The Bacchae

Ovid's Rebranding of The Bacchae College

When analyzing Greek mythology, it is evident the stories exist to legitimize, explain, or provoke interest in the societal structures in place. However, just as Vergil reworked Homer’s The Odyssey, as The Aeneid, to become a political propaganda for Augustus and the superiority of the Roman Empire, Ovid reduces the numerous myths that the Greek’s valued and structured their socio-cultural norms around to a form of entertainment. Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is a satirical rebranding of the famous Greek tragedy The Bacchae. Since Ovid employs vastly different tactics of dense imagery, tangential storylines, and humor, compared to his predecessors, his version of The Bacchae is much less focused on such cultural identity.

The Bacchae and Book III, both tell the story of Dionysus’ return to Thebes many years after the death of his mother, Semele, in order to refute the slander against her and authenticate his godliness. Ovid, in his characteristic style, starts off much further back, and elaborates on the founding of Thebes by Cadmus and the first tragedy of his royal family, Actaeon. The story of Actaeon transforming into a stag with “antlers foreign to his human shape” and being “gorged [by his hounds]” (p.77) at the...

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