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BACCHAE with an Introduction, Translation and Commentary by

Rjchard Seaford


General Editor Professor Christopher Collard


Bacchae with an Introduction, Translation and Commentary by

Richard Seaford

Aris & Phillips Ltd- Warminster- England

© Richard Seaford 1996. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any manner or in any form without the prior permission of the publishers in writing.

Greek Text © Oxford University Press. Reproduced from the Oxford Classical Texts Edition of Euripides Fabulae by James Diggle by permission of Oxford University Press. cloth limp

0 85668 608 5 0 85668 609 3

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Printed and published in England by Aris & Phillips Ltd, Teddington House, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 8PQ

CONTENTS General Editor's Foreword Preface Abbreviations

vi vii viii

GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO TIIE SERIES by Shirley Barlow I: The Ancient Theatre II: Greek Tragedy III: Euripides

1 1 3 17

INTRODUCTION TO BACCHAE I: Tradition and Structure II: The Bacchae and the Dionysiac III: The Bacchae and Cult IV: The Bacchae and the Polis V: The Transmission of the Bacchae

25 30 35 44 52











General BibliograJ?hy Selected Bibliogaphy for Bacchae

259 265




GENERAL EDITOR'S FOREWORD Euripides's remarkable variety of subject, ideas and methods challenges each generation of readers - and audiences - to fresh appraisal and closer definition. This Series of his plays is in the general style of Aris and Phillips' Classical Texts: it offers university students and, we hope, sixth-fonners, as well as teachers of Classics and Classical Civilization at all levels, new editions which emphasise analytical and literary appreciation. In each volume there is an editor's introduction which sets the play in its original context, discusses its dramatic and poetic resources, and assesses its meaning. The Greek text is faced on the opposite page by a new English translation which attempts to be both accurate and idiomatic. The Commentary, which is keyed wherever possible to the translation rather than to the Greek, pursues the aims of the Introduction in analyzing structure and development, in annotating and appreciating poetic style, and in explaining the ideas; since the translation itself reveals the editor's detailed understanding of the Greek, philological comment is confined to special phenomena or problems which affect interpretation. Those are the guidelines within which individual contributors to the Series have been asked to work, but they are free to handle or emphasise whatever they judge important in their particular play, and to choose their own manner of doing so. It is natural that commentaries and commentators on Euripides should reflect his variety as a poet. These last points are being borne out by the volumes as they appear, all of them different in emphasis and style. Reviewers in a very wide range of journals have been generally sympathetic to the purpose of the Series and appreciative of what it offers. Some of the warmest welcomes have come from countries where English is not the first language. The publisher and I are strongly encouraged and intend if we can to include eventually all the complete plays and a selection of the fragmentary ones. Bacchae is the ninth complete play in the Series. The General Introduction, by Shirley Barlow, is once again reprinted (pp. 1-23), as is the General Bibliography (pp. 259-64). The Greek text is based (with several changes) on the Oxford Classical Text of Dr. James Diggle, to whom, and to the Clarendon Press, the publisher and I once more express our thanks. Christopher Collard University of Wales Swansea


PREFACE Any commentator on a Greek play will be indebted to previous commentaries. I have shamelessly pillaged what is best in the excellent commentaries of Dodds (second edition 1960) and Roux (1970), while differing from them frequently in interpretation, as well as being able to take account of subsequent scholarship and archaeological discovery. I am in particular concerned with two aspects of the play that have hitherto been almost entirely ignored - its close relation to the mysteries of Dionysos, and its political dimension. This concern reflects my general belief that understanding the Athenians' society and religion is a precondition for understanding their tragedy. This is especially true of Bacchae, given the centrality to it of Dionysiac cult. Such an approach does not exclude, but in my view greatly enhances, appreciation of the extraordinary aesthetic and emotional impact of the play. The translation aims at closeness to the Greek rather than elegance or actability. For those who require the latter kind of translation, in which the specificity of the Greek is lost, there are several already in existence. Because there are choices to be made in every line, an accurate translation is in a sense part of the Commentary. I have no doubt that a book of this kind may be useful to everybody from advanced scholars to those who know little or no Greek. My text and apparatus criticus are based on the excellent recent Oxford Classical Text by James Diggle. But I print a substantially different text from his in the following places: 32, 94-5, 211, 289, 479, 506, 630, 631, 647, 651-2, 738, 860, 877-9 ( =897-9), 894a, 1067, 1103, 1133, 1163-4, 1167. These and other (but not all) textual problems are discussed in the Commentary (the discussion is introduced by T:). My thanks go to Kerensa Pearson for help with typing, to Mike Dobson for his expertise with the word-processor, and to my publisher Aris and Phillips for courteous efficiency. I am grateful also for the stimulation provided by the members of my Tragedy class, Grant Bayliss, John-Paul Bernbach, and Vanessa Callard, to Pauline Meredith- Yates for her reaction to the Introduction, and to Fiona Mchardy for checking the references. My greatest debts are to James Diggle, who read the Commentary and changed my mind in several places, and to Christopher Collard for his careful and helpful comments on the whole book. The University of Exeter January 1996


ABBREVIATIONS Ancient authors are for abbreviated for the most part according to the conventions of Liddell-Scott-Jones, Greek English Lexicon. The three tragedians appear as Aesch., Soph. and Eur., but 'Eur' is generally omitted before the titles of his plays and fragments. The Prometheus Vinctus, of disputed authorship, is cited simply as PV. Tragic fragments are cited from T(ragicorum G(raecorum F(ragmenta), except for Eur.: Nauck2 for him, and various editions of the fragmentary plays. Titles of periodicals are generally cited according to the conventions of L 'Annee Philologique. Commentators on Greek Tragedy, and on some other easily identifiable works, are cited in the form e.g. 'Barrett on Hipp.331-2'; see General Bibliography II.

ABBREVIATIONS OF WORKSOF REFERENCE ABV = J.D.Beazley, Attic Black-Figure Vase-Painting. Oxford 1956. ARVZ = J.D.Beazley, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painting. 2nd edition, Oxford 1963. FGH = F.Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker Berlin and Leiden, 1923-58. K-G = R.Kiihner, B.Gerth, Ausfilhrliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache 2 vols., Hanover 18983. L/MC = Lexicon /conographicum Mythologiae Classicae. Zurich and Munich, 1981-. LSAM = F.Sokolowski, Lois sacrees des cites grecques. Paris 1969. LSCG = F.Sokolowski, Lois sacres de l'Asie Mineure. Paris 1955. LSS = F.Sokolowski, Lois sacrees des cites grecques: Supplement. Paris 1962. PCG = R.Kassel and C.Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci. New York and Berlin 1984-. PMG = D.L.Page, Poetae Melici Graeci. Oxford 1962. = Pauly's Real-Encyc/opiidie der k/assischen A/tertumswissenschaft. RE Stuttgart 1894-1919. SEG = Supp/ementum epigraphicum graecum. = W.Dittenberger, Sy/loge Inscriptionum Graecarum. 3rd edition, Leipzig SIG 1915-24.



BOOKS AND ARTICLES REFERRED TO BY SURNAME (other than those listed in the bibliographies on pp. 259-66) Bonnechere, P. (1994) Le sacrifice humain en Grece ancienne. Kemos Suppl.3, Athens and Liege. Bowie, A. (1993) Aristophanes. Myth, Ritual and Comedy. Cambridge. Burkert, W. (1983) Homo Necans (tr. of Homo Necans, Berlin 1972). Berkeley, Calif., and Los Angeles. Burkert, W. (1985) Greek Religion (tr. of Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassichen Epoche, Stuttgart, 1977). Blackwell, Oxford. Burkert, W. (1987) Greek Mystery Cult. Cambridge, Mass. Carpenter, T.H. and Faraone, C.A. (1993) Masks of Dionysus. Cornell. Casadio, G. (1987) 'Antropologia Orfico-Dionisiaca nel culto di Tebe, Corinto e Sicione', Atti Della V Settimana di Studi Sangue e Antropologia. Riti e culto. Rome, 191-260. Connor, W.R. (1989) 'City Dionysia and Athenian Democracy', Class. et Med. 40. 7-32. Devereux, G. (1970) 'The Psychotherapy Scene in Euripides' Bacchae', JHS 90.35-48. Diggle, J. (1994) Euripidea.· Collected Essays. Oxford. Dible, A. (1981) Der Prolog der 'Bacchen' und die antike uberlieferungsphase des Euripides-Textes. Heidelberg. Dodds, E.R. (1951) The Greeks and the /"ational. Berkeley, Calif., and Los Angeles. Dodds, E.R. (1960) Euripides Bacchae. 2nd ed. Oxford. Eder, W. (1995) Die Athenische Demokratie im 4.Jahrhundert v.Chr.. Stuttgart. Farnell, L. (1909) The Cults of the Greek States. Volume 5. Oxford. Fisher, N. (1992) Hybris. A Study in the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece. Warminster. Girard, R (1977) Violence and the Sacred (tr. of La violence et Le sacre, Paris 1972). Baltimore and London. Graf, F. (1974) Eleusis und die orphische Dichtung Athens in vorhellenisticher Zeit. Berlin. Hamilton, R. (1974) 'Bacchae 47-52: Dionysus' Plan', TAPA 104.134-49. Henrichs, A. (1978) 'Greek Maenadism from Olympias to Messalina', HSCP 90.1-26. Henrichs, A. (1982) 'Changing Dionysiac Identities' in B.F. Meyer and E.P. Sanders ( edd. ), Jewish and Christian Self-Definition. London.



Henrichs, A. ( 1984) 'Male Intruders among the Maenads: The So-Called Male Celebrant' , in H.D. Evjen (ed.), Mnemai: Classical Studies in Memory of Karl K Hulley. California, 69-91. Henrichs, A. (1994) 'Der rasende Gott: Zur Psychologie des Dionysos und des Dionysischen in Mythos und Literatur', Ant.ZLAbendL 40.31-58. Jaccottet, A.-F. (1990) 'Le Lierre de la Liberte', ZPE 90.150-6. Kern, 0. (1922) Orphicorum Fragmenta. Berlin. Kovacs, (1991) 'Notes on the Bacchae', CQ 41. 340-5. Mendelsohn, D. (1992) 'l:uyicEpauv6w: Dithyrambic Language and the Dionysiac Cult', CJ 87. 105-24. Merkelbach, R. (1988) Die Hirten des Dionysos. Stuttgart. Parker, R. C. T. (1983) Miasma. Oxford. Philippart, H. (1930) 'Iconographie des "Bacchantes" d'Euripide', Revue Beige de Philologie et d'Histoire, 9. 5-72. Pickard-Cambridge, A. W. (1968) The Dramatic Festivals of Athens. 2nd edn., rev. J. Gould and D.M. Lewis, Oxford. Riedweg, C. ( 1987) Mysterienterminologie bei Platon, Phi/on, und Klemens von Alexandrien. Berlin and New York. Roux, J. (1970) Euripide. Les Bacchantes. Paris. Schachter, A. (1981) Cults of Boiotia 1. Acheloos to Hera, BICS Suppl. 38.1. Seaford, R. (1977-8) 'The "Hyporchema" of Pratinas', Maia 29. 81-94. Seaford, R. (1984) Euripides Cyclops. Oxford. Seaford, R. (1986) 'Immortality, Salvation, and the Elements', HCSP 90. 1-26. Seaford, R. (1990a) 'The Structural Problems of Marriage in Euripides', in A. Powell (ed.) Euripides, Women and Sexuality. London. Seaford, R. (1990b) 'The Imprisonment of Women in Greek Tragedy', JHS 110. 76-90. Seaford, R. (1994a) Reciprocity and Ritual Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-State. Oxford. Seaford, R. (1994b) 'Sophokles and the Mysteries', Hermes 122. 275-88. Seaford, R. (1995) 'Historicising Tragic Ambiguity: the Vote of Athena', in Barabara Goff (ed.), History, Tragedy, Theory: Dialogues on Athenian Drama. Austin Texas. Sutton, D.F. (1975) 'A Series of Vases Illustrating the Madness of Lycurgus', RSC 23. 356-60. Taplin, 0. (1977) The Stagecraft of Aeschylus. Oxford. Verdenius, W. (1962) 'Notes on Euripides' Bacchae' Mnemosyne 15. 337-63. West, M. L. (1983) The Orphic Poems. Oxford. Willink, C. (1966) 'Some problems of text and interpretation in the Bacchae', CQ 16. 27-50 and 220-42.



Winkler, J.J. and Zeitlin, F.I. (edd.) (1990) Nothing to do with Dionysos? Athenian Drama in Its Social Context. Princeton. Winnington-Ingram, R.P. (1948) Euripides and Dionysus. An Interpretation of the Bacchae. Cambridge. Zuntz, G. (1971) Persephone. Oxford.


GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES by Shirley A. Barlow I. The Ancient Theatre The contemporary theatre consists of many different types of performance, and these are on off er most of the time at numerous small theatres in many places, particularly in centres like London and New York where the cultural choice is vast. Audiences go to only one play at a time - unless, that is, they are attending something special like Wagner's Ring Cycle - and they go primarily for entertainment, not to be overtly instructed or to discharge a religious obligation. The choice includes musicals, ballets, operas, variety shows, classical plays, contemporary plays, thrillers, serious prose plays, verse dramas, domestic comedies and fringe theatre. Audiences range from the highly intellectual, who might be devotees of serious opera, or of Becket or Eliot or Stoppard, to the self-acknowledged low-brow, who go to the theatre to escape from real life and have a night out away from the harassments of home and work. In spite, however, of this range in type of audience, the English speaking theatre-going public has long been, and probably still is, predominantly middle class. It is not representative of all strata of the population. I mention all these obvious things merely to draw a contrast with the ancient theatre. For the classical Greek theatre did not have this fragmentation of genre, location or audience. The genres were few, all in verse, consisting of only four types - tragedy, satyric drama, comedy and dithyramb. There were neither scattered small theatres, nor performances on offer all the time. Theatres were outdoor, few and far between, and performances were concentrated into one or two dramatic festivals held at select times of the year. One could not go to the theatre all the time in ancient Greece. Audiences were vast mass ones (probably 14,000, for instance, at the theatre of Dionysus in Athens) and were drawn from a wide section of the population. Moreover their reasons for going were as much religious, or to glean instruction, as for pure entertainment. They would not have expected their tragedies to allow them to escape into a fantasy world which bore little relation to reality - or to escape into another private domestic world which had no public relevance. Greek Tragedy was in no way portrayed on a small canvas, nor was it personal in character. It was grand and large, and it dealt with elevated social, political, religious, and moral issues in elevated poetic language. It conveyed these themes through traditional myth, and was thus communal in another sense

'ODUCTION TO THE SERIES than just ,. auu1... ; - it had a mass audience with a shared heritc1ge about to b-:!pr ,_,1tcd 011 stage. This heritage had both religious and secular associations. First, religious. Tragedy, like the other dramatic genres, was an offering to the God Dionysus whose statue stood in the theater throughout dramatic performances. The main festival at Athens, the Great Dionysia, happened once a year for a few days in the Spring when tragedies, comedies, satyr plays and dithyrambs were performed in open competition in Dionysus' honor. The occasion was for the whole community and a kind of carnival air reigned. The law courts were closed. Distraints for debt were forbidden. Even prisoners were released, according to Demosthenes, and any outrage committed during the performance was treated as a sacrilegious act. Although such religious ceremonial was essential to the presentation of drama at Athens, it was the state which managed the production side. A selected official, an archon, in charge of the festival, initially chose the poets and plays, and was responsible for the hiring and distribution of actors. Thus the theatre was also a state function. Peisistratus had been the one to institute tragic contests recognised by the state, and the first competition was held in 534 B.C. when Thespis won first prize. At each festival from then on, three poets were appointed as competitors, and each exhibited four plays (three tragedies and a satyr play). The general name for the group of plays was didaskalia or teaching, because the author taught (edidaxe) the plays to the actors. A herald proclaimed the victorious poet and his choregus (trainer of the Chorus), and these were crowned with ivy garlands. The poet and choregus who won a prize were. listed on public monuments, and in later times actors' names were also recorded on official lists. The monuments, and in later times actors' names were also recorded on official lists. The monuments of stone erected near the choregus, or the dedication of masks, marble tablets or sculptural reliefs and the didaskaliai, show how high a place the tragic poet held in society. The place of the poet in ancient fifth century society is thus different from the way poets or dramatists are regarded by most people today. His place was in a context of the whole community and so was the subject matter of his plays.

The most scholarly and detailed discussions and evidence for the festivals, staging and performances of the ancient Greek theatre may be found in A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athen.r and The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens; among newer literature see esp. J. J. Winkler, F. Zeitlin (eds.), Nothing to do with Dionysos?, including the essay by S. Goldhill, 'The Great Dionysia and Civic Ideology', pp. 97-129. Shorter and more easily digestible



treatments, also suitable for the Greekless reader, may be fr um, . ,ragic Theatre; J. Gould, 'Tragedy in Performance' in The Cambri~i,- 1-fistor,; -,:_,teraf',;re, I, 263-81; G. Ley.Ancient Greek Theatre; R. Rehm, Greek Tragic Theatre, Part r; 1'1- ~-i'!; P. Walcot, Greek Drama in its Social and Theatrical Context; E. Simon, The Ancient Theatre. (See General Bibliography, Section VIII.) A. E. Haigh's The Attic Theatre (Oxford, 19073), though very old now, and in many ways superseded, has some very useful details on ancient sources.

D. Greek Tragedy

Greek Tragedy treats passions and emotions of an extreme kind (fear, anger, hate, madness, jealousy, love, affection) in extreme circumstances (murder, suicide, incest, rape, mutilation). Its potency is felt all the mor~ because such circumstances and such emotions occur within the close confine / of a family.1 Were the protagonists unrelated, such intensity would be lacking/ Yet offsetting all this violence is the concentrated and controlled form of the plays which serves as a frame for the action. Of all art forms Greek Tragedy is one of the most formalised and austere. The combination of such formality with the explosive material it expresses, is what gives this drama its impact. In life, extremes of emotion do not often have shape and ordered neatness.' They are incoherent and chaotic. The newspapers show every day the havoc wrought by acts like murder, incest, rape and suicide - the very stuff of Greek Tragedy. Amid such havoc the perpetrators or victims of violent deeds seldom have either the temperament or the opportunity to express in a shaped form how they feel or felt at the time. Lawyers may later impose an order for them, but it cannot be their own response as it was at the actual moment of disaster. What Greek Tragedy does is to create an imagined action, through myth, where the characters are able to articulate the thoughts and emotions which drive them, and where the audience is given the thoughts and emotions of those involved with the main actors, i.e., relatives, friends, outsiders. It does this moreover in such a way that the lasting effect is not one of repugnance, but of acceptance and understanding. The material of Greek Tragedy is shaped and transformed into art in two main ways. One is through the creative harnessing of ancient myth and more modem insights. The other is through the formal conventions of language and structure. First the combination of myth with more contemporary elements. By this I mean the blending of traditional stories, the shared heritage, with the Aristotle, Poetics, eh. XIV, 1453b, 19-22.



perspectives which come from the city state, particularly fifth century Athens. This means an explosive mixture of past and present. Consider first the mythical element: l) Myth means the past to a Greek tragedian, a past which he has inherited over centuries, ever since the earliest stories were recited to his ancestors. 2) This past myth is usually concerned with the heroic - the great heroes as they are presented in epic and lyric poetry. 3) In this telling of the heroic, the individual is important. It is the single figure and his greatness which stands out, whether Achilles or Agamemnon or Odysseus or Ajax or Philoctetes or Heracles. 4) This single figure is so glorified that he may often have become, in epic and particularly in lyric poetry, a model, an archetype of heroic qualities. Against this let us set the other side - the contemporary world of the poet which must confront this mythical material. 1) It is the present with present values and attitudes. 2) It is not a heroic world - it is the city state with its keen interest in contemporary politics and social issues. 3) It is interested in collective values much more than in the lone outstanding individual. The community matters. 4) It is interested in asking questions, not in eulogising the great heroes - at least not exclusively. As Vernant says, when past heroes become incorporated into contemporary tragedy, they tum into problems and cease to be models. In the creation of tragedy, therefore, we have the meeting of the mythical past, with its stress on the greatness of the hero, with the contemporary present, with its stress on collective values and the asking of fundamental questions. Vernant puts it very elegantly. ''Tragedy is a debate with a past that is still alive" and ''Tragedy confronts heroic values and ancient religious representations with new modes of thought that characterise the advent of law within the city state".2 So too Nestle, ''Tragedy is born when myth starts to be considered from the point of view of an ( ordinary) citizen".3 The heritage of myth is well represented by epic poetry in the shape of Homer, and lyric poetry in the shape of Pindar. 2 3

Vernant & Vidal-Naquet, 10; 4. Cited ib., 9.



Tragedy borrows heavily from the stories told by Homer. In fact Aeschylus was said to have called his plays "rich slices from the banquet of Homer". 4 From the Iliad we meet again in tragedy the heroes Agamemnon, Ajax, Menelaus, and Odysseus, as well as Hecuba, Andromache, Helen and Clyternnestra. Other figures from the other epic cycles such as Philoctetes, Heracles, Theseus and Oedipus form the main subject of tragedies. Agamemnon for instance plays a leading role in Homer's Iliad and Aeschylus' Oresteia, yet in the transformation from one author to another, setting, concept and climate have changed. Agamemnon is no longer seen as prestigious leader against the backdrop of a glorious war. The new domestic situation in which he is depicted strips him both of prestige and of a glorious cause. The righteousness of the Trojan war is questioned, Agamemnon's motives are questioned, his weaknesses dwelt upon rather than merely lightly indicated. In this new setting our concept of the hero is found to undergo a change, but it is not only that the setting alone brings about that change, it is that the tragic poet explores a complexity of motive, both human and divine, which would have been inconceivable in Homer's day. It is not simply the greatness of the heroic figure which interests Aeschylus, but the weakness and complex negative traits which underlie the reputation of that heroic greatness. He uses the familiar epic frame in which to paint a new picture in a dramatic form. In Homer, whatever the heroes' faults, they are unquestionably great and glorious. Eulogy i~ implicit in the very epithets used to describe them. Pindar also eulogises several of the great hero figures who become later the subject of tragedies. Among them are Ajax, Heracles, Jason and Philoctetes. Homer and Pindar both celebrate Ajax's greatness, particularly his physical strength. Homer calls him "great", "huge", "strong", "tower of defence", "rampart of the Achaeans", "like a blazing lion".5 He defended the ships against the onslaughts of Hector. He was pre-eminent in the battle for the body of Patroclus. He held a special place of honor at one end of the Greek encampment.6 Even in the Odyssey, in the Underworld, where he turns his back on Odysseus, his silence is majestic and impressive.7 Pindar glorifies Ajax in the fourth Isthmian and pays tribute also to Homer's celebration of the hero's



Athenaeus, 347e. Homer, II. 23.708, 842;3.229;7.211;17.174,360; Od.




11.5-9. Od. 1l.543ff.

11.556; //. 3.229;6.5;7.211.



greatness. Neither Homer nor Pindar, however, ask fundamental questions about the nature of the man - they are content merely to celebrate him as a hero. But Sophocles begins from where Homer and Pindar left off. He too acknowledges this hero's greatness, but he asks stringent questions at the same time. His play Ajax is the vehicle for such questions: How can the world comfortably contain such an individual? How can society function properly with one such as him in its midst? How can Ajax himself survive when he confuses so tragically the roles of comrade-in-arms and arch enemy? What does it mean to him mentally to take the decision to kill himself? In this play we see Ajax not only as a glorious single heroic figure, but also as a tragic character who is so because he is isolated from others, and is unable to communicate with them successfully. He is seen in the perspective of those around him - Odysseus, Tecmessa, Teucer, Agamemnon and Menelaus. Undoubtedly he has that epic star quality which the others do not possess and the continuity with the heroic past is important and a fundamental part of the whole conception - but that is not the whole of it. He is a problem both for himself and for others, and because he is a problem we see the tragedy unfold. The heroic individual is balanced against the collective values of a more modern society, represented particularly by Odysseus, and to some extent by Agamemnon and Menelaus - odious though they are.8 What makes the drama of the play is precisely this tension between the old heroic individual concerns (the core of the myth), and the newer collective values of society which had more relevance to Sophocles' own time. Of course this is an over-simplification - there are problems implicit in epic too, as in Achilles' case, but they are not articulated as problems, they are just told and the audience must draw its own conclusions. One of the most eulogised heroes in Pindar is Heracles. He is celebrated as the glorious hero par excellence - monster-slayer and civiliser of the known world. In the first Nemean Pindar introduces him, and then goes on to describe his miraculous exploits as a baby when Hera sent snakes to destroy him in his cradle.9 In the ninth Pythian are the words: Stupid is the man, whoever he be, whose lips defend not Herakles, who remembers not the waters of Dirke that gave him life, and Iphicles.


Sec especially Soph., Aj. 12lff. where Odysseus rejects the traditional Greek view of the rightness of hating one's enemies and 1067ff. where Menelaus complains of the prohlems an individual such as Ajax poses for the army as a whole and its discipline. Pindar, Nem. 1.33ff.



I, who have had some grace of them, shall accomplish my vow to bring them glory; let only the shining light of the singing Graces fail me not.10 In the fourth Isthmian he speaks of Heracles' ascension to Olympus after civilising the known world, and in the second Olympian he greets Heracles as the founder of the Olympic games. 11 Euripides takes the spirit of the Pindaric celebration and incorporates it early in his play, The Mad Heracles, in an ode somewhat reminiscent of Pindar.12 In it the chorus eulogises the great labors of Heracles, stressing his superhuman strength and effortless valour. But this dramatist too is concerned ultimately not with mere celebration but with problems. The end of the play shows a transformation: not the glorious invincible hero, but a vulnerable human being struck down by madness. This is a disgraced and humiliated Heracles who is broken and dependent. It is society who rescues him in the shape of Theseus his friend and Amphitryon his father. As the hero is brought down to the level of others, the superhuman isolation goes and human social values are seen to count. Once again the tension between the lone heroic figure and socially co-operative values are worked through in the course of the drama. Perhaps nowhere is this blend of archaic myth and more recent thought, of the clash between the heroic individual and collective co-operation, seen more clearly than in Aeschylus' Oresteia. There, an archaic story of the heroic Mycenaean age ends up in Athens - not famous in Mycenaean times at all, and an Athens, at that, with contemporary resonances. The old story of a family's blood feud is played out in the Agamemnon and Libation Bearers where the tribal law of vendetta rules, and blood is shed for blood in seemingly endless succession. In the last play of the trilogy - the Eumenides - a modern legal solution is imposed, and by means of a new jury system at the court of the Areopagus at Athens, a public not a private judgement is made on the crime of murder. The setting up of this court in the play reflects an historical event, the confirmed attribution to the Areopagus of homicide cases in 462 B.C. by Ephialtes, and the patronage which Athene, the patron goddess of Athens, extended to this institution and to Athens as a whole. Thus the present community of the whole city is inextricably blended with what is ostensibly an archaic drama recounting an ancient myth.


II 12

Pych.9.87ff., transl. hy R. Lattimore. /stir. 4.56ff., 0/. 2.Jff. HF 348ff.



Thirty-two tragedies survive, and of these, nineteen have as their setting a city or polis, a po/is with a ruler, a community and political implication which have a bearing on contemporary issues. Of these nineteen, the Eumenides is set in Athens itself, Sophocles' Oedipus at Co/onus is set at Colonus, very near Athens, Euripides' Suppliants is set at Eleusis very near Athens, and his Heracleidae is set in Athens itself. The rest are in Greek cities like Corinth, Thebes, Mycenae, or Troizen. All these cities have a turannos or sole ruler. The setting and the form of rule are ostensibly archaic to fit the traditional myth, but again and again the dramatist imports contemporary resonances which will be of particular interest to his audience. Two of Sophocles' plays - the Antigone and Oedipus the King - are set in a po/is, though that of Thebes not Athens, and both, particularly the Antigone, are to some extent concerned with the question of rule in relation to the ruler and his citizens. Sophocles was not on the whole aiming to make specific references to the contemporary political scene 13 although the plague at Thebes in Oedipus the King will have awoken familiar echoes in the audiences' minds of their own privations from plague at Athens in the opening years of the Peloponnesian War. 14 But this aside, Sophocles was concerned in these plays much more with general questions of what makes a good ruler in a city, what stresses affect him and what should be his relations with the citizens. Such questions would be of perennial interest to the inhabitants of a city like Athens, even though the mechanisms of rule were no longer the same as they had been under the tyrants, and even though the dramatic location was Thebes not Athens. Such examples show that in Greek tragedy the archaic myths are transmitted not only to preserve their traditional features - though this transmission of the past is a vital ingredient of the dramatic conceptions and indeed forms an assumption from which to view the whole dramatic development 15 - but they are also permeated by a sense of what the present and the city state mean. The old hero is put in a new context where new judgements are made on him. There is a 13



Unless the use of the term ton strategon 'the commander' Ant. 8, and andron proton 'first of men' OT 33 are veiled references to Pericles who was strategos 'general', and whose inOucnce was very much that of first citizen. See Thuc. 11.65.10; V. Ehrenberg, Sophocles and Pericles (Oxford, 1954), 105ff. OT 168ff. In fact Aristophanes set great store by what he saw as the role of tragedy to preserve traditional heroic features and criticised Euripides strongly for debasing such features. Sec next section.



sense of the community, sometimes represented by the comments of the chorus as ordinary citizens, e.g. in the Antigone, Oedipus the,Medea and Hippolytus and sometimes by the comments of other characters who represent the common good like Odysseus in the Ajax, Theseus in the Heracles, the messengers in the Bacchae. The hero may have greatness, as he often has in Sophocles, but the greatness does not go unchallenged. It is not flawless. In Euripides the greatness may disappear altogether, as in the case of Jason, once the great hero of the Argonauts, and now a paltry mean-minded person caught in a shabby domestic situation, or Menelaus as he appears in the Helen or Agamemnon in the Iphigenia in Au/is.

This questioning spirit so characteristic of Greek Tragedy is also important when one considers it as a religious event. It has often been said that tragedy's origins lie in rituaI.16 This may be true. But that implies repetition, dogma and unquestioning belief, and classical tragedy was never like this, although its performance was sacred to a god, and its contentstill reflected to some extent the relations between gods and men. For gods as well as heroes were inherited from earlier myth and the innovations the dramatists bring to religious consciousness are just as important as the developing complexity in their grasp of human behavior. In fact the two are inextricably linked. It is not too much to say that the gods dominate the world of tragedy and those gods are no longer the sunny Olympians of Homer. In the interval between the eighth century and the fifth, moral consciousness has been born and the gods become associated with the implacable punishment of men's wrongdoing. Whether Aeschylus' allseeing Zeus who is associated with Justice, or Sophocles' relentless oracles which always come true in the fulness of time, or Euripides' pitiless Aphrodite or Dionysus, the gods hover above the heroes' actions watching men trip themselves up. And whether it is the passionate belief of Aeschylus, or the inscrutable acceptance of Sophocles, or the protesting criticism of Euripides, the gods are always there at the heart of tragedy and the new problematic lives of the heroes must be seen against this divine background. But tragedies are not sacred texts. By classical times the art form was emancipated, and the authors free to change traditional treatments, criticise even the divine figures and sometimes, as Euripides did, show radical scepticism about the gods, their morals and even their very existence. This is all the resu·lt of a creative meeting between two worlds - the archaic, traditional, aristocratic, herc,ic world of myth, 16

For a recent analysis of ritual elements in Greek Drama see F. R. Adrados, Festil•al, Comedy and Tragedy (Leiden, 1975), chs. II, VII, VIII, XI; Seaford (1994a) 238-75.



and the newer contemporary values of the democratic, highly social city state where the ordinary citizen's views counted in the general reckoning of human conduct and achievement, and where contemporary thinkers were questioning moral and theological issues. The tragedians had available to them all the resources of inherited myth which they incorporated into their own experience as beings within the polis. They also had to work through the contrived shapes of language and structure which conventionally belonged to the dramatic genre of tragedy. As we see them, these contrived shapes are overt and analyzable, and their variety of style and development is largely responsible for the rich and complex experience which comes from watching this drama. Through them the dramatic action is assimilable: through them the reactions of those watching and listening are orchestrated. In other words they filter through their disciplined structures the inherent turbulence of the basic material, thus controlling by form and pace the responses of the audience. First the verse form. Greek Tragedy was written in verse in an elevated and traditional poetic language. Most translations, even the verse ones, are misleading in that they do not record the variety of verse forms employed in the different sections of the plays. Spoken dialogue was in iambic trimeter. The sung portions, choral odes and solo arias, and some exchanges between actor and chorus, were in lyric metres of which there was a wide range and variety to express different moods. Rhyme was not used. Music would accompany the lyric portions, often on the pipe but the music accompanying the drama has unfortunately not survived except for tiny almost unintelligible fragments. The long spoken episodes, rather like acts, stand between shorter sung choral odes, or stasima as they are sometimes called, of which there are usually three or four in the course of the play. A processional song called the parodos marks the first entrance of the chorus into the orchestra and the name is clearly associated with that of the parodoi or side-entrances. The choral odes were danced as well as sung, and had elaborate choreography which again has not survived. Modern productions have to use imagination in providing steps and music in which to express the lyric parts of tragedy, but they can on the whole successfully reproduce the basic metrical rhythms and recurring patterns of the words themselves. The language in which iambic speech and choral lyric are written differs. The former is in the Attic dialect, the latter includes elements from a Doric form of Greek, perhaps



reflecting the Peloponnesian origins of choral songs. There is the utmost contrast in Greek Tragedy between the spoken portion and the lyric. The former, though in verse, resembles more nearly ordinary conversation and, with occasional colloquialisms, particularly in Euripides, its language also owes much to rhetoric, particularly in the set debate and the longer speeches. Euripides' language here is outstanding for its fluency and clarity of diction whether employed in argument, appeal, statement of feeling or philosophical reflection. 17 The lyrics on the contrary are in more elaborate metres and highly poetic language containing more ornament, more images, more condensed syntactical structures and more compressed thought patterns.18 They are composed in the tradition of the great lyric poets, particularly Pindar whose somewhat obscure but highly colorful and elaborate style was famous in antiquity and would have been familiar to the dramatists' audience. It is hard to communicate in a few words just ·what the lyric metres achieve in Greek Drama. And indeed we do not always know. But one can say that they characterise and control pace, mood, and tone. They act as a kind of register of emotion. Certain metres, like the dochmiac, for instance, are associated with high points of excitement, others like the ionic rhythms have cult associations, others, like the dactylic, convey a strong sense of insistent and forward movement, or may recall the hexameter beat of epic. Frequently it is the subtle blend and changing of rhythms which create special effects as for instance when the opening ionics of the Bacchae parodos, evoking religious and cult associations, turn eventually through choriambs and glyconics to excited dactyls as the pace gathers momentum and the women sing of rushing off to the mountains, 19 or when the primarily iambic first stasimon of the Trojan Women is given an epic flavor at the beginning by its opening dactyls. The lyric metres, more emotional than iambic trimeters, are often used in contrast with the trimeter in mixed dialogues where one actor sings in lyrics and another replies in spoken utterance or where an actor will speak his lines and the chorus reply in sung lyrics. In this way the different emotional levels are offset as for instance at Ale. 244, where Alcestis, in a semi-delirious trance, as she has a vision of approaching death, is given lyrics, and the uncomprehending Admetus speaks in iambics. 17

IS 19

Collard (1981), 20-3, 25-7; on the formal conventions and "rhetoric" of Tragedy see esp. Heath (1987) and Goldhill (1986), 222-43; cf. nn. 27 and 28 below. ib. 26-7; cf. Heath (1987), 137-40. Bacch. 64ff. and Dodds' analysis, Bacchae (1960), 72-4.



The chorus are always at the heart of the play. Singing and dancing to music, they have a function which is both a part of, and yet slightly separated from, the main action. Placed in the orchestra, the circular dancing space, the chorus are physically distanced from the actors and like the messenger they are usually, though not always, outsiders who look at the happenings from a slightly different point of view from the protagonists. They are ordinary citizens, 20 the protagonists are not. The chorus' task is to change the gear of the action, interrupting its forward flow and examining it in new perspectives. Their look at events allows time for reflection and judgement, leisure to consider motivation and causal explanations. They may as so often in Aeschylus - e.g. in the parodos of the Agamemnon (40 ff.) - bring to light a whole realm of background material which sets into relief the immediate events, or they may as in the ode on Man in the Antigone (332 ff.), cast specific actions in a more universal context. Their role is that of an interested commentator who is able not only to reflect, but to look around as well as directly at an action, providing a sort of philosophical pause in highly poetic form. But sometimes, as in the Bacchae, for instance, they are strongly involved in the action as participants, and here Lheir songs actually enact the religious rituals which are at the heart of the play's experience. Here there is no detachment, only devotion to the god. The choral function is complex and multiple, and varies from context to context, particularly in Euripides. The varied lyric metres show a fine register of different emotions and indicate tone and mood. Frequently they change as an ode proceeds. Lyric is however not restricted to the chorus, and the solo aria is often a tour de force in the play and associated with high emotion expressed through the lyric metres in which it is cast. This actor's song in lyric is called a monody. Not all plays have one but some, as for instance the Ion, Trojan Women and Phoenician Women of Euripides, have two or more. The monodies of Greek tragedy formed high points of sympathetic identification with hero or heroine - more usually the latter since only a very few male characters are given one to sing in all of extant Greek tragedy. Here the author sought to move his audience with stirring music and words that excited pity. The monody is often designed to present a subjective and partial point of view which reflects the strong preoccupations of the singer, but which may be at variance with other views presented in the play. Euripides, the most renowned composer of monodies, gives his singers just such


Not in the technical sense of course since women were not full citizens hut in the sense of people concerned al issues in the community.



passionate commitment and bias.21 Examples are Ion's adoration of Apollo, Creousa's blasphemy against the same god, Hecuba's aching despair, Cassandra's delirious wedding song, or Electra's passionate grief.22 The monody has a lyric non-logical structure with images, personal apostrophes, laments and prayers predominating.23 Among the spoken parts of the play are certain set pieces, easily recognisable in formal terms, such as the messenger speech, agon (debate), rhesis (single set speech) and stichomythia (line dialogue). In Euripides these are much more obviously marked off than in Sophocles and Aeschylus so that they sometimes seem almost crystallised and isolable in themselves rather than merging into one another or growing naturally. Euripides no doubt had his own reasons for this and indeed often the sharp contrast between modes creates a dramatic excitement of a peculiarly impelling kind.24 The messenger speech, much beloved by Euripides, is one such spoken device.25 It is a set narrative speech in iambics, reporting offstage action to the actors on the stage and to the audience. Perhaps here the role of the imagination for the audience is at its height. A whole scene is set for the spectator with exact detail sketched in so that visual and auditory images etch themselves sharply on the mind. Gone are the personal apostrophes, images, laments and prayers of the lyric style. Here, instead, is ordered narrative in strict chronological sequence, full of verbs of action and graphic physical detail. Unlike the monodist, the messenger is an outsider, a third person objective witness who records events in an unbiassed way and in such a manner that the audience can make their own judgements. It would be a mistake to think of the messenger's report as a poor substitute which fails to make up for what cannot be shown on the stage. On the contrary it is superior to spectacle. The Greeks delighted in narrative ever since the performances of the epic rhapsodes were formally instituted by Peisistratus, and long before that no doubt, and such extended reports will have given special pleasures in themselves. As Aristotle saw, there were disadvantages to mere horror spectacles even had it been feasible to stage them.26 For they produce confusion and shock - so that their impact would preclude proper assimilation 21 22 23


25 26

On the function of the monody sec Barlow, eh. 111,43ff. 82ff.,859ff;Tro. 308ff.,98ff.;El. 112ff. E.g. Hipp. 817ff.;Ion 82ff.,859ff.;Tro. 98ff. Sec also Barlow, 45ff. E.g. Hipp. 817ff.;Ion 82 ff.,859ff.;Tro. 98 ff. Sec also Barlow, 45 ff. On the messenger speech sec Barlow, 6lff.; Heath (1987),149-50,153-7;de Jong Aristotle, Poetics, eh. XIII, 1453b,8-10.





of the events. What the messenger does is to control and stage the experience so that it is assimilable to the spectator bit by bit in an ordered way. Euripides' messenger speeches with their quiet pictorial beginnings, their slow build-ups, their fragments of recorded conversation, and their graphic descriptions of the climactic acts of horror in visual terms, are masterpieces of the art of narrative. The two in the Bacchae for instance not only tell the audience what has happened, but make imaginable through pictures the whole Bacchic experience. Here the narrative is indispensable, for it is inconceivable that the audience would ever be able to view directly the mass attack of the women upon the cattle or upon Pentheus. It would be utterly beyond stage resources. But if by any chance they were allowed to view it, it is unlikely that they would emerge with as clear and as objective a picture as the messenger is able to give. Narrative enables greater total understanding than mere spectacle, and can condense more into a short space of time. In that it is one degree removed from direct sight, and is delivered by an imperial witness, it practises a kind of distancing which reduces the crude horror of the tragic action and requires balanced judgement as well as an emotional response. Many tragedies contain a set debate or 'agon' where one character presents a case in formal terms, and another, as adversary, responds point for point in a counter speech. Euripides, particularly, formalised such debates, so that they often resembled law-court speeches, and they are indeed sometimes cast in formal rhetorical terms.27 Examples are Medea's great debate with Jason, or Hecuba's with Helen in the Trojan Women. In these, logical and orderly exposition is more important than naturalism. It is never possible entirely to separate feelings from reasoned thought - nor should it be. But the modes of tragedy assault both, in differing degrees, by different routes. The solo aria is a direct appeal to the feelings through emotive sound and image, through words of personal address and reaction. The messenger speech appeals to the audience's consciousness through an ordered evocation of the senses so that one perceives and hears a chronological sequence of events in the mind's eye and ear. The agon, on the other hand, captures the audience's hearts and minds by persuasion through reasoned argument. Although the result may involve the emotions, the method is more intellectual than in either the aria or the messenger speech. Thus the agon in the Trojan Women with its sharp 27

On the agon see J. Duchemin, L'Agon dans la tragedie grecq1ie2 (Paris, 1968); C. Collard, G&R 22 (1975), 58-71 (with Addendum in I. McAuslan, P. Walcot (eds.), Greek Tragedy, 153-66); Lloyd (1992).



development of points of debate gives an academic edge to an action which is otherwise predominantly lyric in mood. The rhesis is a set speech of an actor which works by persuasive and ordered logic and which may none the less often make strong appeal to the emotions. It is the commonest of all dramatic forms and one of the most varied, and overlaps with other parts. It may, for example, form part of a debate scene, it may convey extended dialogue or it may stand on its own in monologue. Its tenor may be argumentative, reflective, pathetic, informative or questioning. Many set speeches take the form of a monologue where the speaker examines his of her motive and actions in an intense process of self-examination. 28 Such are Medea's speech to the women of Corinth at Med. 214 ff. or her monologue at 1021 ff., Phaedra's speech at Hipp. 373 ff. or Hippolytus' at 616 ff., Hecuba's speech at Hee. 585 ff. Often it is hard to separate the emotional element from the thought element when the poet gets the balance right. For instance Medea's speech at Med. 1021 ff., where she debates whether she can bring herself to kill her own children, has a tight logical structure, but through this makes strong appeal also to the emotions. 29 There is a delicate balance between direct apostrophe, a simple expression of raw feeling, and reasoned alternatives which are worked out logically. But the dramatist brilliantly gives the impression that the logic is forced out desperately by a person fighting for control in a situation where the emotions threaten to take over. The result is a powerful speech which assaults both our emotional and our thinking faculties, made no less effective by the violent swings of stance which Medea takes as she is torn between the immediate sight of her children before her, and the more long-term thought of her future life as it must follow from present circumstances. Stichomythia is a special kind of formal dialogue where the characters speak in single line exchanges. It is not the only kind of dialogue or even the commonest in tragedy but I single it out here because of its regular and easily identifiable form. Such a tight and formal framework permits speed, concentrated and pointed utterance within its compass.30 It is particularly suited to scenes of interrogation such as we see in the Bacchae where it communicates with its economy and rapid pace the extreme tension and changing shifts


29 30

Collard (1981), 21-2; Lloyd (1992), 19-36. In G&R 36 (1989), 165-6 and n.22 I accept Kovacs' arguments for deleting 1056-64 but keeping 1065-80 (pace Diggle who in his Oxford Classical Text deletes all of 1056-80). Collard (1981), 22; contrast Heath (1987), 128-30.



between the god Dionysus and Pentheus the King.31 All these items, monody, choral ode, messenger speech, set debate, rhesis and stichomythia make up the 'formal' elements of Greek Tragedy. Now 'formal' sometimes conjures up an image of fossilisation and aridity, but this is far from the case. On the contrary, the variety of metre, language, dialect and mode within the compass of one tragedy, and the alternation of song and speech, and of lyric and dialogue, made Greek Tragedy a rich experience offering a range seldom even dreamt of today. Each mode approaches the same dramatic action in a new way, with its own perspective and its own style, so that the audience is constantly exposed to shifts of perception, and the contrasts such shifts imply. Moreover each mode would have had its own associations - lyric arousing echoes of the great lyric tradition in Greece, narrative, reminiscent of epic, catering for the pleasure in story-telling the Greeks always had. And each mode carried with it its own responses which contrasted with others. Thus the great debates provided intellectual stimulus and were set off against the more emotional colouring of choral odes and arias. All were combined within the one dramatic action. With great range of form went an economy and concentration lacking in much modern drama. The action was usually confined to twenty-four hours in one place, and was so arranged that all the parts could be taken by three actors. Scenery was sparse, subtle gestures and expressions were precluded by masks, heavy costumes and the sheer size of the theatre. But these things in themselves explain why the burden must be on the language (speech and song) and why the words were so important. In them were all the things which today are done by elaborate costume, make-up, close-up photography, lighting, scenery, stage directions, and all the rest. To the Greeks the expressed utterance was all - or almost all.32 So it was that the very great range of form in Greek Tragedy evinced in the different modes of speech and sung lyric, was matched by an equal range of expressions of complex human emotion, action, and thought made to fit those forms and channelled into patterns of plot, setting and action of extreme economy. It was this rich content within a controlling structure which involved too a creative harmonising of past and present attitudes through use of myth, as



Bacch. 463-508, 647-55, 802-41. N.B. the change to two-line dialogue, i.e. distichomythia, at 923-62. But for the role of the non-verbal in theatrical performance see Taplin (1978),passim; Heath (1987), 140-5; Gould (Note on p. 2 above).



I outlined at the beginning, which gave, and still does give, Greek tragedy its forceful, concentrated impact. ill. Euripides

Euripides was the youngest of the three great Athenian tragedians ( c. 484406 B.C.) although Sophocles, his slightly older contemporary, outlived him by a few months. In his lifetime he was not as popular with the Athenian public as the others, winning fewer prizes (four first prizes out of twenty two occasions) and ending his life in voluntary exile away from Athens at the court of Archelaus of Macedon.33 More of his work has survived than the meagre seven plays each we have of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Nineteen plays entire have come down to us under his name including the satyr play Cyclops, the Alcestis, a substitute for a satyr play, and the probably spurious Rhesus. Perhaps because of the wider sample known to us, part of which has been preserved by accident and not by deliberate selection, his work seems uneven and diverse in range.3 4 There are the .great tragedies of a very high order such as the Medea, Hippolytus, Trojan Women and Bacchae. But there are also plays where tragic themes mix with lighter elements and the ending is happy, such as the Alcestis, Ion, /phigenia in Tauris, Helen. Attempts to categorise Euripides' style and plot by chronological criteria, thematic groupings, or structural elements, have largely failed, since there always seem to be exceptions which prevent such categories being watertight.35 Euripides is the most elusive of dramatists and the most resistant to fixed labels. Not that his contemporaries hesitated to fix labels upon him. The comic poet Aristophanes was one such, a sharp critic who parodied him for his choice of subject matter, characters, plots, opinions and style.36 Aristophanes saw him 33

34 35 36

see the chart of chronology and award of prizes in Collard (1981), 2; charts also in M. Cropp, G. Fink, BICS Supplement 43 (1985), 5, 22, 23, 70. Barrett, Hippolytos (1%4), 50ff.; Collard (1981), 3; Michelini (1987), 19-51. Collard (1981), 5; cf. Michelini (1987), 48-51. Criticisms of Euripides occur extensively in Frogs, Thesmophoriazusae, substantially in Achamians and in scattered references throughout Aristophanes' other works. See G. M.A. Grube, The Greek a11d Roma11 Critics (London, 1965), 22-32; P. Rau, Paratragodia (Miinchen, 1967); K. J. Dover, Aristopha11ic Comedy (London, 1972), 183-9; on Thesmophoriazusac sec esp. A. M. Bowie, Aristophanes (Cambridge, 1993), 217-27. D. Kovacs, Euripidea (Leiden and New York, 1994) gives English translations of the principal Aristophanic passages hut also of the most important ancient testimonies to Euripides' life and work.




as ultra-trendy, undermining traditional religious and moral beliefs in a dangerous way and introducing outrageous musical innovations. He saw Euripides' characters, particularly his women characters, as unprincipled and shameless. too clever fur their own or anybody else's good. He thought that Euripides elevated the ordinary to an absurd degree, making the trivial seem important, and low characters appear too significant. He therefore saw him as destroying the old heroic values and introducing instead ambiguous moral standards. 37 A rebel in fact of a most subversive kind. This is quite a catalogue of blemishes. How misleading is it? Aristophanes is concerned of course mainly with raising a laugh - and for this, gross exaggeration is necessary. None the less much of his criticism is apt, if in a superficial way. Euripides does introduce women characters who are criminal in their actions, like Medea who kills her children and two others, or like Phaedra who falsely incriminates her stepson thus indirectly causing his death. But Aeschylus had portrayed Clytemnestra - surely a woman of towering criminality. Why the fuss now? Perhaps because Euripides led the audience to see the action from these characters' points of view, whereas Aeschylus hardly encourages us to sympathise with Clytemnestra. Euripides was able to show what it felt like to have to kill your children or your mother; to be consumed by devouring jealousy or a desire for revenge; to fight in overmastering love and struggle with the consequences of madness.38 And in so doing, unlike Sophocles, who on the whole portrayed characters who retained their wholeness and integrity throughout their tragedies, he explored weakness not streng_th, and exposed those elements in character which revealed disintegration and ilie split persona. Electra, Orestes, Pentheus, Phaedra, Admetus and even Medea or the great Heracles all reveal in some degree traits which characterise such disintegration



Religious beliefs: Frogs. 888ff. Immorality: Frogs 771ff., 1079ff., Thesm. 389ff. Musical Frogs 1298ff., 1331ff. Women characters: Frogs 1049ff., Thesm. 389ff. innovations: Cleverness: Frogs 775ff., 956ff, 1069ff. Stress on the ordinary or the sordid, the antihcroic: Frogs 959ff., 1013ff., 1064, Ach. 410ff. A point made by Vickers, 563-4 and 566 (apropos of the Electra). Sec Mcdea's agonised speech at 1021ff., Elcctra's remorse al I 183ff., Hcrmione's vindictive jealousy expressed in the scene al And. 147ff., Hecuba's gloating revenge over Polymcstor al Hee. 1049ff. and her justification before Agamemnon 1233ff., Phacdra's struggle with her love at Hipp. 373ff. particularly 380-1 and 393ff., Hcraclcs' struggle to face the consequences of his madness from HF 1089 to the end.



and a nature divided against itself.39 To say that in so presenting his characters Euripides was debunking the heroic is only part of the truth. Undeniably in a play like the Electra all the old heroic assumptions and settings are undermined or changed. Electra and Orestes are no longer the single-minded champions of justice. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are no longer the uncompromising villains they were in Aeschylus. The murders are no longer performed in such a way that they can be seen as heroic actions. Even the setting has changed from grand palace to impoverished hovel. And in other plays too such as /phigenia in Au/is, great leaders of the heroic tradition like Agamemnon and Menelaus appear in particularly despicable lights, shifting their ground, arguing for expediency and promoting personal ambition at the expense of principles. Yet it would be a mistake to say that Euripides had no concept of what it meant to be heroic if we think of this word not in its narrow archaic sense of military and physical valor, but in more general terms. It is that often he redefines traditional heroic qualities or else transfers them to women, placed in different situations from male heroes. Medea for instance, although a woman, shows many of the great heroic qualities of say an Ajax or an Achilles: bravery, desire to preserve her own honor, refusal to be laughed at by her enemies, the decisive nature to act in revenge.40 What makes her interesting is the combination of these traditional qualities with her role as a woman and mother. In the Trojan Women, Hecuba the old queen of Troy is heroic in her endurance of the sufferings inflicted on her by the Greeks, and in her fight to preserve her family. And when Euripides in the first stasimon makes the chorus "Sing, Muse, of Ilium, a lament consisting of new songs" 41 he is redefining the old epic notions of glorious war and transferring them to a setting where it is the victims who are seen as the true heroes - a point Cassandra also makes in her 39



Electra and Orestes in the Electra both suffer remorse for their murder of their mother. Orestes in the Orestes is reduced to madness through guilt and tormented by conscience (sunesis). Penthcus is destroyed by the very thing he professes lo despise, ending his life as voluntary spectator al a Bacchic revel from which he had previously dissociated himself. Phaedra knows how she should be but cannot achieve it. Her love overrides her better judgement as docs Mcdca's hate (Hipp. 380-1, Med. 1078-9). Admclus suffered acute remorse for letting Alccslis give her life for him (Ale. 861ff. and 935ff.). Hcraclcs is on the brink of total disintegration (HF I 146ff.). B. M. W. Knox, 'The Medea of Euripides," YCS 25 (1977), 193-225, esp. 198-9; sec my G&R 36 (1989), 161-3. Tm. 51 lff. Sec my note on this passage.



speech at Tro. 365 ff. Several women characters voluntarily surrender their lives for a noble cause - such as Iphigeneia in /phigenia in Aulis, the parthenos in the Heracleidae, or Evadne in the Suppliants, not to mention Alcestis who dies to save her husband. These are all examples of heroism, though not in the traditional masculine mold. In the Heracles where the protagonist is male, Euripides contrasts the old traditional and active heroism of Heracles ii'! performing the labours, with the more passive qualities of endurance he must display in facing up to the terrible consequences of his subsequent madness. He rejects the traditional hero's solution to disgrace, namely suicide - the way Ajax had taken - and decides to live on in the company of his humiliation and misery. A new heroism perhaps for a newer age. 42 Aristophanes, through the mouthpieces of Aeschylus and Dionysus in the Frogs, regretted the passing of the old standards and saw nothing but demeaning and undignified negativism in their place. "Oikeia pragmata". "ordinary thing£". to him were not worthy of tragedy But Euripides celebration of the ordinary, if so it may be called. is often a positive and important part of the way he saw events and actions. It is not only in settings and small actions we see it at work, 43 but also in characters. Again and again relatively humble characters play a significant role in a play's events. The farmer husband of Electra is arguably the only sane person in the Electra. The old servant in the Hippolytus has the wisdom Hippolytus lacks. The two messengers in the Bacchae grasp the trutb of the Dionysiac phenomenon with an instinctive sense denied to all uw other characters in the play. 44 They in fact carry the message of the play - that it is dangerous to deny such instinctive wisdom and to mock at belief. Aristophanes was therefore right when he said that Euripides introduced the ordinary into tragedy. He did. The ordinary person is listened to and often proved right. And




See esp. H. H. 0. Chalk, 'Arete and Bia in Euripides' Herakles,' JHS 82 (1962), 7ff.; see my G&R 29 (1982), 115-25 (now also in I. McAuslan, P. Walcot (eds.), Greek Tragedy, 193-203); D. J. Furley, "Euripides and the Sanity of Heracles" in Studies in Honour of T. B. L. Webster, Vol. I (Bristol, 1986), 108ft. Settings such as the farmer's cottage in the Electra or the drab tents of the Greek encampment in the Trojan Women. Often ordinary actions are described such as when the chorus and companions are doing the washing (Hipp. 121ff., He/. 179ff.) or Ion is sweeping out the temple with a broom (Ion 112ff.) or Hypsipyle sweeping the step (Hyps. fr. I.ii Bond), or the chorus describe themselves getting ready for bed (Hee. 914ff.). Baccl.1.769ff., I 150ff.




if this is regarded as an overturning of values, it is a positive and significant one and should not be dismissed as mere rabble rousing. What Aristophanes saw as frivolity and irresponsibility in Euripides in fact sprang from a deep care for the world and a wish to protest at its wrongs. This is what his characters show. It was not to abandon a portrayal of the heroic but to redefine it. And all the charges of agnosticism or heresy which the comic poet loved to heap upon Euripides' shoulders are likewise superficially true, but in a deeper sense misleading. Aristophanes was wrong to see Euripides' own views in every character who railed against the gods. Indeed his own views are difficult to recognise since he is usually much too good a dramatist to intrude his own persona. His characters display many different beliefs as their role and the occasion demands. It is true however that attack on the gods is a persistent and recurring theme from major characters. Repeatedly his leading characters - Hecuba, Iphigeneia, Arnphitryon, Heracles, Ion, Creousa, Electra, Orestes - express their despair at a Universe negligently managed by divine beings. 45 But his despair springs not from a reluctance to believe at all on their part, but from an outrage that gods, as they are commonly understood, can be so amoral and utterly uncaring of human well-being. It is the disillusion of the perfectionist that Euripides so often portrays. As Heracles is made to say, but I do not believe the gods commit adultery, or bind each other in chains. I never did believe it; I never shall; nor that one god is tyrant of the rest. If god is truly god, he is perfect, lacking nothing. These are poets' wretched lies.46 Such sentiments come not from the frivolity of his characters, but from their taking the Universe too seriously. If there is a fault it is the latter not the former, that should be laid against Euripides' door. And no one who has heard or read the Bacchae could possibly accuse its creator of either agnosticism or superficiality. There are depths in it still being explored today. The very characteristics in Euripides' work which disturbed Aristophanes and his contemporaries - his moral ambiguity, his scepticism, his anti-heroic stance and his common touch - are what appeal to the modern reader for they


Trojan Women 469ff., 1240ff., 1280ff. IT 384ff. HF 339ff., 1340ff. Ion 435ff., 1546ff., 91 lff. El. 979, 1190, 1246.


1341-6 transl. by W. Arrowsmith; cf. /T 384ff.



seem more in keeping with our own age. In the twentieth century we have been preoccupied with doubt and disintegration, demythologising and rationalising, and this is what Euripides epitomises. We can admire the sheer brilliance with which he manipulates the myths in a way which both uses and exposes their assumptions. While keeping the traditional stories as a frame, he yet undercuts them by rationalising many of the attitudes which have previously underpinned them. Notions of the very gods he uses come under attack: old conceptions about pollution and guilt are questioned; traditional criteria for judging character are scrutinised and found wanting. And in this problematic climate his characters like Electra, Orestes, Medea, Phaedra or Pentheus, pick their way, on the verge of collapse under the strain, as their rational grip loses the battle with the forces of disintegration. But the drama he created did not always offer purely negative perspectives. Again and again positive human values are seen to triumph over divine neglect or apathy - the friendship of Amphitryon and Theseus, the supporting love of Hecuba for her family and her courage, the integrity of Ion, the compassion of Cadmus and Agape, the selfless sacrifice of Iphigeneia, Alcestis, the parthenos in the Heracleidae, and the cheerful sanity of ordinary people like messengers, or servants. In the importance he attached to supporting roles and to the close interaction between his characters, Euripides prefers not to focus upon one dominating protagonist. The whole social context is what matters, and environment and social factors play a much larger part in determining the main character's role and the course of the action than they do in Sophocles (with the exception perhaps of the Philoctetes ).47 In short Euripides was adventurous - adventurous above all in his treatment of myth. And adventurousness here meant an entirely new perspective on plot, character, moral and religious values, and social factors. But he was adventurous too in treatment of form and structure. He experimented with music and lyrics, with metrical forms and with the breaking up of dialogue. He increased the role of the solo aria and messenger speech and he sometimes changed the traditional function of the chorus. He introduced more colloquialism into the dialogue and more elaboration than Sophocles into the late lyrics, thus increasing contrasts between the modes. What is clear is that he reshaped tragedy in a radical way so that it could never be quite the same again. He went as far as he could in giving it a new 47

Seen. 43.



image without abandoning its basic conventions. And there is common agreement that his work is, at its best, of the first rank. Of course there are faults and unevennesses in the plays: echoes from the soap-box occasionally, irrelevant rhetorical excrescences sometimes, selfindulgence in over-elaborate ornamentation of some of the later lyrics, too blatant melodrama perhaps in certain plays, loose plot construction in others.48 But informing all is an understanding of a very powerful sort, a mind which for all its critical sharpness, also knew the human heart and dissected it not only with uncanny perception but also with compassion. It was Aristotle who called Euripides tragikotatos ton poieton, "the most emotionally moving of the poets",49 a paradox one might think for one who was also the most intellectual of dramatists, but a paradox that for him somehow makes sense.



These points are covered by Collard ( 1981), e.g. rhetorical excresences 25-6, overornamentation of lyrics 26-7, melodrama to be seen in last minute rescues or recognitions 6. Many plays have been criticised for their plot construction in the past; sec my article on HF in G&R 29 (1982), 115-25, although, as I have pointed out, opinions on this subject are now changing. Aristotle, Poetics, eh. XIII, 1453a, 28-30.




'For the Didascaliai report that after Euripides' death his son of the same name produced the lphigeneia at Aulis, Alkmeon, and Bacchae at the City Dionysia' (in Athens).! Presumably then Bacchae was one of the very last plays written by Euripides, perhaps after his departure from Athens to the court of King Archelaos in Macedonia, where, according to ancient tradition, he died (in 407-6 BC).2 Exactly when it was posthumously produced we do not know. The play shows us Dionysos' arrival, disguised as a mortal and accompanied by a thiasos (sacred band) of Lydian women, to establish his rites at Thebes, where Kadmos' daughter Semele had died giving birth to him, blasted by the thunderbolt of his father Zeus. He has driven all the women of Thebes in a frenzy from their homes to Mt. Kithairon to worship him there with dance and song. The young king Pentheus resists the new cult, and can be dissuaded from this resistance neither by his grandfather Kadmos and Teiresias, who are joining the worship of the new god, nor by Dionysos himself, nor by the escape of the imprisoned Dionysos amid the miraculous collapse of the royal house, nor by a herdsman's description of the miraculous powers of the maenads on Kithairon. But Dionysos does persuade him to go, disguised as a maenad, to spy on the maenads on the mountainside. There he is revealed by Dionysos to the maenads, who tear him apart, with his mother Agaue playing the leading role. She returns triumphantly to the royal house holding Pentheus' head, which she thinks is an animal's, and is brought out of her delusion by her father Kadmos, who has gathered from the mountainside the rest of Pentheus' dismembered body. Dionysos app.ears as a god, and announces the establishment of his rites at Thebes (1329-30n.)and the exile of Kadmos and his wife and daughters. This is a drama of divine punishment, like e.g. the Hippolytus.3 The story



ScholAr Frogs 61; the Didascaliai were theatrical records edited by Aristotle. The frequency of resolutions in the iambic trimeters of Bacchae confirms its lateness in Eur.'s career: see most recently M.Cropp and G.Fick, Resolutions and Chronology in Euripides, BICS Suppl 43 (1985). The Testimonia for the life of Eur. are collected and translated by D.Kovacs, Euripidea (1994). For a discussion of such dramas see Burnett.



combines various patterns typical of Greek myth. Gods make visits in disguise, and this may result in the foundation of cult, as e.g. in the myths of Demeter visiting Eleusis or of Zeus and Hermes visiting the household of Philemon and Baucis. 4 Typical also is the theme of the male offspring of a royal family (Dionysos) who returns to his birthplace and establishes himself there, sometimes with violence (Oedipus, Jason, Perseus, Theseus, etc). Again, there is a type of aetiological myth in which human transgression is, as in Bacchae, punished by disaster that ends with the foundation of cult.5 More specifically, in a set of myths about Dionysos he is resisted by the king or by women of the king's family6 (in Ba. by both 7), a resistance inevitably broken by punishment which sometimes consists of the frenzied killing (or even eating) of kin.8 The resistance of Lykourgos and of Pentheus had been dramatised in earlier tragedies,9 from which very little survives. We know most about Aeschylus' dramatisation of the resistance of Lykourgos, the few fragments of which (57-67) can be cautiously supplemented by the fragments of the Roman Naevius' tragedy Lycurgus, which seems to have been modelled on Aeschylus.1° Aeschylus' treatment exhibits several similarities with Bacchae, in particular the capture and interrogation of Dionysos, with contempt for his effeminate appearance, 11 the imprisonment and miraculous escape of the maenads (443Sn. ), and the shaking of the house as if it were in a bacchic frenzy. 12 Other

4 5 6


8 9

10 11


Most notably narrated in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and Ovid Metamorphoses 8.624-724. Note also Od.17.485-7, and the list compiled by Burnett 24 n.8. E.g. in foun~ation myths of the cults of Artemis in Sparta and at Brauron in Attica. See §IV. Lykourgos in Thrace, Pentheus, the three daughters of Minyas at Orchomenos, the three daughters of Proitos at Argos. The numerous myths of resistance to D. and his cult are listed by P.McGinty in Harv. Theo/.Rev. 71 (1978) 77-8 (only Perseus escapes punishment). Al Ba.26-31 the three daughters of king Kadmos reject the story of D.'s divine birth after the death of his mother, their sister Semele. Lykourgos (AeschLykourgeia; etc.: Sutton); Minyads (Anton.Lib.10; etc.); Argive women (Ap_ollod.2.2.2);etc.: Seaford (1994a) 253-6, 291, 340, 348, 353, 357. Thespis Pentheus (?); Polyphrasmon's trilogy on Lykourgos; Aeschylus' tetralogy Edonians, Bassarai, Neaniskoi, Lykourgos, and his titles Semele or Hydrophoroi, Xantriai, Bakchai, Pentheus, Trophoi, which have been variously arranged into a tetralogy on the Pentheus story; Sophokles Bakchai (?), Hydrophoroi (?); Xenokles Bakchai, lophon Bakchai or Pentheus; Spintharos Semele Keraunoumene; Kleophon Bakchai (5th.cent. ?). Dodds (1960) xxx-xxxiii. AeschEdonians fr.61, cf. 59, 60, 62; Ba.353n., 453-508; Naevius.frr.43,44, 48, 50-1. 576-641n.(b); AeschEdonians fr.58; Naevius.frr.52-4.



similarities between Bacchae and the fragments of Aeschylus (or Naevius' Lycurgus) are mentioned in the Commentary on 100 (D. as bull), 118 (maenads working wool), 221-5 (maenads called loose women), 576-641 (the thiasos imitating thunder and lightning, man-bull identification, etc.), 606-9 (epiphany), 661-2 and 678-9 (sun melting snow), 748 (maenads as birds), 833 (maenadic garment TTOOTJP'fl(;, reaching to the feet), 912-76 (maenadic dress funerary), 9189 (Dionysos' mirror), 977 (Lyssa), 1020-3 (maenads as hunters). Further evidence for other versions is provided by vase-paintings of the myth. 13 Several of these roughly contemporary with Bacchae show the maenads attacking Pentheus, who is armed (and never disguised as a maenad). This has been taken, together with the many hints of imminent armed action in Bacchae (50-2n.) and with Aesch.Eum.25-6 ('the god was general to (fo-i:pa1:11yT1crEV) bakchai, contriving for Pentheus a fate like that of a hare'), to indicate an earlier tragic version in which Pentheus went out undisguised and with arms to attack the maenads.1 4 This may well be so, but it is illegitimate to infer therefrom that Euripides invented the transvestism of Pentheus, just as it is illegitimate to infer from the fact that in the vase-paintings the killer of Pentheus is never named Agaue (and once Galene 15) that Euripides was the first to have Pentheus killed by his mother.16 Given the paucity of our evidence for Dionysos in tragedy (apart from Bacchae ), if is striking how many themes in Bacchae can be identified as probably traditional.17 Tragedy originated in the cult of Dionysos, and the very earliest themes were, it seems, Dionysiac, 18 probably with the god playing the 13


15 16



See Philippart; March; LIMC s. Pentheus. Most depictions of the myth are of the death of Pentheus. most recently by March (cf. 50-2n.). ARV2 16.14 = L/MC s.Pentheus n.39, of about 520 BC. Against March on this latter point see Seaford in Faraone and Carpenter 123 n.38. See also Dodds (1960) xxxiii-xxxv.Even if (and it is not impossible) Eur. did make these innovations, both kin-killing (see below) and transvestism (912-76n.) were traditional Dionysiac themes. In general modern critics tend to assume that the first appearance of a theme is the same as innovation, even though what survives may always represent no more than a tiny portion of the versions that once existed (written, visual, oral). Versnel (189-205) rightly points to various respects in which Dionysos in Bacchae is especially like a Hellenistic deity (notably: claim to universal worship, deity proved by miracles, 'henotheism', personal submission to deity, futile resistance to deity). But I suspect that, had we a Dionysiac myth in detail earlier than Bacchae, we would see that these respects were not Euripidean innovations. Seaford (1994a) 268, 272 n.165, 276.



central role (as in Bacchae but in no other extant tragedy). I have argued elsewhere that the importance of the divinely-inspired self-destruction of the royal family in tragedy derived in part from the centrality of this theme to Dionysiac myth.1 9 And so Bacchae, although one of the very latest of extant tragedies, may nevertheless be, as the only extant tragedy about Dionysos, in a sense the closest to the beginnings of the genre. 20 It is also possible that the drama's archaic (and to some extent Aeschylean) language and style 21 came as naturally associated with the archaic theme. Moreover the structure of Bacchae is for Euripides unusually coherent. Indeed, the action of the play seems especially suited to tragic form, and even to the physical form of the theatre. When at the end of the prologue Dionysos tells his thiasos (the chorus) to beat their drums 'around this royal house so that the polis may see' (60-1), this relates the central conflict of the drama, between Dionysiac cult and the royal power, to the physical arrangement which so perfectly expresses it: the (Athenian) polis is watching a dancing circle (the orchestra) in which a thiasos perform their Dignysiac dance and song in front of the royal house that will be visited by two epiphanies of their god, in the first of which he will destroy it physically, in the second appear above it to order the exile of its surviving members. The chorus are, as embodying the threatened cult, unusually central to the action, while retaining the typical choral function of providing moral and emotional comment on it. Even the characteristically Euripidean lyric idyll tends in Bacchae to avoid centrifugality - by embodying either a desire to escape the persecution (402-15, 862-76) or speculation on the whereabouts of the longed-for god. Another typical feature of tragedy that seems especially at home in Bacchae is the polarity between the action on stage and the (sometimes violent) events reported from elsewhere by a messenger: in Bacchae this polarity is (unusually) important throughout the play, and makes special sense as expressing the (politically significant) power of Dionysiac cult to unite the town with its periphery.22 The leaders of the thiasos on the mountainside have gone there from the house in the theatre, as do Kadmos and Teiresias, and the thiasos in the theatre sing of going to the mountainside (13519 20 21


Seaford(1994a)chs.7-9. In particular,the dithyrambicparodosmayreproducea stage in the developmentof tragedy fromthe dithyramb:64-169n. describedby Dodds (1960)xxxvi-xxxviii.Note also the remarksof Aristotleon the earliest type of parodos(64-169n.)and on trochaictetrameters(576-641(n.) end). Seaford(1994a)235-51.



66). The two humiliations of Pentheus at home (575-659, 912-76) are each followed by narratives of Dionysos' power out there on Kithairon (660-777, 1043-52). The single conflict by which the drama is shaped moves towards the inevitable victory of the god through several phases that transcend the formal dfvision into choral odes and episodes. After we learn in the prologue of the rejection that has caused the crisis, the cult is presented in two of its contrasting aspects (cf. §III), first by the Asiatic maenads of the chorus, whose dithyrambic entry-song (parodos,64-169) presents the rituals and myths of the thiasos, and then by the two old men of Thebes, who stress the importance of universal participation in the cult (206-9). With the arrival of Pentheus (215) the presentation of the new cult continues, but in antagonism with its enemy. First Teiresias praises the cult at length (266-327) in response to Pentheus' verbal attack on it. Accordingly the chorus in their next song (370-431 ), and indeed in the three that follow it, contrast the practice and values of Dionysiac cult with those antagonistic to it. In the following (brief) episode (434-518) we learn yet more about the cult, this time in a passage of line-by-line dialogue (stichomythia), a traditional feature of tragedy that is especially suited to its content here, Pentheus' interrogation of his captive Dionysos. With Pentheus' subsequent confinement of the disguised god in the stables of the house the Dionysiac cause seems to reach its lowest ebb, which is suddenly reversed, after the second choral ode (519-75), as the action moves into its third phase, the demonstration of the miraculous powers of the god both in the collapse of the palace and in the subsequent report of the activities of the maenads on the mountainside. This new phase is introduced by Dionysos' exclamation lw (576) and ends with his exclamation (810), this latter marking another sudden and fundamental reversal of an impasse - from the persistent excited hostility of Pentheus to the incipience of his docile agreement (in a 'light frenzy') to dress as a maenad. This fourth phase (810-916) both continues to demonstrate the miraculous power of the god - now over the personality of Pentheus - and with its stichomythia echoes the earlier stichomythia (cf. 924 with 502) while reversing its power relation, in that Pentheus is now under the mysterious control of the captive he then contemptuously interrogated. In 'winning the contest' (975-6) that remains Dionysos continues to exhibit




miraculous power (1064-83). The sequence that consists of rejection of Dionysos, stichomythia, frenzy, and departure as maenad to Kithairon is in the final scene reversed by the arrival from Kithairon of Agaue in a frenzy, from which she is extracted in stichomythia (by Kadmos, 1263-1300), finally to abandon maenadism (1383-7) albeit in sober understanding now (as the remains of the family depart for exile) of the power of Dionysos. To sum up, the action represents the various powers of Dionysos throughout the (verbal and physical) phases of a single conflict, with the victory of the god assured by two moments of sudden reversal that frame the central section, one physical and one psychological, each marked by a divine exclamation. This single conflict has many dimensions. It is between two kinds of power, but also between two different perceptions (to accept Dionysos is to see what otherwise cannot be seen, 923-4) and (it is clear from the choral odes) between two ethics. At the heart of these interrelated oppositions there is the astonishing reversibility of gender that gives the play so much of its dramatic power: Pentheus 'seeing what he should see' once he has become even more effeminate than his divine enemy, the maenads on the mountainside acting like warriors (733, 761, 1098), Agaue rushing in as a triumphant but deluded hunter. How much of all this is specifically Euripidean and how much traditional? Although we have seen indications of a considerable debt to tradition, because that tradition is almost entirely lost the question cannot be answered. More profitable, given the centrality of Dionysos to Bacchae, is to explore further the significance of the power of Dionysos both in the play and in what we know of his cult. The play's poetry, emotional power, and dramatic form cannot be fully appreciated without this exploration. We will for example see how the transformation of Pentheus that is at the heart of the play reflects ( or rather refracts) the pattern of initiation into the Dionysiac mysteries.

§II. THE BACCHAE AND THE DIONYSIAC Dionysos is unusual among Greek gods in that he has been adopted as a symbol or principle of wide and persistent significance, so much so as to hold a



place in the philosophical discourse of the late twentieth century.23 The most influential statement of the principle is by Nietzsche, for whom, in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Dionysos combines within himself cruelty and mildness (§10), and 'the Dionysiac' unites men with each other, with nature, and with a primal state of unity characterised by contradiction, in which basic divisions are confused: the animals speak, a man feels himself as a god (§1, §7). The persistence of these ideas is exemplified, over a century later, in Charles Segal's account of 'the coincidence and simultaneity of the god's hidden duality', and of the ways in which, in Bacchae, 'Dionysos operates as the principle that destroys differences.' 24 Naturally, since Nietzsche Dionysos has, in the structuralist and poststructuralist 25 readings of Segal and others, discovered many more differences to destroy, of which I give here some examples. A Theban born, but corning from Asia, Dionysos (and his cult) is both Greek and barbarian. His disguise as a mortal and presence among the maenads seems to confuse the difference between man and god. Himself female in appearance (353n.), he persuades Pentheus to wear female dress, and turns the women of Thebes into warriors and hunters (733, 762-4, 1020-3n.). He also destroys the difference between human and animal, especially in the behaviour of the maenads, driven from domestic space out to the wild periphery, 'running hounds' (732), whose ritual of 'raw-eating' (139) and tearing apart of Pentheus as if he were an animal ( 1108, etc) inverts the ordered procedure of the sacrifice (a mark of being human not animal) into the bestiality of the hunt (10241152n.). Indeed, in appearing himself as an animal (lOOn.) as well as human and god, Di.onysos confuses the tripartite division, central to the Greeks' construction of their world, between god, human, and animal. 26 The abolition of differences in Bacchae is emphasised also, in a different


24 25


E.g. J.Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge 1987) 91-106, 131-6. Segal (1982) 234. A (critical) account of the influence of Nietzsche is by Henrichs in Carpenter and Faraone, 13-43. Inevitably 'deconstruction' has (vainly) attempted, antithetically to the structuralist insistence on binary oppositions in Bacchae, to locate Dionysos somewhere beyond them. Dionysos 'does not so much destroy or confuse distinctions as configure the nondifferentiations out of which such distinctions eventually arise ... Rather than being structured by oppositions that he simply overturns, he has no center and thus escapes the ultimately rational play of oppositional structure named by the terms 'ambiguity' and 'reversal', and 'enables tenuous insight into the character of the binarisms on which civilised life is based': M.Gellrich in B.Goff (ed.) History, Tragedy, Theory (Austin Texas, 1995), 53-4. Cf. M.Detienne, Dionysos Slain (1979) 59-64, 88-9.



way, by Rene Girard (1977), for whom the 'collapse of the cultural order' consequent on such abolition represents the memory of an actual event. According to Girard pre-modern societies are afflicted by periodic 'sacrificial crises', in which escalating reciprocal violence can be eliminated only by its transformation into unanimous violence - the sacrifice by the whole community of a single victim whose death will not produce reprisals. Such crises are marked, he argues, by the loss of social distinctions and of the distinction between man and beast. The suspension of social hierarchies (sometimes accompanied by conflict) that is characteristic of festivals commemorates an original sacrificial crisis, even though it is generally only the joyful outcome of the crisis that survives the evolutionary transformation of the festival. The Bacchae, he argues, 'traces the festival back to its violent beginnings, back to its origins in reciprocal violence': the destruction of distinctions in Thebes ends in the mob violence (characteristic of the sacrificial crisis) by which Pentheus is killed, after which the restoration of the cultural order is presided over by a deity to whom the community, concealing from itself the mechanism of the sacrificial crisis, attributes its own violence. And so Dionysos is 'the god of mob violence'. Despite the implausibilities of Girard's overall theory, the salutary effect of unanimous violence, as directed against the scapegoat, is a phenomenon of importance in Greek religion and tragedy 27 - not least in Bacchae, in which the collective savage sacrifice of Pentheus occasions the founding of a cult for the whole polis.28 Remaining still with the productive notion of opposites confused by Dionysos, we turn now to the opposition between reality and illusion. There is a Dionysiac reality (or illusion?) that Pentheus initially fails to see (502), but after dressing as a maenad he is able to see it (924). The collapse of the palace occurs, but has the appearance of an illusion generated by the excitement of the chorus (576-641n.). Dionysos, so adept at self-transformation (478n.), is the god of the theatre. All this, taken together with the element of disguise (Dionysos) and dressing up (Pentheus) and the probable use of Pentheus' mask to represent his severed head, has inclined critics to detect in Bacchae, in line with the interest of postmodern literary criticism in self-reflexivity, a metatragic dimension, in which Euripides reflects on tragedy's creation of illusion.29 27 28 29

Seaford (1994a) 3§d, 4§e. 963n., 1024-1152n.(b), 1295; Seaford (1994a) 8§d. E.g. Segal (1982) 215-71; Foley (1985) 205-58. A detailed attack on the metatheatrical reading of Bacchae is by W.Kullmann in G.W.Most, H.Petersmann, A.M.Ritter,



Although this approach is of some interest, the theatricality of what happens in Bacchae (and, I suspect, in earlier tragedies about Dionysos: see §I above) arises from the theatricality of the cult whose aetiological myth it dramatises, a cult which did after all give birth to theatre. 30 :for example, the change of identity inherent in Dionysiac mystic initiation (and important in the genesis of tragedy) was probably expressed in transvestism (912-76n.). Even if we somehow knew that Euripides was reflecting on tragedy, it would remain obscure (to me at least) what he was saying (or even implying) about it. Nietzschean also is E.R.Dodds' emphasis on Dionysos as an elemental force of nature, on the unity of his worshippers with others and with nature, and on Dionysos as embodying contradiction.31 But the division between culture and nature that especially interests Dodds is internal. Acceptance of the Dionysiac experience represents the confusion of this division in a relatively controlled way, w~_ereasif the Dionysiac within oneself is repressed, then there occurs 'the sudden collapse of the inward dykes when the elemental breaks through perforce and civilisation vanishes.' Pentheus represses the demand for Dionysiac experience both within himself and in others, thereby transforming it into a power of destruction. He is 'the dark puritan whose passion is compounded of horror and unconscious desire'. The repressed, unconscious Dionysiac longing within him is excited by the disguised god, and finally released in a flood.32 Despite the major impulse given by a Greek tragedy (Sophokles' Oedipus Tyrannus) to the genesis of psychoanalysis, it will be objected that the application of psychoanalytic concepts such as unconscious desire and repression to Pentheus suffers from the disadvantage that he has no existence beyond the drama. But the power of the representation of a character may reside precisely in its concentration on a coherent set of symptoms (as if the character had an unconscious formed over time).33 Since Dodds, 34

30 31 32 33


Philanthropia kai Eusebeia (Gottingen 1993). 829n.; Seaford (1994a) 273, 285. Dodds (1960) xii, xx, xliv. Dodds (1951) 272-3, (1960) xiv, 97-8, 172. Parsons 11-14. I am indebted to the discussion of projection, splitting, and narcissism in relation to Pentheus by Parsons (1988), although he ignores P.'s relationship to his mother. Other psychoanalytic readings include Devereux (1970) - see 1264-970.; W.Sale in YCS 22 (1972) 63-82; B.Seidensticker in Poetika 5 (1972), 35-64 (P. as authoritarian personality); C.Segal (1982) 162-4, 185-9, 287, and in his Interpreting Greek Tragedy (1986) 294-312; the first issue of



psychoanalytic concepts applied to Pentheus have included projection, the attribution to someone else of something denied within oneself lhence Pentheus' simultaneom fascination with and hostility to Dionysos, especially to his sexuality), as well as the associated process of splitting, in which the infant needs to keep separate the loving from the aggressive aspect of its mother ('splitting the object') and correspondingly to split the loving feelings within itself from the dangerous destructive ones ('splitting the ego'). The adult who h.__as failed to integrate these opposites cannot accept ambivalence: things tend to belong to one extreme or the other. Pentheus begins by insisting on boundaries between himself and the Dionysiac ( e.g. 341-4 ), between male and female, between inside and outside. He vehemently rejects what is alien ('other') to himself. In resisting the Dionysiac he isolates himself not only from others ( cf. 75) and from nature, but also from that very combining of opposites that is embodied by Dionysos but rejected by the process of splitting. Such isolation is akin to narcissism, which indeed clinically often goes with splitting.35 If Dionysos represents a split-off aspect of Pentheus (notably his sexuality), then Pentheus' fascination with Dionysos is fascination with himself. An aspect of Pentheus' regressive personality is his relation with his mother. He expresses quasi-infantile delight at the prospect of being held by her (966-70n.) and looks forward to seein& the roaeoads(among them his 1Jl01ber)making love (957-8; cf. 910, 1060, 221-Sn.). But after his insistence on separation is reversed into embracing the Dionysiac and dressing as a female, so too the desired maternal tenderness turns into its extreme opposite when Agaue savagely tears her son apart.36 Although structuralist, deconstructive, Girardian, metatheatrical, and psychoanalytic readings should not be ignored in interpreting Bacchae, evaluation of them must (as I have already indicated in the case of metatheatricality) take full account of the practice of Dionysiac cult in the polis. This practice I will briefly describe in the next two sections, which will

35 36

Nouvelle Revue d'Ethnopsychiatrie (1988) was devoted to the Dionysiac. On Freud himself and the Dionysiac see M.L.Baeumer in W.Paulsen (ed.) Psychoiogie in der Literaturwissenschaft (Heidelberg 1971) 80-114. According to Parsons 5 n.8. Rather as the excessive closeness of another Theban king (Oedipus) to his mother ended in his blinding himself with her brooches (Soph.OT 1268-70). On the possible psychoanalytic significance of the brooches see Devereux in JHS 93 (1973) 48-9, who also argues that the self-blinding signifies castration - as does (some maintain) Agaue and the other women tearing up the tall tree that has risen from (being bent to) the ground with Pentheu~ on it.



accordingly contain explicit or implicit critique of the readings discussed in this. For example, interpretation of the behaviour of Pentheus must be informed by understanding of the way in which it embodies the ambivalent hostility of the mystic initiand (§III(3)) as well as the anger of the tyrant (§IV). The limitations of Dodds' reading are exemplified by his comment on line 924: 'Pentheus' eyes are unsealed to 'see what he should see', because now the bull-nature, the Dionysiac nature, has broken loose in his own breast.' Here Dodds' psychological model has produced a strange misreading. In fact Pentheus has been tra?s~ormed ft-Qmwild aggression to extre~e do_cility(if this is a_'bullnature', 1t 1s a very tatne bull). How can we explam this change? Not without awareness of the experiences of the mystic initiand (912-76n.). Another example from the same scene is the claim by Parsons (8) that with Pentheus' seeing double the 'split' in his world becomes visible. This may contain some truth, but must be evaluated in the context of the mystic use of the mirror (918-9n.).

§III. THE BACCHAE AND CULT More than most Greek deities, Dionysos is imagined as present among his worshippers, whether in the secret ritual of the thiasos or in the public festival procession. 37 His presence at Thebes dramatised in Bacchae is the aetiology of his cult there. Aetiological myth often prefigures3Bthe ritual whose origin it narrates, and Bacchae is indeed pervaded by ritual. In prefiguring the cult, the drama prefigures its various (even contradictory) forms. An example of this variety is the chorus singing on the one hand, in the their entry-song, of mystic initiation and of the ecstasy of mountain-dancing (even of the ritual of 'raweating'), and on the other hand, in other choral odes, of the very different mood of the cheerful symposium (e.g. 375-85). Teiresias and Kadmos are equipped like the maenads ( 175-6), whom they will it seems join on Mt.Kithairon ( 1224) even though the maenads' dances there are 'secret' (1109). And the two old men are the only male members of the polis to dance for Dionysos ( 195-6), even though Teiresias insists that Dionysos demands honour from all (206-9) and

37 38

115n. One reason for his presence is to impose frenzy (32n.): on Dionysiac ecstasy and 'possession' see most recently Henrichs (1994). e.g. the Eleusinian mysteries in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. n. 68 below.



Kadmos eventually states that the 'whole polis' was in a bacchic revel (1295). Many are the kinds of cult activity associated with Dionysos. What follows is a brief account of the three ( overlapping) forms of this activity that are most important for understanding the cultic variety dramatised in Bacchae. (1) Maenadism. Here I will be especially brief, as maenadism has been extensively discussed by others in relation to the play.3 9 Bacchae contains a thiasos of barbarian women (56, 604), and describes three thiasoi of Theban women (680). Both the Lydian and the Theban women are called both 'bakchai' and 'maenads' (though cf. 601n.); they are all it seems equipped with fawnskins, ivy-crowns, and thyrsoi (24-5, 64-169n., 696-704); and the Theban women perform the mountain-dancing and the miracles (704-11) mentioned by the Lydian chorus (115-9, 135, 142-3, 164). Women performing frenzied movement in the cult of Dionysos ('bakchai' or 'maenads' 40), sometimes on the mountainside, are to be found elsewhere in four kinds of material in particular: ( a) literary texts pre-dating Bacchae; 41 (b) visual representations, notably Athenian vase-paintings of the archaic and classical periods.; 42 (c) later prose authors: Plutarch (Mor.249e, 953d) and Pausanias (10.4.3, 32.7) refer to maenadism on the mountainside (Parnassos ),43 and Diodorus Siculus (4 .3) tells us that it was a general practice in his time (first century BC) for bacchic bands of women to gather to worship Dionysos, with the maidens carrying the thyrsos in divinely inspired revelry, while the women sacrifice in groups and are bacchants (l}cxKXEUEW) and hymn the presence of Dionysos in imitation of his ancient companions the maenads; (d) inscriptions of the Hellenistic and later periods, from which I select three prominent examples. One records the bringing of three maenads from Thebes to Magnesia in Ionia in the second quarter of the third century BC; another (from Hellenistic Miletos) is the epitaph of a woman who led a group of bakchai 'to the mountain'; and a third (also from Hellenistic Miletos) requires any woman forming her own thiasos to pay a fee to the priestess who presided over the official thiasos.44 39 40 41 42

43 44

Since Dodds note esp. Henrichs (1978), (1982), (1984), (1994); J.M.Bremmer 'Greek Maenadism Reconsidered', ZPE 55 (1984) 267-86; Versnel 133-50. 'maenad' is largely confined to mythical maenads: Henrichs (1994) 52, 55. esp. 1/.6.132-3,389, 22.460; h.hom.Dem.386; Hclt.frr.14 and 15 D-K; frequently in tragedy: Seaford (1994a) ch.9. See e.g. 101-3n., 112n., 221-5n., 696-7n., 755n. PlutMor.249e, 953d; Pausan.10.4.3, 32.7. /Magn.215; ZPE 4 (1969) 223-41; LSAM n.48. On these and other inscriptions about



Although it is clear from all this that maenadism was actually practised (i.e. not merely imagined by poets and artists), it is difficult to know precisely what this practice included. Although Bacchae describes mythical rather than actual maenads, various details of the description may correspond to actual practice. 45 But we do not know whether this actual practice included exotic activity such as the eating of raw flesh (wµocj> that is briefly mentioned at Ba.13846 and attributed to maenads by Christian writers. 47 The male imagination may easily have endowed with savagery rituals from which males were excluded and which were celebrated in wild spaces. Again, myth often merely expresses in an extreme form (too extreme to be actually enacted in the ritual) the symbolic significance of ritual, so that even if maenads did not tear apart animals (as at Ba.735-47) and eat them raw, such mythical savagery might be a valid means of interpreting the lesser wildness of actual maenadism.48 If so, the exoticism of the myth emerges from the ritual itself, which it may in turn influence. The maenads described by Diodorus, we remember, imitated the maenads of myth. And so when in the last-mentioned inscription we meet the phrase wµ*ylOv e:µljoµEVT1V Plut.So/.1 AiO\JBarnes: 6iou i:t LP: oopou Plut. npW1:f\VChr.Pat.1595 ms.A, Cobet.: [email protected]:ov LP and Chr.Pat. ms.C: [email protected]:0 Blomfield 112-3 TtAOKaµou;; J-1.0'.AAWV Musgrave 115 ru-c' &v Elmsley: frr' L: ocn:u;;(andayEl) Tr. 126 /30'.KXE~ 6' aµa A.Y.Campbell: avo: 6e:f}O'.KXEio: LP KCXAAiKi:unov Strabo 10.3.13 Euacrµacrl Canter: e:vo:crµacrl LP: 129 Evacrµa Strabo o,:av] oc; &v Gompf 135 K00tvov Wilamowitz: -oc; LP and 1 test. 144-5 avexwv Wilamowitz: 6' €XWVLP 145 151 after e:rtif}pEµEl L adds Ertl XiyEl' T\XEl (Tr.: T\X• • L) aµa 6' EOOcrµacrl1:01.00'rn~p€µEl Murray 154 xXt&;iMusurus: xXtM Victorius: xXi.ooLP 182 deleted by Dobree 188 if,EW Wilamowitz 6lcrtlV Bruhn CXACXA.a~nm P: CXACXAuKwc; ical y€:vouc; €( i:ippe:voc;;



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frankincense, rushes with the fennel rod, with running and dances arousing the wanderers and agitating them with cries (of joy) and tossing his delicate locks into the air of heaven.150.Along with the joyful cries he roars these things: 'O onward bacchants, 0 onward bacchants, pride of gold-flowing Tmolos, celebrate in song Dionysos 155 to the deep-booming drums, exalting with joyful cries the god of joyful cries among the Phrygian shouts and calls, when the well-sounding sacred pipe160 booms its sacred playings that accompany movement to the mountain, to the mountain.' Joyfully then , like a foal with its grazing mother, l65 the bacchant moves her swift-footed limbs in her leapings. TEIRESIAS (enteringfrom the side)

Who is at the gate? Call out Kadmos from the house, 170 Agenor's son, who left the city of Sidon and fortified this town of Thebes. Let someone go and announce that Teiresias seeks him. He himself knows what I have come about, and the agreement I made with him, an old man with an older one,175 to make thyrsoi and wear the skins of fawns, and to crown our heads with ivy shoots. KADMOS (emergingfrom the house) 0 dearest friend - for I recognised your voice when I heard it, a wise voice of a wise man, as I was in the house. I have come, ready, wearing these trappings of the god.180For as he is the child of my daughter, [Dionysos, who has appeared to humankind as a god], we must make him great as much as we can. Where must we go to dance, where to set our feet and shake our grey heads? You expound


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mountain-glades to be better in the hunt than Artemis.340 May you not suffer this! Come here, let me crown your head with ivy (probably moving towards P.). Join us and give honour to the god. Will you not put your hand on me, but go off and be a bacchant, and not wipe your stupidity off onto me? This teacher of your folly345 I will punish. Let someone go with great speed, and when he comes to this man's seat, where he observes birds, prise it with bars, turn it upside down, mixing everything together in a confused mass, and throw his fillets to the winds and storms:350 by doing this I shall hurt him most. Others of you go through the polis and track down the stranger of female appearance, who is introducing a new disease for our women and violating their beds. And if you catch him, bring him here bound,355 so that he may get his just desert of death by stoning, and see a bitter bacchic revel in Thebes. Oh obstinate man, how unaware you are of your words; you are now quite mad, after earlier losing your head. Let us proceed, Kadmos, and let us entreat the god,360 on behalf of this man, wild though he is, and on behalf of the city, to do nothing abnormal. But come with me with your ivy staff, and try to keep my body upright, and I will do the same for yours. It is shameful for two old men to fall; but we must go nevertheless.365 For we must be slaves to Bakchos the son of Zeus. May Pentheus not bring grief (penthos) to your house, Kadmos. It is not by prophecy that I say this, but by the facts. For being a fool he speaks foolish things.

(Kadmos and Teiresias go off to the side, to Mt. Kithairon. The chorus sing and dance.) CHO

Purity, queen among gods,370 Purity who are carried over the earth with golden wing, do you hear these words of Pentheus? Do you hear his impure insolence against Bromios, the375 son of Semele, the god who is first of the blessed ones in fair-crowned festivities? The god

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Desire, and there it is lawful for bacchants415to celebrate mysteries. The god, the son of Zeus, rejoices in festivities, and loves Peace giver of prosperity, goddess who rears the young.420Equally to the prosperous and to the lesser man he has given the delight, that removes grief, of wine. And he hates the man to whom the following things are of no concern, to live out by day and dear nights425a life of happiness, t and to keep a wise heart and mind away from excessive men.t Whatever the mass, the ordinary people, have taken as normal, and practice it,430 this I would accept. (A group of Pentheus' men arrive with Dionysos, whose hands are bound though he displays no sign of resistance.)

SERVANT Pentheus, here we are, having hunted dpwn this prey, against whom you sent us, and our setting off was not in vain.435This beast, we found, was gentle, and did not pull back his foot in flight, but gave us not unwillingly his hands, (he was) not pale, nor did he change (the colour of) his wine-coloured cheeks, but laughing he told us both to bind him and to lead him off, and he waited, making my task easy.440And I, in shame, said 'O stranger, not willingly do I lead you, but by the orders of Pentheus who sent me.' But as for the bacchants whom you imprisoned, whom you took off and bound in the chains of the public prison, they are gone, released, are bounding to the mountain-glades 445 calling on Bromios as a god. All by themselves the chains were released from their feet, and the bolts undid the doors without mortal hand. This man has come full of many wonders here to Thebes. But the rest is your concern.450 PE Release his hands. For being in my net he is not so swift as to escape from me. Well, you are not ugly in body, stranger, as far as women



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O greatest light for us of the joyful-crying bacchanal, how gladly I looked on you in my lonely desolation. Did you come into faintheartedness, when I was being sent in,610 thinking that I would fall into the dark enclosures of Pentheus. How could I not? For who would be my protector, if you met disaster? But how were you freed, having fallen in with an impure man? I myself saved myself, easily, without suffering. But did he not tie up your hands in binding knots?6 15 This was just how I humiliated him, in that in thinking that he was binding me he neither touched me nor got hold of me, but fed on hopes. And finding a bull at the manger, where he led me and imprisoned me, around its knees and hoofed feet he cast knots, panting out his wrath, dripping sweat from his body,620 biting his lips. But I calmly sat close by and watched. During this time Bakchos came and shook up the house and on the tomb of his mother ignited fire. And he (Pentheus) when he saw it, thinking that the house was on fire, rushed this way and then that way, telling the servants to bring Achelous (water);625 and every slave was hard at work, toiling in vain. And having abandoned this toil, on the assumption that I had fled, he rushes, having seized a dark sword, inside the house. And then Bromios, as it seems to me at least - I say my opinion only - made a light in the courtyard. And he (Pentheus) charging against it 630 rushed and stabbed at the shining as if slaughtering me. In addition to these things Bakchos creates these further indignities for him: he broke the house to the ground, and the whole thing has been smashed up, my bonds most bitter for him to see. Through exhaustion he dropped the sword and has collapsed. For against a god he dared, though a man,635to join battle. And I calmly left the house and have come to you, with no concern for Pentheus. As it seems to me (for certainly a shoe sounds within the house) he will come to the front of the house instantly. Whatever, after these things, will he say? With ease will I endure him, even if he comes breathing arrogance.640 For what a wise man does is to exercise selfcontrolled gentleness of temper. (emerging from the house excitedly) I have suffered terrible things: the stranger has escaped me, he who just now was constrained by bonds. Ah! Ah! there is the man. What is this? How can you appear at the front645of my house, having come out?

102 fl l. TIE.

ln. II E. ln. II E.

-6.t. TIE.


0T]Tlµ01, O"KEUT]V "fUVatKOS"µmva6os- f3aKXT]S"EXWV, µT]Tp6s- TE TT)S"O"T)S" Ka\ AOXOUKaTaOKOTTOS"' npETTElS"6E Ka6µou 0uyaTEpwv µopT]Vµ1EAClTatS"6' Eµov Kput)Jw 6Eµas. Kp1.14J1J 0\1 Kput)Jtv l]V OE Kpu8fjvat XPEWV, EA8ovTa 6oAtOV µatva6wv KaTCXOKOTIOV. Kai. µT]V 6oKW oiis EV Aoxµms opvt8as WS AEKTpwv EXE08at tATCXTOtS EV EpKEOtv. OUKOUVETI' aUTO TOUT' O:TIOOTEAAlJ q>UAae; "~4J1J 6' 'tows oiis, fiv au µT] ATJEpoµEVOST]eElS . aj3pOTTJT' EµT]VAEYElS. EV XEPOl. µT]TPOS--


IIE. Al.

II E. Al.




II E . At.

IIE. At. IIE. At. IIE. Al. IIE. At.


Tpuas YE TOtao6'.

&eiwv µl;:v aTTToµat. 6EtVOS 0\1 6EtVOS KO:TII.6EtV' EPXlJ na8Tj, WOT' oupav0 O"TljptU f3poTEtWT' EXElV aAunos- f3ios-. TO OVEUOUoa Aatµwv 6taµnae TOV a8EOV avoµov a6tKOV 'Exiovosyovov YTJYEVfj.








against the man dressed up as a woman,980 the frenzied spy on the maenads. His mother first from a smooth rock tor pinnaclet will see him as he watches, and will call to the maenads: 'who is this searcher of the mountain-running Kadmeians985 that has come, come to the mountain, to the mountain, o bacchants? Who then gave him birth? For he was not born from the blood of women, but from some lioness,990he, or he is descended from Libyan Gorgons. Let Justice go manifest, let her go carrying a sword, slaughtering right through the throat the ungodly, unlawful, unjust 995 earth-born offspring of Echion; he who with unjust opinion and criminal temper tconcerning bacchic mystic rites and of your mothert with maddened mind and frenzied spirit sets forth,1000 thinking to master by violence the unconquerable. tDeath is in regard to things of the gods an unhesitating teacher of moderation for opinions; and to behave as a mortal means a life free of grief. I do not begrudge (the clever their) cleverness; I rejoice in hunting1005these other things that are great and manifest - they lead life towards the fine things -t by day and into the night to be holy and reverent, and, casting out customs that are outside justice, to honour the gods.1010 Let Justice go manifest, let her go carrying a sword, slaughtering right through the throat the godless, lawless, unjustl015 earth-born offspring of Echion.

122 ~ 110/\UKpavos l6E1v

avri8t rnupos


6paKWV ~ 11uptq>AEYWV 6paa8at '{8',



Tipoawmp 8avaatµov


8T]p aypEUT~ f3aKX(lV

YEAWVTl TIEptf3aAE f3poxov {.m' ayEAaV TIEO◊V-

Tl TO:V µatva8WV.


w 6wµ'


0 11p(v TIOT' EUTUXElS av' 'EAAa6a


yEpovTopovoOo'a XP~ pOVElV, EK BaKxiou KaTElXET', ou6' ETTEt0EVlV. Aaf3o0oa 6' W/\EVatcr'aptOTEpav XEpa, TT/\EUpOlOlV avnf3aoa TOU 6ucr6aiµovos0:TTEOTTllpaeEv wµov, oux UTTOo0EVOUS', 0:/\/\' b 0EOS' EuµapEtav ETTE61'.6ou XEPOlV. 'Ivw 6E T0'.111. 0aTEp' EeElp'}'O(;ETO pT]yvOoa oapKas-, AUTOVOT] T' OXAOS'TE TT young offspring, as can be AG seen.1175 From where in the wild? CHO Kithairon... CHO Kithairon? AG ... slew him. AG Who was the one who struck? AG The privilege to be first was CHO mine. I am called blessed Agaue in the thiasoi. 1180 Who else? AG Kadmos' ... CHO Kadmos' what? AG offspring after me, after me handled this wild CHO animal; fortunate indeed was this chase. Partake then of the feast. CHO What, am I to partake, poor wretch? Young is the bullock, l185and he is just sprouting growth along under AG his delicate-haired crest. Yes, he looks like a beast that dwells in the country, by his hair. CHO AG Bacchus the hunter, clever, cleverly swung maenads against this beast.1191 For the lord is a hunter. CHO Do you praise? CHO I praise. AG And soon the Kadmeians ... AG

132 Xo. Ay. Xo. A y.

Xo. A y.



Ka\ na1s- YE ITEV0Eus-. µaTEp' ETTatVEpevwv. KA\JOlS' OUV Tl KO:TTOKptVal' Oaq>WS'; WS' EKAEAT]Oµa(y' a m:xpos-E'fooµEv, TTµwyµEVOVye TTpoo8EVTj 0€ yvwpiom. EKTaVEVvtv; TTWS" Eµa:s- nA8' ES"XEpas-; h ou Kmp4) TT

What part of my folly belonged to Pentheus? He turned out similar to you, not revering the god. And so he joined all together into a single destruction, you and this man, so as to


Kaµ', OO'TlS'aTEKVOS'apoEVWVna(6wv yeywr; Tiir; oiis- T06' Epvos-, w TllA.atVa, VT)6Uor; atO)(lOTa Ka\. KllKttATaT'av6pwv (Ka\. yap OUKET'WV oµwr; TWV tAT(lTWV Eµoty' apt8µtjou, TEKVOV), OUKE'TlyEvEfou To06E 8tyy&vwv XEpt, TOV µ T)Tpos-au6wv TTaTEpa npoonrueu, TEKVOV, AEywv· T{r; a6tKEl, TlS" o' anµa,Et, yEpov; Tir; . I mourn for you, father. KA t And I for you, child, and I weep for your sisters.t tFor terribly has lord Dionysosl3 75 brought this torment against your house.t

142 Ka.

A y. Ka.

Kai. yap ETTaoxEV6Etva npos- uµwv, ayEpaO'TOVEXWVovoµ, EV 011f3ats-. xa1pE na'TEp µot.


0uya'TEp· xaAETTWS' V;


o,rw~ K8'o~p108t;vm µovov,


r.i:x(j>,~ - yap mhov µiCw,


T0101V e:eE1pyaoµivo1~

,-, Ti8vT)KEv wv e:xpt;v ijK1o8' ifao, Ei~ l>wµa T' ~A8E Ka\ AOYOl>~e;µ,rmyµarnv. To1ai>rn Aao~ 6 ,rp\v rjya1rT)µivo~ EUEPYETT)V El>paoE, 8uµw8E\~ 86v4J· Ka\ rai>Ta µt:v 1rfaov8Ev ouTo~ ouK aKwv· l)' au ,ra8EtV l>Ei Aa6v, 01) KPU'l'W KaKa. At7rTJ 7r0AlOµa, ~ap~apo1~ ElKWV, oi>Ao~. µETOlKO~.''Eon yap TO 8foaTOV, T

1663 1665




ei~ miaav alav ~ap~apwv chrorptxeiv, aixµa'i~ ..>..'



COMMENTARY Hypothesis of the Bacchae


17 18

This 'Hypothesis' or 'plot-summary' is probably from an ancient collection of Euripidean plots: G. Zuntz, The Political Plays of Euripides (1955) 12952; Mastronarde on Phoen. [1-2). It is preserved in ms. P, and the first seven lines of it are also preserved in a papyrus (P.Oxy. 4017) of the 2nd cent. AD. Its main interest for us is in the (corrupt) last sentence, which sheds some light on the lost part of the final scene (1329-30n.). Already we find the unfortunate tendency of 20th. cent. criticism to call In the play it is in fact always a 'house' the house a 'palace' @[email protected] EK'toc;Burges (cf. Marcellin. vit. Thuc. l '[email protected] EV'toc;)would give the better, more specific sense 'outside the initiation rites' i.e. 'uninitiated'.

Hypothesis of Aristophanes of Byzantium

This is what remains of the synopsis prefaced to the play by the great scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BC). On these synopses see D. Page, Euripides Medea liii-lv. The Characters of the Play

Such lists apparently go back to the earliest collected editions (3rd cent. BC): see Collard Euripides Supplices 2.103-4.


1-63: Prologue:Dionysos. As generally in Eur., an opening monologue sets the scene. Sometimes it is spoken by a deity (e.g. Ale., Ion). In Hipp. the deity (Aphrodite) announces her intention to deal with human disrespect, as does D. here. In some plays (e.g. IT, El.) it is spoken by one of the main mortal participants in the action. Only here is the main participant also a deity - in disguise


COMMENTARY therefore, he emphasises (4, 53), as a mortal: this presence is apt for a god who, more than most others, is imagined as present among his worshippers (115n.). As a mortal, he is like those promoters of new cult in aetiological myth ( e.g. Pegasos, who brought the cult of Dionysos Eleuthereus to Athens: Intro.SO), as well as the generally disreputable purveyors of mysteries in Athens in the classical period (Pl.Rep.364b-5a; Versnel 10219). The result is a prologue relatively free of detail irrelevant to the drama. (a) Identification of self and of place ( 1-5) leads naturally (through D.'s mother Semele) to (b) a description of her tomb (6-12), which (if visible) requires explanation as part of the set and ( even if imagined as just off-stage) embodies the divine parentage that is nevertheless denied by Semele's sisters (26-31). (c) The narrative of D.'s establishment of his cult throughout Asia (13-22) both announces where he has come from (cf. Tro.1-3) and seems to place his impending victory in an irresistibly universal (and continuing, 48-9) process. Having already (d) sent his mother's sisters in a frenzy to the mountainside (23-42), D. will now (e) overcome the resistance of Pentheus (43-54). (f) Finally, he summons the chorus of his Lydian female followers (55-63). Prominent already in all this is the dual identity of D., as barbarian and yet Greek, stranger and yet native Theban, human (so disguised, and of a mol'tal mother) and yet god. His appearance is effeminate ( cf. Carpenter in Carpenter and Faraone 185-206), and he may even be wearing the effeminate saffron-coloured KpoKw't6c;robe (353n.). He is described as having 'wine-coloured' cheeks (438), and long hair and white skin (455-7). Despite his mortal disguise, he may be wearing a smiling mask (439n.), which is unusual for tragedy but characteristic of D. On Euripidean prologues (including this one) see Erbse. The play is set at the royal house, represented by the stage-building, Outsicle it somewhere whose interior is the actors' dressing-room (aK11V11), (whether visible or not to the audience - see above) is Semele's tomb, whose lengthy description expresses its symbolic significance (576-641n.). There are two important offstage areas, the town (where D. is captured by P.'s men, 352, 434-5, and whence presumably Teiresias arrives, 170) and Mt. Kithairon. But this does not mean that the two side-entrances (eisodoi) lead to town and mountain respectively, for both D. (62-3, 352, 434-5) and P. (855) go through the town on the way to the mountain. The acquisition of a distinct conventional significance by each eisodos was






apparently a later development: Hourmouziades 128-34, Taplin 449-51. In Ba. we do not know whether, and if so how, both eisodoi were used, or even whence D. appeared (from the house itself? see 32) to deliver the prologue. T: the repetitions in the prologue (cf. 4 with 53-4, 20 with 23, 22 with 42, 24-5 with 34) have made critics suspect interpolation. Dible (11-27) argues furthermore that 14-9 contain geographical terms impossible in Eur.'s time as well as linguistic oddities, and deletes also 21-2 (as depending on 13-9) and 23-5 (as duplicating 32ff.). His points of detail are rejected in the commentary below, as well as by Diggle 444-51. His main objection is that the myth of D.'s conquering journey in the east does not predate Alexander the Great. Certainly D.s triumphal return from India was modelled on Alexander, perhaps as early as Alexander's lifetime: see e.g. E. E. Rice, The Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus (Oxford, 1983) 83-6. But it was not modelled out of nothing: already by Eur.'s time D. was a traveller (e.g. Cyc. 4), was associated with war (302-5) and with Thrace, Phrygia, Lydia, Arabia (Hdt.3.8), Phoenicia (h. hom.1.9), Egypt (Hdt.2.49), and Ethiopia (Hdt.2.146). All this, together perhaps with Greek awareness of the widespread occurrence of ecstatic cult, may have early given rise to the idea of a journey establishing his cult in various places. Note also that there is in 14-9 mention neither of India nor of conquest. The more modest deletion of 13-6 is proposed by Zuntz, Hennes 113 (1985) 119-21. I am come, "HKw,carries more significance here than as the first word of Tro. (Poseidon) or Hek. (the ghost of Polydorus). This is because, although D. has (as we shall soon discover) already been at work in Thebes, his entry to deliver a monologue in front of the royal house represents the theme of the play - the arrival of D. in the city to which he already (2-9) in a sense belongs, an arrival which destroys the royal house. This is the first of many respects in which, in-this Dionysiac play, theatrical convention coheres with theme. Another is his disguise (4, 53-4). T: for 0llf3aiav see Diggle 442-4. gave birth to: the Greek verb is in the ('registering') present tense, not surprisingly given the importance of the present fact (D. is the son of Semele ), as when Oedipus uses the present tense to ask 'who fathered me?' (Soph. OT 437). Compare the Greek presents in 11, 42, 44. Ovid (Met.3.259-315) tells of how Semele, pregnant with D., is persuaded by the disguised Hera to ask Zeus to come to her in the form that he



comes to Hera. Zeus is thereby tricked (having sworn to fulfil her request) into assuming the form of thunder and lightning, with the result that Semele is destroyed and the baby D. is taken from her womb and sewn into his father's thigh. a. 88-lOOn., 64-166n., 242-5, 286-97n., 521-9, 576641n. 6-12 D.'s Theban cult is associated with Semele's at 998, Pho.1755, Theocr./d.26.6; cf. 998n. In the 2nd. cent. AD Pausanias (9.12.3) was shown, as part of the ancient house of Kadmos on the Theban acropolis, the ruined 'bridal chamber' (thalamos) of Semele. In Ba. too the precinct contains the 'ruins of the house', and both texts call the place cil}ai:0pom',Vfl (641n.), of mystic significance (6212n.). And cf. Pl. Tim.92a 8Eou f}acrE'iex (Dodds), (b) 00tpo~crun:oc;;, 'unhesitating', as going perfectly well with 8avcxi:oc;;, (c) reading E~V. j)p01:ciwc;;,: ' . Treatments since Dodds are by Willink 235- 7 and Rijksbaron 195-9. At 1005-7 it seems that ,:ocro~v is, as at 395-9, being rejected in favour of recognising one's mortal status. T: my translation is based on reading (with Dodds) ... ov ~8ov@· xcxipw 1:00' ... cj>cxvcpai:' ovi:cx· El