The Bacchae

Definition

Theater

  • The last play by Euripides, written in exile in Macedonia and produced posthumously in Athens in 405 BC. This one-act tragedy isEuripides's most frequently revived play, mainly because of the psychologicalintensity with which it presents the conflict between Dionysus (Bacchus),god of ecstasy, wine, and fertility, and the puritanical King Pentheus.

    When Dionysus brings his cult to Thebes, Pentheus (penthosin Greek means 'sorrow') spurns the god and imprisons his abandonedfemale followers, declaring "in all matters, self-control residesin our own natures". The god then appears in human form to lurethe king to the rites where, disguised as a woman, Pentheus secretlywatches the orgiastic rituals. In a blood frenzy, the Bacchae mistakethe king for a lion cub and rip him apart with their hands, led byhis own mother who parades her son's head in triumph. This play isoften taken as a parable about the dangers of repression.

    According to one (dubious) legend, Euripides himself was tornapart by mad dogs shortly after writing the dismemberment scene. Theplay was never finished.

    In 55 BC when the Roman consul Crassus was slainby the Parthians they allegedly staged a special performance of TheBacchae using Crassus's severed head as a prop.

    Modern adaptations of the play include versions by Wole Soyinka (1972)and David Greig (2007).

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