agave’s first lines (1168ff.), Woodruff describes her as carrying “the head of Pentheus on a stick, his hair curled round it like ivy on a thyrsus.” Agave, though, carries no ordinary ‘stick’ that is adorned like a thyrsus: it is a thyrsus on which Pentheus’ head is mounted, as Woodruff’s translation of 1142 and his endnote on 1185 indicate. Unfortunately, Woodruff’s supporting material lacks an adequate discussion or description of this central stage prop.

At 1181-1182 the chorus asks Agave to name those who took part in the kill. A literal rendering might run: CHORUS: ‘Who else?’ ( τίς ἄλλα ) AGAVE: ‘Those of Cadmus…’ ( τὰ Κάδμου… ) CHORUS: ‘What of Cadmus?’ ( τί Κάδμου ) AGAVE: ‘…those offspring of his’ ( γένεθλα ). Like *Epstein and *Morwood, Woodruff does not preserve the genitive form of ‘Cadmus’, implicating Cadmus more than the text does: “CHORUS: Who else? AGAVE: Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: His daughters.” This translation will be of little help to most new students of the play, who should be given—in addition to a grammatically faithful translation—some assistance in following this choppy and emotional exchange. *Epstein’s translation, though less disconnected, goes even further in implicating Cadmus in the attack: “CHORUS: And who struck him then? AGAVE: Cadmus— CHORUS: But how could Cadmus— AGAVE: His daughters attacked the monster after I did.” All three translators may have been influenced by Dodds, whose commentary translates the lines: “CHORUS: Who else (struck him)? AGAVE: It was Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: Whose daughters laid hand on this creature— ” Cf. *Morwood: “CHORUS: Who else struck him? AGAVE: It was Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: …whose children laid their hands on this wild beast—” I do not mean to suggest that Cadmus is not in any way implicated in the action of his daughters. I do intend to point out the care with which such lines must be translated, and to recommend better supporting material in cases in which an inexperienced reader of tragedy might have difficulty following the text.

Part 2: Woodruff’s introduction and supporting material

Woodruff’s translation is supported by an introduction (34 pages), brief footnotes on roughly half the pages of the translation (rarely totaling more than a few lines), more substantive endnotes (13 pages, not flagged in the translation, unfortunately), an appendix (6 pages) discussing the lost speeches, and a bibliographical note (2 pages) supported by a list of works cited (4 pages). To introduce an aura of decadence the cover of the book presents a mug shot of Elvis Presley in his newly acquired army uniform.

Woodruff’s substantial introduction presents short discussions, each of a couple of pages or so, grouped under key headings. In the first of these, entitled “The Play”, Woodruff sets the scene of the dramatic action, gives a brief outline of the story, and characterizes the imminent meeting of Dionysus and Pentheus. Woodruff compares this meeting to “Mick Jagger in his prime running into a newly installed conservative dictator” (xii), if we could also imagine the rock star as being able to bring forth a real earthquake. The section on “Cultural Background” follows, divided into three subsections. In “Religion”, Woodruff offers a short account of Dionysus and the “elusive” religious practices associated with him. In “Madness and Control” Woodruff explores the tension between the release afforded by ritual and its claim to promote sound-mindedness. Woodruff presents this as a fundamental paradox of the Dionysiac religion treated by the play: “The chorus in the Bacchae celebrates the joys of intoxication induced by wine or mountain dancing, and at the same time praises soundness of mind and all the calm and collected virtues that go with accepting the human condition. In almost one breath they praise self-control and letting go.” (xv) This is very nicely phrased. In his discussion of the “New Learning” Woodruff argues that fifth century intellectualism is characterized in the play as a threat to this “wisdom of acceptance, which leads to a quiet life, is modest, and resists innovation.” (xvii)

In the section on “The Author” Woodruff introduces frequently treated themes in the Euripidean corpus. Woodruff highlights criticisms of religion, women’s issues, and the “conservative populism” (xxi) which, he claims, defines Euripides’ political sympathies. In “Ancient Tragic Theatre” Woodruff describes the tragic festivals, staging, and setting of Greek tragedies, adding notes about the conventions of chorus and messenger. Woodruff includes a subsection entitled “Plot” which says almost nothing about plots, but instead insists on the untenable thesis that “fate and divine decree operate in the background, if at all” (xxiv). Rather than conceiving the action as predestined, Woodruff argues, “the audience must believe that the characters have real choices to make” (xxiv). Readers might question why this perspective is necessary to approach the play, or if indeed it is supported by the action itself. Dionysus, of course, fulfills his promises stated in the prologue, and he explains the cruelty of doing so—whatever we think of it—by referring to Zeus’ design (1349, a line brushed off by Woodruff as a “passing reference” (xxiv) without major significance). Further, Dionysus seems to have an effect on Pentheus that obstructs his ability to choose anything. In fact, this is acknowledged by Woodruff when he suggests that, before we even meet Pentheus, “perhaps he has already been crazed by Dionysus into a state in which he can see no further than resistance to the new cult.” (xxviii) This does not accord neatly with the claim that “the startling change in Pentheus” in the third episode is “wrought, apparently, by persuasion” (69, cf. 71).

Woodruff presents four pages introducing “The Characters of the Bacchae”. He begins by equipping new readers to approach the multifaceted character of Dionysus and to appreciate the beauty and power of the choral lyric. This is followed by concise and helpful discussions of the other characters. Each of these, however, contains interpretations which might better be identified as the author’s reading among other possible alternatives. Teiresias is seen as a representative of the ‘New Learning’ (xxvii, cf. xvi, xxxvii, xxxix, xl, 67), negatively portrayed as a feature of Euripides’ anti-intellectualism (cf. xxi, xl). Cadmus, according to Woodruff, is “almost senile” (xxviii, cf. xxxviii, 76 on 1216) in the first episode. When discussing Pentheus, Woodruff makes frequent reference to the “unconscious” (xxviii, 71) or “suppressed” (xvi, xxiv cf. xi) desires of Pentheus and the “psychoanalytical truth” which the play unveils about him (xxxiv, mentioning other scholars). Agave “is more stage prop than dramatic character,” about whom Woodruff concludes: “without a mask, the part would be very difficult to bring off in serious theater” (xxix). The lack of qualification in presenting these interpretations (all off the mark, in my opinion) might limit rather than facilitate a beginner’s approach to the richness and complexity of Euripides’ characterizations.

Woodruff concludes his introduction with a 13 page survey of “Interpretations of the Bacchae“. These short but stimulating discussions of seven interpretations of the play, followed by Woodruff’s own reading, set Woodruff’s edition apart from others. They are excellent prolegomena for students of the play. The first reading Woodruff considers, which he refers to as the ‘recantation’ interpretation, considers the play to be a mature palinode of the poet’s youthful criticism of religion. A second interpretation, associated with Winnington-Ingram, suggests that the play involves moral scrutiny of Dionysus and his cult. Woodruff then considers interpretations which see the play as a source of ‘rationalism’ (Verrall, Norwood) and ‘irrationalism’ (Dodds). A fifth interpretation, attributed to Segal and Nussbaum, argues that the play “honestly represents unresolved tensions in human life” (xxxiv) and is hence neither for nor against Dionysus. A sixth interpretation, associated with Seaford, treats the destruction of Pentheus as ‘a social necessity’, a ritual which promotes civic unity. Lastly, the play’s political dimensions are considered by mentioning some interpretive remarks of Leinieks and Esposito.

Woodruff concludes with his own reading of the play, which—as one might expect from his emphasis on what he refers to as the ‘New Learning’—views the play as a concerted effort to “skewer the wisdom of intellectuals” (xxxix). “Everything that anyone in the play sees as bad” Woodruff proclaims sweepingly, “is associated with the New Learning” (xxxix). Further, according to Woodruff, Euripides, with his particular framing of the Pentheus myth, “seems to be tacking onto the play a message that does not appear to be integral to the plot” (xl). It hardly seems possible, though, that the central theme of any tragedy could be something that is not integral to the plot. Further, the play certainly develops negative characterizations which are not immediately attributable to the office of sophists and philosophers. The hamartia of Pentheus in particular is ethical and political above and beyond its relation to Athenian intellectualism. His excessiveness, and the god’s corresponding excessive response, are an education in themselves of lasting relevance to the broad human questions they treat. These questions may indeed overlap with concerns about the ambiguous social position of ‘wise men’ in Euripides’ Athens, but such particular concerns could hardly be the occasion and the subject of this universally compelling work of art.

Part 3: annotated list of Bacchae translations

For students without a background in classics, the best self-contained ( i.e., non-omnibus) editions of the play are *Seaford, *Esposito, *Franklin, and Woodruff, in descending order according to my preferences in a student edition. Any of these four editions would do an admirable job of supporting undergraduates who approach the play for the first time. One of these editions might be preferable to another on different occasions. *Seaford’s excellent edition provides the most detailed and most valuable commentary though it is a trustworthy companion for advanced students of the play, it is probably too sophisticated for use in an introductory survey course. *Esposito, by contrast, makes a special effort to explain language and action in the play which is too often left unexplained by editors of student editions. His success in doing so makes his edition especially choiceworthy for undergraduates new to Greek tragedy. *Franklin’s notes also endeavor to anticipate the questions and interests of beginning students, though they are more simple and less concerned to link particular issues with scholarly questions than *Esposito or Woodruff. Most (facing) pages of *Franklin’s notes also present questions for students in the form of bullet points. Finally, it should be stated that some features of Woodruff’s edition which are not to my taste might be particularly attractive to others, such as his use of colloquialism and of examples drawn from popular culture.

Three other editions merit consideration for classroom use: *Morwood’s new Oxford University Press ‘World Classics’ edition, the forthcoming Penguin editions by Davie (replacing the old *Vellacott series), and the forthcoming Loeb editions by *Kovacs. Containing several plays in each volume, these do not focus exclusively on the Bacchae as the above four do, but may be preferable in survey courses reading several plays apace. *Morwood contains particularly generous and helpful notes. *Kovacs has a (new) facing Greek text and an excellent literal translation. The Davie volume containing Bacchae has not yet appeared, but the other available volumes read very well and are well supported with useful notes and introductions. At the present moment the market offers about a half dozen worthy editions of the Bacchae. Straying from those here recommended, though, except for dramaturgic or poetic purposes, can quickly lead into dubious territory.

In addition to a very brief statement of the content and merits of each edition, I also indicate whether the line numbers refer to the Greek or English, if they exist at all. Lastly, lines 1-5 and 877-881(=897-901) are reproduced to equip readers to make their own comparison at first glance. These lines, in Woodruff’s translation, run as follows. 1-5: I have arrived. I am Dionysus, son of Zeus, / come to Thebes, where my mother gave me birth / in a firestorm, struck by lightning. Her name / was Semélê her father, Cadmus, had founded / this city. I have changed from divine to human form, / and here I am. [( pointing to various features of the landscape)] There’s the Ismenus river, the other one is called Dirke=. 877-881(=897-901): What is wise? What is the finest gift / that gods can give to mortals? / A hand on the heads / of their enemies, pushing down? / [No.] What is fine is loved always.

Arrowsmith, William. (1959) in David Grene & Richmond Lattimore, eds. Euripides V: Electra, The Phoenician Women, The Bacchae. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Contains an introduction (12 pages), an appendix (1 page) discussing the lacuna after 1329, and a chronological note (5 pages, by Lattimore). Line numbers: Greek. This reliable and worthy translation is still used by many, but does not offer assistance to students on the level of the editions recommended above. 1-5: 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 Ismene. 877-881: —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.

Bagg, Robert. (1978) The Bakkhai by Euripides. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press. Contains an introduction (16 pages) and helpful notes (14 pages). Line numbers: English. This translation spells out the action carefully and compellingly, and is among the editions most suited for performance. In numerous places, Bagg gives the most compelling translation of all available editions. Had I not restricted this review to locating the most literal and clear translations with the most helpful support to the uninitiated, Bagg’s edition would be a more obvious choice for the first rank. 1-5: I’m back! —a god standing on ground / where I was born, in Thebes. / Lightning ripped me / from the pregnant body / of Kadmos’ daughter, Semele=. / That blast of flame was my midwife. / I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus. / You see me now at the rivers, / Dirce and Ismenus, but my godhead / you cannot see, because I’ve changed it / for this: the body of a man. 877-881: What is wisdom? When the gods / crush our enemies, their heads cowed / under the hard fist of our power, / that is glory! —and glory / always is the prize men crave.

Blessington, Francis. (1993) Euripides: The Bacchae. Aristophanes: The Frogs. Two Plays of Dionysus. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson. Contains an introduction covering and linking both plays (10 pages), a list of dates (4 pages), and a select bibliography (2 pages total, one for each play). Line numbers: Greek. This is a good translation in an affordable edition, well suited to courses studying both plays, though it has less in the way of notes and explanatory material than those I have recommended above. 1-5: I, Dionysos, have come to Thebes, / Zeus’ son, whom Cadmus’ daughter, / Semele, bore and delivered by lightning. / Changed from a god to a man, / I visit the streams of Dirce and Ismenos… 877-881: What is wisdom? Or what lovlier gift / From the gods, in mortal eyes, / Than to hold a stronger hand / Over enemy heads: / Honor is dear—always.

Cacoyannis, Michael. (1982) Euripides: The Bacchae. Contains an introduction (19 pages). Line numbers: none. Outdated and lacking adequate assistance for careful study of the play. 1-5: I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, am back in Thebes. / I was born here, of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, / blasted from her womb by a bolt of blazing thunder. / Why am I here? A god in the shape of a man, / walking by the banks of Ismenus, the waters of Dirce? 877-881: What is wisdom? Which / of all the God-given gifts / is more beneficial to man / than the power to hold / an enemy powerless at bay? / That which is good is welcome forever.

Epstein, Daniel Mark. (1998) in David Slavitt and Palmer Bovie, eds. Euripides 1: Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, The Bacchae. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (See BMCR 00.08.09) The volume includes a “pronouncing glossary” (10 pages), a general introduction by Palmer Bovie (8 pages), and a translator’s preface to each play (11 pages for Bacchae, including five pages of notes to the subsequent lines). Line numbers: English. A good edition, though not of the standard of those recommended above. Based, unfortunately, on Murray’s outdated text. 1-5: I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus. My mother / was Semele, the mortal daughter of Cadmus, / whose labor a flash of lightning cruelly sped. / But I have shed the God’s shape and come as a man / to this land of Thebes. And thus you see me here / by the springs of Dirce and the stream of Ismenus. 877-881: What gift of Gods to men / is more lovely than wisdom / or the glory of mastery / over a fallen enemy? / Such glory endures forever.

Esposito, Stephen J. (1998) The Bacchae of Euripides. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Focus Publishing, Focus Classical Library. (See BMCR 98.11.02) Contains an introduction (21 pages), four appendices—on the lacuna after 1300 (2 pages), the lacuna after 1329 (half a page), a geneology, and an essay by Valerie Warrior on “The Roman Bid to Control Bacchic Worship” (6 pages)—a glossary of themes and terms (18 pages), a map of Greece and Asia Minor (1 page), and a bibliography (2 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This edition should be emulated by others whose aim is to equip less sophisticated students to appreciate a Greek play. The translation is faithful and yet flows nicely. The notes discuss issues and explain elements of the text that most editions pass over. This is the edition of choice for students without experience in Greek drama or knowledge of Greek language. 1-5: I have come to this land of Thebes as the son of Zeus. / Dionysus is my name. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, / gave me birth after being forced into labor by fiery lightning. / Exchanging my divinity for human form I have arrived / at Dirce’s streams and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is the wise gift or what is the finer gift / of gods among mortals? / Is it to hold a stronger hand / over the head of enemies? / No, for what is fine is dear always.

Franklin, David (2000) Euripides: Bacchae. A new translation and commentary by David Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Cambridge Translations from Greek Drama) Contains a brief statement of the background to the play (1 page), a map of ancient Greece (1 page), a synopsis of the play (2 pages), a list of pronounciations (1 page), an introduction to the Greek theatre (3 pages of text by P. E. Easterling, 1 page of illustrations), a timeline of authors and works in Greek literature (1 page) and an index (3 pages). The translation of the text is presented on right hand pages, the commentary faces this on left hand pages. Most commentary pages contain bullet points with questions directed to the reader. This is a fine edition for classroom use. Its commentary targets students with the least amount of preparation and sophistication. Unfortunately, it uses Murray’s outdated text. 1-5: I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, have come to the land of Thebes! Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, gave birth to me on the day she was sent into labour by the fire of lightning. I have put aside my divine form, and in the body of a man I have come here, to the stream of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? / What god-given right is finer in men’s eyes / Than to hold the hand of power over an enemy’s head? / Honour is always precious.

Hadas, Moses and John McLean (1960) Ten Plays by Euripides. New York: Bantam. Contains an introduction to the volume (13 pages), an introduction to each play (1 page), and a glossary (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). An inexpensive and generally reliable old prose rendition, though without enough supporting material to warrant classroom use. 1-5: Zeus’ child has come back to the land of the Thebans. I am Dionysus whom Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, bore long ago by the flaming thunderbolt’s midwifery. My form I have changed from divine to human, as I come now to Dirce’s streams, to the water of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What boon from the gods is fairer among men than to hold a victorious hand over the head of one’s enemies? What is fair is ever dear.

Kovacs, David (forthcoming) Euripides VI. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library. (See BMCR 04.03.21, 96.12.2 for earlier volumes.) The new Loeb volumes of Euripides by Kovacs which have already appeared offer an excellent literal prose translation and a (new) Greek text facing each page of the literal translation. His textual decisions are discussed in the volumes of Euripidea published by Brill.

Mahon, Derek (1991) The Bacchae: after Euripides. Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland: Gallery Press. Line numbers: none. Mahon’s poetic rendition is not free enough to approach the splendor of his extraordinary poems, but this edition is nevertheless worthy of consideration, especially for those who want to see what a poet of his unique style and caliber has done with the play. 1-5: My name is Dionysus, son of Zeus / and Semele, Cadmus’ eldest daughter. Whoosh! / I was delivered by a lightning flash / and here I am back home in Thebes again / pretending to be a mortal among men / although, as we all know, I am one of the gods. 877-881: What pleases best, what grand / gift can the gods bestow / more than the conquering hand / over the fallen foe? / It’s still the same old story, / a fight for love and glory, / and every heart admits that this is so.

Meagher, Robert Emmet (1995) Euripides Bakkhai. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. (See BMCR 96.1.10) Contains a preface (2 pages), commentary (21 pages in long essay format), and an appendix of choral odes “adapted for performance”. Line numbers: none. This is “a translation written specifically for the theater” (iv). “Anything less [than a playable script], as an aim,” according to Meagher, “would be a betrayal of the author, who spent his life not in libraries nor in classrooms but in the theater” (iv). The ‘commentary’ which follows the ‘ τεξτ ‘ (as the heading of its pages proclaims, as if to promote bad habits early) is more of an interpretive essay, written by a stage director concerned to explore the force and implications of the action on stage. 1-5: Land of Thebes, I am back, / Dionysus, the boy-child of Zeus. / My mother was Semele, daughter of Kadmos. / She was a mere girl, when from her womb / I was blasted into birth by a bolt of blazing fire. / God though I am, I have taken mortal form / to stand here beside the river Dirke / and the waters of Ismenos. 877-881: What is wisdom? / Of all god-given gifts, / what do men want more / Than to have their enemies / Under their thumb? / It is always sweet / To have one’s way.

Milman, Henry Hart. (1997) Euripides Bacchae. Mineola, New York: Dover Thrift Editions. (reprint of Milman’s 1865 translation of “The Bacchanals”) Contains an introductory ‘Note’ (1 page) and no supporting material to accompany the antiquated translation. Line numbers: none. One wonders what service Dover thinks it is doing to readers by putting out an edition such as this one. 1-5: Unto this land of Thebes I come, Jove’s son, Dionysus he whom Semele of yore, / ‘Mid the dread midwifery of lightning fire, / Bore, Cadmus’ daughter. In a mortal form, / The God put off, by Dirce’s stream I stand, / and cool Ismenos’ waters 877-881: What is wisest? what is fairest, / Of god’s boons to man the rarest? / With the conscious conquering hand / above the foeman’s head to stand. / What is fairest still is dearest.

Morwood, James (1999) Euripides: Iphigenia among the Taurians, Bacchae, Iphigenia at Aulis, Rhesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (See BMCR 00.06.05) Contains an introduction by Edith Hall (31 pages, 3 pages covering Bacchae), a ‘select’ bibliography (8 pages), a chronology (2 pages), a map of the Greek world (2 pages), and explanatory endnotes (65 pages total, 14 pages for Bacchae) keyed by asterisk in the body of the translation. Line numbers: Greek. This excellent new translation is the best available edition of ‘collected’ plays. Hall’s four page introductory note on the Bacchae is challenging and suggestive. 1-5: I am the son of Zeus, Dionysus. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, bore me once in a birth precipitated by the lightning flame. I have transformed my appearance from god to man and come to this Theban land, and here I am at the streams of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? Or what god given prize / is nobler in men’s eyes / than to hold one’s hand in mastery / over the head of one’s enemies? / What is noble is precious—that ever holds true. [The choral parts of this prose translation are presented in shorter lines in order to distinguish “between the spoken and the sung or chanted areas of the play” (xl).]

Raphael, Frederic & Kenneth McLeish (1998) Bacchae by Euripides. London: Nick Hern Books, Drama Classics series. Contains an introduction (16 pages), a (1 page) list of key dates (listing nine), and a guide to further reading (1 paragraph), which lists six titles, none of which is later than 1967. Line numbers: none. This pocket size edition does little to promote appreciation of the play. 1-5: You see the son of God. I have returned. / Dionysos, son of Zeus. Home, here, to Thebes. / My mother was Semele, King Kadmos’ daughter, / My father Zeus. Lightning the midwife: / Born in a flash, the fire-child. I have changed my shape: God comes in mortal guise. / See—here by the waters of Dirke, Ismenos’ stream— / My mother’s tomb… 877-881: Wisdom? What’s that? / What truer gift from God / Than hands outstretched / In triumph above your enemy? / Revenge is sweet, they say.

Roche, Paul (1998) Euripides: 10 Plays, A New Translation by Paul Roche. New York: Signet Classics. Contains an introduction to the volume (2.5 pages), a translator’s preface (9 pages), a glossary of classical names (32 pages), and a brief introduction (1-2 pages) preceding each play. Line numbers: none. The first page of Roche’s introduction claims without qualification that Euripides “…was appalled by the low status of women even in hypercivilized Athens” (ix). All the same, Roche explains, Euripides “…does not approve of the henpecked husband or of giving a child the mother’s surname…” (ix). Equally remarkable is Roche’s choice of text: in the era of Diggle, Roche chose to use A.S. Way’s Loeb and the Budé of Parmentier and Grégoire. 1-5: So, the son of Zeus is back in Thebes: / I, Dionysus, son of Semele—daughter of Cadmus— / who was struck from my mother in a lightning stroke. / I am changed, of course, a god made man, / and now I approach the rivulets of Dirce, / the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What is beauty? / Heaven blest in sight of man / But to hold a hated rival’s / Head beneath one’s hand. / Beauty is a joy forever.* [The asterisk leads to the footnote: ‘John Keats knew his Euripides!’ A connection could have been suggested more instructively, e.g., ‘cf. the first line of Keats’ ‘Endymion’.’]

Rudall, Nicholas (1996) Euripides: The Bacchae. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Plays for Performance. Contains an introduction (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This translation is designed for performance. 1-5: Look on me—Dionysus, Son of Zeus. / I have come to this land of Thebes. / Semele, daughter of Cadmus, gave me birth. / Fire born by lightning was the midwife. / I have changed from god to mortal shape. / And here I stand by the streams of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What greater gift of gods / Than to keep the hand of victory / Over one’s enemies? Therein lies honor. / And honor is precious.

Seaford, Richard (1996) Euripides: Bacchae. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. (reviewed in BMCR 96.11.1 cf. the exchange with Segal 98.07.01, 98.05.26, 98.3.10.) Contains a general introduction to the series by Shirley Barlow (23 pages), Seaford’s introduction to the Bacchae (30 pages), an apparatus criticus (7 pages + 2 pages indicating manuscripts and symbols used in the apparatus), Greek text with facing literal translation, passages from the Christus Patiens (a page and a half, untranslated), scholarly commentary keyed to the translation (111 pages), a general bibliography by Collard (6 pages), a selected bibliography covering Bacchae (2 pages) and an index (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This is the most comprehensive and sophisticated edition available to students who do not read Greek even for those who do, it is invaluable. 1-5: I am come, the son of Zeus, to this Theban land, Dionysos, to whom the daughter of Kadmos once gave birth, Semele, midwived by lightning-borne fire. And having changed my form from god to mortal, I am here at the streams of Dirke and the water of Ismenos. 877-881: What is the wise (gift), or what is the finer gift from the gods among mortals? Is it to hold the hand powerful over the head of your enemies? (No, for) What is fine is dear always.

Soyinka, Wole (1973) The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite. New York: Norton. Contains an introduction (7 pages), a chronology (1 page), and a production note (half a page) stating that any cuts to the text “must NOT be permitted to affect the essential dimension of a Nature feast.” (xix) Line numbers: none. This adaptation by the Nobel Laureate does not stay very close to the text of Euripides. It is nevertheless an enticing and valuable piece in its own right, probably the most interesting of the ‘poetic’ editions. Opening lines: Thebes taints me with bastardy. I am turned into an alien, some foreign outgrowth of her habitual tyranny. My followers daily pay forfeit for their faith. Thebes blasphemes against me, makes a scapegoat of a god. It’s time to save my patrimony—even here in Thebes. I am the gentle, jealous joy. Vengeful and kind. An essence that will not exclude, nor be excluded. If you are Man or Woman, I am Dionysos. Accept. 877-881: not included.

Sutherland, Donald. (1968) The Bacchae of Euripides. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. Contains two substantial appended discussions of the play, one (14 pages) an essay treating textual, staging, and metrical aspects, the other (58 pages) consisting of an Aristotelian analysis of the play in terms of the six component parts of tragedy. Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). 1-5: I come, a child of Zeus, again to Thebes / where once King Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, / bore me, Dionysus, whom she had by Zeus, / delivered of me by the lightning’s fire. / Changing my godhead for a mortal shape / I walk by Dirce’s springs, Ismenus’ wave, … 877-881: What can our wits contrive, or what more glorious / gift can come from the gods to men than a high hand / over the foe, heavily held, fully victorious? / Glory’s the thing men cherish, ever, and in every land.

Vellacott, Philip (1994) Euripides: The Bacchae, Medea, Hippolytus. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club. Reprinted from Vellacott’s Penguin translations: the Bacchae is that of Vellacott (1973) The Bacchae and Other Plays: Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Contains an introduction (26 pages) and one or two pages of notes for each play. Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). Vellacott’s translations of Euripides are in the process of being replaced with new and more reliable versions by John Davie (with introductions and notes by R. B. Rutherford). It seems odd, then, that Vellacott has been chosen for reprinting in an era of so many superior editions of Euripides. 1-5: I am Dionysus, son of Zeus. My mother was Semele, daughter of Cadmus I was delivered from her womb by the fire of a lightning-flash. To-day I have laid aside the appearance of a god, and have come disguised as a mortal man to this city of Thebes, where flow the two rivers, Dirce and Ismenus. 877-881: What prayer should we call wise? / What gift of Heaven should man / Count a more noble prize, / A prayer more prudent, than / To stretch a conquering arm / Over the fallen crest / Of those who wished us harm? / And what is noble every heart loves best.

Walton, J. Michael (1998) in J. Michael Walton, ed. Euripides: Plays I: Medea, The Phoenician Women, Bacchae. London: Methuen. (See BMCR 03.03.15) Contains a general introduction (29 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This edition is not a poor one, but does not reach the classroom worthiness of the other recent editions mentioned in the opening of ‘Part 3′ of this review. 1-5: Here am I, Dionysos. / Son of Zeus and Kadmos’ daughter, Semele. / I have returned to this land of Thebes / Where I was born from the lightning bolt. / Now I stand by the springs of Dirke and the waters of Ismenos, / A god . . . disguised as a man. 877-881: Where is the beginning of wisdom? / What gift of the gods could be finer for man / Than to raise up his hand o’er the head of his foe, / Nothing finer, / Delightful.

Williams, C. K. (1990) The Bacchae of Euripides. New York: The Noonday Press / Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Contains an introductory essay (36 pages) with bibliography (3 pages) by Martha Nussbaum, a translator’s note (3 pages), and a discussion of the characters (2 pages). Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). Nussbaum’s introduction will better suit more sophisticated readers than undergraduates approaching Greek tragedy for the first time. Nussbaum critically analyzes the interpretations of Nietzsche, the ‘rationalists’ (e.g., Verrall), Dodds, and psychoanalysts. Following this with her own interpretation, she begins by criticizing the “simple picture” of human nature as a mixture of the godlike and beastlike. Nussbaum prefers the “complex picture”, which she associates with Aristotle, and especially with the claim that neither beasts nor gods make use of civilization and the moral virtues (xviii). This “complex picture” sees a human being as a being “arrogating to itself by itself the place of morality, pity, and compassion, firmly setting itself in opposition both to the serene, uncaring life of the gods and to the dense, uncaring life of the beasts” (xxxix). This assigns a special purpose to the emotions in negotiating the uniquely human moral realm: “for pity makes a firm distinction between what is in our power, and therefore our fault, and what is not, and fear follows pity” (xl). Because Aristotle himself “could not approve of” the Bacchae (xli), Nussbaum concludes by recommending a view of tragedy according to which the play would be appropriately admired. This Nussbaum calls “trans-Aristotelian”, according to which “the theater is not so much the place where humans set themselves off from the rest of nature, secure in their moral virtue, but the place, instead, where these fluidities and insecurities are enacted, these risks explored” (xli-xlii). Williams’ translation is poetic, rather than literal. The edition as a whole does not offer the support needed by undergraduates. 1-5: I am Dionysus. I am Bacchus. / Bromius and Iacchus. / Dithyrambus and Evius. / I am a god, the son of Zeus, / but I have assumed the semblance of a mortal, / and come to Thebes, where my mother, Semele, / the daughter of King Cadmus, gave birth to me. Her midwife was the lightning bolt that killed her. / There is the river Dirce, and there the stream / Ismenus. 877-881: What is / wisdom? / What / the fairest / gift the gods / can offer / us / below? / What / is nobler / than / to hold / a dominating / hand / above / the bent / head of / the enemy? / The fair, the / noble, how / we / cherish, how / we welcome / them.

1. Re: poetic: “I have tried to bring across some of the beauty of poetry given the chorus…” (vii). Re: dramaturgic: “…I have tried to give the characters the different voices I hear in the Greek, so that the translation can be produced on stage with minimal changes.” (vii)

Brief History of the Greek Theater Project at Montclair

Greek theater texts are regularly read by students in General Humanities courses and other literature-based courses, but rarely are those student readers asked to imagine how the plays might have been experienced, what a Greek chorus really did for a play, or how the text under discussion might have been used in an ancient Greek performance.

outdoors in the Kasser Amphitheater, and that anyone who was interested should meet at a certain time and place. There must have been a groundswell already, because twenty or so students, quite a few of them General Humanities majors or minors, attended that original meeting and expressed great enthusiasm: and so the Greek play project was born! We proceeded to put together, within about seven weeks, a production of Antigone that was relatively true to the original Greek text (we used a publicly available translation and tweaked it with a view to accuracy and clarity), and had an interesting interpretive angle that picked up on the bond between the two sisters Antigone and Ismene, the tired and non-confrontational chorus of veteran soldiers of Thebes, and the importance of honoring and recognizing both sides of the recent military conflict. We did not attempt to “modernize” the play (although we performed it in English, and did cut and change wording slightly where needed in order to facilitate understanding).

Greek theaters in antiquity), and many of our 200+ spectators, visiting over two days, told us that despite the challenging weather and space conditions (relatively poor structural acoustics, few mics, and lots of wind!), they could hear the actors and singers well, and appreciated the setting also for its engagement with campus life: we did not try to “hide” our setting, and in the background of the play the occasional skateboarder, backpack-toting student, bike rider, or delivery truck wended its way by. Our audience was composed of a mix of students (many brought by their teachers), faculty/administration, and curious campus denizens who happened to see it as they walked by. Two student filmmakers with their own small company captured the two performances on film, and merged the two to create one film of the production, and DVDs containing that mix, with titles, were distributed to the entire cast with the help of the Dean’s office we were able to pay for the filming.

We are continuing the project in April 2015 with a favorite suggested by student participants of the previous year, Euripides’ Bacchae. As before, there will be dancing, singing, and live instrumental music, including a small ensemble with percussion, flute, and violin the Bacchae themselves will play hand drums and pan pipes in parts. We’ll give three performances, and we hope for a good turnout to the stone theater. This year we’ve become a bit more ambitious, but still all parts of the production are done by students. We have started this, our own website for production – we are also reaching out to Montclair High School in town, to offer a workshop on Greek theater to high school students there–the high school has its own version of the WPA “amphitheater” structure.

It’s All About the Chorus

Greek plays start from the idea of a chorus or “dance troupe,” composed of 12 (or earlier probably 15) young Athenian citizen men, who have been practicing four to six months in order to wow their audience of friends, neighbors, and family members. Of course, there were also the professional actors whose craft was their livelihood but the local men’s performance was what many folks really came to see, and probably something that many remembered most vividly about the event. The chorus’ entrance is the official start of the play, and is called the Parodos. It is typically a big, flashy number in which the chorus enters en masse. They remain onstage until the very end of the play. When they leave, the play is over. Out of all the plays we have, in only one (Sophocles’ Ajax) does the chorus apparently leave the stage for a brief interlude–the moments in which Ajax commits suicide alone on the strand.

In a way, you can think of a Greek tragedy as a series of dance and singing numbers interrupted by scenes with actors speaking with one another, and with the chorus itself (or a chief chorus member, called the coryphaios or “chorus leader”) in iambic trimeter, something like the Greek equivalent of Shakespeare’s “blank verse” iambic pentameter. The Greek word for “actor”, hypokrites, or “one who answers back,” contains a vestige of the origins of theater in a chorus, in that it means something like, “someone who answers questions posed to him/her by the chorus.” Suggestively, the Greek word for “produce a play” is choregein, “to lead a chorus.”

Contrary to what you sometimes hear people say, the chorus is not just there to decorate the stage, or to “comment on the action” of the play. The chorus is intrinsic to the action–in fact, a chorus always plays a particular character in the play. Not only are they physically crucial to the performance, but a Greek chorus is not an undifferentiated set of individuals – they are a group character. Some Greek choruses portray the authoritative “old men of the town,” – see, for instance, Sophocles’

Antigone, Euripides’ Heracles and many others. In other plays, you find outsiders and relatively “powerless” people in the chorus: slave women (Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris and Helen), foreigners (Aeschylus’ Persians, and of course Euripides’ Bacchae), women of the town generally (Euripides’ Medea, Sophocles’ Women of Trachis), and other “outsiders.” For an excellent discussion of the identity and authority (or non-authoritative nature) of the Greek choruses, see Helene Foley’s now-classic article, “Choral Identity in Greek Tragedy,” in Classical Philology Vol. 98, No. 1 (January 2003), pp. 1-30.

A chorus is not a neutral commentator on actions that have nothing to do with it it may sometimes say things that sound lofty, but it is speaking from a human (or occasionally divine) perspective, and cannot be taken as expressing the opinions of its playwright or author. Any chorus, in character, has opinions about what is going on, and suggestions to make — but of course, they are not always correct – sometimes they lead spectators on a wild goose chase, and sometimes they come to a standstill when they don’t know what to do. The chorus drives the action of the play, and is a character itself, sometimes (as in Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers) even intentionally tricking and throwing the bad guy off track so that the hero can get the best of him or her. In Greek tragedies and comedies, the chorus is definitely the thing.

Texts, Commentaries, and Translations

Diggle 1994a, an Oxford Classical Text (OCT), is the standard Greek text. A useful article of the author’s textual notes on Bacchae appears in Diggle 1994b. For commentaries in English, see Dodds 1960 and Seaford 1996. Kovacs 2002 and Seaford 1996 provide side-by-side Greek text and translation into English. Roux 1970–1972 offers a commentary in French which accompanies Roux 1970–1972, a text and translation in French. A thorough discussion of syntax together with analysis of problem passages appears in Rijksbaron 1991. Davie 2005 and Arrowsmith, et al. 2013 both offer highly respected translations into English. For other notable English translations, see Perris 2016 (cited under Reception, Reperformances, and Adaptations). Winnington-Ingram 1948 (cited under General Interpretation) includes a prose translation into English. At the end of Stuttard 2016 (cited under General Interpretation), the editor provides a lively English translation intended for performance.

Arrowsmith, W., C. R. Walker, R. Lattimore, M. Griffith, G. W. Most, and D. Grene, eds. 2013. Euripides V: The Bacchae Iphigenia in Aulis The Cyclops Rhesus. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Volume 5 of the Complete Greek Tragedies contains a translation of the Bacchae by William Arrowsmith. The third edition includes careful updating of the translation originally published in 1959 by co-editors Griffith and Most.

Davie, J. 2005. The Bacchae and other plays. London: Penguin.

English translation by John Davie with introduction by Richard Rutherford. A readable prose translation with extensive interpretative notes.

Diggle, J. 1994a. Euripidis fabulae. Vol. 3. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Greek text with critical apparatus. The text appears in the third volume of Diggle’s edition of all of Euripides’ extant tragedies. Included in this volume are Helena, Phoenissae, Orestes, Bacchae, Iphigeneia Aulidensis, Rhesus.

Diggle, J. 1994b. Bacchae. In Euripidea: Collected essays. By J. Diggle, 442–489. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Textual notes on Euripides’ Bacchae.

Dodds E. R. 1960. Bacchae. 2d ed. rev. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Highly regarded Greek text and commentary with informative introduction. Dodds’s discussion of the text underpins much of the scholarship which postdates it, but his comments on Dionysiac religion have largely been superseded by Henrichs, Seaford, and others. Revised edition, the first edition was published in 1944.

Kovacs, D. 2002. Euripides. Bacchae, Iphigenia at Aulis, Rhesus. Loeb Classical Library 495. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Greek text with facing English translation. Sixth volume of Euripides’ plays translated by Kovacs for the Loeb Classical Library.

Kovacs, D. 2003. Euripidea tertia. Mnemosyne Supplementa, 240. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Third volume of textual notes on Euripides’ plays. Includes notes on Iphigenia in Tauris, Ion, Helen, Phoenissae, Orestes Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis, Rhesus.

Rijksbaron, A. 1991. Grammatical observations on Euripides’ Bacchae. Amsterdam: Gieben.

Commentary style approach, focusing on the language of the play, especially its syntax.

Roux, J. 1970–1972. Les Bacchantes. Vols. 1 and 2. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Volume 1 published in 1970 consists of Greek text and French translation, with introduction in French. Volume 2 published in 1972 provides a commentary in French accompanying the text. A useful supplement to Dodds.

Seaford, R. 1996. Euripides Bacchae. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips.

Greek text with facing English translation that aims to be close to the text. The introduction and commentary focus especially on ritual elements, in particular discussion of mystery cult as well as the play’s political dimension.

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Watch the video: The Bacchae by Euripides. In-Depth Summary u0026 Analysis


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