Commentary: Several comments have been posted about
Download: A 66k
text-only version is available for download.
Written 410 B.C.E
Before the Palace of Pentheus at Thebes. Enter DIONYSUS.
Lo! I am come to this land of Thebes, Dionysus' the son of
Zeus, of whom on a day Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, was delivered by
a flash of lightning. I have put off the god and taken human shape, and
so present myself at Dirce's springs and the waters of Ismenus. Yonder
I see my mother's monument where the bolt slew her nigh her house, and
there are the ruins of her home smouldering with the heavenly flame that
blazeth still-Hera's deathless outrage on my mother. To Cadmus all praise
I offer, because he keeps this spot hallowed, his daughter's precinct,
which my own hands have shaded round about with the vine's clustering
Lydia's glebes, where gold abounds, and Phrygia have I left behind;
o'er Persia's sun-baked plains, by Bactria's walled towns and Media's wintry
clime have I advanced through Arabia, land of promise; and Asia's length
and breadth, outstretched along the brackish sea, with many a fair walled
town, peopled with mingled race of Hellenes and barbarians; and this is
the first city in Hellas I have reached. There too have I ordained dances
and established my rites, that I might manifest my godhead to men; but
Thebes is the first city in the land of Hellas that I have made ring with
shouts of joy, girt in a fawn-skin, with a thyrsus, my ivy-bound spear,
in my hand; since my mother's sisters, who least of all should have done
it, denied that Dionysus was the son of Zeus, saying that Semele, when
she became a mother by some mortal lover, tried to foist her sin on Zeus-a
clever ruse of Cadmus, which, they boldly asserted, caused Zeus to slay
her for the falsehood about the marriage. Wherefore these are they whom
I have driven frenzied from their homes, and they are dwelling on the hills
with mind distraught; and I have forced them to assume the dress worn in
my orgies, and all the women-folk of Cadmus' stock have I driven raving
from their homes, one and all alike; and there they sit upon the roofless
rocks beneath the green pine-trees, mingling amongst the sons of Thebes.
For this city must learn, however loth, seeing that it is not initiated
in my Bacchic rites, and I must take up my mother's defence, by showing
to mortals that the child she bore to Zeus is a deity. Now Cadmus gave
his sceptre and its privileges to Pentheus, his daughter's child, who wages
war 'gainst my divinity, thrusting me away from his drink-offerings, and
making no mention of me in his prayers. Therefore will I prove to him and
all the race of Cadmus that I am a god. And when I have set all in order
here, I will pass hence to a fresh country, manifesting myself; but if
the city of Thebes in fury takes up arms and seeks to drive my votaries
from the mountain, I will meet them at the head of my frantic rout. This
is why I have assumed a mortal form, and put off my godhead to take man's
O ye who left Tmolus, the bulwark of Lydia, ye women, my revel
rout! whom I brought from your foreign homes to be ever by my side and
bear me company, uplift the cymbals native to your Phrygian home, that
were by me and the great mother Rhea first devised, and march around the
royal halls of Pentheus smiting them, that the city of Cadmus may see you;
while I will seek Cithaeron's glens, there with my Bacchanals to join the
From Asia o'er the holy ridge of Tmolus hasten to a pleasant
task, a toil that brings no weariness, for Bromius' sake, in honour of
the Bacchic god. Who loiters in the road? who lingers 'neath the roof?
Avaunt! I say, and let every lip be hushed in solemn silence; for I will
raise a hymn to Dionysus, as custom aye ordains. O happy he! who to his
joy is initiated in heavenly mysteries and leads a holy life, joining heart
and soul in Bacchic revelry upon the hills, purified from every sin; observing
the rites of Cybele, the mighty mother, and brandishing the thyrsus, with
ivy-wreathed head, he worships Dionysus. Go forth, go forth, ye Bacchanals,
bring home the Bromian god Dionysus, child of a god, from the mountains
of Phrygia to the spacious streets of Hellas, bring home the Bromian god!
whom on a day his mother in her sore travail brought forth untimely, yielding
up her life beneath the lightning stroke of Zeus' winged bolt; but forthwith
Zeus, the son of Cronos, found for him another womb wherein to rest, for
he hid him in his thigh and fastened it with golden pins to conceal him
from Hera. And when the Fates had fully formed the horned god, he brought
him forth and crowned him with a coronal of snakes, whence it is the thyrsus-bearing
Maenads hunt the snake to twine about their hair. O Thebes, nurse of Semele!
crown thyself with ivy; burst forth, burst forth with blossoms fair of
green convolvulus, and with the boughs of oak and pine join in the Bacchic
revelry; dor;-thy coat of dappled fawn-skin, decking it with tufts of silvered
hair; with reverent hand the sportive wand now wield. Anon shall the whole
land be dancing, when Bromius leads his revellers to the hills, to the
hills away! where wait him groups of maidens from loom and shuttle roused
in frantic haste by Dionysus. O hidden cave of the Curetes! O hallowed
haunts in Crete, that saw Zeus born, where Corybantes with crested helms
devised for me in their grotto the rounded timbrel of ox-hide, mingling
Bacchic minstrelsy with the shrill sweet accents of the Phrygian flute,
a gift bestowed by them on mother Rhea, to add its crash of music to the
Bacchantes' shouts of joy; but frantic satyrs won it from the mother-goddess
for their own, and added it to their dances in festivals, which gladden
the heart of Dionysus, each third recurrent year. Oh! happy that votary,
when from the hurrying revel-rout he sinks to earth, in his holy robe of
fawnskin, chasing the goat to drink its blood, a banquet sweet of flesh
uncooked, as he hastes to Phrygia's or to Libya's hills; while in the van
the Bromian god exults with cries of Evoe. With milk and wine and streams
of luscious honey flows the earth, and Syrian incense smokes. While the
Bacchante holding in his hand a blazing torch of pine uplifted on his wand
waves it, as he speeds along, rousing wandering votaries, and as he waves
it cries aloud with wanton tresses tossing in the breeze; and thus to crown
the revelry, he raises loud his voice, "On, on, ye Bacchanals, pride of
Tmolus with its rills of gold I to the sound of the booming drum, chanting
in joyous strains the praises of your joyous god with Phrygian accents
lifted high, what time the holy lute with sweet complaining note invites
you to your hallowed sport, according well with feet that hurry wildly
to the hills; like a colt that gambols at its mother's side in the pasture,
with gladsome heart each Bacchante bounds along."
What loiterer at the gates will call Cadmus from the house,
Agenor's son, who left the city of Sidon and founded here the town of Thebes?
Go one of you, announce to him that Teiresias is seeking him; he knows
himself the reason of my coming and the compact I and he have made in our
old age to bind the thyrsus with leaves and don the fawnskin, crowning
our heads the while with ivy-sprays.
Best of friends! I was in the house when I heard thy voice,
wise as its owner. I come prepared, dressed in the livery of the god. For
'tis but right I should magnify with all my might my own daughter's son,
Dionysus, who hath shown his godhead unto men. Where are we to join the
dance? where plant the foot and shake the hoary head? Do thou, Teiresias,
be my guide, age leading age, for thou art wise. Never shall I weary, night
or day, of beating the earth with my thyrsus. What joy to forget our years?
Why, then thou art as I am. For I too am young again, and will
essay the dance.
We will drive then in our chariot to the hill.
Nay, thus would the god not have an equal honour paid.
Well, I will lead thee, age leading age.
The god will guide us both thither without toil.
Shall we alone of all the city dance in Bacchus' honour?
Yea, for we alone are wise, the rest are mad.
We stay too long; come, take my hand.
There link thy hand in my firm grip.
Mortal that I am, I scorn not the gods.
No subtleties do I indulge about the powers of heaven. The
faith we inherited from our fathers, old as time itself, no reasoning shall
cast down; no! though it were the subtlest invention of wits refined. Maybe
some one will say, I have no respect for my grey hair in going to dance
with ivy round my head; not so, for the god did not define whether old
or young should dance, but from all alike he claims a universal homage,
and scorns nice calculations in his worship.
Teiresias, since thou art blind, I must prompt thee what to
say. Pentheus is coming hither to the house in haste, Echion's son, to
whom I resign the government. How scared he looks I what strange tidings
will he tell?
I had left my kingdom for awhile, when tidings of strange mischief
in this city reached me; I hear that our women-folk have left their homes
on pretence of Bacchic rites, and on the wooded hills rush wildly to and
fro, honouring in the dance this new god Dionysus, whoe'er he is; and in
the midst of each revel-rout the brimming wine-bowl stands, and one by
one they steal away to lonely spots to gratify their lust, pretending forsooth
that they are Maenads bent on sacrifice, though it is Aphrodite they are
placing before the Bacchic god. As many as I caught, my gaolers are keeping
safe in the public prison fast bound; and all who are gone forth, will
I chase from the hills, Ino and Agave too who bore me to Echion, and Actaeon's
mother Autonoe. In fetters of iron will I bind them and soon put an end
to these outrageous Bacchic rites. They say there came a stranger hither,
a trickster and a sorcerer, from Lydia's land, with golden hair and perfumed
locks, the flush of wine upon his face, and in his eyes each grace that
Aphrodite gives; by day and night he lingers in our maidens' company on
the plea of teaching Bacchic mysteries. Once let me catch him within these
walls, and I will put an end to his thyrsus-beating and his waving of his
tresses, for I will cut his head from his body. This is the fellow who
says that Dionysus is a god, says that he was once stitched up in the thigh
of Zeus-that child who with his mother was blasted by the lightning flash,
because the woman falsely said her marriage was with Zeus. Is not this
enough to deserve the awful penalty of hanging, this stranger's wanton
insolence, whoe'er he be?
But lo! another marvel. I see Teiresias, our diviner, dressed in
dappled fawn-skins, and my mother's father too, wildly waving the Bacchic
wand; droll sight enough! Father, it grieves me to see you two old men
so void of sense. Oh! shake that ivy from thee! Let fall the thyrsus from
thy hand, my mother's sire! Was it thou, Teiresias, urged him on to this?
Art bent on introducing this fellow as another new deity amongst men, that
thou mayst then observe the fowls of the air and make a gain from fiery
divination? Were it not that thy grey hairs protected thee, thou shouldst
sit in chains amid the Bacchanals, for introducing knavish mysteries; for
where the gladsome grape is found at women's feasts, I deny that their
rites have any longer good results.
What impiety! Hast thou no reverence, sir stranger, for the
gods or for Cadmus who sowed the crop of earth-born warriors? Son of Echion
as thou art, thou dost shame thy birth.
Whenso a man of wisdom finds a good topic for argument, it
is no difficult matter to speak well; but thou, though possessing a glib
tongue as if endowed with sense, art yet devoid thereof in all thou sayest.
A headstrong man, if he have influence and a capacity for speaking, makes
a bad citizen because he lacks sense. This new deity, whom thou deridest,
will rise to power I cannot say how great, throughout Hellas. Two things
there are, young prince, that hold first rank among men, the goddess Demeter,
that is, the earth, calf her which name thou please; she it is that feedeth
men with solid food; and as her counterpart came this god, the son of Semele,
who discovered the juice of the grape and introduced it to mankind, stilling
thereby each grief that mortals suffer from, soon as e'er they are filled
with the juice of the vine; and sleep also he giveth, sleep that brings
forgetfulness of daily ills, the sovereign charm for all our woe. God though
he is, he serves all other gods for libations, so that through him mankind
is blest. He it is whom thou dost mock, because he was sewn up in the thigh
of Zeus. But I will show thee this fair mystery. When Zeus had snatched
him from the lightning's blaze, and to Olympus borne the tender babe, Hera
would have cast him forth from heaven, but Zeus, as such a god well might,
devised a counterplot. He broke off a fragment of the ether which surrounds
the world, and made thereof a hostage against Hera's bitterness, while
he gave out Dionysus into other hands; hence, in time, men said that he
was reared in the thigh of Zeus, having changed the word and invented a
legend, because the god was once a hostage to the goddess Hera. This god
too hath prophetic power, for there is no small prophecy inspired by Bacchic
frenzy; for whenever the god in his full might enters the human frame,
he makes his frantic votaries foretell the future. Likewise he hath some
share in Ares' rights; for oft, or ever a weapon is touched, a panic seizes
an army when it is marshalled in array; and this too is a frenzy sent by
Dionysus. Yet shalt thou behold him e'en on Delphi's rocks leaping o'er
the cloven height, torch in hand, waving and brandishing the branch by
Bacchus loved, yea, and through the length and breadth of Hellas. Hearken
to me, Pentheus; never boast that might alone doth sway the world, nor
if thou think so, unsound as thy opinion is, credit thyself with any wisdom;
but receive the god into thy realm, pour out libations, join the revel
rout, and crown thy head. It is not Dionysus that will force chastity on
women in their love; but this is what we should consider, whether chastity
is part of their nature for good and all; for if it is, no really modest
maid will ever fall 'mid Bacchic mysteries. Mark this: thou thyself art
glad when thousands throng thy gates, and citizens extol the name of Pentheus;
he too, I trow, delights in being honoured. Wherefore I and Cadmus, whom
thou jeerest so, will wreath our brows with ivy and join the dance; pair
of grey beards though we be, still must we take part therein; never will
I for any words of thine fight against heaven. Most grievous is thy madness,
nor canst thou find a charm to cure thee, albeit charms have caused thy
Old sir, thy words do not discredit Phoebus, and thou art wise
in honouring Bromius, potent deity.
My son, Teiresias hath given thee sound advice; dwell with
us, but o'erstep not the threshold of custom; for now thou art soaring
aloft, and thy wisdom is no wisdom. E'en though he be no god, as thou assertest,
still say he is; be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of
Semele, that she may be thought the mother of a god, and we and all our
race gain honour. Dost thou mark the awful fate of Actaeon? whom savage
hounds of his own rearing rent in pieces in the meadows, because he boasted
himself a better hunter than Artemis. Lest thy fate be the same, come let
me crown thy head with ivy; join us in rendering homage to the god.
Touch me not away to thy Bacchic rites thyself! never try to
infect me with thy foolery! Vengeance will I have on the fellow who teaches
thee such senselessness. Away one of you without delay! seek yonder seat
where he observes his birds, wrench it from its base with levers, turn
it upside down, o'erthrowing it in utter confusion, and toss his garlands
to the tempest's blast. For by so doing shall I wound him most deeply.
Others of you range the city and hunt down this girl-faced stranger, who
is introducing a new complaint amongst our women, and doing outrage to
the marriage tie. And if haply ye catch him, bring him hither to me in
chains, to be stoned to death, a bitter ending to his revelry in Thebes.
Unhappy wretch! thou little knowest what thou art saying. Now
art thou become a raving madman, even before unsound in mind. Let us away,
Cadmus, and pray earnestly for him, spite of his savage temper, and likewise
for the city, that the god inflict not a signal vengeance. Come, follow
me with thy ivy-wreathed staff; try to support my tottering frame as I
do thine, for it is unseemly that two old men should fall; but let that-pass.
For we must serve the Bacchic god, the son of Zeus. Only, Cadmus, beware
lest Pentheus' bring sorrow to thy house; it is not my prophetic art, but
circumstances that lead me to say this; for the words of a fool are folly.
Exeunt CADMUS and TEIRESIAS.
O holiness, queen amongst the gods, sweeping on golden pinion
o'er the earth! dost hear the words of Pentheus, dost hear his proud blaspheming
Bromius, the son of Semele; first of all the blessed gods at every merry
festival? His it is to rouse the revellers to dance, to laugh away dull
care, and wake the flute, whene'er at banquets of the gods the luscious
grape appears, or when the winecup in the feast sheds sleep on men who
wear the ivy-spray. The end of all unbridled speech and lawless senselessness
is misery; but the life of calm repose and the rule of reason abide unshaken
and support the home; for far away in heaven though they dwell, the powers
divine behold man's state. Sophistry is not wisdom, and to indulge in thoughts
beyond man's ken is to shorten life; and if a man on such poor terms should
aim too high, he may miss the pleasures in his reach. These, to my mind,
are the ways of madmen and idiots. Oh! to make my way to Cyprus, isle of
Aphrodite, where dwell the love-gods strong to soothe man's soul, or to
Paphos, which that foreign river, never fed by rain, enriches with its
hundred mouths! Oh! lead me, Bromian god, celestial guide of Bacchic pilgrims,
to the hallowed slopes of Olympus, where Pierian Muses have their haunt
most fair. There dwell the Graces; there is soft desire; there thy votaries
may hold their revels freely. The joy of our god, the son of Zeus, is in
banquets, his delight is in peace, that giver of riches and nurse divine
of youth. Both to rich and poor alike hath he granted the delight of wine,
that makes all pain to cease; hateful to him is every one who careth not
to live the life of bliss, that lasts through days and nights of joy. True
wisdom is to keep the heart and soul aloof from over-subtle wits. That
which the less enlightened crowd approves and practises, will I accept.
Re-enter PENTHEUS. Enter SERVANT bringing DIONYSUS
We are come, Pentheus, having hunted down this prey, for which
thou didst send us forth; not in vain hath been our quest. We found our
quarry tame; he did not fly from us, but yielded himself without a struggle;
his cheek ne'er blanched, nor did his ruddy colour change, but with a smile
he bade me bind and lead him away, and he waited, making my task an easy
one. For very shame I said to him, "Against my will, sir stranger, do I
lead thee hence, but Pentheus ordered it, who sent me hither." As for his
votaries whom thou thyself didst check, seizing and binding them hand and
foot in the public gaol, all these have loosed their bonds and fled into
the meadows where they now are sporting, calling aloud on the Bromian god.
Their chains fell off their feet of their own accord, and doors flew open
without man's hand to help. Many a marvel hath this stranger brought with
him to our city of Thebes; what yet remains must be thy care.
Loose his hands; for now that I have him in the net he is scarce
swift enough to elude me. So, sir stranger, thou art not ill-favoured from
a woman's point of view, which was thy real object in coming to Thebes;
thy hair is long because thou hast never been a wrestler, flowing right
down thy cheeks most wantonly; thy skin is white to help thee gain thy
end, not tanned by ray of sun, but kept within the shade, as thou goest
in quest of love with beauty's bait. Come, tell me first of thy race.
That needs no braggart's tongue, 'tis easily told; maybe thou
knowest Tmolus by hearsay.
I know it, the range that rings the city of Sardis round.
Thence I come, Lydia is my native home.
What makes thee bring these mysteries to Hellas?
Dionysus, the son of Zeus, initiated me.
Is there a Zeus in Lydia, who begets new gods?
No, but Zeus who married Semele in Hellas.
Was it by night or in the face of day that he constrained thee?
'Twas face to face he intrusted his mysteries to me.
Pray, what special feature stamps thy rites?
That is a secret to be hidden from the uninitiated.
What profit bring they to their votaries?
Thou must not be told, though 'tis well worth knowing.
A pretty piece of trickery, to excite my curiosity!
A man of godless life is an abomination to the rites of the
Thou sayest thou didst see the god clearly; what was he like?
What his fancy chose; I was not there to order this.
Another clever twist and turn of thine, without a word of answer.
He were a fool, methinks, who would utter wisdom to a fool.
Hast thou come hither first with this deity?
All foreigners already celebrate these mysteries with dances.
The reason being, they are far behind Hellenes in wisdom.
In this at least far in advance, though their customs differ.
Is it by night or day thou performest these devotions?
By night mostly; darkness lends solemnity.
Calculated to entrap and corrupt women.
Day too for that matter may discover shame.
This vile quibbling settles thy punishment.
Brutish ignorance and godlessness will settle thine.
How bold our Bacchanal is growing! a very master in this wordy
Tell me what I am to suffer; what is the grievous doom thou
wilt inflict upon me?
First will I shear off thy dainty tresses.
My locks are sacred; for the god I let them grow.
Next surrender that thyrsus.
Take it from me thyself; 'tis the wand of Dionysus I am bearing.
In dungeon deep thy body will I guard.
The god himself will set me free, whene'er I list.
Perhaps he may, when thou standest amid thy Bacchanals and
callest on his name.
Even now he is near me and witnesses my treatment.
Why, where is he? To my eyes he is invisible.
He is by my side; thou art a godless man and therefore dost
not see him.
Seize him! the fellow scorns me and Thebes too.
I bid you bind me not, reason addressing madness.
But I say "bind!" with better right than thou.
Thou hast no knowledge of the life thou art leading; thy very
existence is now a mystery to thee.
I am Pentheus, son of Agave and Echion.
Well-named to be misfortune's mate!
Avaunt! Ho! shut him up within the horses' stalls hard by,
that for light he may have pitchy gloom. Do thy dancing there, and these
women whom thou bringest with thee to share thy villainies I will either
sell as slaves or make their hands cease from this noisy beating of drums,
and set them to work at the loom as servants of my own.
I will go; for that which fate forbids, can never befall me.
For this thy mockery be sure Dionysus will exact a recompense of thee-even
the god whose existence thou deniest; for thou art injuring him by haling
me to prison.
Exit DIONYSUS, guarded, and PENTHEUS.
Hail to thee, Dirce, happy maid, daughter revered of Achelous!
within thy founts thou didst receive in days gone by the babe of Zeus,
what time his father caught him up into his thigh from out the deathless
flame, while thus he cried: "Go rest, my Dithyrambus, there within thy
father's womb; by this name, O Bacchic god, I now proclaim thee to Thebes."
But thou, blest Dirce, thrustest me aside, when in thy midst I strive to
hold my revels graced with crowns. Why dost thou scorn me? Why avoid me?
By the clustered charm that Dionysus sheds o'er the vintage I vow there
yet shall come a time when thou wilt turn thy thoughts to Bromius. What
furious rage the earth-born race displays, even Pentheus sprung of a dragon
of old, himself the son of earth-born Echion, a savage monster in his very
mien, not made in human mould, but like some murderous giant pitted against
heaven; for he means to bind me, the handmaid of Bromius, in cords forthwith,
and e'en now he keeps my fellow-reveller pent within his palace, plunged
in a gloomy dungeon. Dost thou mark this, O Dionysus, son of Zeus, thy
prophets struggling 'gainst resistless might? Come, O king, brandishing
thy golden thyrsus along the slopes of Olympus; restrain the pride of this
bloodthirsty wretch! Oh! where in Nysa, haunt of beasts, or on the peaks
of Corycus art thou, Dionysus, marshalling with thy wand the revellers?
or haply in the thick forest depths of Olympus, where erst Orpheus with
his lute gathered trees to his minstrelsy, and beasts that range the fields.
Ah blest Pieria! Evius honours thee, to thee will he come with his Bacchic
rites to lead the dance, and thither will he lead the circling Maenads,
crossing the swift current of Axius and the Lydias, that giveth wealth
and happiness to man, yea, and the father of rivers, which, as I have heard,
enriches with his waters fair a land of steeds.
What ho! my Bacchantes, ho! hear my call, oh! hear.
Who art thou? what Evian cry is this that calls me? whence
What ho! once more I call, I the son of Semele, the child of
My master, O my master, hail!
Come to our revel-band, O Bromian god.
Thou solid earth!
Most awful shock!
O horror! soon will the palace of Pentheus totter and fall.
Dionysus is within this house.
Do homage to him.
We do! I do!
Did ye mark yon architrave of stone upon the columns start
Within these walls the triumph-shout of Bromius himself will
Kindle the blazing torch with lightning's fire, abandon to
the flames the halls of Pentheus.
Ha! dost not see the flame, dost not clearly mark it at the
sacred tomb of Semele, the lightning flame which long ago the hurler of
the bolt left there?
Your trembling limbs prostrate, ye Maenads, low upon the ground.
Yea, for our king, the son of Zeus, is assailing and utterly
confounding this house.
Are ye so stricken with terror that ye have fallen to the earth,
O foreign dames? Ye saw then, it would seem, how the Bacchic god made Pentheus'
halls to quake; but arise, be of good heart, compose your trembling limbs.
O chiefest splendour of our gladsome Bacchic sport, with what
joy I see thee in my loneliness!
Were ye cast down when I was led into the house, to be plunged
into the gloomy dungeons of Pentheus?
Indeed I was. Who was to protect me, if thou shouldst meet
with mishap? But how wert thou set free from the clutches of this godless
My own hands worked out my own salvation, easily and without
But did he not lash fast thy hands with cords?
There too I mocked him; he thinks he bound me, whereas he never
touched or caught hold of me, but fed himself on fancy. For at the stall,
to which he brought me for a gaol, he found a bull, whose legs and hoofs
he straightly tied, breathing out fury the while, the sweat trickling from
his body, and he biting his lips; but I from near at hand sat calmly looking
on. Meantime came the Bacchic god and made the house quake, and at his
mother's tomb relit the fire; but Pentheus, seeing this, thought his palace
was ablaze, and hither and thither he rushed, bidding his servants bring
water; but all in vain was every servant's busy toil. Thereon he let this
labour be awhile, and, thinking maybe that I had escaped, rushed into the
palace with his murderous sword unsheathed. Then did Bromius-so at least
it seemed to me; I only tell you what I thought-made a phantom in the hall,
and he rushed after it in headlong haste, and stabbed the lustrous air,
thinking he wounded me. Further the Bacchic god did other outrage to him;
he dashed the building to the ground, and there it lies a mass of ruin,
a sight to make him rue most bitterly my bonds. At last from sheer fatigue
he dropped his sword and fell fainting; for he a mortal frail, dared to
wage war upon a god; but I meantime quietly left the house and am come
to you, with never a thought of Pentheus. But methinks he will soon appear
before the house; at least there is a sound of steps within. What will
he say, I wonder, after this? Well, be his fury never so great, I will
lightly bear it; for 'tis a wise man's way to school his temper into due
Shamefully have I been treated; that stranger, whom but now
I made so fast in prison, hath escaped me. Ha! there is the man! What means
this? How didst thou come forth, to appear thus in front of my palace?
Stay where thou art; and moderate thy fury.
How is it thou hast escaped thy fetters and art at large?
Did I not say, or didst thou not hear me, "There is one will
Who was it? there is always something strange in what thou
He who makes the clustering vine to grow for man.
(I scorn him and his vines!)
A fine taunt indeed thou hurlest here at Dionysus!
To his servants
Bar every tower that hems us in, I order you.
What use? Cannot gods pass even over walls?
How wise thou art, except where thy wisdom is needed!
Where most 'tis needed, there am I most wise. But first listen
to yonder messenger and hear what he says; he comes from the hills with
tidings for thee; and I will await thy pleasure, nor seek to fly.
Pentheus, ruler of this realm of Thebes! I am come from Cithaeron,
where the dazzling flakes of pure white snow ne'er cease to fall.
What urgent news dost bring me?
I have seen, O king, those frantic Bacchanals, who darted in
frenzy from this land with bare white feet, and I am come to tell thee
and the city the wondrous deeds they do, deeds passing strange. But I fain
would hear, whether I am freely to tell all I saw there, or shorten my
story; for I fear thy hasty temper, sire, thy sudden bursts of wrath and
more than princely rage.
Say on, for thou shalt go unpunished by me in all respects;
for to be angered with the upright is wrong. The direr thy tale about the
Bacchantes, the heavier punishment will I inflict on this fellow who brought
his secret arts amongst our women.
I was just driving the herds of kine to a ridge of the hill
as I fed them, as the sun shot forth his rays and made the earth grow warm;
when lo! I see three revel-bands of women; Autonoe was chief of one, thy
mother Agave of the second, while Ino's was the third. There they lay asleep,
all tired out; some were resting on branches of the pine, others had laid
their heads in careless ease on oak-leaves piled upon the ground, observing
all modesty; not, as thou sayest, seeking to gratify their lusts alone
amid the woods, by wine and soft flute-music maddened.
Anon in their midst thy mother uprose and cried aloud to wake them
from their sleep, when she heard the lowing of my horned kine. And up they
started to their feet, brushing from their eyes sleep's quickening dew,
a wondrous sight of grace and modesty, young and old and maidens yet unwed.
First o'er their shoulders they let stream their hair; then all did gird
their fawn-skins up, who hitherto had left the fastenings loose, girdling
the dappled hides with snakes that licked their cheeks. Others fondled
in their arms gazelles or savage whelps of wolves, and suckled them-young
mothers these with babes at home, whose breasts were still full of milk;
crowns they wore of ivy or of oak or blossoming convolvulus. And one took
her thyrsus and struck it into the earth, and forth there gushed a limpid
spring; and another plunged her wand into the lap of earth and there the
god sent up a fount of wine; and all who wished for draughts of milk had
but to scratch the soil with their finger-tips and there they had it in
abundance, while from every ivy-wreathed staff sweet rills of honey
Hadst thou been there and seen this, thou wouldst have turned to
pray to the god, whom now thou dost disparage. Anon we herdsmen and shepherds
met to discuss their strange and wondrous doings; then one, who wandereth
oft to town and hath a trick of speech, made harangue in the midst, "O
ye who dwell upon the hallowed mountain-terraces! shall we chase Agave,
mother of Pentheus, from her Bacchic rites, and thereby do our prince a
service?" We liked his speech, and placed ourselves in hidden ambush among
the leafy thickets; they at the appointed time began to wave the thyrsus
for their Bacchic rites, calling on Iacchus, the Bromian god, the son of
Zeus, in united chorus, and the whole mount and the wild creatures re-echoed
their cry; all nature stirred as they rushed on. Now Agave chanced to come
springing near me, so up I leapt from out my ambush where I lay concealed,
meaning to seize her. But she cried out, "What ho! my nimble hounds, here
are men upon our track; but follow me, ay, follow, with the thyrsus in
your hand for weapon." Thereat we fled, to escape being torn in pieces
by the Bacchantes; but they, with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked
our cattle as they browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering
some sleek lowing calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb. Before
thy eyes there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this way and that;
and strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as they hung from the
pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now with rage along their horns,
found themselves tripped up, dragged down to earth by countless maidens'
hands. The flesh upon their limbs was stripped therefrom quicker than thou
couldst have closed thy royal eye-lids. Then off they sped, like birds
that skim the air, to the plains beneath the hills, which bear a fruitful
harvest for Thebes beside the waters of Asopus; to Hysiae and Erythrae,
hamlets 'neath Cithaeron's peak, with fell intent, swooping on everything
and scattering all pellmell; and they would snatch children from their
homes; but all that they placed upon their shoulders, abode there firmly
without being tied, and fell not to the dusky earth, not even brass or
iron; and on their hair they carried fire and it burnt them not; but the
country-folk rushed to arms, furious at being pillaged by Bacchanals; whereon
ensued, O king, this wondrous spectacle. For though the ironshod dart would
draw no blood from them, they with the thyrsus, which they hurled, caused
many a wound and put their foes to utter rout, women chasing men, by some
god's intervention. Then they returned to the place whence they had started,
even to the springs the god had made to spout for them; and there washed
off the blood, while serpents with their tongues were licking clean each
gout from their cheeks. Wherefore, my lord and master, receive this deity,
whoe'er he be, within the city; for, great as he is in all else, I have
likewise heard men say, 'twas he that gave the vine to man, sorrow's antidote.
Take wine away and Cypris flies, and every other human joy is dead.
Though I fear to speak my mind with freedom in the presence
of my king, still must I utter this; Dionysus yields to no deity in might.
Already, look you! the presumption of these Bacchantes is upon
us, swift as fire, a sad disgrace in the eyes of all Hellas. No time for
hesitation now! away to the Electra gate! order a muster of all my men-at-arms,
of those that mount fleet steeds, of all who brandish light bucklers, of
archers too that make the bowstring twang; for I will march against the
Bacchanals. By Heaven I this passes all, if we are to be thus treated by
Still obdurate, O Pentheus, after hearing my words! In spite
of all the evil treatment I am enduring from thee, still I warn thee of
the sin of bearing arms against a god, and bid thee cease; for Bromius
will not endure thy driving his votaries from the mountains where they
A truce to thy preaching to me! thou hast escaped thy bonds,
preserve thy liberty; else will I renew thy punishment.
I would rather do him sacrifice than in a fury kick against
the pricks; thou a mortal, he a god.
Sacrifice! that will I, by setting afoot a wholesale slaughter
of women 'mid Cithaeron's glens, as they deserve.
Ye will all be put to flight-a shameful thing that they with
the Bacchic thyrsus should rout your mail-clad warriors.
I find this stranger a troublesome foe to encounter; doing
or suffering he is alike irrepressible.
Friend, there is still a way to compose this bitterness.
Say how; am I to serve my own servants?
I will bring the women hither without weapons.
Ha! ha! this is some crafty scheme of thine against me.
What kind of scheme, if by my craft I purpose to save thee?
You have combined with them to form this plot, that your revels
may on for ever.
Nay, but this is the compact I made with the god; be sure of
Preparing to start forth
Bring forth my arms. Not another word from thee!
Ha! wouldst thou see them seated on the hills?
Of all things, yes! I would give untold sums for that.
Why this sudden, strong desire?
'Twill be a bitter sight, if I find them drunk with wine.
And would that be a pleasant sight which will prove bitter
Believe me, yes! beneath the fir-trees as I sit in silence.
Nay, they will track thee, though thou come secretly.
Well, I will go openly; thou wert right to say so.
Am I to be thy guide? wilt thou essay the road?
Lead on with all speed, I grudge thee all delay.
Array thee then in robes of fine linen.
Why so? Am I to enlist among women after being a man?
They may kill thee, if thou show thy manhood there.
Well said! Thou hast given me a taste of thy wit already.
Dionysus schooled me in this lore.
How am I to carry out thy wholesome advice?
Myself will enter thy palace and robe thee.
What is the robe to be? a woman's? Nay, I am ashamed.
Thy eagerness to see the Maenads goes no further.
But what dress dost say thou wilt robe me in?
Upon thy head will I make thy hair grow long.
Describe my costume further.
Thou wilt wear a robe reaching to thy feet; and on thy head
shall be a snood.
Wilt add aught else to my attire?
A thyrsus in thy hand, and a dappled fawnskin.
I can never put on woman's dress.
Then wilt thou cause bloodshed by coming to blows with the
Thou art right. Best go spy upon them first.
Well, e'en that is wiser than by evil means to follow evil
But how shall I pass through the city of the Cadmeans unseen?
We will go by unfrequented paths. I will lead the way.
Anything rather than that the Bacchantes should laugh at me.
We will enter the palace and consider the proper steps.
Thou hast my leave. I am all readiness. I will enter, prepared
to set out either sword in hand or following thy advice.
Women! our prize is nearly in the net. Soon shall he reach
the Bacchanals, and there pay forfeit with his life. O Dionysus! now 'tis
thine to act, for thou art not far away; let us take vengeance on him.
First drive him mad by fixing in his soul a wayward frenzy; for never,
whilst his senses are his own, will he consent to don a woman's dress;
but when his mind is gone astray he will put it on. And fain would I make
him a laughing-stock to Thebes as he is led in woman's dress through the
city, after those threats with which he menaced me before. But I will go
to array Pentheus in those robes which he shall wear when he sets out for
Hades' halls, a victim to his own mother's fury; so shall he recognize
Dionysus, the son of Zeus, who proves himself at last a god most terrible,
for all his gentleness to man.
Will this white foot e'er join the night-long dance? what time
in Bacchic ecstasy I toss my neck to heaven's dewy breath, like a fawn,
that gambols 'mid the meadow's green delights, when she hath escaped the
fearful chase, clear of the watchers, o'er the woven nets; while the huntsman,
with loud halloo, harks on his hounds' full cry, and she with laboured
breath at lightning speed bounds o'er the level water-meadows, glad to
be far from man amid the foliage of the bosky grove. What is true wisdom,
or what fairer boon has heaven placed in mortals' reach, than to gain the
mastery o'er a fallen foe? What is fair is dear for aye. Though slow be
its advance, yet surely moves the power of the gods, correcting those mortal
wights, that court a senseless pride, or, in the madness of their fancy,
disregard the gods. Subtly they lie in wait, through the long march of
time, and so hunt down the godless man. For it is never right in theory
or in practice to o'erride the law of custom. This is a maxim cheaply bought:
whatever comes of God, or in time's long annals, has grown into a law upon
a natural basis, this is sovereign. What is true wisdom, or what fairer
boon has heaven placed in mortals' reach, than to gain the mastery o'er
a fallen foe? What is fair is dear for ave. Happy is he who hath escaped
the wave from out the sea, and reached the haven; and happy he who hath
triumphed o'er his troubles; though one surpasses another in wealth and
power; yet there be myriad hopes for all the myriad minds; some end in
happiness for man, and others come to naught; but him, whose life from
day to day is blest, I deem a happy man.
Ho! Pentheus, thou that art so cager to see what is forbidden,
and to show thy zeal in an unworthy cause, come forth before the palace,
let me see thee clad as a woman in frenzied Bacchante's dress, to spy upon
thy own mother and her company.
Yes, thou resemblest closely a daughter of Cadmus.
Of a truth I seem to see two suns, and two towns of Thebes,
our seven-gated city; and thou, methinks, art a bull going before to guide
me, and on thy head a pair of horns have grown. Wert thou really once a
brute beast? Thon hast at any rate the appearance of a bull.
The god attends us, ungracious heretofore, but now our sworn
friend; and now thine eyes behold the things they should.
Pray, what do I resemble? Is not mine the carriage of Ino,
or Agave my own mother?
In seeing thee, I seem to see them in person. But this tress
is straying from its place, no longer as I bound it 'neath the snood.
I disarranged it from its place as I tossed it to and fro within
my chamber, in Bacchic ecstasy.
Well, I will rearrange it, since to tend thee is my care; hold
up thy head.
Come, put it straight; for on thee do I depend.
Thy girdle is loose, and the folds of thy dress do not hang
evenly below thy ankles.
I agree to that as regards the right side, but on the other
my dress hangs straight with my foot.
Surely thou wilt rank me first among thy friends, when contrary
to thy expectation thou findest the Bacchantes virtuous.
Shall I hold the thyrsus in the right or left hand to look
most like a Bacchanal?
Hold it in thy right hand, and step out with thy right foot;
thy change of mind compels thy praise.
Shall I be able to carry on my shoulders Cithaeron's glens,
the Bacchanals and all?
Yes, if so thou wilt; for though thy mind was erst diseased,
'tis now just as it should be.
Shall we take levers, or with my hands can I uproot it, thrusting
arm or shoulder 'neath its peaks?
No, no! destroy not the seats of the Nymphs and the haunts
of Pan, the place of his piping.
Well said! Women must not be mastered by brute force; amid
the pines will I conceal myself.
Thou shalt hide thee in the place that fate appoints, coming
by stealth to spy upon the Bacchanals.
Why, methinks they are already caught in the pleasant snares
of dalliance, like birds amid the brakes.
Set out with watchful heed then for this very purpose; maybe
thou wilt catch them, if thou be not first caught thyself.
Conduct me through the very heart of Thebes, for I am the only
man among them bold enough to do this deed.
Thou alone bearest thy country's burden, thou and none other;
wherefore there await thee such struggles as needs must. Follow me, for
I will guide thee safely thither; another shall bring thee thence.
My mother maybe.
For every eye to see.
My very purpose in going.
Thou shalt be carried back,
In thy mother's arms.
Thou wilt e'en force me into luxury.
Yes, to luxury such as this.
Truly, the task I am undertaking deserves it.
Strange, ah! strange is thy career, leading to scenes of woe
so strange, that thou shalt achieve a fame that towers to heaven. Stretch
forth thy hands, Agave, and ye her sisters, daughters of Cadmus; mighty
is the strife to which I am bringing the youthful king, and the victory
shall rest with me and Bromius; all else the event will show.
To the hills! to the hills! fleet hounds of madness, where
the daughters of Cadmus hold their revels, goad them into wild fury against
the man disguised in woman's dress, a frenzied spy upon the Maenads. First
shall his mother mark him as he peers from some smooth rock or riven tree,
and thus to the Maenads she will call, "Who is this of Cadmus' sons comes
hasting to the mount, to the mountain away, to spy on us, my Bacchanals?
Whose child can he be? For he was never born of woman's blood; but from
some lioness maybe or Libyan Gorgon is he sprung." Let justice appear and
show herself, sword in hand, to plunge it through and through the throat
of the godless, lawless, impious son of Echion, earth's monstrous child!
who with wicked heart and lawless rage, with mad intent and frantic purpose,
sets out to meddle with thy holy rites, and with thy mother's, Bacchic
god, thinking with his weak arm to master might as masterless as thine.
This is the life that saves all pain, if a man confine his thoughts to
human themes, as is his mortal nature, making no pretence where heaven
is concerned. I envy not deep subtleties; far other joys have I, in tracking
out great truths writ clear from all eternity, that a man should live his
life by day and night in purity and holiness, striving toward a noble goal,
and should honour the gods by casting from him each ordinance that lies
outside the pale of right. Let justice show herself, advancing sword in
hand to plunge it through and through the throat of Echion's son, that
godless, lawless, and abandoned child of earth! Appear, O Bacchus, to our
eyes as a bull or serpent with a hundred heads, or take the shape of a
lion breathing flame! Oh! come, and with a mocking smile cast the deadly
noose about the hunter of thy Bacchanals, e'en as he swoops upon the Maenads
Enter SECOND MESSENGER.
O house, so prosperous once through Hellas long ago, home of
the old Sidonian prince, who sowed the serpent's crop of earth-born men,
how do I mourn thee! slave though I be, yet still the sorrows of his master
touch a good slave's heart.
How now? Hast thou fresh tidings of the Bacchantes?
Pentheus, Echion's son is dead.
Bromius, my king! now art thou appearing in thy might divine.
Ha! what is it thou sayest? art thou glad, woman, at my master's
A stranger I, and in foreign tongue I express my joy, for now
no more do I cower in terror of the chain.
Dost think Thebes so poor in men?(*) (* Probably the whole
of one iambic line with part of another is here lost.)
'Tis Dionysus, Dionysus, not Thebes that lords it over me.
All can I pardon thee save this; to exult o'er hopeless suffering
is sorry conduct, dames.
Tell me, oh! tell me how he died, that villain scheming villainy!
Soon as we had left the homesteads of this Theban land and
had crossed the streams of Asopus, we began to breast Cithaeron's heights,
Pentheus and I, for I went with my master, and the stranger too, who was
to guide us to the scene. First then we sat us down in a grassy glen, carefully
silencing each footfall and whispered breath, to see without being seen.
Now there was a dell walled in by rocks, with rills to water it, and shady
pines o'erhead; there were the Maenads seated, busied with joyous toils.
Some were wreathing afresh the drooping thyrsus with curling ivy-sprays;
others, like colts let loose from the carved chariot-yoke, were answering
each other in hymns of Bacchic rapture. But Pentheus, son of sorrow, seeing
not the women gathered there, exclaimed, "Sir stranger, from where I stand,
I cannot clearly see the mock Bacchantes; but I will climb a hillock or
a soaring pine whence to see clearly the shameful doings of the Bacchanals."
Then and there I saw the stranger work a miracle; for catching a lofty
fir-branch by the very end he drew it downward to the dusky earth, lower
yet and ever lower; and like a bow it bent, or rounded wheel, whose curving
circle grows complete, as chalk and line describe it; e'en so the stranger
drew down the mountain-branch between his hands, bending it to earth, by
more than human agency. And when he had seated Pentheus aloft on the pine
branches, he let them slip through his hands gently, careful not to shake
him from his seat. Up soared the branch straight into the air above, with
my master perched thereon, seen by the Maenads better far than he saw them;
for scarce was he beheld upon his lofty throne, when the stranger disappeared,
while from the sky there came a voice, 'twould seem, by Dionysus
Exit SECOND MESSENGER.
"Maidens, I bring the man who tried to mock you and me and my mystic
rites; take vengeance on him." And as he spake he raised 'twixt heaven
and earth a dazzling column of awful flame. Hushed grew the sky, and still
hung each leaf throughout the grassy glen, nor couldst thou have heard
one creature cry. But they, not sure of the voice they heard, sprang up
and peered all round; then once again his bidding came; and when the daughters
of Cadmus knew it was the Bacchic god in very truth that called, swift
as doves they dirted off in cager haste, his mother Agave and her sisters
dear and all the Bacchanals; through torrent glen, o'er boulders huge they
bounded on, inspired with madness by the god. Soon as they saw my master
perched upon the fir, they set to hurling stones at him with all their
might, mounting a commanding eminence, and with pine-branches he was pelted
as with darts; and others shot their wands through the air at Pentheus,
their hapless target, but all to no purpose. For there he sat beyond the
reach of their hot endeavours, a helpless, hopeless victim. At last they
rent off limbs from oaks and were for prising up the roots with levers
not of iron. But when they still could make no end to all their toil, Agave
cried: "Come stand around, and grip the sapling trunk, my Bacchanals! that
we may catch the beast that sits thereon, lest he divulge the secrets of
our god's religion."
Then were a thousand hands laid on the fir, and from the ground
they tore it up, while he from his seat aloft came tumbling to the ground
with lamentations long and loud, e'en Pentheus; for well he knew his hour
was come. His mother first, a priestess for the nonce, began the bloody
deed and fell upon him; whereon he tore the snood from off his hair, that
hapless Agave might recognize and spare him, crying as he touched her cheek,
"O mother! it is I, thy own son Pentheus, the child thou didst bear in
Echion's halls; have pity on me, mother dear! oh! do not for any sin of
mine slay thy own son."
But she, the while, with foaming mouth and wildly rolling eyes,
bereft of reason as she was, heeded him not; for the god possessed her.
And she caught his left hand in her grip, and planting her foot upon her
victim's trunk she tore the shoulder from its socket, not of her own strength,
but the god made it an easy task to her hands; and Ino set to work upon
the other side, rending the flesh with Autonoe and all the eager host of
Bacchanals; and one united cry arose, the victim's groans while yet he
breathed, and their triumphant shouts. One would make an arm her prey,
another a foot with the sandal on it; and his ribs were stripped of flesh
by their rending nails; and each one with blood-dabbled hands was tossing
Pentheus' limbs about. Scattered lies his corpse, part beneath the rugged
rocks, and part amid the deep dark woods, no easy task to find; but his
poor head hath his mother made her own, and fixing it upon the point of
a thyrsus, as it had been a mountain lion's, she bears it through the midst
of Cithaeron, having left her sisters with the Maenads at their rites.
And she is entering these walls exulting in her hunting fraught with woe,
calling on the Bacchic god her fellow-hunter who had helped her to triumph
in a chase, where her only prize was tears.
But I will get me hence, away from this piteous scene, before Agave
reach the palace. To my mind self-restraint and reverence for the things
of God point alike the best and wisest course for all mortals who pursue
Come, let us exalt our Bacchic god in choral strain, let us
loudly chant the fall of Pentheus from the serpent sprung, who assumed
a woman's dress and took the fair Bacchic wand, sure pledge of death, with
a bull to guide him to his doom. O ye Bacchanals of Thebes! glorious is
the triumph ye have achieved, ending in sorrow and tears. 'Tis a noble
enterprise to dabble the hand in the blood of a son till it drips. But
hist! I see Agave, the mother of Pentheus, with wild rolling eye hasting
to the house; welcome the revellers of the Bacchic god.
Ye Bacchanals from Asia
Why dost thou rouse me? why?
From the hills I am bringing to my home a tendril freshly-culled,
glad guerdon-of the chase.
I see it, and I will welcome thee unto our revels. All hail!
I caught him with never a snare, this lion's whelp, as ye may
From what desert lair?
Was his death.
Who was it gave the first blow?
Mine that privilege; "Happy Agave!" they call me 'mid our revellers.
Who did the rest?
What of him?
His daughters struck the monster after me; yes, after me.
Fortune smiled upon thy hunting here.
Come, share the banquet.
Share? ah I what?
'Tis but a tender whelp, the down just sprouting on its cheek
beneath a crest of failing hair.
The hair is like some wild creature's.
The Bacchic god, a hunter skilled, roused his Maenads to pursue
this quarry skilfully.
Yea, our king is a hunter indeed.
Of course I do.
Soon shall the race of Cadmus-
And Pentheus, her own son, shall to his mother-
Offer praise for this her quarry of the lion's brood.
And strangely caught.
Dost thou exult?
Right glad am I to have achieved a great and glorious triumph
for my land that all can see.
Alas for thee! show to the folk the booty thou hast won and
art bringing hither.
All ye who dwell in fair fenced Thebes, draw near that ye may
see the fierce wild beast that we daughters of Cadmus made our prey, not
with the thong-thrown darts of Thessaly, nor yet with snares, but with
our fingers fair. Ought men idly to boast and get them armourers' weapons?
when we with these our hands have caught this prey and torn the monster
limb from limb? Where is my aged sire? let him approach. And where is Pentheus,
my son? Let him bring a ladder and raise it against the house to nail up
on the gables this lion's head, my booty from the chase.
Follow me, servants to the palace-front, with your sad burden
in your arms, ay, follow, with the corpse of Pentheus, which after long
weary search I found, as ye see it, torn to pieces amid Cithaeron's glens,
and am bringing hither; no two pieces did I find together, as they lay
scattered through the trackless wood. For I heard what awful deeds one
of my daughters had done, just as I entered the city-walls with old Teiresias
returning from the Bacchanals; so I turned again unto the and bring from
thence my son who was slain by Maenads. There I saw Autonoe, that bare
Actaeon on a day to Aristaeus, and Ino with her, still ranging the oak-groves
in their unhappy frenzy; but one told me that that Agave, was rushing wildly
hither, nor was it idly said, for there I see her, sight of woe!
Father, loudly mayst thou boast, that the daughters thou hast
begotten are far the best of mortal race; of one and all I speak, though
chiefly of myself, who left my shuttle at the loom for nobler enterprise,
even to hunt savage beasts with my hands; and in my arms I bring my prize,
as thou seest, that it may be nailed up on thy palace-wall; take it, father,
in thy had and proud of my hunting, call thy friends to a banquet; for
blest art thou, ah! doubly blest in these our gallant exploits.
O grief that has no bounds, too cruel for mortal eye! 'tis
murder ye have done with your hapless hands. Fair is the victim thou hast
offered to the gods, inviting me and my Thebans to the feast Ah, woe is
me first for thy sorrows, then for mine. What ruin the god, the Bromian
king, hath brought on us, just maybe, but too severe, seeing he is our
How peevish old age makes men! what sullen looks! Oh, may my
son follow in his mother's footsteps and be as lucky in his hunting, when
he goes quest of game in company with Theban youthsl But he can do naught
but wage war with gods. Father, 'tis thy duty to warn him. Who will summon
him hither to my sight to witness my happiness?
Alas for you! alas! Terrible will be your grief when ye are
conscious of your deeds; could ye re. for ever till life's close in your
present state, ye would not, spite of ruined bliss, appear so cursed with
Why? what is faulty bere? what here for sorrow?
First let thine eye look up to heaven.
See! I do so. Why dost thou suggest my looking thereupon?
Is it still the same, or dost think there's any change?
'Tis brighter than it was, and dearer too.
Is there still that wild unrest within thy soul?
I know not what thou sayest now; yet methinks my brain is clearing,
and my former frenzy passed away.
Canst understand, and give distinct replies?
Father, how completely I forget all we said before!
To what house wert thou brought with marriage-hymns?
Thou didst give me to earthborn Echion, as men call him.
What child was born thy husband in his halls?
Pentheus, of my union with his father.
What head is that thou barest in thy arms?
A lion's; at least they said so, who hunted it.
Consider it aright; 'tis no great task to look at it.
Ah! what do I see? what is this I am carrying in my hands?
Look closely at it; make thy knowledge more certain.
Ah, 'woe is me! O sight of awful sorrow!
Dost think it like a lion's head?
Ah no! 'tis Pentheus' head which I his unhappy mother hold.
Bemoaned by me, or ever thou didst recognize him.
Who slew him? How came he into my hands?
O piteous truth! how ill-timed thy presence here!
Speak; my bosom throbs at this suspense.
'Twas thou didst slay him, thou and thy sisters.
Where died he? in the house or where?
On the very spot where hounds of yore rent Actaeon in pieces.
Why went he, wretched youth! to Cithaeron?
He would go and mock the god and thy Bacchic rites.
But how was it we had journeyed thither?
Ye were distraught; the whole city had the Bacchic frenzy.
'Twas Dionysus proved our ruin; now I see it all.
Yes, for the slig