Euripides’ Bacchae, produced in 405 B.C., dramatizes the introduction of the religion of Dionysus to Greece. For the Ancient Greeks, Dionysus was more than the god of wine – he was the god of transformation, communion, ecstasy, masks, music, dance, the god of theater itself. As the play begins, Dionysus has disguised himself in human form and come to Thebes, the city of his mother Semele, to make his divinity manifest to mortals. He is rebuffed: the arrogant king Pentheus denies his cult and mocks his worshippers. As punishment, Dionysus stings with madness the royal women of Thebes, including Pentheus’ mother Agave, who fly to Mount Cithairon in ecstatic rituals. When Pentheus retaliates, the god unleashes the full force of his vengeful and destructive power. A central text of the Literature Humanities curriculum, the Bacchae brings to life the tension between the rational and the irrational in Ancient Greek culture, and in our own.
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