Before the Palace of Pentheus at Thebes. Enter DIONYSUS.
DIONYSUS Lo! I am come to this land of Thebes, Dionysus' the son
of Zeus, of whom on a day Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, was delivered
by a flash of lightning. I have put off the god and taken human shape,
and so present myself at Dirce's springs and the waters of Ismenus.
Yonder I see my mother's monument where the bolt slew her nigh her
house, and there are the ruins of her home smouldering with the heavenly
flame that blazeth still-Hera's deathless outrage on my mother. To
Cadmus all praise I offer, because he keeps this spot hallowed, his
daughter's precinct, which my own hands have shaded round about with
the vine's clustering foliage.
Lydia's glebes, where gold abounds, and Phrygia have I left behind;
o'er Persia's sun-baked plains, by Bactria's walled towns and Media's
wintry clime have I advanced through Arabia, land of promise; and
Asia's length and breadth, outstretched along the brackish sea, with
many a fair walled town, peopled with mingled race of Hellenes and
barbarians; and this is the first city in Hellas I have reached. There
too have I ordained dances and established my rites, that I might
manifest my godhead to men; but Thebes is the first city in the land
of Hellas that I have made ring with shouts of joy, girt in a fawn-skin,
with a thyrsus, my ivy-bound spear, in my hand; since my mother's
sisters, who least of all should have done it, denied that Dionysus
was the son of Zeus, saying that Semele, when she became a mother
by some mortal lover, tried to foist her sin on Zeus-a clever ruse
of Cadmus, which, they boldly asserted, caused Zeus to slay her for
the falsehood about the marriage. Wherefore these are they whom I
have driven frenzied from their homes, and they are dwelling on the
hills with mind distraught; and I have forced them to assume the dress
worn in my orgies, and all the women-folk of Cadmus' stock have I
driven raving from their homes, one and all alike; and there they
sit upon the roofless rocks beneath the green pine-trees, mingling
amongst the sons of Thebes. For this city must learn, however loth,
seeing that it is not initiated in my Bacchic rites, and I must take
up my mother's defence, by showing to mortals that the child she bore
to Zeus is a deity. Now Cadmus gave his sceptre and its privileges
to Pentheus, his daughter's child, who wages war 'gainst my divinity,
thrusting me away from his drink-offerings, and making no mention
of me in his prayers. Therefore will I prove to him and all the race
of Cadmus that I am a god. And when I have set all in order here,
I will pass hence to a fresh country, manifesting myself; but if the
city of Thebes in fury takes up arms and seeks to drive my votaries
from the mountain, I will meet them at the head of my frantic rout.
This is why I have assumed a mortal form, and put off my godhead to
take man's nature.
O ye who left Tmolus, the bulwark of Lydia, ye women, my revel rout!
whom I brought from your foreign homes to be ever by my side and bear
me company, uplift the cymbals native to your Phrygian home, that
were by me and the great mother Rhea first devised, and march around
the royal halls of Pentheus smiting them, that the city of Cadmus
may see you; while I will seek Cithaeron's glens, there with my Bacchanals
to join the dance.
(Exit DIONYSUS., Enter CHORUS.)
CHORUS From Asia o'er the holy ridge of Tmolus hasten to a pleasant
task, a toil that brings no weariness, for Bromius' sake, in honour
of the Bacchic god. Who loiters in the road? who lingers 'neath the
roof? Avaunt! I say, and let every lip be hushed in solemn silence;
for I will raise a hymn to Dionysus, as custom aye ordains. O happy
he! who to his joy is initiated in heavenly mysteries and leads a
holy life, joining heart and soul in Bacchic revelry upon the hills,
purified from every sin; observing the rites of Cybele, the mighty
mother, and brandishing the thyrsus, with ivy-wreathed head, he worships
Dionysus. Go forth, go forth, ye Bacchanals, bring home the Bromian
god Dionysus, child of a god, from the mountains of Phrygia to the
spacious streets of Hellas, bring home the Bromian god! whom on a
day his mother in her sore travail brought forth untimely, yielding
up her life beneath the lightning stroke of Zeus' winged bolt; but
forthwith Zeus, the son of Cronos, found for him another womb wherein
to rest, for he hid him in his thigh and fastened it with golden pins
to conceal him from Hera. And when the Fates had fully formed the
horned god, he brought him forth and crowned him with a coronal of
snakes, whence it is the thyrsus-bearing Maenads hunt the snake to
twine about their hair. O Thebes, nurse of Semele! crown thyself with
ivy; burst forth, burst forth with blossoms fair of green convolvulus,
and with the boughs of oak and pine join in the Bacchic revelry; dor;-thy
coat of dappled fawn-skin, decking it with tufts of silvered hair;
with reverent hand the sportive wand now wield. Anon shall the whole
land be dancing, when Bromius leads his revellers to the hills, to
the hills away! where wait him groups of maidens from loom and shuttle
roused in frantic haste by Dionysus. O hidden cave of the Curetes!
O hallowed haunts in Crete, that saw Zeus born, where Corybantes with
crested helms devised for me in their grotto the rounded timbrel of
ox-hide, mingling Bacchic minstrelsy with the shrill sweet accents
of the Phrygian flute, a gift bestowed by them on mother Rhea, to
add its crash of music to the Bacchantes' shouts of joy; but frantic
satyrs won it from the mother-goddess for their own, and added it
to their dances in festivals, which gladden the heart of Dionysus,
each third recurrent year. Oh! happy that votary, when from the hurrying
revel-rout he sinks to earth, in his holy robe of fawnskin, chasing
the goat to drink its blood, a banquet sweet of flesh uncooked, as
he hastes to Phrygia's or to Libya's hills; while in the van the Bromian
god exults with cries of Evoe. With milk and wine and streams of luscious
honey flows the earth, and Syrian incense smokes. While the Bacchante
holding in his hand a blazing torch of pine uplifted on his wand waves
it, as he speeds along, rousing wandering votaries, and as he waves
it cries aloud with wanton tresses tossing in the breeze; and thus
to crown the revelry, he raises loud his voice, "On, on, ye Bacchanals,
pride of Tmolus with its rills of gold I to the sound of the booming
drum, chanting in joyous strains the praises of your joyous god with
Phrygian accents lifted high, what time the holy lute with sweet complaining
note invites you to your hallowed sport, according well with feet
that hurry wildly to the hills; like a colt that gambols at its mother's
side in the pasture, with gladsome heart each Bacchante bounds along."
TEIRESIAS What loiterer at the gates will call Cadmus from the house,
Agenor's son, who left the city of Sidon and founded here the town
of Thebes? Go one of you, announce to him that Teiresias is seeking
him; he knows himself the reason of my coming and the compact I and
he have made in our old age to bind the thyrsus with leaves and don
the fawnskin, crowning our heads the while with ivy-sprays.
CADMUS Best of friends! I was in the house when I heard thy voice,
wise as its owner. I come prepared, dressed in the livery of the god.
For 'tis but right I should magnify with all my might my own daughter's
son, Dionysus, who hath shown his godhead unto men. Where are we to
join the dance? where plant the foot and shake the hoary head? Do
thou, Teiresias, be my guide, age leading age, for thou art wise.
Never shall I weary, night or day, of beating the earth with my thyrsus.
What joy to forget our years?
TEIRESIAS Why, then thou art as I am. For I too am young again, and
will essay the dance.
CADMUS We will drive then in our chariot to the hill.
TEIRESIAS Nay, thus would the god not have an equal honour paid.
CADMUS Well, I will lead thee, age leading age.
TEIRESIAS The god will guide us both thither without toil.
CADMUS Shall we alone of all the city dance in Bacchus' honour?
TEIRESIAS Yea, for we alone are wise, the rest are mad.
CADMUS We stay too long; come, take my hand.
TEIRESIAS There link thy hand in my firm grip.
CADMUS Mortal that I am, I scorn not the gods.
TEIRESIAS No subtleties do I indulge about the powers of heaven.
The faith we inherited from our fathers, old as time itself, no reasoning
shall cast down; no! though it were the subtlest invention of wits
refined. Maybe some one will say, I have no respect for my grey hair
in going to dance with ivy round my head; not so, for the god did
not define whether old or young should dance, but from all alike he
claims a universal homage, and scorns nice calculations in his worship.
CADMUS Teiresias, since thou art blind, I must prompt thee what to
say. Pentheus is coming hither to the house in haste, Echion's son,
to whom I resign the government. How scared he looks I what strange
tidings will he tell?
PENTHEUS I had left my kingdom for awhile, when tidings of strange
mischief in this city reached me; I hear that our women-folk have
left their homes on pretence of Bacchic rites, and on the wooded hills
rush wildly to and fro, honouring in the dance this new god Dionysus,
whoe'er he is; and in the midst of each revel-rout the brimming wine-bowl
stands, and one by one they steal away to lonely spots to gratify
their lust, pretending forsooth that they are Maenads bent on sacrifice,
though it is Aphrodite they are placing before the Bacchic god. As
many as I caught, my gaolers are keeping safe in the public prison
fast bound; and all who are gone forth, will I chase from the hills,
Ino and Agave too who bore me to Echion, and Actaeon's mother Autonoe.
In fetters of iron will I bind them and soon put an end to these outrageous
Bacchic rites. They say there came a stranger hither, a trickster
and a sorcerer, from Lydia's land, with golden hair and perfumed locks,
the flush of wine upon his face, and in his eyes each grace that Aphrodite
gives; by day and night he lingers in our maidens' company on the
plea of teaching Bacchic mysteries. Once let me catch him within these
walls, and I will put an end to his thyrsus-beating and his waving
of his tresses, for I will cut his head from his body. This is the
fellow who says that Dionysus is a god, says that he was once stitched
up in the thigh of Zeus-that child who with his mother was blasted
by the lightning flash, because the woman falsely said her marriage
was with Zeus. Is not this enough to deserve the awful penalty of
hanging, this stranger's wanton insolence, whoe'er he be?
But lo! another marvel. I see Teiresias, our diviner, dressed in dappled
fawn-skins, and my mother's father too, wildly waving the Bacchic
wand; droll sight enough! Father, it grieves me to see you two old
men so void of sense. Oh! shake that ivy from thee! Let fall the thyrsus
from thy hand, my mother's sire! Was it thou, Teiresias, urged him
on to this? Art bent on introducing this fellow as another new deity
amongst men, that thou mayst then observe the fowls of the air and
make a gain from fiery divination? Were it not that thy grey hairs
protected thee, thou shouldst sit in chains amid the Bacchanals, for
introducing knavish mysteries; for where the gladsome grape is found
at women's feasts, I deny that their rites have any longer good results.
CHORUS What impiety! Hast thou no reverence, sir stranger, for the
gods or for Cadmus who sowed the crop of earth-born warriors? Son
of Echion as thou art, thou dost shame thy birth.
TEIRESIAS Whenso a man of wisdom finds a good topic for argument,
it is no difficult matter to speak well; but thou, though possessing
a glib tongue as if endowed with sense, art yet devoid thereof in
all thou sayest. A headstrong man, if he have influence and a capacity
for speaking, makes a bad citizen because he lacks sense. This new
deity, whom thou deridest, will rise to power I cannot say how great,
throughout Hellas. Two things there are, young prince, that hold first
rank among men, the goddess Demeter, that is, the earth, calf her
which name thou please; she it is that feedeth men with solid food;
and as her counterpart came this god, the son of Semele, who discovered
the juice of the grape and introduced it to mankind, stilling thereby
each grief that mortals suffer from, soon as e'er they are filled
with the juice of the vine; and sleep also he giveth, sleep that brings
forgetfulness of daily ills, the sovereign charm for all our woe.
God though he is, he serves all other gods for libations, so that
through him mankind is blest. He it is whom thou dost mock, because
he was sewn up in the thigh of Zeus. But I will show thee this fair
mystery. When Zeus had snatched him from the lightning's blaze, and
to Olympus borne the tender babe, Hera would have cast him forth from
heaven, but Zeus, as such a god well might, devised a counterplot.
He broke off a fragment of the ether which surrounds the world, and
made thereof a hostage against Hera's bitterness, while he gave out
Dionysus into other hands; hence, in time, men said that he was reared
in the thigh of Zeus, having changed the word and invented a legend,
because the god was once a hostage to the goddess Hera. This god too
hath prophetic power, for there is no small prophecy inspired by Bacchic
frenzy; for whenever the god in his full might enters the human frame,
he makes his frantic votaries foretell the future. Likewise he hath
some share in Ares' rights; for oft, or ever a weapon is touched,
a panic seizes an army when it is marshalled in array; and this too
is a frenzy sent by Dionysus. Yet shalt thou behold him e'en on Delphi's
rocks leaping o'er the cloven height, torch in hand, waving and brandishing
the branch by Bacchus loved, yea, and through the length and breadth
of Hellas. Hearken to me, Pentheus; never boast that might alone doth
sway the world, nor if thou think so, unsound as thy opinion is, credit
thyself with any wisdom; but receive the god into thy realm, pour
out libations, join the revel rout, and crown thy head. It is not
Dionysus that will force chastity on women in their love; but this
is what we should consider, whether chastity is part of their nature
for good and all; for if it is, no really modest maid will ever fall
'mid Bacchic mysteries. Mark this: thou thyself art glad when thousands
throng thy gates, and citizens extol the name of Pentheus; he too,
I trow, delights in being honoured. Wherefore I and Cadmus, whom thou
jeerest so, will wreath our brows with ivy and join the dance; pair
of grey beards though we be, still must we take part therein; never
will I for any words of thine fight against heaven. Most grievous
is thy madness, nor canst thou find a charm to cure thee, albeit charms
have caused thy malady.
CHORUS Old sir, thy words do not discredit Phoebus, and thou art
wise in honouring Bromius, potent deity.
CADMUS My son, Teiresias hath given thee sound advice; dwell with
us, but o'erstep not the threshold of custom; for now thou art soaring
aloft, and thy wisdom is no wisdom. E'en though he be no god, as thou
assertest, still say he is; be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring
him the son of Semele, that she may be thought the mother of a god,
and we and all our race gain honour. Dost thou mark the awful fate
of Actaeon? whom savage hounds of his own rearing rent in pieces in
the meadows, because he boasted himself a better hunter than Artemis.
Lest thy fate be the same, come let me crown thy head with ivy; join
us in rendering homage to the god.
PENTHEUS Touch me not away to thy Bacchic rites thyself! never try
to infect me with thy foolery! Vengeance will I have on the fellow
who teaches thee such senselessness. Away one of you without delay!
seek yonder seat where he observes his birds, wrench it from its base
with levers, turn it upside down, o'erthrowing it in utter confusion,
and toss his garlands to the tempest's blast. For by so doing shall
I wound him most deeply. Others of you range the city and hunt down
this girl-faced stranger, who is introducing a new complaint amongst
our women, and doing outrage to the marriage tie. And if haply ye
catch him, bring him hither to me in chains, to be stoned to death,
a bitter ending to his revelry in Thebes.
TEIRESIAS Unhappy wretch! thou little knowest what thou art saying.
Now art thou become a raving madman, even before unsound in mind.
Let us away, Cadmus, and pray earnestly for him, spite of his savage
temper, and likewise for the city, that the god inflict not a signal
vengeance. Come, follow me with thy ivy-wreathed staff; try to support
my tottering frame as I do thine, for it is unseemly that two old
men should fall; but let that-pass. For we must serve the Bacchic
god, the son of Zeus. Only, Cadmus, beware lest Pentheus' bring sorrow
to thy house; it is not my prophetic art, but circumstances that lead
me to say this; for the words of a fool are folly.
(Exeunt CADMUS and TEIRESIAS.)
CHORUS O holiness, queen amongst the gods, sweeping on golden pinion
o'er the earth! dost hear the words of Pentheus, dost hear his proud
blaspheming Bromius, the son of Semele; first of all the blessed gods
at every merry festival? His it is to rouse the revellers to dance,
to laugh away dull care, and wake the flute, whene'er at banquets
of the gods the luscious grape appears, or when the winecup in the
feast sheds sleep on men who wear the ivy-spray. The end of all unbridled
speech and lawless senselessness is misery; but the life of calm repose
and the rule of reason abide unshaken and support the home; for far
away in heaven though they dwell, the powers divine behold man's state.
Sophistry is not wisdom, and to indulge in thoughts beyond man's ken
is to shorten life; and if a man on such poor terms should aim too
high, he may miss the pleasures in his reach. These, to my mind, are
the ways of madmen and idiots. Oh! to make my way to Cyprus, isle
of Aphrodite, where dwell the love-gods strong to soothe man's soul,
or to Paphos, which that foreign river, never fed by rain, enriches
with its hundred mouths! Oh! lead me, Bromian god, celestial guide
of Bacchic pilgrims, to the hallowed slopes of Olympus, where Pierian
Muses have their haunt most fair. There dwell the Graces; there is
soft desire; there thy votaries may hold their revels freely. The
joy of our god, the son of Zeus, is in banquets, his delight is in
peace, that giver of riches and nurse divine of youth. Both to rich
and poor alike hath he granted the delight of wine, that makes all
pain to cease; hateful to him is every one who careth not to live
the life of bliss, that lasts through days and nights of joy. True
wisdom is to keep the heart and soul aloof from over-subtle wits.
That which the less enlightened crowd approves and practises, will
(Re-enter PENTHEUS. Enter SERVANT bringing DIONYSUS bound.)
SERVANT We are come, Pentheus, having hunted down this prey, for
which thou didst send us forth; not in vain hath been our quest. We
found our quarry tame; he did not fly from us, but yielded himself
without a struggle; his cheek ne'er blanched, nor did his ruddy colour
change, but with a smile he bade me bind and lead him away, and he
waited, making my task an easy one. For very shame I said to him,
"Against my will, sir stranger, do I lead thee hence, but Pentheus
ordered it, who sent me hither." As for his votaries whom thou thyself
didst check, seizing and binding them hand and foot in the public
gaol, all these have loosed their bonds and fled into the meadows
where they now are sporting, calling aloud on the Bromian god. Their
chains fell off their feet of their own accord, and doors flew open
without man's hand to help. Many a marvel hath this stranger brought
with him to our city of Thebes; what yet remains must be thy care.
PENTHEUS Loose his hands; for now that I have him in the net he is
scarce swift enough to elude me. So, sir stranger, thou art not ill-favoured
from a woman's point of view, which was thy real object in coming
to Thebes; thy hair is long because thou hast never been a wrestler,
flowing right down thy cheeks most wantonly; thy skin is white to
help thee gain thy end, not tanned by ray of sun, but kept within
the shade, as thou goest in quest of love with beauty's bait. Come,
tell me first of thy race.
DIONYSUS That needs no braggart's tongue, 'tis easily told; maybe
thou knowest Tmolus by hearsay.
PENTHEUS I know it, the range that rings the city of Sardis round.
DIONYSUS Thence I come, Lydia is my native home.
PENTHEUS What makes thee bring these mysteries to Hellas?
DIONYSUS Dionysus, the son of Zeus, initiated me.
PENTHEUS Is there a Zeus in Lydia, who begets new gods?
DIONYSUS No, but Zeus who married Semele in Hellas.
PENTHEUS Was it by night or in the face of day that he constrained
DIONYSUS 'Twas face to face he intrusted his mysteries to me.
PENTHEUS Pray, what special feature stamps thy rites?
DIONYSUS That is a secret to be hidden from the uninitiated.
PENTHEUS What profit bring they to their votaries?
DIONYSUS Thou must not be told, though 'tis well worth knowing.
PENTHEUS A pretty piece of trickery, to excite my curiosity!
DIONYSUS A man of godless life is an abomination to the rites of
PENTHEUS Thou sayest thou didst see the god clearly; what was he
DIONYSUS What his fancy chose; I was not there to order this.
PENTHEUS Another clever twist and turn of thine, without a word of
DIONYSUS He were a fool, methinks, who would utter wisdom to a fool.
PENTHEUS Hast thou come hither first with this deity?
DIONYSUS All foreigners already celebrate these mysteries with dances.
PENTHEUS The reason being, they are far behind Hellenes in wisdom.
DIONYSUS In this at least far in advance, though their customs differ.
PENTHEUS Is it by night or day thou performest these devotions?
DIONYSUS By night mostly; darkness lends solemnity.
PENTHEUS Calculated to entrap and corrupt women.
DIONYSUS Day too for that matter may discover shame.
PENTHEUS This vile quibbling settles thy punishment.
DIONYSUS Brutish ignorance and godlessness will settle thine.
PENTHEUS How bold our Bacchanal is growing! a very master in this
DIONYSUS Tell me what I am to suffer; what is the grievous doom thou
wilt inflict upon me?
PENTHEUS First will I shear off thy dainty tresses.
DIONYSUS My locks are sacred; for the god I let them grow.
PENTHEUS Next surrender that thyrsus.
DIONYSUS Take it from me thyself; 'tis the wand of Dionysus I am
PENTHEUS In dungeon deep thy body will I guard.
DIONYSUS The god himself will set me free, whene'er I list.
PENTHEUS Perhaps he may, when thou standest amid thy Bacchanals and
callest on his name.
DIONYSUS Even now he is near me and witnesses my treatment.
PENTHEUS Why, where is he? To my eyes he is invisible.
DIONYSUS He is by my side; thou art a godless man and therefore dost
not see him.
PENTHEUS Seize him! the fellow scorns me and Thebes too.
DIONYSUS I bid you bind me not, reason addressing madness.
PENTHEUS But I say "bind!" with better right than thou.
DIONYSUS Thou hast no knowledge of the life thou art leading; thy
very existence is now a mystery to thee.
PENTHEUS I am Pentheus, son of Agave and Echion.
DIONYSUS Well-named to be misfortune's mate!
PENTHEUS Avaunt! Ho! shut him up within the horses' stalls hard by,
that for light he may have pitchy gloom. Do thy dancing there, and
these women whom thou bringest with thee to share thy villainies I
will either sell as slaves or make their hands cease from this noisy
beating of drums, and set them to work at the loom as servants of
DIONYSUS I will go; for that which fate forbids, can never befall
me. For this thy mockery be sure Dionysus will exact a recompense
of thee-even the god whose existence thou deniest; for thou art injuring
him by haling me to prison.
(Exit DIONYSUS, guarded, and PENTHEUS.)
CHORUS Hail to thee, Dirce, happy maid, daughter revered of Achelous!
within thy founts thou didst receive in days gone by the babe of Zeus,
what time his father caught him up into his thigh from out the deathless
flame, while thus he cried: "Go rest, my Dithyrambus, there within
thy father's womb; by this name, O Bacchic god, I now proclaim thee
to Thebes." But thou, blest Dirce, thrustest me aside, when in thy
midst I strive to hold my revels graced with crowns. Why dost thou
scorn me? Why avoid me? By the clustered charm that Dionysus sheds
o'er the vintage I vow there yet shall come a time when thou wilt
turn thy thoughts to Bromius. What furious rage the earth-born race
displays, even Pentheus sprung of a dragon of old, himself the son
of earth-born Echion, a savage monster in his very mien, not made
in human mould, but like some murderous giant pitted against heaven;
for he means to bind me, the handmaid of Bromius, in cords forthwith,
and e'en now he keeps my fellow-reveller pent within his palace, plunged
in a gloomy dungeon. Dost thou mark this, O Dionysus, son of Zeus,
thy prophets struggling 'gainst resistless might? Come, O king, brandishing
thy golden thyrsus along the slopes of Olympus; restrain the pride
of this bloodthirsty wretch! Oh! where in Nysa, haunt of beasts, or
on the peaks of Corycus art thou, Dionysus, marshalling with thy wand
the revellers? or haply in the thick forest depths of Olympus, where
erst Orpheus with his lute gathered trees to his minstrelsy, and beasts
that range the fields. Ah blest Pieria! Evius honours thee, to thee
will he come with his Bacchic rites to lead the dance, and thither
will he lead the circling Maenads, crossing the swift current of Axius
and the Lydias, that giveth wealth and happiness to man, yea, and
the father of rivers, which, as I have heard, enriches with his waters
fair a land of steeds.
DIONYSUS (Within) What ho! my Bacchantes, ho! hear my call, oh!
CHORUS Who art thou? what Evian cry is this that calls me? whence
DIONYSUS What ho! once more I call, I the son of Semele, the child
CHORUS II My master, O my master, hail!
CHORUS III Come to our revel-band, O Bromian god.
CHORUS IV Thou solid earth!
CHORUS Most awful shock!
CHORUS VI O horror! soon will the palace of Pentheus totter and fall.
CHORUS VII Dionysus is within this house.
CHORUS VIII Do homage to him.
CHORUS IX We do! I do!
CHORUS Did ye mark yon architrave of stone upon the columns start
CHORUS XI Within these walls the triumph-shout of Bromius himself
DIONYSUS Kindle the blazing torch with lightning's fire, abandon
to the flames the halls of Pentheus.
CHORUS XII Ha! dost not see the flame, dost not clearly mark it at
the sacred tomb of Semele, the lightning flame which long ago the
hurler of the bolt left there?
CHORUS XIII Your trembling limbs prostrate, ye Maenads, low upon
CHORUS XIV Yea, for our king, the son of Zeus, is assailing and utterly
confounding this house. (Enter DIONYSUS.)
DIONYSUS Are ye so stricken with terror that ye have fallen to the
earth, O foreign dames? Ye saw then, it would seem, how the Bacchic
god made Pentheus' halls to quake; but arise, be of good heart, compose
your trembling limbs.
CHORUS O chiefest splendour of our gladsome Bacchic sport, with what
joy I see thee in my loneliness!
DIONYSUS Were ye cast down when I was led into the house, to be plunged
into the gloomy dungeons of Pentheus?
CHORUS Indeed I was. Who was to protect me, if thou shouldst meet
with mishap? But how wert thou set free from the clutches of this
DIONYSUS My own hands worked out my own salvation, easily and without
CHORUS But did he not lash fast thy hands with cords?
DIONYSUS There too I mocked him; he thinks he bound me, whereas he
never touched or caught hold of me, but fed himself on fancy. For
at the stall, to which he brought me for a gaol, he found a bull,
whose legs and hoofs he straightly tied, breathing out fury the while,
the sweat trickling from his body, and he biting his lips; but I from
near at hand sat calmly looking on. Meantime came the Bacchic god
and made the house quake, and at his mother's tomb relit the fire;
but Pentheus, seeing this, thought his palace was ablaze, and hither
and thither he rushed, bidding his servants bring water; but all in
vain was every servant's busy toil. Thereon he let this labour be
awhile, and, thinking maybe that I had escaped, rushed into the palace
with his murderous sword unsheathed. Then did Bromius-so at least
it seemed to me; I only tell you what I thought-made a phantom in
the hall, and he rushed after it in headlong haste, and stabbed the
lustrous air, thinking he wounded me. Further the Bacchic god did
other outrage to him; he dashed the building to the ground, and there
it lies a mass of ruin, a sight to make him rue most bitterly my bonds.
At last from sheer fatigue he dropped his sword and fell fainting;
for he a mortal frail, dared to wage war upon a god; but I meantime
quietly left the house and am come to you, with never a thought of
Pentheus. But methinks he will soon appear before the house; at least
there is a sound of steps within. What will he say, I wonder, after
this? Well, be his fury never so great, I will lightly bear it; for
'tis a wise man's way to school his temper into due control.
PENTHEUS Shamefully have I been treated; that stranger, whom but
now I made so fast in prison, hath escaped me. Ha! there is the man!
What means this? How didst thou come forth, to appear thus in front
of my palace?
DIONYSUS Stay where thou art; and moderate thy fury.
PENTHEUS How is it thou hast escaped thy fetters and art at large?
DIONYSUS Did I not say, or didst thou not hear me, "There is one
will loose me."
PENTHEUS Who was it? there is always something strange in what thou
DIONYSUS He who makes the clustering vine to grow for man.
PENTHEUS (I scorn him and his vines!)
DIONYSUS A fine taunt indeed thou hurlest here at Dionysus!
PENTHEUS (To his servants) Bar every tower that hems us in, I order
DIONYSUS What use? Cannot gods pass even over walls?
PENTHEUS How wise thou art, except where thy wisdom is needed!
DIONYSUS Where most 'tis needed, there am I most wise. But first
listen to yonder messenger and hear what he says; he comes from the
hills with tidings for thee; and I will await thy pleasure, nor seek
to fly. (Enter MESSENGER.) Messenger.
Pentheus, ruler of this realm of Thebes! I am come from Cithaeron,
where the dazzling flakes of pure white snow ne'er cease to fall.
PENTHEUS What urgent news dost bring me?
MESSENGER I have seen, O king, those frantic Bacchanals, who darted
in frenzy from this land with bare white feet, and I am come to tell
thee and the city the wondrous deeds they do, deeds passing strange.
But I fain would hear, whether I am freely to tell all I saw there,
or shorten my story; for I fear thy hasty temper, sire, thy sudden
bursts of wrath and more than princely rage.
PENTHEUS Say on, for thou shalt go unpunished by me in all respects;
for to be angered with the upright is wrong. The direr thy tale about
the Bacchantes, the heavier punishment will I inflict on this fellow
who brought his secret arts amongst our women.
MESSENGER I was just driving the herds of kine to a ridge of the
hill as I fed them, as the sun shot forth his rays and made the earth
grow warm; when lo! I see three revel-bands of women; Autonoe was
chief of one, thy mother Agave of the second, while Ino's was the
third. There they lay asleep, all tired out; some were resting on
branches of the pine, others had laid their heads in careless ease
on oak-leaves piled upon the ground, observing all modesty; not, as
thou sayest, seeking to gratify their lusts alone amid the woods,
by wine and soft flute-music maddened.
Anon in their midst thy mother uprose and cried aloud to wake them
from their sleep, when she heard the lowing of my horned kine. And
up they started to their feet, brushing from their eyes sleep's quickening
dew, a wondrous sight of grace and modesty, young and old and maidens
yet unwed. First o'er their shoulders they let stream their hair;
then all did gird their fawn-skins up, who hitherto had left the fastenings
loose, girdling the dappled hides with snakes that licked their cheeks.
Others fondled in their arms gazelles or savage whelps of wolves,
and suckled them-young mothers these with babes at home, whose breasts
were still full of milk; crowns they wore of ivy or of oak or blossoming
convolvulus. And one took her thyrsus and struck it into the earth,
and forth there gushed a limpid spring; and another plunged her wand
into the lap of earth and there the god sent up a fount of wine; and
all who wished for draughts of milk had but to scratch the soil with
their finger-tips and there they had it in abundance, while from every
ivy-wreathed staff sweet rills of honey trickled.
Hadst thou been there and seen this, thou wouldst have turned to pray
to the god, whom now thou dost disparage. Anon we herdsmen and shepherds
met to discuss their strange and wondrous doings; then one, who wandereth
oft to town and hath a trick of speech, made harangue in the midst,
"O ye who dwell upon the hallowed mountain-terraces! shall we chase
Agave, mother of Pentheus, from her Bacchic rites, and thereby do
our prince a service?" We liked his speech, and placed ourselves in
hidden ambush among the leafy thickets; they at the appointed time
began to wave the thyrsus for their Bacchic rites, calling on Iacchus,
the Bromian god, the son of Zeus, in united chorus, and the whole
mount and the wild creatures re-echoed their cry; all nature stirred
as they rushed on. Now Agave chanced to come springing near me, so
up I leapt from out my ambush where I lay concealed, meaning to seize
her. But she cried out, "What ho! my nimble hounds, here are men upon
our track; but follow me, ay, follow, with the thyrsus in your hand
for weapon." Thereat we fled, to escape being torn in pieces by the
Bacchantes; but they, with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked
our cattle as they browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering
some sleek lowing calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb.
Before thy eyes there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this
way and that; and strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as
they hung from the pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now
with rage along their horns, found themselves tripped up, dragged
down to earth by countless maidens' hands. The flesh upon their limbs
was stripped therefrom quicker than thou couldst have closed thy royal
eye-lids. Then off they sped, like birds that skim the air, to the
plains beneath the hills, which bear a fruitful harvest for Thebes
beside the waters of Asopus; to Hysiae and Erythrae, hamlets 'neath
Cithaeron's peak, with fell intent, swooping on everything and scattering
all pellmell; and they would snatch children from their homes; but
all that they placed upon their shoulders, abode there firmly without
being tied, and fell not to the dusky earth, not even brass or iron;
and on their hair they carried fire and it burnt them not; but the
country-folk rushed to arms, furious at being pillaged by Bacchanals;
whereon ensued, O king, this wondrous spectacle. For though the ironshod
dart would draw no blood from them, they with the thyrsus, which they
hurled, caused many a wound and put their foes to utter rout, women
chasing men, by some god's intervention. Then they returned to the
place whence they had started, even to the springs the god had made
to spout for them; and there washed off the blood, while serpents
with their tongues were licking clean each gout from their cheeks.
Wherefore, my lord and master, receive this deity, whoe'er he be,
within the city; for, great as he is in all else, I have likewise
heard men say, 'twas he that gave the vine to man, sorrow's antidote.
Take wine away and Cypris flies, and every other human joy is dead.
CHORUS Though I fear to speak my mind with freedom in the presence
of my king, still must I utter this; Dionysus yields to no deity in
PENTHEUS Already, look you! the presumption of these Bacchantes is
upon us, swift as fire, a sad disgrace in the eyes of all Hellas.
No time for hesitation now! away to the Electra gate! order a muster
of all my men-at-arms, of those that mount fleet steeds, of all who
brandish light bucklers, of archers too that make the bowstring twang;
for I will march against the Bacchanals. By Heaven I this passes all,
if we are to be thus treated by women.
DIONYSUS Still obdurate, O Pentheus, after hearing my words! In spite
of all the evil treatment I am enduring from thee, still I warn thee
of the sin of bearing arms against a god, and bid thee cease; for
Bromius will not endure thy driving his votaries from the mountains
where they revel.
PENTHEUS A truce to thy preaching to me! thou hast escaped thy bonds,
preserve thy liberty; else will I renew thy punishment.
DIONYSUS I would rather do him sacrifice than in a fury kick against
the pricks; thou a mortal, he a god.
PENTHEUS Sacrifice! that will I, by setting afoot a wholesale slaughter
of women 'mid Cithaeron's glens, as they deserve.
DIONYSUS Ye will all be put to flight-a shameful thing that they
with the Bacchic thyrsus should rout your mail-clad warriors.
PENTHEUS I find this stranger a troublesome foe to encounter; doing
or suffering he is alike irrepressible.
DIONYSUS Friend, there is still a way to compose this bitterness.
PENTHEUS Say how; am I to serve my own servants?
DIONYSUS I will bring the women hither without weapons.
PENTHEUS Ha! ha! this is some crafty scheme of thine against me.
DIONYSUS What kind of scheme, if by my craft I purpose to save thee?
PENTHEUS You have combined with them to form this plot, that your
revels may on for ever.
DIONYSUS Nay, but this is the compact I made with the god; be sure
PENTHEUS (Preparing to start forth) Bring forth my arms. Not another
word from thee!
DIONYSUS Ha! wouldst thou see them seated on the hills?
PENTHEUS Of all things, yes! I would give untold sums for that.
DIONYSUS Why this sudden, strong desire?
PENTHEUS 'Twill be a bitter sight, if I find them drunk with wine.
DIONYSUS And would that be a pleasant sight which will prove bitter
PENTHEUS Believe me, yes! beneath the fir-trees as I sit in silence.
DIONYSUS Nay, they will track thee, though thou come secretly.
PENTHEUS Well, I will go openly; thou wert right to say so.
DIONYSUS Am I to be thy guide? wilt thou essay the road?
PENTHEUS Lead on with all speed, I grudge thee all delay.
DIONYSUS Array thee then in robes of fine linen.
PENTHEUS Why so? Am I to enlist among women after being a man?
DIONYSUS They may kill thee, if thou show thy manhood there.
PENTHEUS Well said! Thou hast given me a taste of thy wit already.
DIONYSUS Dionysus schooled me in this lore.
PENTHEUS How am I to carry out thy wholesome advice?
DIONYSUS Myself will enter thy palace and robe thee.
PENTHEUS What is the robe to be? a woman's? Nay, I am ashamed.
DIONYSUS Thy eagerness to see the Maenads goes no further.
PENTHEUS But what dress dost say thou wilt robe me in?
DIONYSUS Upon thy head will I make thy hair grow long.
PENTHEUS Describe my costume further.
DIONYSUS Thou wilt wear a robe reaching to thy feet; and on thy head
shall be a snood.
PENTHEUS Wilt add aught else to my attire?
DIONYSUS A thyrsus in thy hand, and a dappled fawnskin.
PENTHEUS I can never put on woman's dress.
DIONYSUS Then wilt thou cause bloodshed by coming to blows with the
PENTHEUS Thou art right. Best go spy upon them first.
DIONYSUS Well, e'en that is wiser than by evil means to follow evil
PENTHEUS But how shall I pass through the city of the Cadmeans unseen?
DIONYSUS We will go by unfrequented paths. I will lead the way.
PENTHEUS Anything rather than that the Bacchantes should laugh at
DIONYSUS We will enter the palace and consider the proper steps.
PENTHEUS Thou hast my leave. I am all readiness. I will enter, prepared
to set out either sword in hand or following thy advice.
DIONYSUS Women! our prize is nearly in the net. Soon shall he reach
the Bacchanals, and there pay forfeit with his life. O Dionysus! now
'tis thine to act, for thou art not far away; let us take vengeance
on him. First drive him mad by fixing in his soul a wayward frenzy;
for never, whilst his senses are his own, will he consent to don a
woman's dress; but when his mind is gone astray he will put it on.
And fain would I make him a laughing-stock to Thebes as he is led
in woman's dress through the city, after those threats with which
he menaced me before. But I will go to array Pentheus in those robes
which he shall wear when he sets out for Hades' halls, a victim to
his own mother's fury; so shall he recognize Dionysus, the son of
Zeus, who proves himself at last a god most terrible, for all his
gentleness to man.
CHORUS Will this white foot e'er join the night-long dance? what
time in Bacchic ecstasy I toss my neck to heaven's dewy breath, like
a fawn, that gambols 'mid the meadow's green delights, when she hath
escaped the fearful chase, clear of the watchers, o'er the woven nets;
while the huntsman, with loud halloo, harks on his hounds' full cry,
and she with laboured breath at lightning speed bounds o'er the level
water-meadows, glad to be far from man amid the foliage of the bosky
grove. What is true wisdom, or what fairer boon has heaven placed
in mortals' reach, than to gain the mastery o'er a fallen foe? What
is fair is dear for aye. Though slow be its advance, yet surely moves
the power of the gods, correcting those mortal wights, that court
a senseless pride, or, in the madness of their fancy, disregard the
gods. Subtly they lie in wait, through the long march of time, and
so hunt down the godless man. For it is never right in theory or in
practice to o'erride the law of custom. This is a maxim cheaply bought:
whatever comes of God, or in time's long annals, has grown into a
law upon a natural basis, this is sovereign. What is true wisdom,
or what fairer boon has heaven placed in mortals' reach, than to gain
the mastery o'er a fallen foe? What is fair is dear for ave. Happy
is he who hath escaped the wave from out the sea, and reached the
haven; and happy he who hath triumphed o'er his troubles; though one
surpasses another in wealth and power; yet there be myriad hopes for
all the myriad minds; some end in happiness for man, and others come
to naught; but him, whose life from day to day is blest, I deem a
DIONYSUS Ho! Pentheus, thou that art so cager to see what is forbidden,
and to show thy zeal in an unworthy cause, come forth before the palace,
let me see thee clad as a woman in frenzied Bacchante's dress, to
spy upon thy own mother and her company.
thou resemblest closely a daughter of Cadmus.
PENTHEUS Of a truth I seem to see two suns, and two towns of Thebes,
our seven-gated city; and thou, methinks, art a bull going before
to guide me, and on thy head a pair of horns have grown. Wert thou
really once a brute beast? Thon hast at any rate the appearance of
DIONYSUS The god attends us, ungracious heretofore, but now our sworn
friend; and now thine eyes behold the things they should.
PENTHEUS Pray, what do I resemble? Is not mine the carriage of Ino,
or Agave my own mother?
DIONYSUS In seeing thee, I seem to see them in person. But this tress
is straying from its place, no longer as I bound it 'neath the snood.
PENTHEUS I disarranged it from its place as I tossed it to and fro
within my chamber, in Bacchic ecstasy.
DIONYSUS Well, I will rearrange it, since to tend thee is my care;
hold up thy head.
PENTHEUS Come, put it straight; for on thee do I depend.
DIONYSUS Thy girdle is loose, and the folds of thy dress do not hang
evenly below thy ankles.
PENTHEUS I agree to that as regards the right side, but on the other
my dress hangs straight with my foot.
DIONYSUS Surely thou wilt rank me first among thy friends, when contrary
to thy expectation thou findest the Bacchantes virtuous.
PENTHEUS Shall I hold the thyrsus in the right or left hand to look
most like a Bacchanal?
DIONYSUS Hold it in thy right hand, and step out with thy right foot;
thy change of mind compels thy praise.
PENTHEUS Shall I be able to carry on my shoulders Cithaeron's glens,
the Bacchanals and all?
DIONYSUS Yes, if so thou wilt; for though thy mind was erst diseased,
'tis now just as it should be.
PENTHEUS Shall we take levers, or with my hands can I uproot it,
thrusting arm or shoulder 'neath its peaks?
DIONYSUS No, no! destroy not the seats of the Nymphs and the haunts
of Pan, the place of his piping.
PENTHEUS Well said! Women must not be mastered by brute force; amid
the pines will I conceal myself.
DIONYSUS Thou shalt hide thee in the place that fate appoints, coming
by stealth to spy upon the Bacchanals.
PENTHEUS Why, methinks they are already caught in the pleasant snares
of dalliance, like birds amid the brakes.
DIONYSUS Set out with watchful heed then for this very purpose; maybe
thou wilt catch them, if thou be not first caught thyself.
PENTHEUS Conduct me through the very heart of Thebes, for I am the
only man among them bold enough to do this deed.
DIONYSUS Thou alone bearest thy country's burden, thou and none other;
wherefore there await thee such struggles as needs must. Follow me,
for I will guide thee safely thither; another shall bring thee thence.
PENTHEUS My mother maybe.
DIONYSUS For every eye to see.
PENTHEUS My very purpose in going.
DIONYSUS Thou shalt be carried back,
PENTHEUS What luxury
DIONYSUS In thy mother's arms.
PENTHEUS Thou wilt e'en force me into luxury.
DIONYSUS Yes, to luxury such as this.
PENTHEUS Truly, the task I am undertaking deserves it.
DIONYSUS Strange, ah! strange is thy career, leading to scenes of
woe so strange, that thou shalt achieve a fame that towers to heaven.
Stretch forth thy hands, Agave, and ye her sisters, daughters of Cadmus;
mighty is the strife to which I am bringing the youthful king, and
the victory shall rest with me and Bromius; all else the event will
CHORUS To the hills! to the hills! fleet hounds of madness, where
the daughters of Cadmus hold their revels, goad them into wild fury
against the man disguised in woman's dress, a frenzied spy upon the
Maenads. First shall his mother mark him as he peers from some smooth
rock or riven tree, and thus to the Maenads she will call, "Who is
this of Cadmus' sons comes hasting to the mount, to the mountain away,
to spy on us, my Bacchanals? Whose child can he be? For he was never
born of woman's blood; but from some lioness maybe or Libyan Gorgon
is he sprung." Let justice appear and show herself, sword in hand,
to plunge it through and through the throat of the godless, lawless,
impious son of Echion, earth's monstrous child! who with wicked heart
and lawless rage, with mad intent and frantic purpose, sets out to
meddle with thy holy rites, and with thy mother's, Bacchic god, thinking
with his weak arm to master might as masterless as thine. This is
the life that saves all pain, if a man confine his thoughts to human
themes, as is his mortal nature, making no pretence where heaven is
concerned. I envy not deep subtleties; far other joys have I, in tracking
out great truths writ clear from all eternity, that a man should live
his life by day and night in purity and holiness, striving toward
a noble goal, and should honour the gods by casting from him each
ordinance that lies outside the pale of right. Let justice show herself,
advancing sword in hand to plunge it through and through the throat
of Echion's son, that godless, lawless, and abandoned child of earth!
Appear, O Bacchus, to our eyes as a bull or serpent with a hundred
heads, or take the shape of a lion breathing flame! Oh! come, and
with a mocking smile cast the deadly noose about the hunter of thy
Bacchanals, e'en as he swoops upon the Maenads gathered yonder.
(Enter SECOND MESSENGER.)
SECOND MESSENGER O house, so prosperous once through Hellas long
ago, home of the old Sidonian prince, who sowed the serpent's crop
of earth-born men, how do I mourn thee! slave though I be, yet still
the sorrows of his master touch a good slave's heart.
CHORUS How now? Hast thou fresh tidings of the Bacchantes?
SECOND MESSENGER Pentheus, Echion's son is dead.
CHORUS Bromius, my king! now art thou appearing in thy might divine.
SECOND MESSENGER Ha! what is it thou sayest? art thou glad, woman,
at my master's misfortunes?
CHORUS A stranger I, and in foreign tongue I express my joy, for
now no more do I cower in terror of the chain.
SECOND MESSENGER Dost think Thebes so poor in men?(*, * Probably
the whole of one iambic line with part of another is here lost.)
CHORUS 'Tis Dionysus, Dionysus, not Thebes that lords it over me.
SECOND MESSENGER All can I pardon thee save this; to exult o'er hopeless
suffering is sorry conduct, dames.
CHORUS Tell me, oh! tell me how he died, that villain scheming villainy!
SECOND MESSENGER Soon as we had left the homesteads of this Theban
land and had crossed the streams of Asopus, we began to breast Cithaeron's
heights, Pentheus and I, for I went with my master, and the stranger
too, who was to guide us to the scene. First then we sat us down in
a grassy glen, carefully silencing each footfall and whispered breath,
to see without being seen. Now there was a dell walled in by rocks,
with rills to water it, and shady pines o'erhead; there were the Maenads
seated, busied with joyous toils. Some were wreathing afresh the drooping
thyrsus with curling ivy-sprays; others, like colts let loose from
the carved chariot-yoke, were answering each other in hymns of Bacchic
rapture. But Pentheus, son of sorrow, seeing not the women gathered
there, exclaimed, "Sir stranger, from where I stand, I cannot clearly
see the mock Bacchantes; but I will climb a hillock or a soaring pine
whence to see clearly the shameful doings of the Bacchanals." Then
and there I saw the stranger work a miracle; for catching a lofty
fir-branch by the very end he drew it downward to the dusky earth,
lower yet and ever lower; and like a bow it bent, or rounded wheel,
whose curving circle grows complete, as chalk and line describe it;
e'en so the stranger drew down the mountain-branch between his hands,
bending it to earth, by more than human agency. And when he had seated
Pentheus aloft on the pine branches, he let them slip through his
hands gently, careful not to shake him from his seat. Up soared the
branch straight into the air above, with my master perched thereon,
seen by the Maenads better far than he saw them; for scarce was he
beheld upon his lofty throne, when the stranger disappeared, while
from the sky there came a voice, 'twould seem, by Dionysus uttered-
"Maidens, I bring the man who tried to mock you and me and my mystic
rites; take vengeance on him." And as he spake he raised 'twixt heaven
and earth a dazzling column of awful flame. Hushed grew the sky, and
still hung each leaf throughout the grassy glen, nor couldst thou
have heard one creature cry. But they, not sure of the voice they
heard, sprang up and peered all round; then once again his bidding
came; and when the daughters of Cadmus knew it was the Bacchic god
in very truth that called, swift as doves they dirted off in cager
haste, his mother Agave and her sisters dear and all the Bacchanals;
through torrent glen, o'er boulders huge they bounded on, inspired
with madness by the god. Soon as they saw my master perched upon the
fir, they set to hurling stones at him with all their might, mounting
a commanding eminence, and with pine-branches he was pelted as with
darts; and others shot their wands through the air at Pentheus, their
hapless target, but all to no purpose. For there he sat beyond the
reach of their hot endeavours, a helpless, hopeless victim. At last
they rent off limbs from oaks and were for prising up the roots with
levers not of iron. But when they still could make no end to all their
toil, Agave cried: "Come stand around, and grip the sapling trunk,
my Bacchanals! that we may catch the beast that sits thereon, lest
he divulge the secrets of our god's religion."
Then were a thousand hands laid on the fir, and from the ground they
tore it up, while he from his seat aloft came tumbling to the ground
with lamentations long and loud, e'en Pentheus; for well he knew his
hour was come. His mother first, a priestess for the nonce, began
the bloody deed and fell upon him; whereon he tore the snood from
off his hair, that hapless Agave might recognize and spare him, crying
as he touched her cheek, "O mother! it is I, thy own son Pentheus,
the child thou didst bear in Echion's halls; have pity on me, mother
dear! oh! do not for any sin of mine slay thy own son."
But she, the while, with foaming mouth and wildly rolling eyes, bereft
of reason as she was, heeded him not; for the god possessed her. And
she caught his left hand in her grip, and planting her foot upon her
victim's trunk she tore the shoulder from its socket, not of her own
strength, but the god made it an easy task to her hands; and Ino set
to work upon the other side, rending the flesh with Autonoe and all
the eager host of Bacchanals; and one united cry arose, the victim's
groans while yet he breathed, and their triumphant shouts. One would
make an arm her prey, another a foot with the sandal on it; and his
ribs were stripped of flesh by their rending nails; and each one with
blood-dabbled hands was tossing Pentheus' limbs about. Scattered lies
his corpse, part beneath the rugged rocks, and part amid the deep
dark woods, no easy task to find; but his poor head hath his mother
made her own, and fixing it upon the point of a thyrsus, as it had
been a mountain lion's, she bears it through the midst of Cithaeron,
having left her sisters with the Maenads at their rites. And she is
entering these walls exulting in her hunting fraught with woe, calling
on the Bacchic god her fellow-hunter who had helped her to triumph
in a chase, where her only prize was tears.
But I will get me hence, away from this piteous scene, before Agave
reach the palace. To my mind self-restraint and reverence for the
things of God point alike the best and wisest course for all mortals
who pursue them.
(Exit SECOND MESSENGER.)
CHORUS Come, let us exalt our Bacchic god in choral strain, let us
loudly chant the fall of Pentheus from the serpent sprung, who assumed
a woman's dress and took the fair Bacchic wand, sure pledge of death,
with a bull to guide him to his doom. O ye Bacchanals of Thebes! glorious
is the triumph ye have achieved, ending in sorrow and tears. 'Tis
a noble enterprise to dabble the hand in the blood of a son till it
drips. But hist! I see Agave, the mother of Pentheus, with wild rolling
eye hasting to the house; welcome the revellers of the Bacchic god.
AGAVE Ye Bacchanals from Asia
CHORUS Why dost thou rouse me? why?
AGAVE From the hills I am bringing to my home a tendril freshly-culled,
glad guerdon-of the chase.
CHORUS I see it, and I will welcome thee unto our revels. All hail!
AGAVE I caught him with never a snare, this lion's whelp, as ye may
CHORUS From what desert lair?
CHORUS Yes, Cithaeron?
AGAVE Was his death.
CHORUS Who was it gave the first blow?
AGAVE Mine that privilege; "Happy Agave!" they call me 'mid our revellers.
CHORUS Who did the rest?
CHORUS What of him?
AGAVE His daughters struck the monster after me; yes, after me.
CHORUS Fortune smiled upon thy hunting here.
AGAVE Come, share the banquet.
CHORUS Share? ah I what?
AGAVE 'Tis but a tender whelp, the down just sprouting on its cheek
beneath a crest of failing hair.
CHORUS The hair is like some wild creature's.
AGAVE The Bacchic god, a hunter skilled, roused his Maenads to pursue
this quarry skilfully.
CHORUS Yea, our king is a hunter indeed.
AGAVE Dost approve?
CHORUS Of course I do.
AGAVE Soon shall the race of Cadmus-
CHORUS And Pentheus, her own son, shall to his mother-
AGAVE Offer praise for this her quarry of the lion's brood.
CHORUS Quarry strange!
AGAVE And strangely caught.
CHORUS Dost thou exult?
AGAVE Right glad am I to have achieved a great and glorious triumph
for my land that all can see.
CHORUS Alas for thee! show to the folk the booty thou hast won and
art bringing hither.
AGAVE All ye who dwell in fair fenced Thebes, draw near that ye may
see the fierce wild beast that we daughters of Cadmus made our prey,
not with the thong-thrown darts of Thessaly, nor yet with snares,
but with our fingers fair. Ought men idly to boast and get them armourers'
weapons? when we with these our hands have caught this prey and torn
the monster limb from limb? Where is my aged sire? let him approach.
And where is Pentheus, my son? Let him bring a ladder and raise it
against the house to nail up on the gables this lion's head, my booty
from the chase.
CADMUS Follow me, servants to the palace-front, with your sad burden
in your arms, ay, follow, with the corpse of Pentheus, which after
long weary search I found, as ye see it, torn to pieces amid Cithaeron's
glens, and am bringing hither; no two pieces did I find together,
as they lay scattered through the trackless wood. For I heard what
awful deeds one of my daughters had done, just as I entered the city-walls
with old Teiresias returning from the Bacchanals; so I turned again
unto the and bring from thence my son who was slain by Maenads. There
I saw Autonoe, that bare Actaeon on a day to Aristaeus, and Ino with
her, still ranging the oak-groves in their unhappy frenzy; but one
told me that that Agave, was rushing wildly hither, nor was it idly
said, for there I see her, sight of woe!
AGAVE Father, loudly mayst thou boast, that the daughters thou hast
begotten are far the best of mortal race; of one and all I speak,
though chiefly of myself, who left my shuttle at the loom for nobler
enterprise, even to hunt savage beasts with my hands; and in my arms
I bring my prize, as thou seest, that it may be nailed up on thy palace-wall;
take it, father, in thy had and proud of my hunting, call thy friends
to a banquet; for blest art thou, ah! doubly blest in these our gallant
CADMUS O grief that has no bounds, too cruel for mortal eye! 'tis
murder ye have done with your hapless hands. Fair is the victim thou
hast offered to the gods, inviting me and my Thebans to the feast
Ah, woe is me first for thy sorrows, then for mine. What ruin the
god, the Bromian king, hath brought on us, just maybe, but too severe,
seeing he is our kinsman!
AGAVE How peevish old age makes men! what sullen looks! Oh, may my
son follow in his mother's footsteps and be as lucky in his hunting,
when he goes quest of game in company with Theban youthsl But he can
do naught but wage war with gods. Father, 'tis thy duty to warn him.
Who will summon him hither to my sight to witness my happiness?
CADMUS Alas for you! alas! Terrible will be your grief when ye are
conscious of your deeds; could ye re. for ever till life's close in
your present state, ye would not, spite of ruined bliss, appear so
cursed with woe.
AGAVE Why? what is faulty bere? what here for sorrow?
CADMUS First let thine eye look up to heaven.
AGAVE See! I do so. Why dost thou suggest my looking thereupon?
CADMUS Is it still the same, or dost think there's any change?
AGAVE 'Tis brighter than it was, and dearer too.
CADMUS Is there still that wild unrest within thy soul?
AGAVE I know not what thou sayest now; yet methinks my brain is clearing,
and my former frenzy passed away.
CADMUS Canst understand, and give distinct replies?
AGAVE Father, how completely I forget all we said before!
CADMUS To what house wert thou brought with marriage-hymns?
AGAVE Thou didst give me to earthborn Echion, as men call him.
CADMUS What child was born thy husband in his halls?
AGAVE Pentheus, of my union with his father.
CADMUS What head is that thou barest in thy arms?
AGAVE A lion's; at least they said so, who hunted it.
CADMUS Consider it aright; 'tis no great task to look at it.
AGAVE Ah! what do I see? what is this I am carrying in my hands?
CADMUS Look closely at it; make thy knowledge more certain.
AGAVE Ah, 'woe is me! O sight of awful sorrow!
CADMUS Dost think it like a lion's head?
AGAVE Ah no! 'tis Pentheus' head which I his unhappy mother hold.
CADMUS Bemoaned by me, or ever thou didst recognize him.
AGAVE Who slew him? How came he into my hands?
CADMUS O piteous truth! how ill-timed thy presence here!
AGAVE Speak; my bosom throbs at this suspense.
CADMUS 'Twas thou didst slay him, thou and thy sisters.
AGAVE Where died he? in the house or where?
CADMUS On the very spot where hounds of yore rent Actaeon in pieces.
AGAVE Why went he, wretched youth! to Cithaeron?
CADMUS He would go and mock the god and thy Bacchic rites.
AGAVE But how was it we had journeyed thither?
CADMUS Ye were distraught; the whole city had the Bacchic frenzy.
AGAVE 'Twas Dionysus proved our ruin; now I see it all.
CADMUS Yes, for the slight he suffered; ye would not believe in his
AGAVE Father, where is my dear child's corpse?
CADMUS With toil I searched it out and am bringing it myself.
AGAVE Is it all fitted limb to limb in seemly wise?
CADMUS (*, * One line, or maybe more, is missing)
AGAVE But what had Pentheus to do with folly of mine?
CADMUS He was like you in refusing homage to the god, who, therefore,
hath involved you all in one common ruin, you and him alike, to destroy
this house and me, forasmuch as I, that had no sons, behold this youth,
the fruit of thy womb, unhappy mother! foully and most shamefully
slain. To thee, my child, our house looked up, to thee my daughter's
son, the stay of my palace, inspiring the city with awe; none caring
to flout the old king when he saw thee by, for he would get his deserts.
But now shall I be cast out dishonoured from my halls, Cadmus the
great, who sowed the crop of Theban seed and reaped that goodly harvest.
O beloved child! dead though thou art, thou still shalt be counted
by me amongst my own dear children; no more wilt thou lay thy hand
upon my chin in fond embrace, my child, and calling on thy mother's
sire demand, "Who wrongs thee or dishonours thee, old sire? who vexes
thy heart, a thorn within thy side? Speak, that I may punish thy oppressor,
But now am I in sorrow plunged, and woe is thee, and woe thy mother
and her suffering sisters too! Ah! if there be any man that scorns
the gods, let him well mark this prince's death and then believe in
CHORUS Cadmus, I am sorry for thy fate; for though thy daughter's
child hath met but his deserts, 'tis bitter grief to thee.
AGAVE O father, thou seest how sadly my fortune is changed.(*, *
After this a very large lacuna occurs in the MS.)
DIONYSUS Thou shalt be changed into a serpent; and thy wife Harmonia,
Ares' child, whom thou in thy human life didst wed, shall change her
nature for a snake's, and take its form. With her shalt thou, as leader
of barbarian tribes, drive thy team of steers, so saith an oracle
of Zeus; and many a city shalt thou sack with an army numberless;
but in the day they plunder the oracle of Loxias, shall they rue their
homeward march; but thee and Harmonia will Ares rescue, and set thee
to live henceforth in the land of the blessed. This do I declare,
I Dionysus, son of no mortal father but of Zeus. Had ye learnt wisdom
when ye would not, ye would now be happy with the son of Zeus for
AGAVE O Dionysus! we have sinned; thy pardon we implore.
DIONYSUS Too late have ye learnt to know me; ye knew me not at the
AGAVE We recognize our error; but thou art too revengeful.
DIONYSUS Yea, for I, though a god, was slighted by you.
AGAVE Gods should not let their passion sink to man's level.
DIONYSUS Long ago my father Zeus ordained it thus.
AGAVE Alas! my aged sire, our doom is fixed; 'tis woful exile.
DIONYSUS Why then delay the inevitable? Exit.
CADMUS Daughter, to what an awful pass are we now come, thou too,
poor child, and thy sisters, while I alas! in my old age must seek
barbarian shores, to sojourn there; but the oracle declares that I
shall yet lead an army, half-barbarian, half-Hellene, to Hellas; and
in serpent's shape shall I carry my wife Harmonia, the daughter of
Ares, transformed like me to a savage snake, against the altars and
tombs of Hellas at the head of my troops; nor shall I ever cease from
my woes, ah me! nor ever cross the downward stream of Acheron and
be at rest.
AGAVE Father, I shall be parted from thee and exiled.
CADMUS Alas! my child, why fling thy arms around me, as a snowy cygnet
folds its wings about the frail old swan?
AGAVE Whither can I turn, an exile from my country?
CADMUS I know not, my daughter; small help is thy father now.
AGAVE Farewell, my home! farewell, my native city! with sorrow I
am leaving thee, an exile from my bridal bower.
CADMUS Go, daughter, to the house of Aristaeus,(*, * Another large
AGAVE Father, I mourn for thee.
CADMUS And I for thee, my child; for thy sisters too I shed a tear.
AGAVE Ah! terribly was king Dionysus bringing this outrage on thy
CADMUS Yea, for he suffered insults dire from you, his name receiving
no meed of honour in Thebes.
AGAVE Farewell, father mine!
CADMUS Farewell, my hapless daughter and yet thou scarce canst reach
AGAVE Oh! lead me, guide me to the place where I shall find my sisters,
sharers in my exile to their sorrow! Oh! to reach a spot where cursed
Cithaeron ne'er shall see me more nor I Cithaeron with mine eyes;
where no memorial of the thyrsus is set up! Be they to other Bacchantes
CHORUS Many are the forms the heavenly will assumes, and many a thing
the gods fulfil contrary to all hope; that which was expected is not
brought to pass, while for the unlooked-for Heaven finds out a way.
E'en such hath been the issue here.