Dionysos the Author and Vlepo the Reader

While reading Frenzy by Percival Everett, I found myself paying close attention to the relationship that Everett depicts between the central characters of Dionysos and Vlepo. Among the many additions that Everett made to the original story of The Bacchae, Vlepo was perhaps the largest—the reader now had an entire character written in first-person to empathize with and live vicariously through in order to experience the story more deeply than reading it in the original Greek verse-form. And perhaps it was from this acknowledgement that I ended up at the idea that perhaps Vlepo was meant to represent a reader-like form, a spectator. And if Vlepo was meant to represent the “Reader” so-to-speak, that would have to make Dionysos the “Author,” or the active to Vlepo’s passive, the all-knowing to Vlepo’s unknowing—wouldn’t it?

Regardless of whether or not this was Everett’s intent for the interpretation of these two characters, the symbolism of Vlepo the Reader and Dionysos the Author makes some sense. Throughout the entirety of the novel the characters of Vlepo and Dionysos are engaged in an exchange of question and answer. Whether it be in the presence of other characters, or in between scenes depicting the story of The Bacchae or other Greek myths, Dionysos and Vlepo are questioning each other and their reasons for existence. The first of these exchanges can be observed on page nine: 

“It makes very little difference where my fetus found completion, Vlepo,’” Dionysos said to me. “It matters only that I am.” He paused and regarded me. “I am here not simply because rumors spread by Kadmos through his daughters about my being a false god and no son of Zeus, but because—” He paused and held his forehead in his hand. “Can apathy produce an honest request?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I did not understand the question.

“I am a god, Vlepo, but I will die. That makes me different from other gods.”

Already the characters of Dionysos and Vlepo are untied from the plot that they were considered a part of. Where in The Bacchae Dionysos was the god whose purpose was to teach a lesson to the wrongful Pentheus, he is now a tool that Everett uses to question the meanings of life and existence. Dionysos is lost in a sort of blasé humor, uncaring about the world he populates, and though he searches for meaning, he ultimately accepts his fate, and is killed by Vlepo. And though Vlepo was not originally in The Bacchae, and thus no comparison can be drawn, he is as untied to the plot of the novel as he is tied to Dionysos—together they float from scene to scene, asking questions that seemingly have no true answer. 

It is with this in mind that I assign the roles of Author and Reader to Dionysos and Vlepo. Thought this is not all that they are or all they can be interpreted to be, I believe they fit into these roles—or archetypes—because of the way Everett writes them and how much agency he gives them to question and think deeply throughout the novel. With all the questioning about existence and life, Dionysos also utilizes Vlepo to look into the heads of other characters. He seemingly “throws” Vlepo to see what goes on inside the minds of mortals. The first of these is the mind of Semele, which occurs on page 14: “I saw into the head of Semele, gazing deep into a well of light: Love is devouring. It eats me hourly. Like poetry, death holds no sway over love. I hate myself because I can find no power to love more than I do… The dialogue continues, and usually these passages where Vlepo gazes into a mortal’s mind lasts for a single long paragraph, until he is pulled out again.

How do these excerpts serve the idea that Dionysos is representative of the Author and Vlepo the Reader? To begin, Dionysos is directing Vlepo. He is the one who throws Vlepo into the minds of different characters, each with their own viewpoints and each taking part in their own stories. Throughout the novel, Vlepo looks into the minds of Semele, Kadmos, Pentheus, Agave, Tiresias, Eurydice, Orpheus, Sibyl, Ariadne, Theseus, the Minotaur, and Lykurgos. Each time, Vlepo gets to witness the internal dialogues of the characters and what they are experiencing at that moment in their stories. Like a reader who reads what an author writes, Vlepo is witnessing the thoughts and emotions of mortals and, though these mortals were not fashioned by Dionysos, it was Dionysos who directed Vlepo to those characters’ thoughts.

It is an analogy that perhaps does not line up perfectly, but it is an analogy that I believe has some importance when interpreting Everett’s work of Frenzy. The novel is an incredibly introspective work, and it focuses more on character and how their emotions and thoughts make up who they are than plot and a chronological timeline, and therefore I believe that this type of interpretation is fitting for the ideas that Everett pursues. Before I conclude, I would like to point out one more observation: at the end of Frenzy, Vlepo has perhaps the most agency he’s ever had throughout the entire novel. While before he had been a mere tool of Dionysos, he now takes action, and slays the god where he sleeps. For some reason, I could not stop thinking about the idea of “the death of the author” here. The idea that, after a work is complete, the author’s original intention makes no difference; it is what the reader does with it that gives the piece true meaning. If my analogy stands, then Dionysos’s death by Vlepo’s hand is the literal death of the author. And, like the reader finally finishing the novel Frenzy, Vlepo is left alone—to do what he will with the knowledge he’s gained.

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