13 July 2010

Book Review: The Bacchae

Title:  The Bacchae
Author:  Euripides
Translation and Intro: William Arrowsmith
Original Release Date: 405 BCE
Date Finished: 10 July 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,

The Short and Sweet of It
Dionysus wishes for Thebes to recognize him as a god, but the current man-in-power, Pentheus, refuses to acknowledge him.  As a result, Pentheus and his whole family are punished rather remarkably. The sort of over-the-top punishment doled out in this play is one of the reasons I adore ancient Greek texts.

A Bit of a Ramble
Dionysus is alternately the most awesome god ever, the most ridiculous, and the most dangerous. He seems to be the god of excess, of drunken orgies and animal instincts; but along with the sexier versions of excess comes violence and rage and emotion without logic. It is to Dionysus which can be credited the reality of ecstatic frenzy (think arms in the air, speaking in tongues type religion, but with lots and lots of alcohol). When Dionysus begins his evil plan to reveal himself to Thebes, he seduces/possesses the women of the town who run off into the woods with him.  This pisses Pentheus off since those women are his relatives, including his mother.  Understandable really, I mean who wants their mom taking off with some playboy into the woods for irresponsible sex and drinking?

Pentheus determines to get the women back and drive Dionysus, who he refuses to believe is a god, from Thebes. But come on folks, as we all know, you don't mess with a god - and you certainly don't deny him his existence in the first place. Mucho badness befalls Pentheus and his family.

The central theme of The Bacchae is arguable. Certainly the convergence of religious tradition and rationality is at work in the text, represented by Dionysus and Pentheus; however, to say that the play favors one over the other seems questionable.  While Dionysus "wins" in the play, both characters are presented as equally undesirable. Dionysus is manipulative and conniving and Pentheus stubborn and delusional. Personally, I believe the play supports the immovability of mankind's belief more than it supports any religious doctrine. The truth of the existence of gods is secondary to people's belief in the existence. 

On a side note, the book I have does not feature that startling cover featured above, but I loved that cover too much not to use it. In the play, Dionysus has Pentheus dress in women's clothing to spy on the frenzied women in the forest, and I just love that the above cover shows this.

The Filmic Connection
The second season of TrueBlood features a Maenad, sort of a concubine/priestess of Dionysus aka Bacchus aka Bromius aka and the list goes on and on.  The TrueBlood version of Dionysus is definitely one of the more dangerous interpretations of him. Portrayed as a bull god whose spirit - or that of his maenad - possesses people causing indiscriminate sex and violent, Bacchus revels in the darker, instinctual side of humanity. Within The Bacchae, he's a bit more tame; if you can call someone who causes a mother to rip off the head of her son tame.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Project Gutenberg; The League of Ordinary Gentlemen review;



  1. I remember Euripedes as the only Greek writer I could stomach (we read a LOT of greek classics in my first semester of college), but I didn't read this one. Just Medea, which is one of my favorites. I love that you put the release date on there. :D

  2. Sounds like a very interesting play...one that I will have to check out.

  3. You know, I was REALLY bummed that Dionysus got cut from the Percy Jackson film! He was such a vibrant, likeably grouchy character in the books.

    It hurts my head to read the ancient Greeks these days, but hopefully that'll pass and I can get back into this stuff. I used to love it, but then I got burned out in college.

  4. Don't forget that Dionysus is also the god of insanity, which is why he's always been one of my personal favorites. Weird, but true.

    BTW, I've started watching the first season of True Blood. I'm liking it better than I thought I would! Who knew vampires, rednecks, sex, and a bit of masochism would make a good combination?

  5. Amanda - :) I liked the idea of having a release date for this. I'll have to try Medea.

    Serena - It was a pretty quick read and definitely entertaining.

    Andi - I agree! I love Dionysus in the Percy Jackson series. This was a pretty quick read, so it might not give you a headache!

    Stephanie - We are too much alike! Ha ha ha; it is strange how that mix makes for good tv.

  6. I've never read any Greek plays, I don't think, but clearly I should. I loved your summary of the play -- it always helps me to think about classics like soap operas because the drama makes more sense to me :)

  7. I can't believe I've never read this. In fact, I haven't read any Greek classics ever since my class on them ended. Shame on me, as I did love what I got to read.

  8. Kim - I love Greek stories, so I'm a bit biased, but I definitely think you should give it a try.

    Ana - You should definitely pick them up again. They are such great reads.


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