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Originator, protagonist and central axis of The Bacchae, this god of wine, theater and group ecstasy appears mostly in disguise as a beautiful, longhaired, wine-flushed Lydian, the Stranger. His non-human forms and powers are also felt acutely throughout the play and Dionysus the god is clearly different from Dionysus in disguise, as the Stranger, and yet they are the same. Still, they exist in their different forms simultaneously, so while the audience and the chorus hear the divine god give the command for the earthquake, the Stranger is inside the palace torturing Pentheus. Dionysus is the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, daughter of Cadmus.
Read an in-depth analysis of Dionysus.
Pentheus is the king of Thebes, son of Agaue, grandson of Cadmus and the first cousin of Dionysus. Structurally Pentheus is Dionysus's foil, thus he is a preserver of law and order, a military man, a stern patriarch, and ultimately a doomed mortal. Pentheus is not merely a mirror or inverted double of Dionysus; he is puritanical and obstinate, but also curious and voyeuristic.
Read an in-depth analysis of Pentheus.
Mother of Pentheus and daughter of Cadmus. Agaue is already one of the maenads (a worshipper of Dionysus participating in orgiastic rites, from the Greek mainad to be mad) at the start of the play. Even though she only enters the play at the very end, her scene is the most powerful and tragic in the play.
Former king of Thebes, father of Agaue and Semele, grandfather of Pentheus and Dionysus. Cadmus is the only one in his family to declare allegiance to Dionysus.
He captures the Stranger and brings him to Pentheus in Scene II.
One of three anonymous witnesses in the play. The first messenger is a cowherd who spies on the maenads and comes back to relate the incident to Pentheus.
Read an in-depth analysis of The Messengers.
The second messenger accompanied Pentheus and Dionysus up the mountain and witnessed the death of his king. He returns to the palace to relate the event to the chorus.
Female bacchants from Lydia, led by Dionysus in his human form as the Stranger.
A famous Theban seer and friend of Cadmus. Tiresias persuades Cadmus to worship Dionysus.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Bacchae!