Euripides: Bacchae

Thebes, before the palace of Cadmus, near the river Dirce.

Prologue: 1-63

63 lines

Dionysus introduces himself and explains his situation: after founding the Bacchic cult, he’s come to Thebes to introduce his cult and teach the city a lesson. He intends, however, to pass anonymously as a human devotee of the god, rather than as the god himself.

Parodos: 64-167

104 lines

The bacchants, newly arrived from Lydia (in Asia Minor) sing the praises of Dionysus, recount the gruesome circumstances of his birth, and describe their cultic mysteries. The whole ends with a praise of wine.

Episode 1: 170-369

200 lines: a few are missing at the beginning

The ancient blind prophet Tiresias, and Cadmus, the founding king of Thebes, get together and talk about how they should undertake to welcome the new cult, in spite of the fact that most of the younger men of the city are having nothing to do with it. Pentheus enters (l. 215) and chides them. After a brief explosion from the Chorus, Tiresias gives a lengthy rebuttal (ll. 266-342). Pentheus and Tiresias give shorter responses, more rooted in personal invective than argument (343-357; 358-369).

Stasimon 1: 370-432

63 lines

A short choral song (two strophes and two antistrophes) discussing holiness in general and the rise of Dionysus specifically.

Episode 2: 434-518

85 lines

A servant reports the capture of Dionysus, whom he brings with him. A rapid back-and-forth conversation between Dionysus and Pentheus ensues (ll. 461-508). Pentheus orders Dionysus imprisoned, and Dionysus offers no resistance.

Stasimon 2: 519-575

57 lines

Another short choral song (a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode), addressed to Dirce (the local river in Thebes), and recounting the origins of Dionysus there. The chorus seems more to be from the point of view of native Thebans than Asian bacchants.

Episode 3: 576-861

286 lines

This is the longest and most complex episodic piece of the play.

Stasimon 3: 862-911

50 lines

A short chorus: one strophe, one antistrophe, and an epode; in a sense this is marking passing time, during which Pentheus prepares himself for his journey to the mountains to spy on the bacchants. It is a melancholy reflection on the power of the gods and the inexorable working of time, concluding with a discussion of the nature of happiness.

Episode 4: 912-976

65 lines

Dionysus is now fully in control of Pentheus, who sees all things as double; interestingly, they continue their discussion (following line 923) in regularly alternating couplets, rather than in stichomythia. Pentheus unwittingly discloses his confusion and weakness, and is led away. Dionysus remains behind to pronounce again on the character of his downfall.

Stasimon 4: 977-1023

47 lines

A fairly brief chorus, containing a single strophe and antistrophe, followed by an epode. Primarily a call for vengeance on the unjust blasphemer, urging the Bacchae on to pursue him like hounds; contains also an enjoinder to live a peaceful life and not to overreach oneself.

Episode 5: 1024-1152

129 lines

A second messenger arrives, announcing the death of Pentheus; he is mourning for the disaster, and begins disputing with the Chorus, which is celebrating his death as a manifestation of the greatness of Dionysus. From line 1043 on to 1152, he delivers a single uninterrupted speech, narrating the destruction of Pentheus in vivid detail. It is one of the longest single speeches in Euripides.

Stasimon 5: 1153-1199

47 lines

The Chorus again sings exultantly of the fall of Pentheus in a short dochmiac passage. This is followed by a few lines in normal iambics, and then (1168-1199) by an elaborate and responsive choral passage betwen the Chorus proper and Agave, who has just entered with the head of her son Pentheus; she is deluded, and pleased with herself for having killed a lion.

Episode 6: 1200-1367

168 lines

The Chorus encourages Agave to display her prize, which she does, considering Cadmus’ lamentations to be the grumpiness of an old man. This goes on until line 1262; then Cadmus talks her down from her excited state, has her look at the sky and clear her mind, and then reconsider what she’s carrying. From 1264 to 1301 there is a passage of stichomythia in which she comes to realize what she has done. Cadmus pronounces a long lamentation for Pentheus (1302-1327). The text after this is corrupted and uneven, but Dionysus appears and explains himself, and passes further judgment on the whole house of Cadmus.

Exodos: 1368-1392

25 lines

By this point the text is very corrupt; there is reason to think that at least some of the lines preserved here are imported from another play. The final choral bits are anapestic, which is normal for the end of a play. The Chorus winds up with a fairly trite warning that the gods are not to be trifled with.