The Bacchae

Lines 1035-1394

[Enter hastily a MESSENGER from the Mountain, pale and distraught.]


Woe to the house once blest in Hellas! Woe

To thee, old King Sidonian, who didst sow

The dragon-seed on Ares' bloody lea!

Alas, even thy slaves must weep for thee!


News from the mountain? - Speak! How hath it sped?


Pentheus, my king, Echion's son, is dead!


All hail, God of the Voice,

Manifest ever more!


What say'st thou? - And how strange thy tone, as though

In joy at this my master's overthrow!


With fierce joy I rejoice,

Child of a savage shore;

For the chains of my prison are broken, and the dread where I cowered of



And deem'st thou Thebes so beggared, so forlorn

Of manhood, as to sit beneath thy scorn?


Thebes hath o'er me no sway!

None save Him I obey,

Dionysus, Child of the Highest, Him I obey and adore!


One can forgive thee! - Yet 'tis no fair thing,

Maids, to rejoice in a man's suffering.


Speak of the mountain side!

Tell us the doom he died,

The sinner smitten to death, even where his sin was sore!


We climbed beyond the utmost habitings

Of Theban shepherds, passed Asopus' springs,

And struck into the land of rock on dim

Kithaeron - Pentheus, and, attending him,

I, and the Stranger who should guide our way,

Then first in a green dell we stopped, and lay,

Lips dumb and feet unmoving, warily

Watching, to be unseen and yet to see.

A narrow glen it was, by crags o'ertowered,

Torn through by tossing waters, and there lowered

A shadow of great pines over it. And there

The Maenad maidens sate; in toil they were,

Busily glad. Some with an ivy chain

Tricked a worn wand to toss its locks again;

Some, wild in joyance, like young steeds set free,

Made answering songs of mystic melody.

But my poor master saw not the great band

Before him. "Stranger," he cried, "where we stand

Mine eyes can reach not these false saints of thine.

Mount we the bank, or some high-shouldered pine,

And I shall see their follies clear!" At that

There came a marvel. For the Stranger straight

Touched a great pine-tree's high and heavenward crown,

And lower, lower, lower, urged it down

To the herbless floor. Round like a bending bow,

Or slow wheel's rim a joiner forces to.

So in those hands that tough and mountain stem

Bowed slow - oh, strength not mortal dwelt in them! -

To the very earth. And there he set the King,

And slowly, lest it cast him in its spring.

Let back the young and straining tree, till high

It towered again amid the towering sky;

And Pentheus in the branches! Well, I ween,

He saw the Maenads then, and well was seen!

For scarce was he aloft, when suddenly

There was no stranger any more with me,

But out of Heaven a Voice - oh, what voice else? -

'Twas He that called! "Behold, O damosels,

I bring ye him who turneth to despite

Both me and ye, and darkeneth my great Light.

Tis yours to avenge!" So spake he, and there came

'Twixt earth and sky a pillar of high flame.

And silence took the air, and no leaf stirred

In all the forest dell. Thou hadst not heard

In that vast silence any wild things's cry.

And up they sprang; but with bewildered eye,

Agaze and listening, scarce yet hearing true.

Then came the Voice again. And when they knew

Their God's clear call, old Cadmus' royal brood,

Up, like wild pigeons startled in a wood,

On flying feet they came, his mother blind,

Agave, and her sisters, and behind

All the wild crowd, more deeply maddened then,

Through the angry rocks and torrent-tossing glen,

Until they spied him in the dark pine-tree:

Then climbed a crag hard by and furiously

Some sought to stone him, some their wands would fling

Lance-wise aloft, in cruel targeting.

But none could strike. The height o'ertopped their rage,

And there he clung, unscathed, as in a cage

Caught. And of all their strife no end was found.

Then, "Hither," cried Agave; "stand we round

And grip the stem, my Wild Ones, till we take

This climbing cat-o'-the-mount! He shall not make

A tale of God's high dances!" Out then shone

Arm upon arm, past count, and closed upon

The pine, and gripped; and the ground gave, and down

It reeled. And that high sitter from the crown

Of the green pine-top, with a shrieking cry

Fell, as his mind grew clear, and there hard by

Was horror visible. 'Twas his mother stood

O'er him, first priestess of those rites of blood.

He tore the coif, and from his head away

Flung it, that she might know him, and not slay

To her own misery. He touched the wild

Cheek, crying: "Mother, it is I, thy child,

Thy Pentheus, born thee in Echion's hall!

Have mercy, Mother! Let it not befall

Through sin of mine, that thou shouldst slay thy son!"

But she, with lips a-foam and eyes that run

Like leaping fire, with thoughts that ne'er should be

On earth, possessed by Bacchios utterly,

Stays not nor hears. Round his left arm she put

Both hands, set hard against his side her foot,

Drew ... and the shoulder severed! - not by might

Of arm, but easily, as the God made light

Her hand's essay. And at the other side

Was Ino rending; and the torn flesh cried,

And on Autonoe pressed, and all the crowd

Of ravening arms. 'Yea, all the air was loud

With groans that faded into sobbing breath,

Dim shrieks, and joy, and triumph-cries of death.

And here was borne a severed arm, and there

A hunter's booted foot; white bones lay bare

With rending; and swift hands ensanguined

Tossed as in sport the flesh of Pentheus dead.

His body lies afar. The precipice

Hath part, and parts in many an interstice

Lurk of the tangled woodland - no light quest

To find. And, ah, the head! Of all the rest,

His mother hath it, pierced upon a wand,

As one might pierce a lion's, and through the land,

Leaving her sisters in their dancing place,

Bears it on high! Yea, to these walls her face

Was set, exulting in her deed of blood,

Calling upon her Bromios, her God,

Her Comrade, Fellow-Render of the Prey,

Her All-Victorious, to whom this day

She bears in triumph ... her own broken heart.

For me, after that sight, I will depart

Before Agave comes. - Oh, to fulfil

God's laws, and have no thought beyond His will,

Is man's best treasure. Aye, and wisdom true,

Methinks, for things of dust to cleave unto!

[The MESSENGER departs into the Castle.]


Some Maidens

Weave ye the dance, and call

Praise to God!

Bless ye the Tyrant's fall!

Down is trod

Pentheus, the Dragon's Seed!

Wore he the woman's weed?

Clasped he his death indeed,

Clasped the rod?

A Bacchanal

Yea, the wild ivy lapt him, and the doomed

Wild Bull of Sacrifice before him loomed!


Ye who did Bromios scorn,

Praise Him the more,

Bacchanals, Cadmus-born;

Praise with sore

Agony, yea, with tears!

Great are the gifts he bears!

Hands that a mother rears

Red with gore!


But stay, Agave cometh! And her eyes

Make fire around her, reeling! Ho, the prize

Cometh! All hail, O Rout of Dionyse!

[Enter from the Mountain AGAVE, mad, and to all seeming wondrously

happy, bearing the head of PENTHEUS in her hand. The CHORUS MAIDENS

stand horror-struck at the sight; the LEADER, also horror-struck,

strives to accept it and rejoice in it as the God's deed.]


Ye from the lands of Morn!


Call me not; I give praise!


Lo, from the trunk new-shorn

Hither a Mountain Thorn

Bear we! O Asia-born

Bacchanals, bless this chase!


I see. Yea; I see.

Have I not welcomed thee?

AGAVE (very calmly and peacefully)

He was young in the wildwood

Without nets I caught him!

Nay; look without fear on

The Lion; I have ta'en him!


Where in the wildwood?

Whence have ye brought him?


Kithaeron. . . .




The Mountain hath slain him!


Who first came nigh him?


I, I, 'tis confessed!

And they named me there by him

Agave the Blessed!


Who was next in the band on him?


The daughters....


The daughters?


Of Cadmus laid hand on him.

But the swift hand that slaughters

Is mine; mine is the praise!

Bless ye this day of days!

[The LEADER tries to speak, but is not able;

AGAVE begins gently stroking the head.]


Gather ye now to the feast!


Feast! - O miserable!


See, it falls to his breast,

Curling and gently tressed,

The hair of the Wild Bull's crest -

The young steer of the fell!


Most like a beast of the wild

That head, those locks defiled.

AGAVE (lifting up the head, more excitedly)

He wakened his Mad Ones,

A Chase-God, a wise God!

He sprang them to seize this!

He preys where his band preys.

LEADER (brooding, with horror)

In the trail of thy Mad Ones

Thou tearest thy prize, God!


Dost praise it?


I praise this?


Ah, soon shall the land praise!


And Pentheus, O Mother,

Thy child?


He shall cry on

My name as none other,

Bless the spoils of the Lion!


Aye, strange is thy treasure!


And strange was the taking!


Thou art glad?


Beyond measure;

Yea, glad in the breaking

Of dawn upon all this land,

By the prize, the prize of my hand!


Show them to all the land, unhappy one,

The trophy of this deed that thou hast done!


Ho, all ye men that round the citadel

And shining towers of ancient Thebe dwell,

Come! Look upon this prize, this lion's spoil,

That we have taken - yea, with our own toil,

We, Cadmus' daughters! Not with leathern-set

Thessalian javelins, not with hunter's net,

Only white arms and swift hands' bladed fall

Why make ye much ado, and boast withal

Your armourers' engines? See, these palms were bare

That caught the angry beast, and held, and tare

The limbs of him! ... Father! ... Go, bring to me

My father! ... Aye, and Pentheus, where is he,

My son? He shall set up a ladder-stair

Against this house, and in the triglyphs there

Nail me this lion's head, that gloriously

I bring ye, having slain him - I, even I!

[She goes through the crowd towards the Castle, showing the head and

looking for a place to hang it. Enter from the Mountain CADMUS, with

attendants, bearing the body of PENTHEUS on a bier.]


On, with your awful burden. Follow me,

Thralls, to his house, whose body grievously

With many a weary search at last in dim

Kithaeron's glens I found, torn limb from limb,

And through the intervening forest weed

Scattered. - Men told me of my daughters' deed,

When I was just returned within these walls,

With grey Teiresias, from the Bacchanals.

And back I hied me to the hills again

To seek my murdered son. There saw I plain

Actaeon's mother, ranging where he died,

Autonoe; and Ino by her side,

Wandering ghastly in the pine-copses.

Agave was not there. The rumour is

She cometh fleet-foot hither. - Ah! 'Tis true;

A sight I scarce can bend mine eyes unto.

AGAVE (turning from the Palace and seeing him)

My father, a great boast is thine this hour.

Thou hast begotten daughters, high in power

And valiant above all mankind - yea, all

Valiant, though none like me! I have let fall

The shuttle by the loom, and raised my hand

For higher things, to slay from out thy land

Wild beasts! See, in mine arms I bear the prize,

That nailed above these portals it may rise

To show what things thy daughters did! Do thou

Take it, and call a feast. Proud art thou now

And highly favoured in our valiancy!


O depth of grief, how can I fathom thee

Or look upon thee! - Poor, poor bloodstained hand!

Poor sisters! - A fair sacrifice to stand

Before God's altars, daughter; yea, and call

Me and my citizens to feast withal!

Nay, let me weep - for thine affliction most,

Then for mine own. All, all of us are lost,

Not wrongfully, yet is it hard, from one

Who might have loved - our Bromios, our own!


How crabbed and how scowling in the eyes

Is man's old age! - Would that my son likewise

Were happy of his hunting, in my way

When with his warrior bands he will essay

The wild beast! - Nay, his valiance is to fight

With God's will! Father, thou shouldst set him right.

Will no one bring him thither, that mine eyes

May look on his, and show him this my prize!


Alas, if ever ye can know again

The truth of what ye did, what pain of pain

That truth shall bring! Or were it best to wait

Darkened for evermore, and deem your state

Not misery, though ye know no happiness?


What seest thou here to chide, or not to bless?

CADMUS (after hesitation, resolving himself)

Raise me thine eyes to yon blue dome of air!


'Tis done. What dost thou bid me seek for there?


Is it the same, or changed in thy sight?


More shining than before, more heavenly bright!


And that wild tremour, is it with thee still?

AGAVE (troubled)

I know not what thou sayest; but my will

Clears, and some change cometh, I know not how.


Canst hearken then, being changed, and answer, now!


I have forgotten something; else I could.


What husband led thee of old from mine abode?


Echion, whom men named the Child of Earth.


And what child in Echion's house had birth?


Pentheus, of my love and his father's bred.


Thou bearest in thine arms an head - what head?

AGAVE (beginning to tremble, and not looking at what she carries)

A lion's - so they all said in the chase.


Turn to it now - 'tis no long toil - and gaze.


Ah! But what is it? What am I carrying here?


Look once upon it full, till all be clear!


I see... most deadly pain! Oh, woe is me!


Wears it the likeness of a lion to thee?


No; 'tis the head - O God! - of Pentheus, this!


Blood-drenched ere thou wouldst know him! Aye, 'tis his.


Who slew him? - How came I to hold this thing?


O cruel Truth, is this thine home-coming?


Answer! My heart is hanging on thy breath!


'Twas thou. - Thou and thy sisters wrought his death.


In what place was it? His own house, or where?


Where the dogs tore Actaeon, even there.


Why went he to Kithaeron? What sought he?


To mock the God and thine own ecstasy.


But how should we be on the hills this day?


Being mad! A spirit drove all the land that way.


'Tis Dionyse hath done it! Now I see.

CADMUS (earnestly)

Ye wronged Him! Ye denied his deity!

AGAVE (turning from him)

Show me the body of the son I love!

CADMUS (leading her to the bier)

'Tis here, my child. Hard was the quest thereof.


Laid in due state?

[As there is no answer, she lifts the veil of the bier, and sees.]

Oh, if I wrought a sin,

'Twas mine! What portion had my child therein!


He made him like to you, adoring not

The God; who therefore to one bane hath brought

You and this body, wrecking all our line,

And me. Aye, no man-child was ever mine;

And now this first-fruit of the flesh of thee,

Sad woman, foully here and frightfully

Lies murdered! Whom the house looked up unto,

[Kneeling by the body.]

O Child, my daughter's child! who heldest true

My castle walls; and to the folk a name

Of fear thou wast; and no man sought to shame

My grey beard, when they knew that thou wast there,

Else had they swift reward! - And now I fare

Forth in dishonour, outcast, I, the great

Cadmus, who sowed the seed-rows of this state

Of Thebes, and reaped the harvest wonderful.

O my beloved, though thy heart is dull

In death, O still beloved, and alway

Beloved! Never more, then, shalt thou lay

Thine hand to this white beard, and speak to me

Thy "Mother's Father"; ask "Who wrongeth thee?

Who stints thine honour, or with malice stirs

Thine heart? Speak, and I smite thine injurers!"

But now - woe, woe, to me and thee also,

Woe to thy mother and her sisters, woe

Alway! Oh, whoso walketh not in dread

Of Gods, let him but look on this man dead!


Lo, I weep with thee. 'Twas but due reward

God sent on Pentheus; but for thee ... 'Tis hard.


My father, thou canst see the change in me,

* * * * *

* * * * *

[A page or more has here been torn out of the MS. from which all our

copies of "The Bacchae" are derived. It evidently contained a speech of

Agave (followed presumably by some words of the Chorus), and an appearance

of DIONYSUS upon a cloud. He must have pronounced judgment upon the

Thebans in general, and especially upon the daughters of CADMUS, have

justified his own action, and declared his determination to establish his

godhead. Where the MS begins again, we find him addressing CADMUS.]

* * * * *


* * * * *

* * * * *

And tell of Time, what gifts for thee he bears,

What griefs and wonders in the winding years.

For thou must change and be a Serpent Thing

Strange, and beside thee she whom thou didst bring

Of old to be thy bride from Heaven afar,

Harmonia, daughter of the Lord of War.

Yea, and a chariot of kine - so spake

The word of Zeus - thee and thy Queen shall take

Through many lands, Lord of a wild array

Of orient spears. And many towns shall they

Destroy beneath thee, that vast horde, until

They touch Apollo's dwelling, and fulfil

Their doom, back driven on stormy ways and steep.

Thee only and thy spouse shall Ares keep,

And save alive to the Islands of the Blest.

Thus speaketh Dionysus, Son confessed

Of no man but of Zeus! - Ah, had ye seen

Truth in the hour ye would not, all had been

Well with ye, and the Child of God your friend!


Dionysus, we beseech thee! We have sinned!


Too late! When there was time, ye knew me not!


We have confessed. Yet is thine hand too hot.


Ye mocked me, being God; this your wage.


Should God be like a proud man in his rage?


'Tis as my sire, Zeus, willed it long ago.

AGAVE (turning from him almost with disdain)

Old man, the word is spoken; we must go.


And seeing ye must, what is it that ye wait?


Child, we are come into a deadly strait,

All; thou, poor sufferer, and thy sisters twain,

And my sad self. Far off to barbarous men,

A grey-haired wanderer, I must take my road.

And then the oracle, the doom of God,

That I must lead a raging horde far-flown

To prey on Hellas; lead my spouse, mine own

Harmonia. Ares' child, discorporate

And haunting forms, dragon and dragon-mate,

Against the tombs and altar-stones of Greece,

Lance upon lance behind us; and not cease

From toils, like other men, nor dream, nor past

The foam of Acheron find my peace at last.


Father! And I must wander far from thee!


O Child, why wilt thou reach thine arms to me,

As yearns the milk-white swan, when old swans die?


Where shall I turn me else? No home have I.


I know not; I can help thee not.


Farewell, O home, O ancient tower!

Lo, I am outcast from my bower,

And leave ye for a worser lot.


Go forth, go forth to misery,

The way Actaeon's father went!


Father, for thee my tears are spent.


Nay, Child, 'tis I must weep for thee;

For thee and for thy sisters twain!


On all this house, in bitter wise,

Our Lord and Master, Dionyse,

Hath poured the utter dregs of pain!


In bitter wise, for bitter was the shame

Ye did me, when Thebes honoured not my name.


Then lead me where my sisters be;

Together let our tears be shed,

Our ways be wandered; where no red

Kithaeron waits to gaze on me;

Nor I gaze back; no thyrsus stem,

Nor song, nor memory in the air.

Oh, other Bacchanals be there,

Not I, not I, to dream of them!

[AGAVE with her group of attendants goes out on the side away from

the Mountain. DIONYSUS rises upon the Cloud and disappears.]


There may be many shapes of mystery,

And many things God makes to be,

Past hope or fear.

And the end men looked for cometh not,

And a path is there where no man thought.

So hath it fallen here.