And they named me there by him
Agâvê the Blessèd!
But the swift hand that slaughters
Is mine; mine is the praise!
Bless ye this day of days!
[The Leader tries to speak, but is not able; Agave begins gently stroking the head.]
Curling and gently tressed,
The hair of the Wild Bull’s crest—
The young steer of the fell!
That head, those locks defiled.
(lifting up the head, more excitedly)
A Chase-God, a wise God!
He sprang them to seize this!
He preys where his band preys.
(brooding, with horror)
Thou tearest thy prize, God!
My name as none other,
Bless the spoils of the Lion!
Yea, glad in the breaking
Of dawn upon all this land,
By the prize, the prize of my hand!
The trophy of this deed that thou hast done!
And shining towers of ancient Thêbê dwell,
Come! Look upon this prize, this lion’s spoil,
That we have taken—yea, with our own toil,
We, Cadmus’ daughters! Not with leathern-set
Thessalian javelins, not with hunter’s net,
Only white arms and swift hands’ bladed fall.
Why make ye much ado, and boast withal
Your armourers’ engines? See, these palms were bare
That caught the angry beast, and held, and tare
The limbs of him! . . . Father! . . . Go, bring to me
My father! . . . Aye, and Pentheus, where is he,
My son? He shall set up a ladder-stair
Against this house, and in the triglyphs there
Nail me this lion’s head, that gloriously
I bring ye, having slain him—I, even I!
[She goes through the crowd towards the Castle, showing the head and looking for a place to hang it. Enter from the Mountain Cadmus, with attendants, bearing the body of Pentheus on a bier.]
Thralls, to his house, whose body grievously
With many a weary search at last in dim
Kithaeron’s glens I found, torn limb from limb,
And through the interweaving forest weed
Scattered.—Men told me of my daughters’ deed,
When I was just returned within these walls,
With grey Teiresias, from the Bacchanals.
And back I hied me to the hills again
To seek my murdered son. There saw I plain
Actaeon’s mother, ranging where he died,
Autonoë; and Ino by her side,
Wandering ghastly in the pine-copses.
Agâvê was not there. The rumour is
She cometh fleet-foot hither.—Ah! ‘Tis true;
A sight I scarce can bend mine eyes unto.
(turning from the Palace and seeing him)
Thou hast begotten daughters, high in power
And valiant above all mankind—yea, all
Valiant, though none like me! I have let fall
The shuttle by the loom, and raised my hand
For higher things, to slay from out thy land
Wild beasts! See, in mine arms I bear the prize,
That nailed above these portals it may rise
To show what things thy daughters did! Do thou
Take it, and call a feast. Proud art thou now
And highly favoured in our valiancy!
Or look upon thee!—Poor, poor, bloodstained hand!
Poor sisters!—A fair sacrifice to stand
Before God’s altars, daughter; yea, and call
Me and my citizens to feast withal!
Nay, let me weep—for thine affliction most,
Then for mine own. All, all of us are lost,
Not wrongfully, yet is it hard, from one
Who might have loved—our Bromios, our own!
Is man’s old age!—Would that my son likewise
Were happy of his hunting, in my way,
When with his warrior bands he will essay
The wild beast!—Nay, his valiance is to fight
With God’s will! Father, thou shouldst set him right. . . .
Will no one bring him hither, that mine eyes
May look on his, and show him this my prize!
The truth of what ye did, what pain of pain
That truth shall bring! Or were it best to wait
Darkened for evermore, and deem your state
Not misery, though ye know no happiness?
(after hesitation, resolving himself)
Clears, and some change cometh, I know not how.
(beginning to tremble, and not looking at what she carries)
(turning from him)
(leading her to the bier)
[As there is no answer, she lifts the veil of the bier, and sees.]
‘Twas mine! What portion had my child therein?
The God; who therefore to one bane hath brought
You and this body, wrecking all our line,
And me. Aye, no man-child was ever mine;
And now this first-fruit of the flesh of thee,
Sad woman, foully here and frightfully
Lies murdered! Whom the house looked up unto,
[Kneeling by the body.]
My castle walls; and to the folk a name
Of fear thou wast; and no man sought to shame
My grey beard, when they knew that thou wast there,
Else had they swift reward!—And now I fare
Forth in dishonour, outcast, I, the great
Cadmus, who sowed the seed-rows of this state
Of Thebes, and reaped the harvest wonderful.
O my belovèd, though thy heart is dull
In death, O still belovèd, and alway
Belovèd! Never more, then, shalt thou lay
Thine hand to this white beard, and speak to me
Thy “Mother’s Father”; ask “Who wrongeth thee?
Who stints thine honour, or with malice stirs
Thine heart? Speak, and I smite thine injurers!”
But now—woe, woe, to me and thee also,
Woe to thy mother and her sisters, woe
Alway! Oh, whoso walketh not in dread
Of Gods, let him but look on this man dead!
God sent on Pentheus; but for thee . . . ‘Tis hard.
My father, thou canst see the change in me,
[A page or more has here been torn out of the MS. from which all our copies of “The Bacchae” are derived. It evidently contained a speech of Agâvê (followed presumably by some words of the Chorus), and an appearance of Dionysus upon a cloud. He must have pronounced judgment upon the Thebans in general, and especially upon the daughters of Cadmus, have justified his own action, and declared his determination to establish his godhead. Where the MS. begins again, we find him addressing Cadmus.]
And tell of Time, what gifts for thee he bears,
What griefs and wonders in the winding years.
For thou must change and be a Serpent Thing
Strange, and beside thee she whom thou didst bring
Of old to be thy bride from Heaven afar,
Harmonia, daughter of the Lord of War.
Yea, and a chariot of kine—so spake
The word of Zeus—thee and thy Queen shall take
Through many lands, Lord of a wild array
Of orient spears. And many towns shall they
Destroy beneath thee, that vast horde, until
They touch Apollo’s dwelling, and fulfil
Their doom, back driven on stormy ways and steep.
Thee only and thy spouse shall Ares keep,
And save alive to the Islands of the Blest.
Thus speaketh Dionysus, Son confessed
Of no man but of Zeus!—Ah, had ye seen
Truth in the hour ye would not, all had been
Well with ye, and the Child of God your friend!
(turning from him almost with disdain)
All; thou, poor sufferer, and thy sisters twain,
And my sad self. Far off to barbarous men,
A grey-haired wanderer, I must take my road.
And then the oracle, the doom of God,
That I must lead a raging horde far-flown
To prey on Hellas; lead my spouse, mine own
Harmonia, Ares’ child, discorporate
And haunting forms, dragon and dragon-mate.
Against the tombs and altar-stones of Greece,
Lance upon lance behind us; and not cease
From toils, like other men, nor dream, nor past
The foam of Acheron find my peace at last.
As yearns the milk-white swan, when old swans die?
Lo, I am outcast from my bower,
And leave ye for a worser lot.
The way Actaeon’s father went!
Nay, Child, ’tis I must weep for thee;
For thee and for thy sisters twain!
Our Lord and Master, Dionyse,
Hath poured the utter dregs of pain!
Ye did me, when Thebes honoured not my name.
Together let our tears be shed,
Our ways be wandered; where no red
Kithaeron waits to gaze on me;
Nor I gaze back; no thyrsus stem,
Nor song, nor memory in the air.
Oh, other Bacchanals be there,
Not I, not I, to dream of them!
[Agave with her group of attendants goes out on the side away from the Mountain. Dionysus rises upon the Cloud and disappears.]
And many things God makes to be,
Past hope or fear.
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought.
So hath it fallen here.
NOTES ON THE BACCHAE
The Bacchae, being from one point of view a religious drama, a kind of “mystery play,” is full of allusions both to the myth and to the religion of Dionysus.
1. The Myth, as implied by Euripides. Semelê, daughter of Cadmus, being loved by Zeus, asked her divine lover to appear to her once in his full glory; he came, a blaze of miraculous lightning, in the ecstasy of which Semelê died, giving premature birth to a son. Zeus, to save this child’s life and make him truly God as well as Man, tore open his own flesh and therein fostered the child till in due time, by a miraculous and mysterious Second Birth, the child of Semelê came to full life as God.
2. The Religion of Dionysus is hard to formulate or even describe, both because of its composite origins and because of its condition of constant vitality, fluctuation, and development.
(a) The first datum, apparently, is the introduction from Thrace of the characteristic God of the wild northern mountains, a God of Intoxication, of Inspiration, a giver of superhuman or immortal life. His worship is superposed upon that of divers old Tree or Vegetation Gods, already worshipped in Greece. He becomes specially the God of the Vine. Originally a god of the common folk, despised and unauthorised, he is eventually so strong as to be adopted into the Olympian hierarchy as the “youngest” of the Gods, son of Zeus. His “Olympian” name, so to speak, is Dionysus, but in his worship he is addressed by numbers of names, more or less mystic and secret—Bromios, Bacchios or Baccheus, Iacchos, Eleuthercus, Zagreus, Sabazios, &c. Some of these may be the names of old spirits whom he has displaced; some are his own Thracian names. Bromos and Sabaja, for instance, seem to have been Thracian names for two kinds of intoxicating drink. Bacchos means a “wand.” Together with his many names, he has many shapes, especially appearing as a Bull and a Serpent.
(b) This religion, very primitive and barbarous, but possessing a strong hold over the emotions of the common people, was seized upon and transfigured by the great wave of religious reform, known under the name of Orphism, which swept over Greece and South Italy in the sixth century B.C., and influenced the teachings of such philosophers as Pythagoras, Aristeas, Empedocles, and the many writers on purification and the world after death. Orphism may very possibly represent an ancient Cretan religion in clash or fusion with one from Thrace. At any rate, it was grafted straight upon the Dionysus-worship, and, without rationalising, spiritualised and reformed it. Ascetic, mystical, ritualistic, and emotional, Orphism easily excited both enthusiasm and ridicule. It lent itself both to inspired saintliness and to imposture. In doctrine it laid especial stress upon sin, and the sacerdotal purification of sin; on the eternal reward due beyond the grave to the pure and the impure, the pure living in an eternal ecstasy—”perpetual intoxication,” as Plato satirically calls it—the impure toiling through long ages to wash out their stains. It recast in various ways the myth of Dionysus, and especially the story of his Second Birth. All true worshippers become in a mystical sense one with the God; they are born again and are “Bacchoi.” Dionysus being the God within, the perfectly pure soul is possessed by the God wholly, and becomes nothing but the God.
Based on very primitive rites and feelings, on the religion of men who made their gods in the image of snakes and bulls and fawns, because they hardly felt any difference of kind between themselves and the animals, the worship of Dionysus kept always this feeling of kinship with wild things. The beautiful side of this feeling is vividly conspicuous in The Bacchae. And the horrible side is not in the least concealed.
A curious relic of primitive superstition and cruelty remained firmly imbedded in Orphism—a doctrine irrational and unintelligible, and for that very reason wrapped in the deepest and most sacred mystery: a belief in the sacrifice of Dionysus himself, and the purification of man by his blood.
It seems possible that the savage Thracians, in the fury of their worship on the mountains, when they were possessed by the God and became “wild beasts,” actually tore with their teeth and hands any hares, goats, fawns, or the like that they came across. There survives a constant tradition of inspired Bacchanals in their miraculous strength tearing even bulls asunder—a feat, happily, beyond the bounds of human possibility. The wild beast that tore was, of course, the savage God himself. And by one of those curious confusions of thought, which seem so inconceivable to us and so absolutely natural and obvious to primitive men, the beast torn was also the God! The Orphic congregations of later times, in their most holy gatherings, solemnly partook of the blood of a bull, which was, by a mystery, the blood of Dionysus-Zagreus himself, the “Bull of God,” slain in sacrifice for the purification of man. And the Maenads of poetry and myth, among more beautiful proofs of their superhuman or infra-human character, have always to tear bulls in pieces and taste of the blood. It is noteworthy, and throws much light on the spirit of Orphism, that apart from this sacramental tasting of the blood, the Orphic worshipper held it an abomination to eat the flesh of animals at all. The same religious fervour and zeal for purity which made him reject the pollution of animal food, made him at the same time cling to a ceremonial which would utterly disgust the ordinary hardened flesh-eater. It fascinated him just because it was so incredibly primitive and uncanny; because it was a mystery which transcended reason!
It will be observed that Euripides, though certainly familiar with Orphism—which he mentions in The Hippolytus and treated at length in The Cretans (see Appendix)—has in The Bacchae gone back behind Orphism to the more primitive stuff from which it was made. He has little reference to any specially Orphic doctrine; not a word, for instance, about the immortality of the soul. And his idealisation or spiritualisation of Dionysus-worship proceeds along the lines of his own thought, not on those already fixed by the Orphic teachers.
P. 80, l. 17, Asia all that by the salt sea lies, &c.], i.e. the coasts of Asia Minor inhabited by Greeks, Ionia, Aeolis, and Doris.
P. 80, l. 27, From Dian seed.]—Dian=belonging to Zeus. The name Dionysus seemed to be derived from Διὸ ς, the genitive of “Zeus.”
P. 81, l. 50, Should this Theban town essay with wrath and battle, &c.]—This suggestion of a possibility which is never realised or approached is perhaps a mark of the unrevised condition of the play. The same may be said of the repetitions in the Prologue.
Pp. 82-86, ll. 64-169.—This first song of the Chorus covers a great deal of Bacchic doctrine and myth. The first strophe, “Oh blessed he in all wise,” &c., describes the bliss of Bacchic purity; the antistrophe gives the two births of Dionysus, from Semelê and from the body of Zeus, mentioning his mystic epiphanies as Bull and as Serpent. The next strophe is an appeal to Thebes, the birthplace or “nurse” of the God’s mother, Semelê; the antistrophe, an appeal to the cavern in Crete, the birthplace of Zeus, the God’s father, and the original home of the mystic Timbrel. The Epode, or closing song, is full, not of doctrine, but of the pure poetry of the worship.
Pp. 86-95, ll. 170-369, Teiresias and Cadmus.]—Teiresias seems to be not a spokesman of the poet’s own views—far from it—but a type of the more cultured sort of Dionysiac priest, not very enlightened, but ready to abate some of the extreme dogmas of his creed if he may keep the rest. Cadmus, quite a different character, takes a very human and earthly point of view: the God is probably a true God; but even if he is false, there is no great harm done, and the worship will bring renown to Thebes and the royal family. It is noteworthy how full of pity Cadmus is—the sympathetic kindliness of the sons of this world as contrasted with the pitilessness of gods and their devotees. See especially the last scenes of the play. Even his final outburst of despair at not dying like other men (p. 152), shows the same sympathetic humanity.
Pp. 89 ff., ll. 215-262.—Pentheus, though his case against the new worship is so good, and he might so easily have been made into a fine martyr, like Hippolytus, is left harsh and unpleasant, and very close in type to the ordinary “tyrant” of Greek tragedy (cf. p. 118). It is also noteworthy, I think, that he is, as it were, out of tone with the other characters. He belongs to a different atmosphere, like, to take a recent instance, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande.
P. 91, l. 263, Injurious King, &c.]—It is a mark of a certain yielding to stage convention in Euripides’ later style, that he allows the Chorus Leader to make remarks which are not “asides,” but are yet not heard or noticed by anybody.
P. 91, l. 264, Sower of the Giants’ sod.]—Cadmus, by divine guidance, slew a dragon and sowed the teeth of it like seed in the “Field of Ares.” From the teeth rose a harvest of Earth-born, or “Giant” warriors, of whom Echîon was one.
P. 92, l. 287, Learn the truth of it, cleared from the false.]—This timid essay in rationalism reminds one of similar efforts in Pindar (e.g. Ol. i.). It is the product of a religious and unspeculative mind, not feeling difficulties itself, but troubled by other people’s questions and objections. (See above on Teiresias.)
P. 92, l. 292, The world-encircling Fire.]—This fire, or ether, was the ordinary material of which phantoms or apparitions were made.
Pp. 93-95, ll. 330-369.—These three speeches are very clearly contrasted. Cadmus, thoroughly human, thinking of sympathy and expediency, and vividly remembering the fate of his other grandson, Actaeon; Pentheus, angry and “tyrannical”; Teiresias speaking like a Christian priest of the Middle Ages, almost like Tennyson’s Becket.
P. 95, l. 370.—The goddess Όσία, “Purity,” seems to be one of the many abstractions which were half personified by philosophy and by Orphism. It is possible that the word is really adjectival, “Immaculate One,” and originally an epithet of some more definite goddess, e.g. as Miss Harrison suggests, of Nemesis.
In this and other choruses it is very uncertain how the lines should be distributed between the whole chorus, the two semi-choruses, and the various individual choreutae.
Pp. 97-98, ll. 402-430.—For the meaning of these lines, see Introduction, pp. lxi, lxii.
P. 100, l. 471, These emblems.]—There were generally associated with mysteries, or special forms of worship, certain relics or sacred implements, without which the rites could not be performed. Cf. Hdt. vii. 153, where Telines of Gela stole the sacred implements or emblems of the nether gods, so that no worship could be performed, and the town was, as it were, excommunicated.
P. 103, ll. 493 ff., The soldiers cut off the tress.]—The stage directions here are difficult. It is conceivable that none of Pentheus’ threats are carried out at all; that the God mysteriously paralyses the hand that is lifted to take his rod without Pentheus himself knowing it. But I think it more likely that the humiliation of Dionysus is made, as far as externals go, complete, and that it is not till later that he begins to show his superhuman powers.
P. 104, l. 508, So let it be.]—The name Pentheus suggests ‘mourner,’ from penthos, ‘mourning.’
P. 105, l. 519, Acheloüs’ roaming daughter.]—Acheloüs was the Father of all Rivers.
P. 107, l. 556, In thine own Nysa.]—An unknown divine mountain, formed apparently to account for the second part of the name Dionysus.
P. 107, l. 571, Cross the Lydias, &c.]—These are rivers of Thrace which Dionysus must cross in his passage from the East, the Lydias, the Axios, and some other, perhaps the Haliacmon, which is called “the father-stream of story.”
P. 108, l. 579, A Voice, a Voice.]—Bromios, the God of Many Voices—for, whatever the real derivation, the fifth-century Greeks certainly associated the name with βρέμω, ‘to roar’—manifests himself as a voice here and below (p. 136).
Pp. 109-112, ll. 602-641, Ye Damsels of the Morning Hills, &c.]—This scene in longer metre always strikes me as a little unlike the style of Euripides, and inferior. It may mark one of the parts left unfinished by the poet, and written in by his son. But it may be that I have not understood it.
P. 118, ll. 781 ff., Call all who spur the charger, &c.]—The typical ‘Ercles vein’ of the tragic tyrant.
Pp. 120-124, ll. 810 ff.—This scene of the ‘hypnotising’—if one may use the word—of Pentheus probably depends much on the action, which, however, I have not ventured to prescribe. Pentheus seems to struggle against the process all through, to be amazed at himself for consenting, while constantly finding fresh reasons for doing so.
P. 121, l. 822, Am I a woman, then?]—The robe and coif were, in the original legend, marks of the Thracian dress worn by the Thracian followers of Dionysus, and notably by Orpheus. The tradition became fixed that Pentheus wore such a robe and coif; and to the Greeks of Euripides’ time such a dress seemed to be a woman’s. Hence this turn of the story (cf. above, p. 167).
P. 125, ll. 877-881.—The refrain of this chorus about the fawn is difficult to interpret. I have practically interpolated the third line (“To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait”), in order (1) to show the connection of ideas; (2) to make clearer the meaning (as I understand it) of the two Orphic formulæ, “What is beautiful is beloved for ever,” and “A hand uplifted over the head of Hate.” If I am wrong, the refrain is probably a mere cry for revenge, in the tone of the refrain, “Hither for doom and deed,” on p. 132. It is one of the many passages where there is a sharp antagonism between the two spirits of the Chorus, first, as furious Bacchanals, and, secondly, as exponents of the idealised Bacchic religion of Euripides, which is so strongly expressed in the rest of this wonderful lyric.
P. 127, l. 920, Is it a Wild Bull, this?]—Pentheus, in his Bacchic possession, sees fitfully the mystic shapes of the God beneath the human disguise. This second-sight, the exaltation of spirit, and the feeling of supernatural strength come to Pentheus as they came to the two Old Men. But to them the change came peacefully and for good; to Pentheus it comes by force, stormily and for evil, because his will was against the God.
P. 131, l. 976, O hounds raging and blind.]—i.e. Spirits of Madness. This lyric prepares us for what follows, especially for Agâvê’s delusion, which otherwise might have been hard to understand. I have tried to keep the peculiar metre of the original, the dochmiac, with a few simple licences. The scheme is based on or the latter being much commoner.
P. 133, ll. 997-1011.—The greater part of this chorus is generally abandoned as unintelligible and corrupt. The last ten lines (“Knowledge, we are not foes,” &c.) will, I think, make sense if we accept a very slight conjecture of my own, ἀέντων, “let them blow”, instead of the impossible ἀεὶ τŵν. The four lines before that (“A strait pitiless mind,” &c.) are an almost literal translation of the MS. reading, which, however, is incorrect in metre, and therefore cannot be exactly what Euripides wrote.
P. 134, l. 1036, And deem’st thou Thebes so beggared.]—The couplet is incomplete in the MS. But the sense needed is obvious.
P. 137, l. 1120, Let it not befall through sin of mine, &c.]—This note of unselfish feeling, of pity and humanity, becomes increasingly marked in all the victims of Dionysus towards the end of the play, and contrasts the more vividly with the God’s pitilessness. Cadmus is always gentle, and always thinking of the sufferings of others; and, indeed, so is Agâvê, after her return to reason, though with more resentment against the oppressor.
Pp. 139-143, ll. 1165-1200.—This marvellous scene defies comment. But I may be excused for remarking (1) that the psychological change of the chorus is, to my mind, proved by the words of the original, and does not in the least depend on my interpolated stage directions; (2) the extraordinary exultation of Agâvê is part of her Bacchic possession. It is not to be supposed that, if she had really killed a lion, such joy would be the natural thing.
P. 141, after l. 1183, The Leader tries to speak, &c.]—It is also possible that by some error of a scribe two lines have been omitted in the MS. But I think the explanation given in the text more probable and more dramatic.
P. 142, l. 1195, And Pentheus, O Mother?]—The Leader mentions Pentheus, I suppose, in order deliberately to test Agâvê’s delusion, to see if she is indeed utterly unconscious of the truth.
P. 146, l. 1267, More shining than before, &c.]—The sight of the pure heaven brings back light to her mind—that is clear. But does she mean that the sky is brighter because of her madness which still remains, or that it is brighter now, after having been darkened in her madness?
P. 149, l. 1313, And now I fare forth in dishonour.]—He has not yet been sentenced to exile, though he might well judge that after such pollution all his family would be banished. But probably this is another mark of the unrevised state of the play.
P. 151, l. 1330, For thou must change and be a Serpent Thing, &c.]—A prophecy like this is a very common occurrence in the last scenes of Euripides’ tragedies. “The subject of the play is really a long chain of events. The poet fixes on some portion of it—the action of one day, generally speaking—and treats it as a piece of vivid concrete life, led up to by a merely narrative introduction (the Prologue), and melting away into a merely narrative close. The method is to our taste undramatic, but it is explicable enough. It falls in with the tendency of Greek art to finish, not with a climax, but with a lessening of strain” (Greek Literature, p. 267).
The prophecy was that Cadmus and Harmonia should be changed into serpents and should lead a host of barbarian invaders—identified with an Illyrian tribe, the Encheleis—against Hellas; they should prosper until they laid hands on the treasures of Delphi, and then be destroyed. Herodotus says that the Persians were influenced by this prophecy when they refrained from attacking Delphi (Hdt. ix. 42).