The Bacchae
The Bacchae
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Greco-Roman Dictionary


As Euripides puts it in the Bacchai, "Himself a God, he is poured out to the other Gods, so that from him we mortals have what's good in life." (332-35)

Pentheus in Art
“Now he is the lord of all living creatures who drives them to kill and in the death of the slain is so reduced that he is in need of awakening. Dionysos is the quarry of the hunt and the sacrificial animal, both of whom are eaten raw . . .” Karl Kerenyi (203).
A filmed adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae, written and directed by Brad Mays,  has had distribution issues since its completion in 2002. [it wrapped on October 3rd, 2000]There was a web rumor of major distribution release set for 2005 but this appears to not have happened.
A theatrical adaptation set in modern times has also been written by the playwright Chuck Mee, titled The Bacchae 2.1.

"Appear, appear, whatso they shape or name, O Mountain Bull, Snake of the Hundred Heads, Lion of the Burning Flame! O God, Beast, Mystery, come!"

 "Where shall we tread the dance, tossing our white heads in the dances of the god? 


The Bacchae  won the play competition of 404BC, but its author Euripides of Salamis had died of old age in exile two years before.  The play uses a foreign name from Asia Minor for the deity and it tells of his arrival at the city of Thebes in Boeotia, not far north of Athens.

This is Dionysus birthplace and Thebes is now ruled by his cousin, Pentheus. Pentheus was angry at the women of Thebes, including his mother, Agave, for denying his divinity and worshipping Dionysus against his will.

From Lydia have I come and Phrygia
The golden lands
From sun-drenched plains in Persia
From the walled cities of Baktria
From the dreaded land of Media
And I have passed through the whole of happy Arabia
and all of Asia Minor's coast
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In this play, Dionysus comes to Thebes to avenge the wrongs he feels he has suffered - his mother's own sisters have spread the tale that Semele lied about being impregnated by a god. This means that they also reject Dionysus' godhood.

The opening song of the chorus of Lydian and Phrygian women, dancing in honor of Dionysos.

        O what delight is in the mountains!
        There the celebrant, wrapped in sacred fawnskin,
        flings himself on the ground surrendered,
        while the swift-footed company streams on;
        there he hunts for blood, and rapturously
        eats the raw flesh of the slaughtered goat,
        hurrying on to the Phrygian or Lydian mountain heights.
        Possessed, ecstatic, he leads their happy cries;
        the earth flows with milk, flows with wine,
        flows with the nectar of bees;
        the air is thick with a scent of Syrian myrrh.
        The celebrant runs entranced, whirling the torch
        that blazes red from the fennel-wand in his grasp,
        and with shouts he rouses the scattered bands,
        sets their feet dancing,
        as he shakes his delicate locks to the wild wind.

        (Euripides, Bacchae 135-150,

Oh how lucky you are, how really lucky you are,
if you know the gods from within,
if you're for clean living,
if you get the feel of Bacchus
and you do it in the hills
pure in your soul,
and to sit in on the orgies
of Great Mother Cybele,
to share a wand in the air,
to wear ivy on your head,
to serve Dionysus, how lucky you are!
Go Bacchae! oh go Bacchae!
Mankind . . . possesses two supreme blessings. First of these is the goddess Demeter, or Earth whichever name you choose to call her by. It was she who gave to man his nourishment of grain. But after her there came the son of Semele, who matched her present by inventing liquid wine as his gift to man. For filled with that good gift, suffering mankind forgets its grief; from it comes sleep; with it oblivion of the troubles of the day. There is no other medicine for misery.

Oh, Thebes, nurse of Semele, crown your hair with ivy! Grow green with bryony! Redden with berries! O city, with boughs of oak and fir, come dance the dance of god! Fringe your skins of dappled fawn Download with tufts of twisted wool! Handle with holy care the violent wand of god! And let the dance begin! He is Bromius who runs to the mountain! To the mountain! Where the throng of women waits, driven from shuttle and loom, possessed by Dionysos!
Euripidies, The Bacchae, trans.
Richmond Lattimore

Bloom, blossom everywhere
With flowers and fruitage fair,
And let your frenzied steps supported be
With thyrsi from the oak
Or the green ash-tree broke:
Your spotted fawn-skins line with locks
Torn from the snowy fleecéd flocks:
Shaking his wanton wand let each advance,
And all the land shall madden with the dance.


Scene from 'The Bacchae' (7,581 bytes)

"I behold Teiresias the Seer in dappled fawn-skins arrayed, and likewise, moving me to laughter, my mother's father flourishing the wand of Baccheus!"

One grasped her thyrsus staff, and smote the rock,
And forth upleapt a fountain's showry spray:
One in earth's bosom planted her reed-wand,
And up there through the god a wine-fount sent:
And whoso fain would drink white-foaming draughts
Scarred with their finger tips the breast of earth,
And milk gushed forth unstinted: dripped the while
Sweet streams of honey from their ivy staves.

The first half of the play, the audience laughs often. Even Semele's sisters, the mother and aunts of the present King Pentheus, believe her lover had been a mere mortal.  The King is indignant that the women would dare to ignore their household duties and go off gallivanting on their own. Dionysus targets the young King Pentheus, son of Semele's sister Agave, grandson of the former king Cadmus. Dionysus tempts the king to go and spy on the women, to watch "their obscene acts."

 Pentheus refuses to accept Dionysus as a god. Dionysus arranges for Agave, maddened beyond reason, to rip her own son to shreds, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

The scene of Pentheus' murder, which takes place off-stage (as do all violent scenes in Greek tragedy), is chillingly related by a witness. Agave then arrives with Pentheus' head impaled on her thyrsus, believing it to be a mountain lion, her father Cadmus tells her to nail it to the palace wall.
 At the end, everyone who is left alive acknowledges his fault. Pentheus is dead, Agave and Cadmus are exiled, and the population of Thebes can only be cleansed by instituting and keeping the rites of Dionysus. Dionysus leaves Thebes, having meted out his divine justice.

Euripides’ Bacchae

produced by Brian De Palma

Released by:Sigma III (1970)Directed by:Richard Schechner Director of photography:
Brian De Palma & Robert Fiore

Hugely inspired by the ground-breaking theatrical rituals of Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, DIONYSUS IN '69 (as the production was named) stirred up huge controversy amongst New York theatre audiences and critics alike.

Although the production was directed by Richard Schechner, Dionysus In '69 was created through a rehearsal process that was part democracy, part anarchy, part primal scream therapy. The final result was more a ritualized confrontation than conventional play, which culminated in a virtual orgy of audience participation. Nudity, profanity and huge amounts of stage blood were used to tremendous effect.

Brian DePalma discovered the production and brought two NYU film maker friends of his into a special performance where multiple 16mm cameras were used to archive the iconoclastic proceedings in B&W. The final cut is an exercise in the "split screen" techniques which would eventually become DePalma's cinematic trademark.
"My taste for the long takes was born during DIONYSUS IN '69.  Some takes are almost eight minutes long." Depalma remarked.

 more at & Brian De Palma by

This story of a merciless deity has was used by Christians to vanquish the wide popularity that Dionysus and his rites enjoyed centuries past Roman endorsement of Christianity as the sole official religion. Pagans point out that the main point of the story, intolerance for lack of belief, has remained an basic part of both Christianity and its main rival for adherents, Muslimism. 

  Aeschylus reminds us that Orpheus voice affected "All"
Aristophanes The Frogs THE FROGS was probably produced at the Lenaean festival in Athens in January, 405 B.C. where it took first prize. It scored such a hit that it was staged a second time, probably in March of the same year, at the Great Dionysia. It is typical of the lyrical-burlesques of Aristophanes. 

Dionysus is in Hades and almost at once loud quarreling is heard. The disturbance turns out to be Aeschylus and Euripides disputing the place of honor as King of Tragedy, a position which Aeschylus holds and Euripides wants. It is finally agreed that since their plays were written for performance at the Dionysian festivals, Dionysus shall decide their dispute.

It is in Aristophanes' The Frogs  that we get the closest look at the comic dimensions of the god.  Lois Spatz points out that in this play Dionysus is also Iachus, god of mysteries.  "It is he who leads the sacred procession from Athens to Demeter's shrine at Eleusis."  The combination of the two gods offered to everyone, including women and slaves, the opportunity to become initiates into a cult which promised a blessed afterlife.

Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE) was born  on Salamis, and died in Macedonia in 406. Though he was scarcely a generation younger than Sophocles, his world view better reflects the political, social, and intellectual crises of late 5th-century Athens. He was friendly with the philosophers Anaxagoras and Socrates and with Sophists such as Protagoras and Prodicus, and his plays reflect contemporary ethics, rhetoric, and science. He may have been prosecuted for impiety by the demagogue Cleon. Less reverent than Aeschylus or Sophocles, Euripides criticized traditional religion and shocked contemporaries by representing mythical figures as everyday, unheroic people or even as abnormal or neurotic personalities.

Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Euripides first competed in the famous Athenian dramatic festival (the Dionysia) in 455 BCE, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third. It was not until 441 BCE that he won first place, and over the course of his lifetime, Euripides claimed a mere four victories. Euripides' final competition in Athens was in 408 BCE. Although there is a story that he left Athens embittered because of his defeats, there is no real evidence to support it. He died in 406 BCE, probably in Athens or nearby, and not in Macedon, as some biographers repeatedly state.

 Euripides. The Bacchae The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BCE. Shortly after 408 he left Athens for the court of Archelaus, king of Macedon, and there wrote one his greatest plays, The Bacchae, the most demonic known work of the ancient Attic theater, revealing the punishment that the wine god Dionysus visits upon Thebes and its youthful king, the puritanical Pentheus, for rejecting his divinity. Euripides advances a bewildering array of techniques and ideas. Divine, human, animal, and sexual identities are confused; miracles and distortions of world, psyche and behavior abound. The Bacchae is the most explicit expression of Euripides' involvement with the ambiguities, paradoxes, and deceptions residing in the human condition.

Euripides' greatest works are considered to be Alcestis, Medea, Electra, and The Bacchae. 
prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, is in the public domain

Heraclitus of Ephesus (Greek Ἡράκλειτος Herakleitos) (about 535 - 475 BC), known as 'The Obscure,' was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Ephesus in Asia Minor. As with other pre-Socratics, his writings only survive in fragments quoted by other authors. He disagreed with Thales, Anaximander, and Pythagoras about the nature of the ultimate substance and claimed instead that everything is derived from the Greek classical element fire, rather than from air, water, or earth. This led to the belief that change is real, and stability illusory. For Heraclitus everything is "in flux", as exemplified in his famous aphorism "Panta Rhei":

Heradotus [c. 484-425B.C.] the Father of History

Herodotus was to make journeys to places like Asia Minor, Babylonia, Egypt and Greece during his lifetime, and he wrote about the different people and cultures he met.
It was Herodotus who was the first person to speak about the idea of the free men of the west against the slaves of the east.
At the age of about 37 he went to Athens, and won the admiration of many people, including Pericles and his good friend Sophocles.
A few years later he settled in southern Italy, in the Greek colony Thurii. He was to spent the rest of his life working on his History, which describes the history and civilization of the ancient world.
Herodotus tried to achieve objectivity and tried to separate what he held for true and what he thought was improbable.
He founded the grounds for historiography in trying to draw moral lessons from various events, showing for example how the gods punish the arrogant.

Livy Titus Livius
Bust of Livy
--The best known evil is the most tolerable.

--Vae victis! =Woe to the vanquished

(Titus Livius (around 59 BC - 17 AD), known as Livy in English, wrote a monumental history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita, from its founding (traditionally dated to 753 BC). Livy was a native of Padua on the Po River in northern Italy

Livy's work was originally composed of 142 books, of which only 35 are extant; these are 1-10, and 21-45 (with major lacunae in 40-45).

Ovid Actual name was Publius Ovidius Naso (Sulmona, March 20, 43 BC – Tomis, now Constanta AD 17) Ovid, the Roman poet  wrote on topics of love, abandoned women, and mythological transformations. From his own time until the end of Antiquity Ovid was among the most widely read and imitated of Latin poets; his greatest work, the Metamorphoses.

Ovid is among the most quotable of early writers:


Augustus banished Ovid in AD 8 to Tomis on the Black Sea for reasons that remain mysterious. Ovid himself wrote that it was because of an error and a carmen – a mistake and a poem (Tr. 2.207). Likely referring to his publishing the Art of Love, a treatise that made no careful distinction between the seduction of citizens' wives and more conventionally accessible Roman demimondaines. 

Even though he was friendly with the natives of Tomis, a people known as the Scythians. He still pined for Rome and his beloved third wife. Ovid died at Tomis after nearly ten years of banishment.

To understand the significance of Ovid, one has to set him up as a clear foil to Virgil, who was his contemporary. Virgil is famous for Rome's national epic the Aeneid,  high nationalist poetry, as well as his status as Augustus's star artist. Ovid wrote fragmented, non-linear works like Metamorphoses, The Art of Love, and The Heroides.

Ovid's work has been remembered fondly as a testament to the playful and erotically experimental side of Rome, the feel-good side of the Roman spirit, the comedic genius of its social life, and of course, the pain of being ultimately disgraced and shunned for speaking one's mind. Thus Ovidian sensibility is more transgressive, naughty, bohemian---more Carnaval like.

  • Latin text with English translation
    "He had been hailed as the successor to Virgil, but lived his last ten years among barbarians, keeping up the hope of return to Rome. ... The reasons behind the emperor's decisions are unsolved, but he may have objected to a rumored affair between Ovid and the emperor's nymphomaniac daughter Julia."

    "... Praise wine that is old, but praise the flowers of songs that are new." [Pindar, Olympian Odes 9.49]

    Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus, (23–79) better known as Pliny the Elder, was an ancient author and Natural philosopher of some importance who wrote Naturalis Historia. He completed a History of his Times in thirty-one books, possibly extending from the reign of Nero to that of Vespasian, and deliberately reserved it for publication after his death. Pliny collected much of the knowledge of his time into his great work, the Naturalis Historia, an encyclopedia.

    Pliny was an adherent to the Stoics. He was also influenced by the Epicurean and the Academic and the revived Pythagorean schools. But his view of nature and of God is essentially Stoic. It was only (he declares) the weakness of humanity that had embodied the Being of God in many human forms imbued with human faults and vices . The Godhead was really one; it was the soul of the eternal world, displaying its beneficence on the earth, as well as in the sun and stars  [

    Pliny the Younger:
    Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (63-ca. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome.The nephew of Pliny the Elder, who is considered by many to be the greatest naturalist of antiquity.

    Pliny was orphaned at an early age. He had Virginius Rufus (an important man and general in the Roman army) as his tutor. He was later adopted by his uncle Pliny the Elder, who brought him to study in Rome, where his teachers were Quintilian and Nices Sacerdos.  Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum.


    Raphael's Plato in The School of Athens fresco, probably in the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci.Plato (427 BC – ca. 347 BC) was an immensely influential classical Greek philosopher, student of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle, writer, and founder of the Academy in Athens. Plato was also deeply influenced by a number of prior philosophers, including: the Pythagoreans, whose notions of numerical harmony have clear echoes in Plato's notion of the Forms; Anaxagoras, who taught Socrates and who held that the mind, or reason, pervades everything; and Parmenides, who argued for the unity of all things and may have influenced Plato's concept of the soul.

    When he was 40 years old, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Academe.  it operated until AD 529, when it was closed by Justinian I of Byzantium because he saw it as a threat to the propagation of Christianity. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.

    Plato's thought is often compared with that of his most famous student, Aristotle, whose reputation during the Western Middle Ages completely eclipsed that of Plato.
    Plato's original writings were essentially lost to Western civilization until they were brought from Constantinople in the century before its fall. Medieval scholars knew of Plato only through translations into Latin from the translations into Arabic by Persian and Arab scholars. These scholars not only translated the texts of the ancients, but expanded them by writing extensive commentaries and interpretations on Plato's and Aristotle's works

    Only in the Renaissance, with the general resurgence of interest in classical civilization, did knowledge of Plato's philosophy become widespread again in the West. Many of the greatest early modern scientists and artists who fostered the flowering of the Renaissance, with the support of the Medici family of Florence, saw Plato's philosophy as the basis for progress in the arts and sciences.

    Plato's Whine about Wine
    "Shall we not pass a law that, in the first place, no children under eighteen may touch wine at all, teaching that it is wrong to pour fire upon fire either in body or in soul ... and thus guarding against the excitable disposition of the young? And next, we shall rule that the young man under thirty may take wine in moderation, but that he must entirely abstain from intoxication and heavy drinking. But when a man has reached the age of forty, he may join in the convivial gatherings and invoke Dionysus, above all other gods, inviting his presence at the rite (which is also the recreation) of the elders, which he bestowed on mankind as a medicine potent against the crabbedness of Old Age, that thereby we men may renew our youth, and that, through forgetfulness of care, the temper of our souls may lose its hardness and become softer and more ductile ..."
    ---[Plato, Laws 666b]
    "When an older lover and a young man come together and each obeys the principle appropriate to him - when the lover realizes that he is justified in doing anything for a loved one who grants him favors, and when the young man understands that he is justified in performing a service for a lover who can make him wise and virtuous - and when the lover is able to help the young man become wise and better, and the young man is eager to be taught and improved by his lover - then, and only then, when these two principles coincide absolutely, is it ever honorable for a young man to accept the lover."
    Plutarch Mestrius Plutarch (cz. 46-ca. post 127) was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist.
    His best-known work is the Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings. The surviving Lives contain twenty-three pairs of biographies, each pair containing one Greek Life and one Roman PlutarchLife, as well as four unpaired single Lives. As he explains in the first paragraph of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch was not concerned with writing histories, as such, but in exploring the influence of character — good or bad — on the lives and destinies of famous men.

    His collected works under the title of the Moralia (loosely translated as Customs and Mores) is an eclectic collection of seventy-eight essays and transcribed speeches, which includes On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great - an important adjunct to his Life of the great general, On the Worship of Isis and Osiris (a crucial source of information on Egyptian religious rites

    Plutarch lived most of his life at Chaeronea, and was initiated into the mysteries of the Greek god Apollo. However his duties as the senior of the two priests of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi  apparently occupied little of his time - he led a most active social and civic life and produced an incredible body of writings, much of which is still extant.

     Plutarch's philosophy was eclectic, with borrowings from the Stoics, Pythagoreans, and Peripatetics (but not the Epicureans) grouped around a core of Platonism. His main interest was in ethics, though he developed a mystical side, especially in his later years; he reveals that he had been initiated into the mysteries of the cult of Dionysus, and both as a Platonist and as an initiate he believed in the immortality of the soul.

    Plutarch's writings had enormous influence on English and French literature. Shakespeare occasionally quoted — and extensively paraphrased — Thomas North's translation of several of the Lives in his plays. American poet, philosopher, and essayist  Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists were greatly influenced by the Moralia (Emerson wrote a glowing introduction to the five volume 19th century edition of his Moralia).

      Greco-Roman Dictionary

    The Most Exhaustive Reference Guide To Greco-Roman Studies, March 1, 2005
    Reviewer: Octavius (United States) - See all my reviews
    The Oxford Classical Dictionary is the most reputed if not exhaustive reference guide to every conceivable subject involving antiquity. Each topic is organized alphabetically and has a detailed section with bibliographical references to contemporary works as well as classical sources.

    "Although I wouldn't recommend this as a first book for the casual reader, this book is indispensable for all serious scholars of classical studies." at

    A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875. Published  first in 1842 to the last in 1890‑91. The standard encyclopedia  reference with over 1 million words
    A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities
    John Murray, London, 1875. William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
    This index page collects the articles in Smith's Dictionary on religion: temples, ritual, festivals, divination,  priesthoods  etc. For general information about the Dictionary, and for about 400 articles on other topics, see its homepage.
    Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (search), and
     Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (search)
    Pliny the Elder's encyclopedic Natural History, (search), a remarkable snapshot of the state of Geography, Ethnography, Astronomy, Biology, and Geology in the early Roman empire.

    Roman History texts: Appian and Polybius

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