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The Bacchae

Euripides

Important Quotations Explained

Conclusion & Coda

Key Facts

Cadmus: [B]ut your reprisals are too severe!

Dionysus: Yes, because I am a god, and you insulted me.

Cadmus: Gods should not resemble men in their anger!

Dionysus: Long ago Zeus my father approved these things.

In the last scene of the play, old Cadmus is filled with grief at the death of his grandson, and he sums up the recent events and tries to make sense of them. Like Agaue he realizes that Pentheus was wrong in insulting and apposing Dionysus, but he also thinks that the god was too harsh. Cadmus repeats this last heart-felt sentiment twice in the last scene and is the only character in the play to directly reproach Dionysus. The structure of the last scene, the length of the lament and the intensity of the pity we feel for Agaue are such that Euripides himself seems to weigh onto Cadmus's side, even though the playwright's portrayal of Pentheus has been unfavorable throughout. Dionysus's answer to Cadmus's objection implies that no punishment can be too great for insulting a god. The chorus supports this sentiment, insisting throughout the play that the punishment for impiety must be death. However, Cadmus correctly recognizes that the god was not just punishing impiety but taking revenge for his wounded pride, a motive one would hope gods could overcome.

Dionysus: Follow, and I shall go as your escort and protector, though another shall bring you back

Pentheus: Yes, my mother

Dionysus: as a sight for all.

Pentheus: It is for this that I come.

Dionysus: You will be carried here

Pentheus: That is pampering me

Dionysus: In your mother's arms.

Pentheus: And you will make me really spoiled!

Dionysus: Yes, spoiled-in a special way.

This quick exchange of half-lines between the two primary characters of the play in scene four accelerates the drama and emotional tension of the previous three scenes and represents a climax in its own right. Dionysus here is sketching out Pentheus's fate in the next scene when "another shall bring you back." The god further says that Pentheus's mother will bring him back "as a sight for all" and she does indeed bring his head back as a hunting trophy. The last two lines are a play on the word 'spoil,' a word rooted in the verb "to break up" and thus an ironic allusion to Pentheus's dismemberment. In this short exchange, we can clearly see Pentheus completely under Dionysus's sway, following his every instruction. We also notice Pentheus's complete egoism in the way he interprets all of Dionysus's words in the manner that most favors him, and thus makes himself absurd to the audience, which understands full-well Dionysus's plans.

You have a glib tongue, as though in your right mind, Yet in your words there is no real sense Wretched man, how ignorant you are of what you are saying! Before you were out of your mind-but now you are raving mad.

In the first of the many inversions of sanity and madness in the play, Tiresias tries in scene one to make Pentheus see the irrationality of his reasoning and the rational basis for Dionysus's madness. Inversions of the meanings and fluidity of 'madness' comprise a major theme in the play. Some of the questions raised by these inversions, and not necessarily answered by the play, are: What constitutes Pentheus's madness? What does it imply about the state of madness when its god is so controlled? Is religious ecstasy madness, or is rationalism madness? Can one induce madness or do the gods impose it? Must a society make room for a little collective madness or disintegration as in wine drinking and theater? Can a society indulge the benign forms of madness and exclude the more horrific forms?

What is wisdom? Or what fairer gift from the gods in men's eyes than to hold the hand of power over the head of one's enemies? And 'what is fair is always followed.'

This dense refrain from the third ode is an attempt by the chorus to find a moral reason to justify revenge. Its last segment is a proverb from Plato, which seems to mean that one pursues what is to one's advantage, which is what one finds beautiful or "fair." If there is no "fairer gift from the gods in men's eyes" than defeating one's enemies, then subduing one's enemies is a gift from god. The chorus twists the meaning of the word fair, using it to mean 'fine' in one place and 'advantageous' in another. Another reason this refrain is important is because it goes against what the chorus has been preaching so far. In the first ode, wisdom meant obeying the gods and the laws and living moderately. In the present circumstances, the chorus finds a special argument to deal with Pentheus and their desire to see him punished. Therefore, when they try to define wisdom here, they say that as complications arise and dilemma follows dilemma, why look further than one's personal advantage at present? This advantage lies in destroying their persecutor, an act which has been sanctioned conveniently by the gods. Wisdom, therefore, now demands the punishment of Pentheus.

Agaue: Father, since you see how my fortunes have utterly changed

[long passage missing from original text]

Dionysus: you shall be turned into a serpent, and your wife shall change into a savage form of a snake

This is the first of the two major lacunas in the last scene and it is impossible to tell how Agaue's utterance was completed or how long it was. In his commentary to the play, Geoffrey S. Kirk talks of an ancient summary, dated in 3 A.D., that does show what happened in these gaps, for it uses Agaue's lament as an example of arousing pity effectively. The ancient Greek author of the summary refers to Agaue as accusing herself for her child's death, holding each one of his limbs and lamenting piece by piece. In such a case, the missing chunk (of text) must have been quite long, also however the addition of just one verse would not have provided a sufficiently dramatic occasion for the entry and epiphany of Dionysus.

In our version, the god appears on top of the building at the back of the stage, a place reserved for the presentation of gods in their own person, which was usually a stern, bearded mask. And if the god appears at the very end of the play to terminate the action from this special position it is called a deus ex machina (the Latin phase meaning "god in a machine" because in some texts the god appears on a crane). This last trope is not a convenient cover for an unresolved play or an inadequate conclusion, but rather is Euripides attempt to be loyal to the underlying Greek myth upon which the play is based, that of Dionysus's power and ultimate control. Dionysus has been both the director and an actor throughout the play and therefore his appearance is particularly apt.

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