The Bacchae

Uncertainty of the Dionysian Tradition: Euripides’ Bacchae College

Dionysos exists in a realm of contradictions and fluidity between binaries. Though a god, he appears in the bestial forms of a snake, bull, and lion, in addition to that of a human. Dionysos is a male god, yet has long, blonde, perfumed hair and red cheeks (273). He has the force and energy of a young man, yet the tenderness and charm of a female (416). He is Greek, but hails from barbarian Asia (18). An eternal youth, Dionysos lives between adulthood and childhood. While Dionysos exists comfortably between binaries, Pentheus’ movement from one opposite to another is disastrous. Throughout Euripides’ Bacchae, the antagonist, king Pentheus, undergoes a gentle transition from the binaries held in the beginning of the play to their opposites by the time of his death. This transition reaches completion in the fifth choral ode by the Lydian maenads (lines 1113-1159), which immediately precedes Pentheus’ murder by his own mother, Agaue. Each of Pentheus’ transitions prior to death - from adult to child, human to animal, hunter to hunted, and man to woman – affect the way viewers judge Pentheus’ murder at the hands of his mother, suspending viewers in their own sort of binary between outrage at and acceptance of this filicide....

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