Euripides' Bacchae, the last of the surviving Greek tragedies, was not performed during the lifetime of the playwright. Its first production took place a year later (in 405 BC) in the annual competition for tragic drama, where it won first prize. It has remained one of the best-known and most frequently performed Greek tragedies ever since, one of the greatest works of classical Greek culture.

The Bacchae holds up a desperate view of human experience, a vision that led Aristotle to call Euripides "the most tragic of the poets." Here the royal power in the polis, represented by the young king of Thebes, Pentheus, is quite incapable of dealing with a political crisis in an effective way, and the god who has initiated the crisis, Dionysus, a son of Zeus and a cousin of Pentheus, displays a selfish, arrogant, and unforgiving malice which leads him to destroy in the most horrific way the oldest human royal family in Greek legend because he believes he has been insulted by the citizens of Thebes. Whatever hopes men entertain for a peaceful harmony between the gods who rule the world and the human beings who live in it are here exposed as futile and cruel delusions.


DIONYSUS: divine son of Zeus and Semele.

TIRESIAS: an old blind prophet.

CADMUS: grandfather of both Dionysus and Pentheus, an old man.

PENTHEUS: young king of Thebes, grandson of Cadmus, cousin of Dionysus.

AGAVE: mother of Pentheus, daughter of Cadmus, sister of Semele.

First MESSENGER: a cattle herder.

Second MESSENGER: an attendant on Pentheus.

Chorus of BACCHAE: worshippers of Dionysus who have followed him from Asia, also called Maenads or Bacchants.

Soldiers and attendants around Pentheus.

[The action takes place in front of the royal palace of Thebes. Enter DIONYSUS]


I’ve arrived here in the land of Thebes,
I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, born to him
from Semele, Cadmus’ daughter, delivered
by a fiery midwife—Zeus’ lightning flash.
Yes, I’ve changed my form from god to human,
appearing here at these streams of Dirce,
the waters of Ismenus. I see my mother’s tomb—
for she was wiped out by that lightning bolt.
It’s there, by the palace, with that rubble,

Semele, Cadmus’ daughter and Dionysus’ mother, had an affair with Zeus. Hera, Zeus’ wife, tricked Zeus into destroying Semele with a lightning bolt. Zeus took Dionysus and concealed him in his thigh to hide him from Hera.

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