Thoughts on “The Bacchae”

By creating this play, Euripides warned that we must follow Dionysus. The god’s power is simply too great. But, where does that power come from? It was given to him by us. The early humans seeked answers about their world and themselves, as we still do today. They found that the explanation for almost everything was to be attributed to a god, or a necessary being. Not only did the gods represent aspects of existence, they had the power to control them. All of the Greeks must’ve been extremely paranoid due to this apparent truth. However, gods of Greece were surprisingly benevolent having been given renown and respect. They had the power to destroy anything and everything, but they didn’t. Instead, they provided for the mortals. In return, we performed rituals dedicated to them. This system is pretty simple, and easy to understand. I suppose that is why it was largely accepted. Dionysus was essentially the god of harvest and fertility. Two things absolutely necessary to human life. So the specific practice intended to honor him was called a “bacchanal” otherwise known as, “an occasion of wild and drunken revelry.” Certainly, this behavior has its appeal since we all have a disposition for decadence. In order to function as a society, we suppress these feelings of savagery and visceral lust. But, when a god commands, one must obey. To blaspheme was to dig one’s own grave in Ancient Greece (Exhibit A: Pentheus).

Dionysus has an agenda to fulfill in “The Bacchae.” He really just wants more renown and respect. Oddly enough, this is a very human thing to pursue.¬†Perhaps it is a matter of legitimatizing his power as it would seem that people have doubts about his birth. It would also appear that he wants to “help” people. Regardless, Dionysus is determined to have his influence spread over Thebes by any means necessary.

Undoubtedly, the god embraces the archetype of a “trickster” by being extremely cunning and deceptive. Yet, one can argue that he is not necessarily evil. He manifests himself as a mortal, but not just any mortal, a beautiful and eloquent follower of himself. Euripides probably chose to do this in order to shine a positive light on the followers of Dionysus. This incarnation allows himself to be captured by Pentheus so Dionysus can manipulate the king easily. Basically, he¬†plays with the man’s mind and fate. A humorous example of this is when Pentheus ties up the animal’s feet instead of Dionysus’s. The bigger idea behind this scene is to illustrate how silly and futile it is to try to enact your will on a god.

If you haven’t finished the book, I wish not to spoil it for you. That being said, I’d like to make the rest of this post more focused on connecting this play to one of our course concepts: New Criticism. I believe it’s imperative to look at Euripides’s work through your specific lens. In fact, I don’t think anyone can truly avoid doing this. And why would you try? Only through bias can we admire certain characters and despise others. And only through our experiences, upbringing, and personality can we decide if we would willingly follow Dionysus or not (this is arguably the most important question this play poses). This subjective outlook creates conversation, which produces conflict, that ultimately leads in growth and a deeper understanding of this piece of literature, and possibly even yourself.

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