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The Bacchae


Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title · The Bacchae

author · Euripides

type of work · Play

genre · Tragedy

language · Greek

time and place written · Macedonia, 406 BCE

date of first publication · Performed first in 409 or 408 BCE

publisher · Euripides's sons first put the play on after his death.

narrator · not applicable (drama)

point of view · not applicable (drama)

tone · Euripides's moral tone and position in this tale, like Dionysus's nature, is highly ambiguous. The playwright neither condemns nor glorifies Dionysus but rather explores the multiple forms of the god and his relation to the human individual and society.

tense · not applicable (drama)

setting (time) · 406 BCE

setting (place) · Royal Palace at Thebes, including a tomb and ruined house on one side of the stage.

protagonist · Dionysus

major conflict · Dionysus the protagonist arrives in Thebes to demonstrate his divinity and punish the family of Cadmus. The King of Thebes, Pentheus, is a violent opponent of Dionysian worship and rites.

rising action · Dionysus disguises himself as a Lydian bacchant, the Stranger, and along with his group of maenads, enters Thebes. Pentheus orders soldiers to arrest him, Dionysus only too willingly allows himself to be taken. In three encounters Dionysus talks, tricks, and converts Pentheus into becoming a voyeuristic transvestite who goes to watch the bacchic rites.

climax · A frenzied Agaue dismembers her own son Pentheus.

falling action · Agaue takes her son's head back to Thebes still under the delusion that it is a lion's head. Cadmus finally makes her see the truth.

themes · The balance between control and freedom in a healthy society or mind; the nature of theater; duality

motifs · Hunting; disguise; nature's gifts and curses

symbols · Fawnskin; Hair; Bull

foreshadowing · Pentheus's fate is foreshadowed very early in the play. In the first scene the old seer Tiresias warns Pentheus not to offend the gods or he will suffer the same fate as Actaeon "whom the carnivorous hounds he reared tore apart when he boasted that he was better at hunting than [the goddess] Artemis."