Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/The Bacchanals
Semele the daughter of Kadmus, a mortal bride of Zeus, was persuaded by Hera to pray the God to promise her with an oath to grant her whatsoever she would. And, when he had consented, she asked that he would appear to her in all the splendour of his godhead, even as he visited Hera. Then Zeus, not of his will, but constrained by his oath, appeared to her amidst intolerable light and flashings of heaven's lightning, whereby her mortal body was consumed. But the God snatched her unborn babe from the flames, and hid him in a cleft of his thigh, till the days were accomplished wherein he should be born. And so the child Dionysus sprang from the thigh of Zeus, and was hidden from the jealous malice of Hera till he was grown. Then did he set forth in victorious march through all the earth, bestowing upon men the gift of the vine, and planting his worship everywhere. But the sisters of Semelê scoffed at the story of the heavenly bridegroom, and mocked at the worship of Dionysus. And when Kadmus was now old, Pentheus his grandson reigned in his stead, and he too defied the Wine-giver, saying that he was no god, and that none in Thebes should ever worship him.
And herein is told how Dionysus came in human guise to Thebes, and filled her women with the Bacchanal possession, and how Pentheus, essaying to withstand him, was punished by strange and awful doom.
Dionysus, the Wine-god, who is called also Bacchus, and Iacchus,
and Bromius, the Clamour-king.
Teiresias, a prophet, old and blind.
Kadmus, formerly king of Thebes.
Pentheus, king of Thebes, grandson of Kadmus.
Servant of Pentheus.
Messenger, servant of Pentheus.
Agave, mother of Pentheus, daughter of Kadmus.
Chorus, consisting of Bacchanals, Asiatic women who have followed Dionysus.
Scene:—before the royal palace of Thebes.
I to this land of Thebes have come, Zeus' Son
Dionysus, born erstwhile of Kadmus' child
Semelê, brought by levin-brand to travail.
My shape from God to mortal semblance changed,
I stand by Dirkê's springs, Ismenus' flood. 5
I see my thunder-blasted mother's tomb
Here nigh the halls: the ruins of her home
Smoulder with Zeus's flame that liveth yet—
Hera's undying outrage on my mother.
Kadmus doth well, that he ordains this close, 10
His child's grave, hallowed: with the clustering green
Of vines I, even I, embowered it round.
Leaving the gold-abounding Lydian meads
And Phrygian, o'er the Persian's sun-smit tracts,
By Bactrian strongholds, Media's storm-swept land, 15
Still pressing on, by Araby the Blest,
And through all Asia, by the briny sea
Lying with stately-towered cities thronged,
Peopled with Hellenes blent with aliens,
To this of Hellene cities first I come. 20
My dances there and rites have I ordained
That I might be God manifest to men.
So, of all Hellas, Thebes with my acclaim
I first thrilled, there with fawn-skin girt her limbs,
And gave her hand the ivied thyrsus-spear, 25
Because my mother's sisters—shame on them!—
Proclaimed Dionysus never born of Zeus;
But Semelê by a man undone, said they,
Charged upon Zeus her sin of wantonness—
A subtle wile of Kadmus! Hence, they vaunted, 30
Zeus slew the liar who named him paramour.
These therefore frenzy-stung I have driven from home,
And mid the hills with soul distraught they dwell,
The vesture of my revels forced to wear;
And all the woman-seed of Kadmus' folk, 35
Yea all, I drave forth raving from their homes:
And, mingled with the sons of Kadmus, these
'Neath green pines sit on crags all shelterless.
For this Thebes needs must learn, how loth soe'er,
What means it not to be in my great rites 40
Initiate, and that Semelê's cause I plead,
To men God manifest, whom she bare to Zeus.
Now Kadmus gave his crown and royal estate
To Pentheus, of another daughter born,
Who wars with Heaven in me, and from libations 45
Thrusts, nor makes mention of me in his prayers.
Therefore to him my godhead will I prove,
And to all Thebans. To another land
Then, after triumph here, will I depart,
And manifest myself. If Thebes in wrath 50
Take arms to chase her Bacchants from the hills,
Leading my Maenads I will clash in fight.
For this cause have I taken mortal form,
And changed my shape to fashion of a man.
Ho, ye who Lydia's rock-wall, Tmolus, left, 55
Women, my revel-rout, from alien homes
To share my rest and my wayfaring brought,
Uplift the cymbals to the Phrygian towns
Native, great Mother Rhea's device and mine,
And smite them, compassing yon royal halls 60
Of Pentheus, so that Kadmus' town may see.
I to Kithairon's glens will go, where bide
My Bacchanals, and join the dances there. [Exit.
Enter Chorus, waving the thyrsus-wands, and clashing their timbrels.
From Asian soil
Far over the hallowed ridges of Tmolus fleeting,
To the task that I love do I speed, to my painless toil
For the Clamour-king, hailing the Bacchanals' God with greeting.
Who is there in the way?
In the dwelling who lingereth? Forth!—and let each one, sealing
His lips from irreverence, hallow them. Now, in the lay 70
Dionysus ordains, will I chant him, his hymn outpealing.
O happy to whom is the blessedness given
To be taught in the mysteries sent from heaven,
Who is pure in his life, through whose soul the unsleeping
Revel goes sweeping!
Made meet by the sacred purifying
For the Bacchanal rout o'er the mountains flying,
For the orgies of Cybelê mystery-folden,
Of the Mother olden,
Wreathed with the ivy sprays, 80
The thyrsus on high doth he raise,
Singing the Vine-god's praise—
Come, Bacchanals, come!
The Clamour-king, child of a God,
O'er the mountains of Phrygia who trod,
Unto Hellas's highways broad
Bring him home, bring him home!—
The God whom his mother,—when anguish tore her
Of the travail resistless that deathward bore her
On the wings of the thunder of Zeus down-flying,— 90
Brought forth at her dying
An untimely birth, as her spirit departed
Stricken from life by the flame down-darted:
But in birth-bowers new did Zeus Kronion
Receive his scion;
For, hid in a cleft of his thigh,
By the gold-clasps knit, did he lie
Safe hidden from Hera's eye
Till the Fates' day came;
Then a God bull-horned Zeus bare, 100
And with serpents entwined his hair:
And for this do his Maenads wear
In their tresses the same.
Thebes, nursing-town of Semelê, crown
With the ivy thy brows, and be
All bloom, embowered in the starry-flowered
Lush green of the briony,
While the oak and pine thy tresses entwine
In thy bacchanal-ecstasy. 110
And thy fawn-skin flecked, with a fringe be it decked
Of wool white-glistering
In silvery tassels;—O Bacchus' vassals,
High-tossed let the wild wands swing!
One dancing-band shall be all the land
When, led by the Clamour-king,
His revel-rout fills the hills—the hills
Where thy women abide till he come
Whom the Vine-god chasing, in frenzy racing,
Hunted from shuttle and loom.
O cavern that rang when Curetes sang, 120
O bower of the Babe Zeus' birth,
Where the Corybants, dancing with helm-crests glancing
Through the dark halls under the earth,
This timbrel found whose hide-stretched round
We smite, and its Bacchanal mirth
They blent with the cry ringing sweet and high
From the flutes of the Phrygian land,
And its thunder, soaring o'er revel-shout's roaring,
They gave unto Rhea's hand;
But the gift passed on from the Mother, won 130
By the madding Satyr-band;
And to Semelê's child gave the woodfolk wild
The homage he holdeth dear,
When the timbrels clashing to feet white-flashing
Are wedded in each third year.
O trance of rapture, when, reeling aside
From the Bacchanal rout o'er the mountains flying,
One sinks to the earth, and the fawn's flecked hide
Covers him lying
With its sacred vesture, wherein he hath chased 140
The goat to the death for its blood—for the taste
Of the feast raw-reeking, when over the hill
Of Phrygia, of Lydia, the wild feet haste,
And the Clamour-king leads, and our hearts he thrills
Flowing with milk is the ground, and with wine is it flowing, and flowing
Nectar of bees; and a smoke as of incense of Araby soars;
And the Bacchanal, lifting the flame of the brand of the pine ruddy-glowing,
Waveth it wide, and with shouts, from the point of the wand as it pours,
Challengeth revellers straying, on-racing, on-dancing, and throwing 150
Loose to the breezes his curls, while clear through the chorus that roars
Cleaveth his shout,—"On, Bacchanal-rout,
On, Bacchanal maidens, ye glory of Tmolus the hill gold-welling,
Blend the acclaim of your chant with the timbrels thunder-knelling,
Glad-pealing the glad God's praises out
With Phrygian cries and the voice of singing,
When upsoareth the sound of the melody-fountain,
Of the hallowed ringing of flutes far-flinging 160
The notes that chime with the feet that climb
The pilgrim-path to the mountain!"
And with rapture the Bacchanal onward racing,
With gambollings fleet
As of foals round the mares in the meads that are grazing,
Speedeth her feet.
Gate-warder, ho! call Kadmus forth the halls, 160
Agenor's son, who came from Sidon-town,
And with towers girded this the Thebans' burg.
Go, one; say to him that Teiresias
Seeks him—he knoweth for what cause I come,
The old man's covenant with the elder-born 170
To entwine the thyrsi and the fawnskin don,
And crown our heads with wreaths of ivy-sprays.
Dear friend, within mine house I heard thy voice,
And knew it, the wise utterance of the wise.
Ready I come, thus in the God's garb dight. 180
For him, who is my daughter's very son,
Dionysus, who to men hath shown his godhead,
Ought we with all our might to magnify.
Where shall we dance now, and where plant the foot,
And toss the silvered head? Instruct thou me; 185
Let eld guide eld, Teiresias: wise art thou.
I shall not weary, nor by night nor day,
Smiting on earth the thyrsus. We forget
For joy our age.
Thine heart is even as mine.
I too am young, I will essay the dance. 190
Come, to the mountain fare we, chariot-borne.
Nay, so were the God's honour minishèd!
Age ushering age, I will escort thee on.
We shall not tire; the God will lead us thither.
Shall we alone of Thebes to Bacchus dance? 195
Yea, we alone are wise; the rest be fools.
Too long we linger. Come, grasp thou mine hand.
Lo there: clasp close the interlinking hand.
Not I contemn the Gods, I, mortal-born!
'Tis not for us to reason touching Gods. 200
Traditions of our fathers, old as time,
We hold: no reasoning shall cast them down,—
No, though of subtlest wit our wisdom spring.
Haply shall one say I respect not eld,
Who ivy-crowned address me to the dance. 205
Nay, for distinction none the God hath made
Whether the young or stricken in years must dance:
From all alike he claims his due of honour;
By halves he cares not to be magnified.
Since thou, Teiresias, seest not this light, 210
I will for thee be spokesman of thy words.
Lo to these halls comes Pentheus hastily,
Echion's son, to whom I gave the throne.
How wild his mood! What strange thing will he tell?
It chanced that, sojourning without this land, 215
I heard of strange misdeeds in this my town,
How from their homes our women have gone forth
Feigning a Bacchic rapture, and rove wild
O'er wooded hills, in dances honouring
Dionysus, this new God—whoe'er he be. 220
And midst each revel-rout the wine-bowls stand
Brimmed: and to lonely nooks, some here, some there,
They steal, to work with men the deed of shame,
In pretext Maenad priestesses, forsooth,
But honouring Aphroditê more than Bacchus. 225
As many as I have seized my servants keep
Safe in the common prison manacled.
But those yet forth, will I hunt from the hills—
Ino, Agavê, who bare me to Echion,
Autonoê withal, Aktaion's mother. 230
In toils of iron trapped, full soon shall they
Cease from this pestilent Bacchic revelling.
Men say a stranger to the land hath come,
A juggling sorcerer from Lydia-land,
With essenced hair in golden tresses tossed, 235
Wine-flushed, Love's witching graces in his eyes,
Who with the damsels day and night consorts,
Making pretence of Evian mysteries.
If I within these walls but prison him,
Farewell to thyrsus-taboring, and to locks 240
Free-tossed; for neck from shoulders will I hew.
He saith that Dionysus is a God!
Saith, he was once sewn up in Zeus's thigh—
Who, with his mother, was by lightning-flames
Blasted, because she lied of Zeus's love. 245
Is not this worthy hanging's awful doom,
Thus to blaspheme, whoe'er the stranger be?
But lo, another marvel this—the seer
Teiresias, in dappled fawnskins clad!
Yea, and my mother's sire—O sight for laughter!— 250
Tossing the reed-wand! Father, I take shame
Beholding these grey hairs so sense-bereft.
Fling off the ivy; let the thyrsus fall,
And set thine hand free, O my mother's sire.
Thou didst, Teiresias, draw him on to this: 255
'Tis thou wouldst foist this new God upon men
For augury and divination's wage!
Except thine hoary hairs protected thee,
Thou shouldst amid the Bacchanals sit in chains,
For bringing in these pestilent rites; for when 260
In women's feasts the cluster's pride hath part,
No good, say I, comes of their revelry.
Blasphemy!—Stranger, dost not reverence heaven,
Nor Kadmus, sower of the earth-born seed?
Son of Echion, thou dost shame thy birth! 265
Whene'er a wise man finds a noble theme
For speech, 'tis easy to be eloquent.
Thou—roundly runs thy tongue, as thou wert wise;
But in these words of thine sense is there none.
The rash man, armed with power and ready of speech, 270
Is a bad citizen, as void of sense.
But this new God, whom thou dost laugh to scorn,
I cannot speak the greatness whereunto
In Hellas he shall rise. Two chiefest Powers,
Prince, among men there are: divine Demeter— 275
Earth is she, name her by which name thou wilt;—
She upon dry food nurtureth mortal men:
Then followeth Semelê's Son; to match her gift
The cluster's flowing draught he found, and gave
To mortals, which gives rest from grief to men 280
Woe-worn, soon as the vine's stream filleth them.
And sleep, the oblivion of our daily ills,
He gives—there is none other balm for toils.
He is the Gods' libation, though a God,
So that through him do men obtain good things. 285
And dost thou mock him, as in Zeus's thigh
Sewn?—I will show thee all the legend's beauty:—
When Zeus had snatched him from the levin-fire,
And bare the babe to Olympus, Hera then
Fain would have cast his godhead out of heaven. 290
Zeus with a God's wit framed his counterplot.
A fragment from the earth-enfolding ether,
He brake, and wrought to a hostage, setting so
Dionysus safe from Hera's spite. In time
Men told how he was nursed in Zeus's thigh. 295
Changing the name, they wrought a myth thereof,
Because the God was hostage once to Hera.
A prophet is this God: the Bacchic frenzy
And ecstasy are fulfilled of prophecy:
For, in his fulness when he floods our frame, 300
He makes his maddened votaries tell the future.
Somewhat of Ares' dues he shares withal,
For hosts in harness clad, in ranks arrayed,
He thrills with panic ere a spear be touched.
This too is a frenzy Dionysus sends. 305
Yet shalt thou see him even on Delphi's crags
With pine-brands leaping o'er the cloven crest,
Tossing on high and waving Bacchus' bough,—
Yea, great through Hellas. Pentheus, heed thou me:
Boast not that naked force hath power o'er men; 310
Nor, if it seem so to thy jaundiced eye,
Deem thyself wise. The God into thy land
Welcome: spill wine, be bacchant, wreathe thine head.
Dionysus upon women will not thrust
Chastity: in true womanhood inborn 315
Dwells temperance touching all things evermore.
This must thou heed; for in his Bacchic rites
The virtuous-hearted shall not be undone.
Lo, thou art glad when thousands throng thy gates,
And all Thebes magnifieth Pentheus' name: 320
He too, I wot, in homage taketh joy.
I then, and Kadmus, whom thou laugh'st to scorn,
Will wreathe our heads with ivy, and will dance—
A greybeard pair, yet cannot we but dance.
Not at thy suasion will I war with Gods; 325
For grievous is thy madness, and no spell
May medicine thee, though spells have made thee mad.
Old sire, thou sham'st not Phœbus in thy speech,
And wisely honourest Bromius, mighty God.
My son, well hath Teiresias counselled thee. 330
Dwell with us, not without the pale of wont.
Thou'rt now in cloudland: naught thy wisdom is:
For, though no God were this,—as thou dost say,—
God be he called of thee; in glorious fraud
Be Semelê famed as mother of a God. 335
So upon all our house shall honour rest.
Rememberest thou Aktaion's wretched doom,
Whom the raw-ravening hounds himself had reared
Rent limb from limb in the meads, for that high boast
That Artemis in hunting he excelled? 340
Lest such be thy fate, let me crown thine head
With ivy: honour thou with us the God.
Hence with thine hand! Go, play the Bacchanal,
Neither besmirch me with thy folly's stain.
This seer, thy monitor in senselessness, 345
Will I chastise. Let some one go with speed—
(To an attendant) Thou, hie thee to his seat of augury;
Upheave with levers, hurl it to the ground;
All in confusion turn it upside down;
His holy fillets fling to wind and storm: 350
For, doing so, I most shall wring his heart.
And some range through the city, and track down
That girl-faced stranger, who upon our wives
Bringeth strange madness, and defiles our beds.
And if ye catch him, hale him bound with chains 355
Hither, that death by stoning be his meed,
And so he rue his revelry in Thebes.
Ah wretch, thou knowest not what thou hast said!
Thou'rt stark-mad now, who erst wast sense-bereft.
Let us go, Kadmus, and make intercession 360
Both for this man, brute savage though he be,
And Thebes, that no strange vengeance of the God
Smite them. Come with me, ivy-wand in hand,
Essay to upbear my frame, as I do thine.
Shame if two greybeards fell!—nay, what of that? 365
For Bacchus, Son of Zeus, we needs must serve.
Kadmus, beware lest Pentheus bring his echo,
Repentance, to thine house:—not prophecy here
Speaks, but his own deeds. Fools alone speak folly.
O Sanctity, thou who dost bear dominion 370
Over Gods, yet low as this earthly ground,
Unto usward, stoopest thy golden pinion,—
Hear'st thou the words of the king, and the sound
Of his blast of defiance, of Pentheus assailing
The Clamour-king?—hear'st thou his blasphemous railing
On Semelê's son, who is foremost found
Of the Blest in the festival beauty-crowned?—
Who hath for his own prerogative taken
To summon forth feet through his dances to leap,
When blent with the flutes light laughters awaken, 380
And the children of care have forgotten to weep,
Whensoever revealed is the cluster's splendour
In the banquet that men to the high Gods tender,
And o'er ivy-wreathed revellers drinking deep
The wine-bowl droppeth the mantle of sleep.
Of the reinless lips that will own no master,
Of the folly o'er law's pale stubborn to stray—
One is the end of them, even disaster;
But the calm life, still as a summer day,
But the foot whose faring discretion guideth, 390
Their steadfast state unshaken abideth,
And the home still findeth in such its stay.
Ah, the Heavenly Ones dwell far away,
Yet look they on men from their cloudy portals.
Ah, not with knowledge is Wisdom bought;
And the spirit that soareth too high for mortals
Shall see few days: whosoever hath caught
At the things too great for a man's attaining,
Even blessings assured shall he lose in the gaining.
Such paths as this, meseemeth, be sought 400
Of the witless folly that roves distraught.
O to flee hence unto where Aphroditê
Doth in Cyprus, the paradise-island, dwell,
The sea-ringed haunt of the Love-gods mighty
To weave the soul-enchanting spell,
Or the fields where untold is the harvest's gold,
Whereover the seven-mouthed river hath rolled,
Whereon rain never fell!
But O for the land that in beauty is peerless,
The Pierian haunt where the Muses sing! 410
On Olympus the hallowed to stand all fearless
Thitherward lead me, O Clamour-king!
O Revel-god, guide where the Graces abide
And Desire,—where danceth, of no man denied,
The Bacchanal ring.
Our God, the begotten of Zeus, hath pleasure
In the glee of the feast where his chalices shine;
And Peace doth he love, who is giver of treasure,
Who of Youth is the nursing-mother divine. 420
On the high, on the low, doth his bounty bestow
The joyance that maketh an end of woe,
The joyance of wine.
But he hateth the man that in scorn refuseth
A life that on pinions of happiness flies
Through its days and its nights, nor the good part chooseth.
Wisely shalt thou from the over-wise
Hold thee apart: but the faith of the heart 430
Of the people, that lives in the works of the mart,
For me shall suffice.
Re-enter Pentheus. Enter Servant, with attendants, bringing Dionysus bound.
Pentheus, we come, who have run down this prey
For which thou sentest us, nor sped in vain. 435
This wild-beast found we tame: he darted not
In flight away, but yielded, nothing loth,
His hands, nor paled, nor changed his cheeks' rose-hue,
But smiling bade us bind and lead him thence,
And tarried, making easy this my task. 440
Then shamed I said, "Not, stranger, of my will,
But by commands of Pentheus, lead I thee."
The captured Bacchanals thou didst put in ward,
And in the common prison bind with chains,
Fled to the meadows are they, loosed from bonds, 445
And dance and call on Bromius the God.
The fetters from their feet self-sundered fell;
Doors, without mortal hand, unbarred themselves.
Yea, fraught with many marvels this man came
To Thebes! To thee the rest doth appertain. 450
Let loose his hands. Once taken in the toils,
He is not so fleet as to escape from me.
Ha! of thy form thou art not ill-favoured, stranger,
For woman's tempting—even thy quest at Thebes.
No wrestler thou, as show thy flowing locks, 455
Down thy cheeks floating, fraught with all desire;
And white, from heedful tendance, is thy skin,
Smit by no sun-shafts, but made wan by shade,
While thou dost hunt desire with beauty's lure.
First, tell me of what nation sprung thou art. 460
No high vaunt this—'tis easy to declare:
Of flowery Tmolus haply thou hast heard.
I know: it compasseth the Sardians' town.
Thence am I: Lydia is my fatherland.
Wherefore to Hellas bringest thou these rites? 465
Dionysus, Zeus' son, made me initiate.
Lives a Zeus there, who doth beget new gods?
Nay, the same Zeus who wedded Semelê here.
Dreaming or waking wast thou made his thrall?
Nay, eye to eye his mysteries he bestowed. 470
Ay, of what fashion be these mysteries?
'Tis secret, save to the initiate.
What profit bring they to his votaries?
Thou mayst not hear: yet are they worth thy knowing.
Shrewd counterfeiting, to whet lust to hear! 475
His rites loathe him that worketh godlessness.
Thou saw'st the God: what fashion was he of?
As seemed him good: that did not I enjoin.
This too thou hast shrewdly parried, telling nought.
Wise answers seem but folly to a fool. 480
Cam'st thou the first to bring his godhead hither?
All Asians through these mystic dances tread.
Ay, far less wise be they than Hellene men.
Herein far wiser. Diverse wont is theirs.
By night or day dost thou perform his rites? 485
Chiefly by night: gloom lends solemnity.
Ay—and for women snares of lewdness too.
In the day too may lewdness be devised.
Now punished must thy vile evasions be.
Ay, and thy folly and impiety. 490
How bold our Bacchant is, in word-fence skilled!
What is my doom? What vengeance wilt thou wreak?
Thy dainty tresses first will I cut off.
Hallowed my locks are, fostered for the God.
Next, yield me up this thyrsus from thine hands. 495
Take it thyself. 'Tis Dionysus' wand.
Thy body in my dungeon will I ward.
The God's self shall release me, when I will.
Ay—when mid Bacchanals thou call'st on him!
Yea, he is now near, marking this despite. 500
Ay, where?—not unto mine eyes manifest.
Beside me. Thou, the impious, seest him not.
Seize him! This fellow mocketh me and Thebes.
I warn ye—bind not!—Reason's rede to folly.
I bid them bind, who have better right than thou. 505
Thou know'st thy life not, nor thy true self seest.
Pentheus—Agavê's and Echion's son.
Yea, fitly named to be in misery pent.
Away! Enjail him in the horses' stalls
Hard by, that he may see but murky gloom. 510
There dance! These women thou hast brought with thee,
Thy crimes' co-workers, I will sell for slaves,
Or make my weaving-damsels, and so hush
Their hands from cymbal-clang and smitten drum.
I go. The fate that Fate forbids can ne'er 515
Touch me. On thee Dionysus shall requite
These insults—he whose being thou hast denied.
Outraging me, thou halest him to bonds.
[Exeunt Dionysus guarded, and Pentheus.
All hail, Acheloüs' Daughter,
Dirkê the maiden, majestic and blest!—in thy cool-welling water 520
Thou receivedst in old time the offspring of Zeus 'neath thy silvery plashing,
When Zeus, who begat him, had snatched from the levin unquenchably flashing,
And sealed up the babe in his thigh, and aloud did the Father cry,
"Come! into this, Dithyrambus, the womb of no mother, pass thou:—
By this name unto Thebes I proclaim thee, O God of the Bacchanals, now."
Ah Dirkê, thou thrustest me hence, when I bring thee the glorious vision 530
Of his garlanded revels!—now why am I scouted, disowned, and abhorred?
Yet there cometh—I swear by the full-clustered grace of the vine Dionysian—
An hour when thine heart shall accept Dionysus, shall hail him thy lord.
Lo, his earth-born lineage bewrayeth
Pentheus; the taint of the blood of the dragon of old he betrayeth,
The serpent that came of the seed of the earth-born Titan Echion. 540
It hath made him a grim-visaged monster, and not as a mortal's scion,
But as that fell giant brood that in strife with immortals stood.
He is minded to fetter me, Bromius' handmaid, with cords straightway:
He hath prisoned his palace within my companion in revel this day,
Dungeoned in gloom! Son of Zeus, are his deeds of thine eye unbeholden, 550
Dionysus?—thy prophets with tyranny wrestling in struggle and strain?
Sweep down the slope of Olympus, uptossing thy thyrsus golden:
Come to us, King, and the murderer's insolent fury refrain.
Ah, where dost thou linger on Nysa the mother of beasts of the wold,
Waving thy revellers on with thy wand, or where heavenward soar
Crests of Corycia, or haply where far forest-solitudes fold 560
Round the flanks of Olympus, where Orpheus constrained by his minstrelsy-lore
Trees round him adoring to press, and the beasts of the wilderness,
As he harped of yore?
Evius honoureth thee!—lo, he cometh, he cometh, on-leading
His dances with Bacchanal chants, over Axius' flood swift-speeding
He shall pass, he shall marshal the leaping feet in the dance-rings sweeping,
The feet of his Maenad-band. 570
On shall he haste over Lydias the river,
O'er the father of streams, the blessing-giver,
Whose waters fair, as the tale hath told,
O'er the land of the gallant war-steed rolled,
Spread fatness on every hand.
What ho! Give heed to my voice, give heed!
Ho, Bacchanal-train, my Bacchanal-train!
(Members of Chorus answer severally.)
What cry was it?—whence did it ring?—'Twas the voice of mine Evian King!
What ho! What ho! I call yet again, 580
I, Semelê's offspring, Zeus's seed.
What ho! Our Lord, our Lord! What ho!
Come to our revel-band thou,
Clamour-king, Clamour-king, now!
Earth-floor, dost thou sway to and fro? O mighty earthquake-throe!
Ha, swiftly shall Pentheus' hall,
Sore shaken, crash to its fall!
Dionysus within yon halls is his godhead revealing!
With homage adore him.
We bow us before him. 590
Lo, how the lintels of stone over yonder pillars are reeling!
Now shall the Clamour-king's triumph-shout through the halls go pealing.
Kindle the torch of the levin lurid-red:
Let the compassing flames round the palace of Pentheus spread.
(A great blaze of light enwraps the palace and the monument of Semelê.)
Ha! dost thou see not the wildfire enwreathed
Round the holy tomb—
Lo, dost thou mark it not well?—
Which Semelê thunder-blasted bequeathed,
Her memorial of doom
By the lightning from Zeus that fell?
Fling to the earth, ye Maenads, fling 600
Your bodies that tremble with sore dismay!
For he cometh, our King, Zeus' scion, to bring
Yon halls to confusion and disarray.
Chorus fall on their faces. Enter Dionysus from the palace.
Ho, ye Asian women, are ye so distraught with sheer affright
That ye thus to earth be fallen? Ye beheld, meseems, the sight 605
When the house of Pentheus reeled as Bacchus shook it. Nay, upraise
From the earth your limbs, and banish from your bodies fear's amaze.
Hail to thee, to us the mightiest light of Evian revelry!
With what rapture, late so lonely and forlorn, I look on thee!
Ha, and did your hearts for terror fail you when I passed within, 610
Deeming I should sink to darkness, caught in Pentheus' dungeon-gin?
Wherefore not? What shield had I, if thou into mischance shouldst fall?
Nay, but how didst thou escape, who wast a godless tyrant's thrall?
I myself myself delivered, lightly, with nor toil nor strain.
Nay, but bound he not thine hands with coiling mesh of chain on chain? 615
My derision there I made him, that he deemed he fettered me,
Yet nor touched me, neither grasped me, fed on empty phantasy.
Nay, a bull beside the stalls he found where he would pen me fast:
Round the knees and round the hoofs of this he 'gan his cords to cast,
Breathing fury out, the while the sweat-gouts poured from every limb, 620
While he gnawed upon his lips—and I beside him watching him
Calmly at mine ease was sitting. Even then our Bacchus came,
And as with an earthquake shook the house, and lit a sudden flame
On his mother's tomb. The king beholding thought he saw his halls
Flame-enwrapped, and hither, thither, rushed he, wildly bidding thralls 625
Bring the water. Now was every bondman vainly toiling there.
Then he let this labour be, as deeming I had 'scaped the snare:
Straight within the building rushed he, drawing forth his falchion fell.
Then did Bromius, as to me it seemed—'tis but my thought I tell,—
Fashion in his halls a wraith: he hurled himself thereon straightway, 360
Rushed, and stabbed the light-pervaded air, as thinking me to slay.
Then did Bacchus bring a new abasement of his pride to pass;
For he hurled to earth the building. There it lies, a ruin-mass,—
Sight to make my bonds full bitter to him! Now, with toil outworn,
Letting drop the sword, he falleth fainting. He, the mortal-born, 635
Dare to brave a God to battle ! Then unhindered passed I through,
Recking nought of Pentheus: so from forth his halls I come to you.
But, methinks,—for there within the house a footfall's sound there is,—
He shall straightway come without. Ha, what shall he say unto this?
Lightly shall I bear his bluster, whatsoe'er his fury's stress; 640
For it is the wise man's part to rein his wrath in soberness.
Foul outrage this!—the stranger hath escaped,
Though bound but now in fetters fast as fate.
There is the man! What means this? How hast thou 645
Won forth to stand before my very halls?
Stay there, and let thy fury softly tread.
How hast thou 'scaped thy bonds and comest forth?
Said I not—or didst hear not?—"One will free me?" 650
Who?—Strange and ever strange thine answers are.
He who makes grow for men the clustered vine.
[Ay—who drives women frenzied from the home!]
'Tis Dionysus' glory, this thy scoff.
Pentheus (to attendants).
I bid ye bar all towers round about.
Why? Cannot Gods pass even over walls?
Wise art thou, wise—save where thou shouldst be wise. 655
Where most needs wisdom, therein am I wise.
But listen first to yon man, hear his tale
Who with some tidings from the mountains comes.
I will await thee: fear not lest I fly.
Pentheus, thou ruler of this Theban land, 660
I from Kithairon come, whence never fail
The glistering silver arrows of the snow.
Bringing what weighty tidings comest thou?
I have seen wild Bacchanals, who from this land
Have darted forth with white feet, frenzy-stung. 665
I come, King, fain to tell to thee and Thebes
What strange, what passing wondrous deeds they do.
Yet would I hear if freely I may tell
Things there beheld, or reef my story's sail.
For, King, I fear thy spirit's hasty mood, 670
Thy passion and thine over-royal wrath.
Say on: of me shalt thou go all unscathed.
For we may not be wroth with honest men.
The direr sounds thy tale of the Bacchanals,
The sterner punishment will I inflict 675
On him who taught our dames this wickedness.
Thine herds of pasturing kine were even now
Scaling the steep hill-side, what time the sun
First darted forth his rays to warm the earth,
When lo, I see three Bacchant women-bands,— 680
Autonoë chief of one, of one thy mother
Agavê, and the third band Ino led.
All sleeping lay, with bodies restful-strown;
Some backward leaned on leafy sprays of pine,
Some, with oak-leaves for pillows, on the ground 685
Flung careless;—modestly, not, as thou say'st,
Drunken with wine, amid the sighing of flutes
Hunting desire through woodland shades alone.
Then to her feet sprang in the Bacchanals' midst
Thy mother, crying aloud, "Shake from you sleep!" 690
When fell our horned kine's lowing on her ear.
They, dashing from their eyelids rosy sleep,
Sprang to their feet, a marvel of grace to see,
Young girls, old matrons, maidens yet unwed.
First down their shoulders let they stream their hair: 695
Then looped they up their fawnskins,—they whose bands
Had fallen loose,—and girt the dappled fells
Round them with snakes that licked their cheeks the while.
Some, cradling fawns or wolf-cubs in their arms,
Gave to the wild things of their breasts' white milk,— 700
Young mothers they, who had left their babes, that still
Their breasts were full. Then did they wreathe their heads
With ivy, oak, and flower-starred briony.
One grasped her thyrsus-staff, and smote the rock,
And forth upleapt a fountain's showering spray: 705
One in earth's bosom planted her reed-wand,
And up therethrough the God a wine-fount sent:
And whoso fain would drink white-foaming draughts
Scarred with their finger-tips the breast of earth,
And milk gushed forth unstinted: dripped the while 710
Sweet streams of honey from their ivy-staves.
Hadst thou been there, thou hadst, beholding this,
With prayer approached the God whom now thou spurnest.
Then we, thine herdmen and thy shepherds, drew
Together, each with each to hold dispute 715
Touching their awful deeds and marvellous.
And one, a townward truant, ready of speech,
To all cried, "Dwellers on the terraces
Of hallowed mountains, will ye that we chase
From Bacchus' revel Agavê, Pentheus' mother, 720
And do our lord a kindness?" Well, thought we,
He spake, and we in ambush hid ourselves
Mid leaves of copses. At the appointed time
They waved the thyrsus for the revel-rites,
With one voice calling Iacchus, Clamour-king, 725
Zeus' seed. The hills, the wild things all, were thrilled
With ecstasy: nought but shook as on they rushed.
Now nigh to me Agavê chanced to leap,
And forth I sprang as who would seize on her,
Leaving the thicket of mine ambush void. 730
Then shouted she, "What ho, my fleetfoot hounds,
We are chased by these men! Ho ye, follow me—
Follow, the thyrsus-javelins in your hands!"
O then we fled, and fleeing scantly 'scaped
The Bacchanals' rending grasp. Down swooped they then 735
Upon our pasturing kine with swordless hand.
Then hadst thou seen thy mother in her grip
Clutch a deep-uddered heifer bellowing loud:
And others rent the calves in crimson shreds.
Ribs hadst thou seen and cloven hoofs far hurled 740
This way and that, and flakes of flesh that hung
And dripped all blood-bedabbled 'neath the pines.
Bulls, chafing, lowering fiercely along the horn
Erewhile, were tripped and hurled unto the earth,
Dragged down by countless-clutching maiden hands. 745
More swiftly was the flesh that lapped their bones
Stripped, than thou couldst have closed thy kingly eyes.
On swept they, racing like to soaring birds,
To lowland plains which by Asopus' streams
Bear the rich harvests of the Theban folk,— 750
Hysiae, Erythrae, 'neath Kithairon's scaur
Low-nestling,—swooping on them like to foes,
This way and that way hurling all their goods,
Yea, from the houses snatching forth the babes.
Whatso they laid upon their shoulders, clung 755
Unfastened; nothing to the dark earth fell,—
Nor brass nor iron,—and upon their hair
They carried fire unscorched. The folk, in wrath
To be by Bacchanals pillaged, rushed to arms:
Whereupon, King, was this strange sight to see:— 760
From them the steel-tipt javelin drew not blood,
But they from their hands darting thyrsus-staves
Dealt wound on wound; and they, the women, turned
To flight men, for some God's hand wrought therein.
Then drew they back to whence their feet had come, 765
To those same founts the God sent up for them,
And washed the gore, while from their cheeks the snakes
Were licking with their tongues the blood-gouts clean.
Wherefore, whoe'er this God be, O my lord,
Receive him in this city; for, beside 770
His other might, they tell of him, I hear,
That he gave men the grief-assuaging vine.
When wine is no more found, then Love is not,
Nor any joy beside is left to men.
Words wherein freedom rings I dread to speak 775
Before the King; yet shall my thought be voiced:
Dionysus is not less than any God.
Lo, it is on us, kindling like a flame,
The Bacchanal outrage, our reproach through Greece!
We may not dally:—to Electra's gate 780
Go thou; bid all my warriors that bear shield
To meet me, and all riders of fleet steeds,
And all that shake the buckler, all who twang
The bowstring; for against the Bacchanals
Forth will we march; for this should pass all bounds, 785
To endure of women that we now endure.
No whit thou yieldest, though thou hear'st my words,
Pentheus. Yet, though thou dost despite to me,
I warn thee—bear not arms against a God;
But bide still. Bromius will not brook that thou 790
Shouldst drive his Bacchanals from their revel-hills.
School thou not me; but, having 'scaped thy bonds,
Content thee: else again I punish thee.
Better slay victims unto him than rage,
Spurning the goads, a mortal 'gainst a God. 795
Victims?—yea women-victims, fitly slain:
Wild work of slaughter midst Kithairon's glens!
Flee shall ye all; and shame were this, that shields
Brass-forged from wands of Bacchanals turn back.
This stranger—vainly wrestle we with him: 800
Doing nor suffering will he hold his peace.
Friend, yet this evil may be turned to good.
How?—by becoming my bondwomen's thrall?
I without arms will bring the women hither.
Ha! here for me thou plottest treachery! 805
Treachery?—I would save thee by mine art!
Ye have made this covenant, so to revel aye.
Nay: know, this covenant made I with the God.
Pentheus (to attendant).
Bring forth mine arms!—thou, make an end of speech.
Ho thou! 810
Wouldst thou behold them camped upon the hills?
Ay—though with sumless gold I bought the sight.
Why on this mighty longing hast thou fallen?
To see them drunk with wine—a bitter sight!
Yet wouldst thou gladly see a bitter sight? 815
Yea, sooth, in silence crouched beneath the pines.
Yet will they track thee, stealthily though thou come.
Openly then!—yea, well hast thou said this.
Shall I then guide thee? Wilt essay the path?
Lead on with speed: I grudge thee all delay! 820
Array thee now in robes of linen fine.
Wherefore? From man shall I to woman turn?
Lest they should kill thee, seeing thee there as man.
Well said—yea, shrewd hast thou been heretofore.
Such science Dionysus taught to me. 825
How then shall thy fair rede become mine act?
I will into thine halls, and robe thee there.
What robe? A woman's?—nay, but I think shame.
Is thy desire to watch the Maenads dead?
In what garb, say'st thou, wouldst thou drape my form? 830
Thine head with flowing tresses will I tire.
And the next fashion of my vesture—what?
Long robes: and on thine head a coif shall be.
Nought else but these wouldst thou add unto me?
Thyrsus in hand, and dappled fell of fawn. 835
I cannot drape me in a woman's robe!
Then in the fight with Maenads blood must flow.
Ay, true:—first must I go and spy them out.
Sooth, wiser so than hunt thee ills with ills.
Yet, how through Kadmus' city pass unseen? 840
By lone paths will we go. Myself will guide.
Better were anything than Bacchants' mock.
I will pass in, and what befits devise.
So be it. I am resolved: my path is clear.
I go; for I must needs march sword in hand, 845
Or do according unto thine advice. [Exit.
Women, the man sets foot within the toils.
The Bacchants—and death's penalty—shall he find.
Dionysus, play thy part now; thou art near:
Let us take vengeance. Craze thou first his brain, 850
Indarting sudden madness. Whole of wit,
Ne'er will he yield to don the woman's robe:
Yet shall he don, driven wide of reason's course.
I long withal to make him Thebes' derision,
In woman-semblance led the city through, 855
After the erstwhile terrors of his threats.
I go, to lay on Pentheus the attire
Which he shall take with him to Hades, slain
By a mother's hands. And he shall know Zeus' son
Dionysus, who hath risen at last a God 860
Most terrible, yet kindest unto men. [Exit.
Ah, shall my white feet in the dances gleam
The livelong night again? Ah, shall I there
Float through the Bacchanal's ecstatic dream,
Tossing my neck into the dewy air?—
Like to a fawn that gambols mid delight
Of pastures green, when she hath left behind
The chasing horror, and hath sped her flight
Past watchers, o'er nets deadly-deftly twined,
Though shouting huntsmen cheer the racing hounds 870
Onward, the while with desperate stress and strain
And bursts of tempest-footed speed she bounds
Far over reaches of the river-plain,
Till sheltering arms of trees around her close,
The twilight of the tresses of the woods;—
O happy ransomed one, safe hid from foes
Where no man tracks the forest-solitudes!
What wisdom's crown, what guerdon, shines more glorious
That Gods can give the sons of men, than this—
O'er crests of foes to stretch the hand victorious? 880
Honour is precious evermore, I wis.
Slowly on-sweepeth, but unerringly,
The might of Heaven, with sternest lessoning
For men who in their own mad fantasy
Exalt their unbelief, and crown it king—
Mortals who dare belittle things divine!
Ah, but the Gods in subtle ambush wait:
On treads the foot of time; but their design
Is unrelinquished, and the ruthless fate
Quests as a sleuth-hound till it shall have tracked 890
The godless down in that relentless hunt.
We may not, in the heart's thought or the act,
Set us above the law of use and wont.
Little it costs, faith's precious heritage,
To trust that whatsoe'er from Heaven is sent
Hath sovereign sway, whate'er through age on age
Hath gathered sanction by our nature's bent.
What wisdom's crown, what guerdon, shines more glorious
That Gods can give the sons of men, than this—
O'er crests of foes to stretch the hand victorious? 900
Honour is precious evermore, I wis.
Blest who from ravening seas
Hath 'scaped to haven-peace,
Blest who hath triumphed in endeavour's toil and throe.
This man to higher height
Attains, of wealth, of might,
Than that; yet myriad hopes in myriad hearts still glow:
To fair fruition brought
Are some, some come to nought: 910
Happy is he whose bliss from day to day doth grow.
Thou who dost burn to see forefended things,
Pentheus, O zealous with an evil zeal,
Come forth before thine halls: be seen of me
Womanlike clothed in frenzied Bacchant's garb, 915
To spy upon thy mother and her troop.
So!—like a daughter of Kadmus is thy form.
Aha! meseemeth I behold two suns,
A twofold Thebes, our seven-gated burg!
A bull thou seem'st that leadeth on before; 920
And horns upon thine head have sprouted forth.
How, wast thou brute?—bull art thou verily now!
The God attends us, gracious not ere this,
Leagued with us now: now seest thou as thou shouldst.
Whose semblance bear I? Have I not the mien 925
Of Ino, or my mother Agavê's port?
Their very selves I seem to see in thee.
Yet, what?—this tress hath from his place escaped,
Not as I braided it beneath the coif.
Tossing it forth and back within, in whirls 930
Of Bacchic frenzy, I disordered it.
Nay, I, who have taken thy tire-maiden's part,
Will rearrange it. Come, hold up thine head.
Lo there—thou lay it smooth: to thee I look.
Now is thy girdle loose; thy garment's folds 935
Droop not below thine ankles evenly.
Yea, by my right foot so, meseems, it is.
To left, true by the sinew hangs the robe.
Me wilt thou surely count thy chiefest friend,
When sight of sober Bacchants cheats thine hopes. 940
This thyrsus—shall I hold it in this hand,
Or this, the more to seem true Bacchanal.
In the right hand, and with the right foot timed
Bear it:—all praise to thy converted heart!
Could I upon my shoulders raise the glens 945
Of Mount Kithairon, yea, and the Bacchanals?
Thou mightest, an thou wouldst: erewhile thy soul
Was warped; but now 'tis even as befits.
With levers?—or shall mine hands tear it up
With arm or shoulder thrust beneath its crests? 950
Now nay—the shrines of Nymphs destroy not thou,
And haunts of Pan that with his piping ring.
True—true: we must not overcome by force
The women. I will hide me midst the pines.
Such hiding shall be thine as fate ordains, 955
Who com'st with guile, a spy on Bacchanals.
Methinks I see them mid the copses caught,
Like birds, in toils of their sweet dalliance.
To this end then art thou appointed watchman:
Perchance shalt catch them—if they catch not thee. 960
On through the midst of Thebes' town usher me,
For I, I only of them, dare such deed.
Alone for Thebes thou travailest, thou alone;
Wherefore for thee wait tug and strain foredoomed.
Follow: all safely will I usher thee. 965
Another thence shall bring thee,—
Ay, my mother.
To all men manifest—
For this I come.
High-borne shalt thou return—
O silken ease!
On a mother's hands.
Thou wouldst thrust pomp on me!
Nay, 'tis but such pomp—
As is my desert. 970
Strange, strange man! Strange shall thine experience be.
So shalt thou win renown that soars to heaven.
Agavê, stretch forth hands; ye sisters, stretch,
Daughters of Kadmus! To a mighty strife
I bring this prince. The victor I shall be 975
And Bromius. All else shall the issue show. [Exit.
Up, ye swift hell-hounds of Madness! Away to the mountain-glens, where
Kadmus's daughters hold revel, and sting them to fury, to tear
Him who hath come woman-vestured to spy on the Bacchanals there,
Frenzy-struck fool that he is!—for his mother shall foremost descry 980
Him, as from water-worn scaur or from storm-riven tree he would spy
That which they do, and her shout to the Maenads shall peal from on high:—
"Who hath come hither, hath trodden the paths to the mountain that lead,
Spying on Kadmus's daughters, the maids o'er the mountains that speed,
Bacchanal-sisters?—what mother hath brought to the birth such a seed?
Who was it?—who?—for I ween he was born not of womankind's blood:
Rather he sprang from the womb of a lioness, scourge of the wood;
Haply is spawn of the Gorgons of Libya, the demon-brood." 990
Justice, draw nigh us, draw nigh, with the sword of avenging appear:
Slay the unrighteous, the seed of Echion the earth-born, and shear
Clean through his throat, for he feareth not God, neither law doth he fear.
Lo, how in impious mood, and with lawless intent, and with spite
Madness-distraught, with thy rites and thy mother's he cometh to fight,
Bacchus—to bear the invincible down by his impotent might! 1000
Thus shall one gain him a sorrowless life, if he keepeth his soul
Sober in spirit, and swift in obedience to heaven's control,
Murmuring not, neither pressing beyond his mortality's goal.
No such presumptuous wisdom I covet: I seek for mine own—
Yea, in the quest is mine happiness—things that not so may be known,
Glorious wisdom and great, from the days everlasting forth-shown,
Even to fashion in pureness my life and in holiness aye,
Following ends that are noble from dawn to the death of the day,
Honouring Gods, and refusing to walk in injustice's way. 1010
Justice, draw nigh us, draw nigh, with the sword of avenging appear:
Slay the unrighteous, the seed of Echion the earth-born, and shear
Clean through his throat; for he feareth not God, neither law doth he fear.
O Dionysus, reveal thee!—appear as a bull to behold,
Or be thou seen as a dragon, a monster of heads manifold,
Or as a lion, with splendours of flame round the limbs of him rolled.
Come to us, Bacchus, and smiling in mockery compass him round 1020
Now with the toils of destruction, and so shall the hunter be bound,
Trapped mid the throng of the Maenads, the quarry his questing hath found.
O house of old through Hellas prosperous 1025
Of that Sidonian patriarch, who sowed
The earth-born serpent's dragon-teeth in earth,
How I bemoan thee! What though thrall I be,
Their lords' calamities touch loyal thralls.
What now?—hast tidings of the Bacchanals? 1030
Pentheus is dead: Echion's son is dead.
Bromius my King! thou hast made thy godhead plain!
How, what is this thou say'st? Dost thou exult,
Woman, upon my lord's calamities?
An alien I, I chant glad outland strain, 1035
Who cower no more in terror of the chain.
Deemest thou Thebes so void of men—
Dionysus it is, 'tis the King of the Vine
That hath lordship o'er me, no Thebes of thine!
This might be pardoned, save that base it is,
Women, to joy o'er evils past recall. 1040
Tell to me, tell,—by what doom died he,
The villain devising villainy?
When, from the homesteads of this Theban land
Departing, we had crossed Asopus' streams,
Then we began to breast Kithairon's steep, 1045
Pentheus and I,—for to my lord I clave,—
And he who ushered us unto the scene.
First in a grassy dell we sat us down
With footfall hushed and tongues refrained from speech,
That so we might behold, all unbeheld. 1050
There was a glen crag-walled, with rills o'erstreamed,
Closed in with pine-shade, where the Maenad girls
Sat with hands busied with their blithesome toils.
The faded thyrsus some with ivy-sprays
Twined, till its tendril-tresses waved again: 1055
Others, like colts from carven wain-yokes loosed,
Re-echoed each to each the Bacchic chant.
But hapless Pentheus, seeing ill the throng
Of women, spake thus: "Stranger, where we stand,
Are these mock-maenad maids beyond my ken. 1060
Some knoll or pine high-crested let me climb,
And I shall see the Maenads' lewdness well."
A marvel then I saw the stranger do.
A soaring pine-branch by the top he caught,
And dragged down—down—still down to the dark earth. 1065
Arched as a bow it grew, or curving wheel
That on the lathe sweeps out its circle's round:
So bowed the stranger's hands that mountain-branch,
And bent to earth—a deed past mortal might!
Then Pentheus on the pine-boughs seated he, 1070
And let the branch rise, sliding through his hands
Gently, with heedful care to unseat him not.
High up into the heights of air it soared,
Bearing my master throned upon its crest,
More by the Maenads seen than seeing them. 1075
For scarce high-lifted was he manifest,
When lo, the stranger might no more be seen;
And fell from heaven a voice—the voice, most like,
Of Dionysus,—crying, "O ye maids,
I bring him who would mock at you and me, 1080
And at my rites. Take vengeance on him ye!"
Even as he cried, up heavenward, down to earth,
He flashed a pillar-splendour of awful flame.
Hushed was the welkin: that fair grassy glen
Held hushed its leaves; no wild thing's cry was heard. 1085
But they, whose ears not clearly caught the sound,
Sprang up, and shot keen glances right and left.
Again he cried his hest: then Kadmus' daughters
Knew certainly the Bacchic God's command,
And darted: and the swiftness of their feet 1090
Was as of doves in onward-straining race—
His mother Agavê and her sisters twain,
And all the Bacchanals. Through torrent gorge,
O'er boulders, leapt they, with the God's breath mad.
When seated on the pine they saw my lord, 1095
First torrent-stones with might and main they hurled,
Scaling a rock, their counter-bastion,
And javelined him with branches of the pine:
And others shot their thyrsi through the air
At Pentheus—woeful mark!—yet nought availed. 1100
For, at a height above their fury's pitch,
Trapped in despair's gin, horror-struck he sat.
Last, oak-limbs from their trunks they thundered down,
And heaved at the roots with levers—not of iron.
But when they won no end of toil and strain, 1105
Agavê cried, "Ho, stand we round the trunk,
Maenads, and grasp, that we may catch the beast
Crouched there, that he may not proclaim abroad
Our God's mysterious rites!" Their countless hands
Set they unto the pine, tore from the soil:— 1110
And he. high-seated, crashed down from his height:
And earthward fell with frenzy of shriek on shriek
Pentheus, for now he knew his doom at hand.
His mother first, priest-like, began the slaughter,
And fell on him: but from his hair the coif 1115
He tore, that she might know and slay him not,—
Hapless Agavê!—and he touched her cheek,
Crying, "'Tis I—O mother!—thine own son
Pentheus—thou bar'st me in Echion's halls!
Have mercy, O my mother!—for my sin 1120
Murder not thou thy son—thy very son!"
But she, with foaming lips and eyes that rolled
Wildly, and reckless madness-clouded soul,
Possessed of Bacchus, gave no heed to him;
But his left arm she clutched in both her hands, 1125
And set against the wretch's ribs her foot,
And tore his shoulder out—not by her strength,
But the God made it easy to her hands.
And Ino laboured on the other side,
Rending his flesh: Autonoë pressed on—all 1130
The Bacchanal throng. One awful blended cry
Rose—the king's screams while life was yet in him,
And triumph-yells from them. One bare an arm,
One a foot sandal-shod. His ribs were stripped
In mangled shreds: with blood-bedabbled hands 1135
Each to and fro was tossing Pentheus' flesh.
Wide-sundered lies his corse: part 'neath rough rocks,
Part mid the tangled depths of forest-shades:—
Hard were the search. His miserable head
Which in her hands his mother chanced to seize, 1140
Impaled upon her thyrsus-point she bears,
Like mountain-lion's, through Kithairon's midst,
Leaving her sisters in their Maenad dance;
And, in her ghastly quarry exulting, comes
Within these walls, to Bacchus crying aloud, 1145
Her fellow-hunter, helper in the chase
Triumphant—all its triumph-prize is tears!
But from this sight of misery will I
Depart, or ever Agavê reach the halls.
Ay, self-restraint, and reverence for the Gods 1150
Are best, I ween; 'tis wisest far for men
To get these in possession, and cleave thereto. [Exit.
Raise we to Bacchus the choral acclaim,
Shout we aloud for the fall
Of the king, of the blood of the Serpent who came,
Who arrayed him in woman's pall;
And the thyrsus-ferule he grasped—but the same
Was a passport to Hades' hall:
And a bull was his guide to a doom of shame!
O Bacchanal-maids Kadmeian, 1160
Ye have gained for you glory—a victory-pæan
To be drowned in lamenting and weeping.
O contest triumphantly won, when a mother in blood of her son
Her fingers is steeping!
But lo, I see fast hurrying to the halls 1165
Agavê, Pentheus' mother, with wild eyes
Rolling:—hail ye the revel of our God!
Enter Agavê, carrying the head of Pentheus.
Why dost thou challenge me?—say.
Lo, from the mountain-side I bear
A newly-severed ivy-spray 1170
Unto our halls, a goodly prey.
I see—to our revels I welcome thee.
I trapped him, I, with never a snare!
'Tis a lion—the whelp of a lion, plain to see.
Where in the wilderness, where?
What hath Kithairon wrought?
Him hath Kithairon to slaughter brought.
Who was it smote him first?
Mine, mine is the guerdon.
Their revel-rout singeth me—"Happy Agavê!" their burden. 1180
Of Kadmus what wilt thou tell?
His daughter after me smote the monster fell—
After me! O fortunate hunting! Is it not well?
Now share in the banquet!—
Alas! wherein shall I share?
This whelp is yet but a tender thing,
And over its jaws yet sprouteth fair
The down 'neath the crest of its waving hair.
Yea, the hair of a beast of the wold might it be.
Uproused was the Maenad gathering
To the chase, by a cunning hunter full cunningly. 1190
Yea, a hunter is Bacchus our King.
Dost thou praise me?
How can I choose but praise?
Ay, and full soon shall Kadmus' race—
And Pentheus thy son—
Yea, I shall have praise of my scion
For the prey that is taken, even this whelp of a lion.
And strangely taken.
I am fain
For the triumph achieved, both goodly and great, and plain
For the land to see, in the booty mine hands have ta'en.
Show forth now, hapless one, to all the folk 1200
The triumph-spoil that hither thou hast brought.
Ye, in the fair-towered burg of Theban land
Which dwell, draw nigh to look upon this prey,
The beast we, Kadmus' daughters, hunted down—
Not with the thong-whirled darts of Thessaly, 1205
Neither with nets, but with the fingers white
Of our own hands. What boots the idle vaunt
Of men who get them tools by armourers wrought,
When we, with bare hands only, took the prey,
And rent asunder all the monster's limbs? 1210
Where is mine ancient sire? Let him draw near.
And my son Pentheus where? Let him upraise
A ladder's stair against the palace wall,
That to the triglyphs he may nail this head,
This lion's head that I from hunting bring. 1215
Enter Kadmus, with attendants carrying a bier.
Follow me, henchmen, to the palace-front;
Follow me, bearing Pentheus' ghastly load,
Whose limbs by toilsome searchings manifold,
About Kithairon's glens all rent apart
I found, and bring—no twain in one place found, 1220
But lying all about the trackless wood.
For of my daughters' desperate deeds I heard,
Even as I passed within the city-walls
With old Teiresias from the Bacchant revel.
Back to the mountain turned I; and I bring 1225
My son thence, who by Maenads hath been slain.
There her who bore Aktaion to Aristaius
I saw, Autonoë, saw Ino there
Still midst the oak-groves, wretches frenzy-stung.
But hitherward, said one, with Bacchant feet 1230
Had passed Agavê, and the truth I heard:
For I behold her—sight of misery!
My father, proudest boast is thine to make,
To have begotten daughters best by far
Of mortals—all thy daughters, chiefly me, 1235
Me who left loom and shuttle, and pressed on
To high emprise, to hunt beasts with mine hands.
And in mine arms I bring, thou seest, this
The prize I took, against thy palace-wall
To hang: receive it, father, in thine hands. 1240
And now, triumphant in mine hunting's spoil,
Bid to a feast thy friends; for blest art thou,
Blest verily, since we have achieved such deeds.
O anguish measureless that blasts the sight!
O murder compassed by these wretched hands! 1245
Fair victim this to cast before the Gods,
And bid to such a banquet Thebes and me!
Woe for our sorrows!—first for thine, then mine!
How hath the God, King Bromius, ruined us!—
Just stroke—yet ruthless—is he not our kin? 1250
How sour of mood is greybeard eld in men,
Flow sullen-eyed! Framed in his mother's mould
A mighty hunter may my son become,
When with the Theban youths he speedeth forth
Questing the quarry!—But he can do nought 1255
Save war with Gods! Father, our part it is
To warn him not to joy in baneful wisdom.
Where is he? Who will call him hitherward
To see me, and behold mine happiness?
Alas! when ye are ware what ye have done, 1260
With sore grief shall ye grieve! If to life's end
Ye should abide on aye in this your state,
Ye should not, though unblest, seem all accurst.
What is not well here?—what that calls for grief?
First cast thou up thine eye to yonder heaven. 1265
Lo, so I do. Why bid me look thereon?
Seems it the same? Or hath it changed to thee?
Brighter it is—more clear than heretofore.
Is this delirium tossing yet thy soul?
This comprehend I not:—yet—yet—it passes, 1270
My late mood—I am coming to myself.
Canst hearken aught then? Clearly canst reply?
Our words late-spoken—father, I forget them.
To what house earnest thou with bridal-hymns?
Echion's—of the Dragon-seed, men say. 1275
Thou barest—in thine halls, to thy lord—whom?
Pentheus—born of my union with his sire.
Whose head—whose?—art thou bearing in thine arms?
A lion's—so said they which hunted it.
Look well thereon:—small trouble this, to look. 1280
Ah-h! what do I see? What bear I in mine hands?
Gaze, gaze on it, and be thou certified.
I see—mine uttermost anguish! Woe is me!
Seems it to thee now like a lion's head?
No!—wretched!—wretched!—Pentheus' head I hold! 1285
Of me bewailed ere recognised of thee.
Who murdered him? How came he to mine hands?
O piteous truth that so untimely dawns!
Speak! Hard my heart beats, waiting for its doom.
Thou!—thou, and those thy sisters murdered him. 1290
Where perished he?—at home, or in what place?
There, where Aktaion erst by hounds was torn.
How to Kithairon went this hapless one?
To mock the God and thy wild rites he went.
But we—for what cause thither journeyed we? 1295
Ye were distraught: all Thebes went Bacchant-wild.
Dionysus ruined us! I see it now.
Ye flouted him, would not believe him God.
Where, father, is my son's belovèd corse?
Here do I bear it, by hard searching found. 1300
Is it all meetly fitted limb to limb?
[Yea—now I add thereto this dear-loved head.]
But—in my folly what was Pentheus' part?
He was as ye, revering not the God,
Who therefore in one mischief whelmed you all,
You, and this prince, so ruining all our house 1305
And me, who had no manchild of mine own,
Who see now, wretched daughter, this the fruit
Of thy womb horribly and foully slain.
To thee our house looked up, O son, the stay
Of mine old halls; my daughter's offspring thou, 1310
Thou wast the city's dread: was none dared mock
The old man, none that turned his eyes on thee,
O gallant head!—thou hadst well requited him.
Now from mine halls shall I in shame be cast—
Kadmus the great, who sowed the seed of Thebes, 1315
And reaped the goodliest harvest of the world.
O best-beloved!—for, though thou be no more,
Thou shalt be counted best-beloved, O child,
Thou who shalt fondle never more my head,
Nor clasp and call me "Mother's father," child, 1320
Crying, "Who wrongs thee, ancient?—flouts thee who?
Who vexeth thee to trouble thine heart's peace?
Speak, that I may chastise the wrong, my sire."
Now am I anguish-stricken, wretched thou,
Woeful thy mother, and her sisters wretched! 1325
If any man there be that scorns the Gods,
This man's death let him note, and so believe.
Kadmus, for thee I grieve. Thy daughter's son
Hath but just doom—yet bitter doom for thee.
Father, thou seest what change hath passed o'er me— 1330
[A large portion of the play has here been lost, containing (1) the lament of Agavê over her son; (2) a few lines, probably by the Chorus, announcing the appearance, in his shape as a God, of Dionysus; (3) the commencement of Dionysus' speech, in which he points out how Pentheus' sin has proved his destruction, how Agavê and her sisters have, by their unbelief, involved themselves in his punishment, and will be exiles till death; and how Kadmus himself must suffer with his house, how he shall wander exiled from Hellas,—the portion preserved commencing with the prophecy of his weird transformation.]
—Thou to a serpent shalt be changed: thy wife
Harmonia, Ares' child, whom thou didst wed
When man, embruted shall to a snake be changed.
Thou with thy wife shalt drive a wain of steers
Leading barbaric hordes, Zeus' oracle saith, 1335
And many a city with thy countless host
Shalt sack: but when they plunder Loxias' shrine,
Then shall they get them bitter home-return.
Thee and Harmonia shall Ares save,
And stablish in the Blessèd Land your lives. 1340
This say I, of no mortal father born,
Dionysus, but of Zeus. Had ye but learnt
Wisdom, what time ye would not, ye had been
Blest now, with Zeus' son for your champion gained.
Dionysus, we beseech thee!—we have sinned. 1345
Too late ye know me, who knew not in your hour.
We know it: but thy vengeance passeth bounds.
I am a God: ye did despite to me.
It fits not that in wrath Gods be as men.
Long since my father Zeus ordained this so. 1350
Alas! our woeful exile's doom is sealed!
Why then delay the fate that needs must be? [Exit.
Daughter, to what dread misery are we come,
Thou—woe is thee!—thy sisters, and thy son!
I must in sorrow visit alien men,
A grey-haired sojourner. I am doomed withal 1355
On Greeks to lead a mingled alien host;
And Ares' child, Harmonia my wife,
In serpent form shall I, a serpent, lead
Against our Hellas' altars and her tombs,
Captaining spears. And I shall find no rest 1360
From woes, alas! nor that down-rushing stream
Of Acheron shall I cross and be at peace!
Robbed of thee, father, exiled shall I be!
Why cast thine arms about me, hapless child?
Like white swan cherishing its helpless sire? 1365
Whither can I turn, outcast from my land?
I know not, child. Small help thy father is.
Farewell, mine home; farewell, ye city-towers
Of fatherland! In anguish of despair
I pass an exile from my bridal bowers. 1370
Child, to the halls of Aristaius fare:
Abide thou there.
I mourn thee, father!
Child, I mourn for thee;
And for thy sisters do I weep withal.
For Dionysus' tyrannous majesty
Most fearfully hath caused upon thine hall
This shame to fall.
Yea, outrage foul to him of you was done,
In that his name in Thebes was held in scorn.
Farewell, my father.
Farewell, hapless one,
Daughter!—ah, hardly shalt thou reach such bourn! 1380
O ye, to my sisters guide me,
My companions in banishment's misery.
O that afar I might hide me
Where accursèd Kithairon shall look not on me,
Neither I with mine eyes shall Kithairon see,
Where memorial is none of the thyrsus-spear!
Be these unto other Bacchanals dear.
O the works of the Gods—in manifold wise they reveal them:
Manifold things unhoped-for the Gods to accomplishment bring.
And the things that we looked for, the Gods deign not to fulfil them; 1390
And the paths undiscerned of our eyes, the Gods unseal them.
So fell this marvellous thing.
- Or (Elmsley and Tyrrell), "Let him hence: in his home let him stay."
- Or, "Tempting them with the—" (Paley).
- Drumming on the timbrels with the wand tipped with the pine-cone.
- Or, "Didst thou . . . and wouldst thou . . . ?" (Paley).
- Insinuating that priests and diviners had an interest in introducing new gods, with their special sacrifices and revelations, as this would bring to them, as the officiating medium, larger fees.
- Tyrrell, following Wecklein, reads γλώσσῃ for δυνατὸς, "The man who is rash of tongue and ready of speech."
- i.e. Gave this counterfeit Dionysus to Hera, to hold as a hostage, as a guarantee against his investing her rival Semelê's child with the honours of divinity.
- The genuineness of this passage (ll. 286– ) is greatly disputed. The point of the rationalistic derivation lies in the similarity of three Greek words:—meros, a fragment; homēros, hostage; ho mēros, the thigh.
- Hitherto consecrated to Apollo alone.
- This riddling utterance receives perhaps the simplest explanation if we refer the "spells" in l. 327 to the judicial madness, the "possession" inflicted by Bacchus, which could not be removed by any such "spells" (326) as were commonly employed by human exorcists. Pentheus is the Pharaoh of Greek legend, and his heart is represented here as hardened in punishment for his unbelief.
- Implying that Teiresias shows due reverence to the new god without dishonouring the old deity whose prophet he is (Sandys).
- The name Pentheus suggested to the Greek the word penthos, sorrow. Such plays on words are common in the Tragedians. They are not to be regarded as beneath the dignity of tragedy, since the Greeks, like the Hebrews, regarded a man's name as not only foreshowing his destiny, but even as contributing to bring it about. See l. 508.
- Macedonia; where, at the court of king Archelaus, Euripides composed this play, and where the bacchanalian rites were celebrated with great enthusiasm.
- Tyrrell retains manuscript reading μαίνεσθε, "Ye are mad! Once in the toils of these mine hands."
- i.e. Never, as I do not intend that you shall escape to rejoin them.
- Or (οὐδ᾽ ὃ δρᾷς, Reiske, followed by Paley), "Thy life, thy deeds, thyself, thou knowest not."
- The river Acheloüs was in legend the Father of all Greek streams. Dirkê, the sacred fountain of Thebes, is addressed as representing that city.
- A line inserted conjecturally, to complete stichomuthia.
- Reading σοι for σ᾽ οὐ (MS.), which would mean, "I grudge not such delay," i.e. the postponement of hostilities till the project of espial, which is to ensure their success, be first carried out.
- Implying that it will not be theirs; but the manuscript reading is uncertain, and it is doubtful if it can bear this or any satisfactory sense. Tyrrell approves Housman's conjecture, εὐμαθὴς εἶ: "How?—be detected? singly fight yon Maenads?"
- Or (Tyrrell) "Who reveals at last a godhead."
- Among signs of incipient madness is a failure to discriminate resistance, so that the patient, while raising slight weights, (here, the thyrsus), imagines himself to be putting forth strength enough to raise enormous ones.
- Henceforth the dialogue is all Tragic Irony, the words of Dionysus bearing one meaning for Pentheus, and another for the audience.
- To preserve the symmetry of the dialogue, the messenger should speak a distich: accordingly Paley suggests, to supply the lacuna—
Have left her powerless all to punish thee?"
- Others, "by rending nails."
- Following Reid and Tyrrell.
- Or, retaining manuscript reading, "She hath won for her."
- Reading εὐτυχής γ᾽ ἅδ᾽ ἄγρα, and assigning to Agavê.
- One of the many touches by which Euripides reminds us that the ancients had studied to some purpose the pathology of mental disorders. He begins the process of restoring the broken links of her memory by going back to what can most surely be counted on in the old, the memories of youth.
- A line inserted conjecturally, to fill lacuna.
- For preserved fragments of this lost portion, see Appendix which follows this play.
- i.e. As to fare well.
APPENDIX TO THE "BACCHANALS."
A few fragments, given below, of the lost portion of the Bacchæ have been collected, chiefly from the Christus Patiens, "a wretchedly stupid drama, falsely attributed to Gregory Nazianzenus, giving an account of the circumstances leading up to the Passion of Christ, and consisting of a cento of verses taken chiefly from the Bacchæ, Rhesus, and Troades" (Tyrrell, Introduction to his edition of the Bacchæ).
The lines marked A. may be taken as from the speech of Agavê; those marked D., as from that of Dionysus.
A.To find a doom of rending midst the rocks . . . .
How shall I press him—woe's me!—tenderly
Unto my breast?—in what wise wail o'er him?
For, had mine hands received not mine own curse . . .
To rend to utter fragments every limb . . . .
Kissing the shreds of flesh which once I nursed . . . .
Come, ancient, this thrice-hapless wretch's head
Compose we reverently, and all the frame
Lay we together, far as in us lies.
O best-belovèd face, O youthful cheek . . . .
Lo, with this vesture do I veil thine head,
And these thy blood-bedabbled, furrow-scarred
Limbs . . . . .
D.He dared the chain, he dared the scoffing word . . .
They which should have been last to slay him, slew . . .
All this hath yon man suffered righteously.
Yea, and the nation's doom I will not hide . . . .
That they must leave this city, expiate
The impious pollution of his murder,
And see no more their own land: that were sin.
All woes thou too must suffer will I tell.