The Bacchae of Euripides
Category: Drama
Genres: Tragedy
Level 11.04 1:54 h
The Bacchae of Euripides is one of the greatest tragedies ever written. The play was written by Euripides in ancient Greece and is based on a Greek myth. This play involves vengeance by the god of wine, Dionysis, against a human King and his Kingdom. The god is concerned that the people don't believe he is a god or related to the all-powerful Zeus. What will Dionysus do to force the people to think he is indeed a deity?

The Bacchae of Euripides

Translated into English Rhyming Verse,
with Explanatory Notes by
Gilbert Murray M.A. LL.D

The Bacchae of Euripides

Characters in the Play

Dionysus, the God; son of Zeus and of the Theban princess Semelê.

Cadmus, formerly King of Thebes, father of Semelê.

Pentheus, King of Thebes, grandson of Cadmus.

Agâvê, daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus.

Teiresias, an aged Theban prophet.

A Soldier of Pentheus’ Guard.

Two Messengers.

A Chorus of Inspired Damsels, following Dionysus from the East.

“The play was first produced after the death of Euripides by his son, who bore the same name, together with the ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ and the ‘Alcmaeon,’ probably in the year 405 B.C.”

The Bacchae of Euripides

The Bacchae

The background represents the front of the Castle of Pentheus, King of Thebes. At one side is visible the sacred Tomb of Semele, a little enclosure overgrown with wild vines, with a cleft in the rocky floor of it from which there issues at times steam or smoke. The God Dionysus is discovered alone.


Behold, God’s Son is come unto this land
Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand
Of heaven’s hot splendour lit to life, when she
Who bore me, Cadmus’ daughter Semelê,
Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man,
I walk again by Dirce’s streams and scan
Ismenus’ shore. There by the castle side
I see her place, the Tomb of the Lightning’s Bride,
The wreck of smouldering chambers, and the great
Faint wreaths of fire undying — as the hate
Dies not, that Hera held for Semelê.

Aye, Cadmus hath done well; in purity
He keeps this place apart, inviolate,
His daughter’s sanctuary; and I have set
My green and clustered vines to robe it round.
Far now behind me lies the golden ground

Far now behind me lies the golden ground
Of Lydian and of Phrygian; far away
The wide hot plains where Persian sunbeams play,
The Bactrian war-holds, and the storm-oppressed
Clime of the Mede, and Araby the Blest,
And Asia all, that by the salt sea lies
In proud embattled cities, motley-wise
Of Hellene and Barbarian interwrought;
And now I come to Hellas — having taught
All the world else my dances and my rite
Of mysteries, to show me in men’s sight
Manifest God.

And first of Hellene lands
I cry thus Thebes to waken; set her hands
To clasp my wand, mine ivied javelin,
And round her shoulders hang my wild fawn-skin.
For they have scorned me whom it least beseemed,
Semele’s sisters; mocked my birth, nor deemed
That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed.
My mother sinned, said they; and in her need,
With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame
With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame
From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God.

Thus must they vaunt; and therefore hath my rod
On them first fallen, and stung them forth wild-eyed
From empty chambers; the bare mountain side
Is made their home, and all their hearts are flame.
Yea, I have bound upon the necks of them
The harness of my rites. And with them all
The seed of womankind from hut and hall
Of Thebes, hath this my magic goaded out.
And there, with the old King’s daughters, in a rout
Confused, they make their dwelling-place between
The roofless rocks and shadowy pine trees green.
Thus shall this Thebes, how sore soe’er it smart,
Learn and forget not, till she crave her part
In mine adoring; thus must I speak clear
To save my mother’s fame, and crown me here
As true God, born by Semelê to Zeus.

Now Cadmus yieldeth up his throne and use
Of royal honour to his daughter’s son
Pentheus; who on my body hath begun
A war with God. He thrusteth me away
From due drink-offering, and, when men pray,
My name entreats not. Therefore on his own
Head and his people’s shall my power be shown.
Then to another land, when all things here
Are well, must I fare onward, making clear
My godhead’s might. But should this Theban town
Essay with wrath and battle to drag down
My maids, lo, in their path myself shall be,
And maniac armies battled after me!
For this I veil my godhead with the wan
Form of the things that die, and walk as Man.

O Brood of Tmolus o’er the wide world flown,
O Lydian band, my chosen and mine own,
Damsels uplifted o’er the orient deep
To wander where I wander, and to sleep
Where I sleep; up, and wake the old sweet sound,
The clang that I and mystic Rhea found,
The Timbrel of the Mountain! Gather all
Thebes to your song round Pentheus’ royal hall.
I seek my new-made worshippers, to guide
Their dances up Kithaeron’s pine-clad side.

[As he departs, there comes stealing in from the left a band of fifteen Eastern Women, the light of the sunrise streaming upon their long white robes and ivy-bound hair. They wear fawn-skins over the robes, and carry some of them timbrels, some pipes and other instruments. Many bear the thyrsus, or sacred Wand, made of reed ringed with ivy. They enter stealthily till they see that the place is empty, and then begin their mystic song of worship.


A Maiden.

From Asia, from the dayspring that uprises,
To Bromios ever glorying we came.
We laboured for our Lord in many guises;
We toiled, but the toil is as the prize is;
Thou Mystery, we hail thee by thy name!


Who lingers in the road? Who espies us?
He shall hide him in his house nor be bold.
Let the heart keep silence that defies us;
For I sing this day to Dionysus
The song that is appointed from of old.

All the Maidens.

Oh, blessèd he in all wise,
Who hath drunk the Living Fountain,
Whose life no folly staineth,
And his soul is near to God;
Whose sins are lifted, pall-wise,
As he worships on the Mountain,
And where Cybele ordaineth,
Our Mother, he has trod:

His head with ivy laden
And his thyrsus tossing high,
For our God he lifts his cry;
“Up, O Bacchae, wife and maiden,
Come, O ye Bacchae, come;
Oh, bring the Joy-bestower,
God-seed of God the Sower,
Bring Bromios in his power
From Phrygia’s mountain dome;
To street and town and tower,
Oh, bring ye Bromios home!”

Whom erst in anguish lying
For an unborn life’s desire,
As a dead thing in the Thunder
His mother cast to earth;
For her heart was dying, dying,
In the white heart of the fire;
Till Zeus, the Lord of Wonder,
Devised new lairs of birth;

Yea, his own flesh tore to hide him,
And with clasps of bitter gold
Did a secret son enfold,
And the Queen knew not beside him;
Till the perfect hour was there;
Then a hornèd God was found,
And a God with serpents crowned;
And for that are serpents wound
In the wands his maidens bear,
And the songs of serpents sound
In the mazes of their hair.

Some Maidens.

All hail, O Thebes, thou nurse of Semelê!
With Semelê’s wild ivy crown thy towers;
Oh, burst in bloom of wreathing bryony,
Berries and leaves and flowers;
Uplift the dark divine wand,
The oak-wand and the pine-wand,
And don thy fawn-skin, fringed in purity
With fleecy white, like ours.

Oh, cleanse thee in the wands’ waving pride!
Yea, all men shall dance with us and pray,
When Bromios his companies shall guide
Hillward, ever hillward, where they stay,
The flock of the Believing,
The maids from loom and weaving
By the magic of his breath borne away.


Hail thou, O Nurse of Zeus, O Caverned Haunt
Where fierce arms clanged to guard God’s cradle rare,
For thee of old some crested Corybant
First woke in Cretan air
The wild orb of our orgies,
Our Timbrel; and thy gorges
Rang with this strain; and blended Phrygian chant
And sweet keen pipes were there.

But the Timbrel, the Timbrel was another’s,
And away to Mother Rhea it must wend;
And to our holy singing from the Mother’s
The mad Satyrs carried it, to blend
In the dancing and the cheer
Of our third and perfect Year;
And it serves Dionysus in the end!

A Maiden.

O glad, glad on the mountains
To swoon in the race outworn,
When the holy fawn-skin clings,
And all else sweeps away,
To the joy of the red quick fountains,
The blood of the hill-goat torn,
The glory of wild-beast ravenings,
Where the hill-tops catch the day;
To the Phrygian, Lydian, mountains!
’Tis Bromios leads the way.

Another Maiden.

Then streams the earth with milk, yea, streams
With wine and nectar of the bee,
And through the air dim perfume steams
Of Syrian frankincense; and He,
Our leader, from his thyrsus spray
A torchlight tosses high and higher,
A torchlight like a beacon-fire,
To waken all that faint and stray;
And sets them leaping as he sings,
His tresses rippling to the sky,
And deep beneath the Maenad cry
His proud voice rings:
“Come, O ye Bacchae, come!”

All the Maidens.

Hither, O fragrant of Tmolus the Golden,
Come with the voice of timbrel and drum;
Let the cry of your joyance uplift and embolden
The God of the joy-cry; O Bacchanals, come!
With pealing of pipes and with Phrygian clamour,
On, where the vision of holiness thrills,
And the music climbs and the maddening glamour,
With the wild White Maids, to the hills, to the hills!
Oh, then, like a colt as he runs by a river,
A colt by his dam, when the heart of him sings,
With the keen limbs drawn and the fleet foot a-quiver,
Away the Bacchanal springs!

Enter Teiresias. He is an old man and blind, leaning upon a staff and moving with slow stateliness, though wearing the Ivy and the Bacchic fawn-skin.


Ho, there, who keeps the gate? — Go, summon me
Cadmus, Agênor’s son, who crossed the sea
From Sidon and upreared this Theban hold.
Go, whosoe’er thou art. See he be told
Teiresias seeketh him. Himself will gauge
Mine errand, and the compact, age with age,
I vowed with him, grey hair with snow-white hair,
To deck the new God’s thyrsus, and to wear
His fawn-skin, and with ivy crown our brows.

Enter Cadmus from the Castle. He is even older than Teiresias, and wears the same attire.


True friend! I knew that voice of thine, that flows
Like mellow wisdom from a fountain wise.
And, lo, I come prepared, in all the guise
And harness of this God. Are we not told
His is the soul of that dead life of old
That sprang from mine own daughter? Surely then
Must thou and I with all the strength of men
Exalt him.
Where then shall I stand, where tread
The dance and toss this bowed and hoary head?
O friend, in thee is wisdom; guide my grey
And eld-worn steps, eld-worn Teiresias. — Nay;
I am not weak.

[At the first movement of worship his manner begins to change; a mysterious strength and exaltation enter into him.

Surely this arm could smite
The wild earth with its thyrsus, day and night,
And faint not! Sweetly and forgetfully
The dim years fall from off me!


As with thee,
With me ’tis likewise. Light am I and young,
And will essay the dancing and the song.


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