According to Oxford reference, irony is defined as the “expression of one’s intended meaning through language which, when taken literally, appears on the surface to express the opposite”. Percival Everett wrote that” Irony is not always funny”, this quote is made abundantly clear in The Bacchae by Euripides.
At first glance, Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, is made out to be a God that has turned himself into moral flesh and has come to Thebes to bestow his blessings from the heavens. Things become chaotic when Pentheus, the ruler of Thebes, publicly shames Dionysus and his followers, the Bacchants. Was Pentheus an unjust leader, or did he just want the best for his people?
At first glance the reader may think Pentheus is a jerk for his treatment of the Bacchants, but can we really blame him? Pentheus did not like the idea of a strange man entering his domain and claiming to be a God. Think about it, a random man wanders into town and people begin to blindly praise and follow him. Now, did these people truly believe this man was a God in mortal flesh, or did Dionysus have mind control over these people the whole time? One could argue that this is a blessing, a God walking amongst the people. If these citizens were under Dionysus’s control, then was it a blessing or was a God on a power trip looking for any reason to punish humans?
Dionysus’s father, Zeus, had him hid away from the rest of the other Gods. Dionysus never got appreciation from his Godly brethren, so he decides turns to the humans for praise. Because Dionysus didn’t get love from this mortal’s leader, Pentheus, he has his Bacchants murders him tearing him to pieces. The hand that dealt one of the killing blows was Pentheus mother, meaning she had a direct hand in her son’s murder. It’s ironic how a mother is the giver of life, and now she is a taker of life
Pentheus murder, in a way could be considered a blessing, which is ironic because a blessing in disguise is often ugly in the beginning, but in no way can one expect this, as the consequences are unimaginable. Pentheus’ mother, for the rest of her life will always remember that she herself, was one of the many to take her son’s life.
Another could say Dionysus is on a power trip because Cadmus, Pentheus’s grandfather, who was loyal to Dionysus the entire time, was punished by his association for his relationship with his grandson. Cadmus praised Dionysus and wanted his grandson to do the same, but instead is now punished for his son’s actions. For this, Cadmus is turned into a snake and his spouse, Harmonia will become a beast in the form of a serpent.
There can be such a thing as over analyzing (or is there?), and I almost decided to not put the next series of thoughts in this essay, but I thought this rabbit hole was interesting so it’s worth a shot. Could The Bacchae have been Euripides way to warn people to not falsify the Gods? Previously mentioned, some could argue a God walking amongst man is truly a blessing. Blessings tend to be viewed as beautiful, but Pentheus’s murder was beyond brutal. Euripides described “the ribs lay naked through the mangling, and all the women bloodied their hands, playing with Pentheus’ flesh. The body lies in pieces, some of it hidden under rocks, some in the deep-wooded foliage of the trees”. Pentheus’s murder was a way to show brutality of the Gods, but humans love violence so brutality and murder could be beautiful to some eyes. This could be used to warn the young children to live proper and respect the Gods or you’ll die like this guy. Or in other words, follow the Gods or perish.
I’m not sure how Euripides wanted people to read or interpret this text. This makes me realize if you are debating on certain topics there is no wrong answer. If you look at the surface, there may seem to be a clear answer but if you delve deeper there can be many morals and deeper meanings that can be found. This class makes me realize how far our thoughts can take us, as our thoughts let us dissect a text based on previous the knowledge we have acquired. The Bacchae could be infinitely more difficult to interpret if you had zero knowledge of Greek Mythology.
Writing starts with a jumble of thoughts. It is the goal of the writer to tear those thoughts apart and turn them into something legible enough for others to read. Ironic, the Bacchae is about a king getting torn to shreds for not worshipping a God.