Revised by Alex Sens
Further Revised by Gregory Nagy
I am Dionysus, the child of Zeus, and I have come to this land of the Thebans, where Kadmos’ daughter Semele once bore me, delivered by a lightning-blast. Having assumed a mortal form in place of my divine one, 5 I am here at the fountains of Dirke and the water of Ismenos. Here near the palace I see the tomb of my thunder-stricken mother and the remains of her abode, smoldering with the still living flame of Zeus’ fire, Hera’s everlasting hubris against my mother. 10 I praise Kadmos, who has made this place hallowed, the shrine of his daughter, which now I have covered all around with the cluster-bearing grapevine.
65 Having passed through sacred [ hieros ] Tmolos, coming from the land of Asia, I celebrate in honor of Bromios, a sweet labor [ ponos ] and an ordeal [ kamatos ] easily borne, crying “Evohe” for Bacchus. Who is in the way? Who is in the way? Who? Let him get out of the way indoors, and let everyone keep his mouth pure, 70 being euphēmos . For now I will celebrate Dionysus with hymns, at all times according to proper custom.
Blessed is he who keeps his life pure, with a good daimōn and knowing the rites of the gods, and who has his psūkhē initiated into the Bacchic revelry, dancing in inspired frenzy 75 over the mountains with holy purifications, and who, revering the mysteries of great mother Kybele, brandishing the thyrsos , 80 garlanded with ivy, serves as attendant [ therapōn ] to Dionysus. Go, Bacchae, go, Bacchae, bringing home the god Bromios, himself child of a god, 85 from the Phrygian mountains to the broad public spaces, suitable for khoroi , in Hellas; Bromios,
whom once his mother bore, 90 casting him from her stomach as she was struck by Zeus’ thunder while in the compulsions of birth pains, leaving life from the stroke of a thunderbolt. Immediately Zeus, Kronos’ son, 95 received him in a chamber fitted for birth, and having covered him in his thigh shut him up with golden clasps out of Hera’s sight. He bore forth 100 the bull-horned god when the Fates [ moirai ] had brought him to telos , and he garlanded him with crowns of snakes, for which reason Maenads cloak their wild prey over their locks.
105 Oh Thebes, nurse of Semele, crown yourself with ivy, flourish with the verdant yew which bears beautiful fruit, and consecrate yourself with twigs of oak 110 or fir. Adorn your garments of spotted fawn-skin with fleeces of white sheep, and consecrate the thyrsoi [ narthēx pl.], marks of hubris . Immediately all the earth will join in the khoroi — 115 he becomes Bromios whoever leads the sacred band of women—to the mountain, to the mountain, where the female crowd awaits, having been goaded away from their weaving by Dionysus.
120 Oh secret chamber of the Kouretes and you divine Cretan caves, parents of Zeus, where the Korybantes with their triple helmets 125 invented this circle, covered with stretched hide, and mixing it in their excited Bacchic dances with the sweet-voiced breath of Phrygian pipes, they handed it over to Rhea, an instrument resounding with the revel songs of the Bacchae. 130 Nearby, raving Satyrs went through the rites of the mother goddess. And they added the khoroi of the biennial festivals, in which Dionysus rejoices.
135 Sweet [ hēdus ] he is in the mountains, when, 136 after running in the sacred band [ thiasos ] 137-138 he drops to the ground, wearing the sacred [ hieron ] garment of fawn-skin, hunting 139 the blood of the goat killed, tracking the beauty and the pleasure [ kharis ] of raw flesh devoured, 140 rushing to the Phrygian, the Lydian mountains, 141 and the chorus leader [ ex-arkhos ] is Bromios [= Dionysus the Thunderer]. Cry “ Euhoi !” 142 The plain flows with milk, it flows with wine, 143 it flows with the nectar of bees. 144 Like the smoke of Syrian incense, 145 the Bacchic one [ Bakkheus ], raising high 146 the fiery flame from the pine torch, 147 bursts forth from the stalk [ narthēx ], 148 arousing the stragglers with his running and with his dance-steps [ khoroi ], 149 agitating them with his cries [ iakhai ], 150 tossing his luxuriant [ trupheros ] locks into the upper air. 151 And amidst cries of “ Euhoi !” his voice thunders words like this: 152 “Come on [and join the chorus], Bacchants [ bakkhai ], 153 come on [and join it], Bacchants, 154 surrounded by the luxuriant beauty of Mount Tmolos, watered by streams flowing with gold. 155 You all must sing and dance [ melpein ] Dionysus, 156 in tune with the thundering beat of kettle-drums, 157-158 glorifying with cries of ‘ Euhoi !’ the god of the cry ‘ Euhoi !’ 159 with Phrygian shouts and clamor, 160 when with its sweet song the pipe, 161-163 sacred [ hieros ] it is, thunders its pulsating sacred [ hiera ] tunes 164 for those who wander off to the mountain, to the mountain!” 165 And she, taking sweet pleasure [ hēdesthai ], 166-169 like a foal next to its grazing mother, rouses her swift-stepping legs to take one leap after the next, she the Bacchant [ bakkhē ].
170 Who is at the gates? Call from the house Kadmos, son of Agenor, who left the polis of Sidon and fortified this city of the Thebans with towers. Let someone go and announce that Teiresias is looking for him. He knows why I have come and 175 what agreement I, an old man, have made with him, older yet: to twine the thyrsoi , to wear fawn-skins, and to crown our heads with ivy shoots.
Most philos , from inside the house I heard and recognized your wise [ sophē ] voice—the voice of a sophos man— 180 and have come with this equipment of the god. To the best of our abilities we must extol him, the child of my daughter. Where is it necessary to take the khoros , where must we put our feet and 185 shake our grey heads? Lead me, an old man, Teiresias, yourself old. For you are sophos . And so I would not tire night or day striking the ground with the thyrsos . Gladly I have forgotten that we are old.
Then you and I are experiencing [ paskhein ] the same thing, 190 for I too feel young and will try to join the khoros .
Then we will go to the mountain in a chariot.
But in this way the god would not have equal tīmē .
I, an old man, will lead you like a pupil, though you are an old man.
The god will lead us there without ordeal.
195 Are we the only ones in the polis who will join the khoros in Dionysus’ honor?
We alone are sensible, all the others foolish.
Delay is long. Take hold of my hand.
Here, take hold, and join your hand with mine.
Having been born mortal, I do not scorn the gods.
200 In the eyes of the daimones we mortals do not act with wisdom [ sophiā ]. Our ancestral traditions, which we have held throughout our lives, no argument will overturn, not even if something sophon should be discovered by the depths of our phrenes . Will anyone say that I, who am about to join the khoros with my head covered in ivy, 205 do not respect old age? For the god has made no distinction as to whether it is right for men young or old to join the khoros , but wishes to have tīmai and be extolled equally by all, setting no one apart.
210 Since you do not see the light of the sun here, Teiresias, I will be for you a spokesman [ prophētēs ] about what is happening. Pentheus, child of Ekhion, to whom I have given control [ kratos ] of this land, is coming here to the house now in all haste. How he quivers with excitement! What new matter will he tell us?
215 I was away from this land when I heard of the new evils throughout this polis , that our women have left our homes in contrived Bacchic rites, and rush about in the shadowy mountains, honoring with khoroi this new daimōn 220 Dionysus, whoever he is. I hear that mixing-bowls stand full in the midst of their assemblies, and that each woman, flying to secrecy in different directions, yields to the embraces of men, on the pretext that they are Maenads worshipping. 225 They consider Aphrodite of greater priority than Dionysus.
That’s the man who claims that Dionysus is a god; that’s the man who claims that Dionysus was once stitched into the thigh of Zeus, Dionysus, who was in reality burnt along with his mother by the flame of lightning, 245 because she had falsely claimed to have married Zeus. Is this not worthy of a terrible death by hanging, that he, whoever this xenos is, commits such acts of hubris ?
But here is another wonder: I see the seer Teiresias clothed in dappled fawn-skins 250 along with my mother’s father—a great absurdity—raging about with a thyrsos [ narthēx ]. I want to deny that I see your old age devoid of sense. Won’t you cast away the ivy? 255 Will you not, father of my mother, free your hand of the thyrsos ? You urged these things, Teiresias. Do you wish, introducing this new daimōn to humans, to examine birds and receive rewards of sacrifices? If your hoary old age did not protect you, you would sit in the midst of the Bacchants 260 for introducing wicked rites. For where women have the delight of the grape at a feast, I say that none of their rites is healthy any longer.
Oh, what impiety! xenos , don’t you reverence the gods and Kadmos who sowed the earth-born crop? 265 Do you, the child of Ekhion, disgrace your ancestry [ genos ]?
Whenever a sophos man takes a good occasion for his speech, it is not a great task to speak well. You have a fluent tongue as though you are sensible, but there is no sense in your words. 270 A bold and powerful man, one capable of speaking well, becomes a kakos citizen if he lacks sense. Nor can I express how great this new god, whom you scorn, will be throughout Hellas. Two things, young man, 275 have supremacy among humans: The goddess Demeter—she is the earth, but call her whatever name you wish—nourishes mortals with dry food. But he who came then, the offspring of Semele, invented a rival, the wet drink of the grape, and introduced it to mortals. 280 It releases wretched mortals from their pains, whenever they are filled with the stream of the vine, and gives them sleep, a means of forgetting their daily woes. There is no other cure for pains [ ponoi ]. He, himself a god, is poured out in offerings to the gods, 285 so that through him men have their good things.
Old man, you do not shame Phoebus with your words; by giving tīmē to Dionysus, a great god, you are balanced [ sōphrōn ].
330 Child, Teiresias has given you good recommendations. Dwell with us, not apart from the laws. Now you flit about and are not being clear in your thinking. Even if, as you say, he is not a god, call him one: tell a glorious falsehood, 335 so that Semele might seem to have given birth to a god, and our family [ genos ] might have tīmē .
Do not lay a hand on me! Go off and be a Bacchant, but don’t wipe your foolishness off on me. I will prosecute the case [ dikē ] of this 345 teacher of your folly. Let someone go as quickly as possible to the seat where he watches the flights of birds and overturn it with levers, completely confounding everything; 350 release his garlands to the winds and storms. In this way I will especially grieve his heart. And some of you hunt throughout the city for this effeminate xenos , who introduces a new disease to the women and pollutes our beds. 355 If you catch him, bring him here bound, so that he might suffer as punishment a death by stoning, thus having seen a bitter Bacchic revelry in Thebes.
O wretched man, how little you know what you are saying! You are mad now, and even before you were out of your phrenes . Let us go, Kadmos, and 360 let us beg the god, on behalf of this man, though he is savage, and on behalf of the polis , to inflict no new evil. But follow me with the ivy-clad staff, and try to support my body, and I will attempt to support yours; 365 it would be shameful for two old men to fall. Still, let come what may, we must serve Dionysus, the son of Zeus. But Pentheus will bring penthos to your house, Kadmos; this I say not on the basis of my prophetic art, but rather from my judgment of the situation. For a foolish man says foolish things.
370 Holiness, lady of the gods, Holiness, who bear your golden wings across the face of the earth, do you hear this from Pentheus? Do you hear this unholy 375 hubris against Bromios, the child of Semele, the first daimōn at well-garlanded banquets [ euphrosunai ]? He holds this office, to introduce people into the sacred company of khoroi , 380 to laugh to the accompaniment of the pipes, and to bring an end to cares, whenever the delight of the grape comes forth in the feasts of the gods, and in ivy-bearing banquets 385 the goblet surrounds men with sleep.
Misfortune is the end result [ telos ] of unbridled mouths and lawless folly. The life of serenity [ hēsukhiā ] 390 and sense remains unshaken and supports households. Though they dwell far off in the heavens, the gods see mortal affairs. 395 It is not wisdom [ sophiā ] to be overly sophos , and to think things unbefitting mortal men. Life is short, and in it he who pursues great things does not achieve that which is present. In my opinion, these are the ways of mad and 400 ill-counseling men.
Would that I could go to Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite, where the Loves dwell, who charm 405 mortals’ hearts, and to Paphos, fertilized without rain by the streams of a foreign river flowing with a hundred mouths. Lead me, Bromios, daimōn of joy who leads the Bacchae, 410 to Pieria, beautiful seat of the Muses, the holy slope of Olympus. 415 There are the Graces [ kharites ], there is desire, there it is divinely ordained [ themis ] for the Bacchae to celebrate their rites.
The daimōn , the son of Zeus, rejoices in banquets, and Peace, 420 which brings prosperity, goddess who nourishes youths, is philē to him. He gives an equal delight from wine, banishing grief, to the wealthy [ olbios ] and to the less fortunate. He hates whoever does not care about this: 425 to live day and philai nights in blessedness and to keep his wise phrēn and intellect away from over-curious men. 430 What the common multitude thinks and practices, that I would accept.
Pentheus, we have come here, having caught the prey 435 for which you sent us, nor has our work been in vain. This beast was docile to us and did not withdraw in flight, but yielded willingly. He did not turn pale or change the wine-bright complexion of his cheek, but laughed and allowed us to bind him and lead him away. 440 He remained still, making my work easy, and I in shame said, “ xenos , I do not willingly lead you away, but I am under Pentheus’ orders.” The Bacchae whom you shut up, carrying them off and binding them in chains in the public prison, 445 have gone off, freed from their bonds, and are gamboling in the meadows, calling to the god Bromios. The chains fell off their feet by themselves, and keys opened the doors without the aid of a human hand. This man has come to Thebes full of many wonders. 450 You must take care of the rest.
Release his hands. Caught in these nets he is not quick enough to escape me. But your body is not ill-formed, xenos , for relations with women, the reason you have come to Thebes; 455 your hair is long—for you are no wrestler—cascading along your cheek, full of desire; you have white skin, carefully made up, for by avoiding the sun’s rays and remaining in the shade you hunt after Aphrodite with your beauty. 460 First tell me what is your ancestry [ genos ]?
I can tell you this easily, without boasting. I suppose you are familiar with flowery Tmolos.
I know of it; it surrounds the city of Sardis.
I am from there, and Lydia is my fatherland
465 Why do you bring these rites to Hellas?
Dionysus, the child of Zeus, persuaded us.
Is there a Zeus who begets new gods there?
No, but Zeus who married Semele here.
Did he bring you under his spell at night, or in your sight?
470 Seeing me just as I saw him, he gave me sacred rites.
What form do your rites have?
They cannot be told to mortals uninitiated in Bacchic revelry.
How do they benefit those who participate?
It is not right [ themis ] for you to hear, but they are worth knowing.
475 You have coined this story well, so that I desire to hear.
The rites are hostile to whoever practices impiety.
Are you saying that you saw clearly what the god was like?
He was whatever sort he wanted to be; I did not order this.
You contrived this well also, though speaking mere nonsense.
480 One will seem to be foolish if he speaks wise things [ sopha ] to a senseless man.
Did you come here first with this daimōn ?
All the barbarians celebrate these rites.
Certainly, for their phrenes are far worse than the Hellenes’.
Better in this at any rate; but their laws are different.
485 Do you perform the sacred rites [ hiera ] by night or by day?
Mostly by night; darkness conveys awe.
This is treacherous towards women, and unsound.
Even during the day you can find what is shameful.
You must pay the penalty [ dikē ] for your evil devices.
490 And you for your ignorance and impiety toward the god.
How bold and practiced in speaking the Bacchant is!
Tell me what I must suffer [ paskhein ]. What terrible thing will you do to me?
First I will cut off your luxuriant [ habros ] hair.
My hair is sacred [ hieros ]. I am growing it for the god.
495 Next give me this thyrsos from your hands.
Take it from me yourself. I bear it as the emblem of Dionysus.
We will keep you in prison.
The daimōn himself will release me, whenever I want.
When you call him, that is, standing among the Bacchae.
500 Even now he sees, from close up, what I suffer [ paskhein ].
Where is he? He is not visible to my eyes.
Near me, but you, being impious, do not see him.
Seize him, he insults me and Thebes!
I warn you not to bind me, since I am balanced [ sōphrōn ] and you are not.
505 And I, more powerful than you, bid them to bind you.
You do not know how you live, or what you are doing, or who you are.
I am Pentheus, son of Ekhion and Agaue.
You are well suited to be miserable in your name.
Shut him up near the horse stable, 510 so that he may see only darkness.
Join the khoros there. These women whom you have led here as accomplices to your evils we will either sell or, stopping them from making this noise and beating leather skins, make slaves for our looms.
515 I will go, since I need not suffer [ paskhein ] that which is not necessary. But Dionysus, who you claim does not exist, will pursue you for this hubris . For in treating us without dikē you are leading him into chains.
Daughter of Akhelōios, 520 venerable Dirke, happy virgin, you once received the child of Zeus in your streams, when Zeus his father snatched him up from the immortal fire and saved him in his thigh, 525 crying out: “Go, Dithyrambus, enter this my masculine womb. I will make you illustrious, Dionysus, in Thebes, so that they will call you by this name.” 530 But you, blessed Dirke, reject me, though I revel on your banks in garland-bearing companies of women. Why do you refuse me, why do you flee me? I swear by the cluster-bearing 535 grace [ kharis ] of Dionysus’ vine that you will have a care for Bromios.
What rage, what rage does the earth-born race [ genos ] show, and Pentheus, 540 descended of old from a serpent, sired by earth-born Ekhion, a fierce monster, not a mortal man, like a bloody giant to fight against the gods! 545 He will soon bind me, the handmaid of Bromios, in chains, and he already holds my fellow-reveler within the house, hidden away in a dark prison. 550 Do you see this, Dionysus, son of Zeus: your spokesmen [ prophētēs pl.] in the dangers of restraint? Come, lord, down from Olympus, brandishing your golden thyrsos , 555 and check the hubris of this murderous man.
Io! Hear my voice, hear it, Io Bacchae, Io Bacchae.
Who is here, who? From what quarter did the voice of the Joyful one summon me?
580 Io! Io! I say again; it is I, the child of Zeus and Semele.
Io! Io! My master, my master! Come then to our band, Bromios.
585 Shake this place, sovereign Spirit of Earthquake!
—Oh! Oh! Soon the palace of Pentheus will be shaken in ruin!
—Bacchus is in the halls! Revere him!
— 590 We revere him!
—Did you see these stone lintels on the pillars falling apart? Bromios shouts in victory inside the palace!
Light the fiery lamp of lightning! 595 Burn, burn Pentheus’ household!
Oh! Oh! Do you not see the fire, do you not perceive, about the sacred [ hieron ] tomb of Semele, the flame that Zeus’ thunderbolt left? 600 Throw to the ground your trembling bodies, Maenads, cast them down, for our lord, Zeus’ offspring, is approaching the palace, turning everything upside down.
Barbarian women, 605 have you fallen on the ground so stricken with fear? You have, so it seems, felt Dionysus shaking the house of Pentheus. But get up, and, take courage, putting a stop to your trembling.
Oh greatest light for us in our joyful revelry, how happy I am to see you, I who was alone and desolate before.
610 Did you despair when I was sent to fall into Pentheus’ dark dungeon?
Of course. What guardian did I have, if you were to suffer a disaster? But how were you freed from the impious man?
I saved myself easily, without trouble.
615 Did he not tie your hands in binding knots?
In this too I mocked him, since thinking that he was chaining me he neither touched nor handled me, but fed on hopes. He found a bull by the stable where he shut me up, and threw shackles around its legs and hooves, 620 breathing out thūmos , dripping sweat from his body, biting his lips. And I, present nearby, sat serenely [ hēsukhos ] and looked on. Meanwhile, Bacchus came; he shook the house and set fire to his mother’s tomb. When Pentheus saw this, 625 he ran here and there, thinking that the house was burning, and ordered the slaves to bring water; every servant was at work, toiling in vain.
I have suffered [ paskhein ] a terrible disaster: the stranger, who was recently imprisoned, has escaped me. Ah! 645 Here is the man. What is this? How do you appear in front of the house, having come out?
Stop. Calm down your anger.
How have you escaped your chains and come outside?
Did I not say—or did you not hear—that someone would deliver me?
650 Who? You are always introducing strange explanations.
He who produces the grape vine for mortals.
[Pentheus’ response is missing.]
His glory lies in your scorn.
Close up all the towers.
Why? Do gods not pass even over walls?
655 You are very sophos , at least in all save what you should be sophos in.
I was born sophos in all that I should be.
Listen first to the words of this man, who has come from the mountain to bring you some message. We will wait; we won’t flee.
660 Pentheus, ruler of this land of Thebes, I have come from Kithairon, where the bright flakes of white snow never melt.
What important news do you bring?
Having seen the holy Bacchants, who 665 goaded to madness have darted from this land with their fair feet, I have come to tell you and the polis , lord, that they are doing awesome and unbelievable things. I wish to hear whether I should tell you freely the situation there or whether I should repress my report, 670 for I fear, lord, the quickness of your phrenes , your keen temper and your overly royal disposition.
Speak, since you will have full immunity from me. It is not right to be angry with the just [ dikaios ]. The more you tell me terrible things about the Bacchants, 675 the more I will punish this one here who taught the women these tricks.
677 I was just driving the herd up the slope, 678 a herd of cattle, driving them uphill from further downhill, at the time when the sun 679 sends forth its rays, warming the earth. 680 And I see three companies [ thiasoi ] of women’s choruses [ khoroi ], 681 one of which Autonoe was leading, the second, 682 your mother Agaue, and the third chorus [ khoros ], Ino. 683 All were sleeping, their bodies relaxed, 684 some resting their backs on the leaves of fir trees, 685 while others were laying their heads on oak leaves strewn on the ground, 686 lying here and there in a moderate way [ sōphronōs ] and not, as you say, 687 filled with wine in a scene of wine-cups and tunes played on the pipe, 688 and not at all hunting to find Kypris [= Aphrodite] while roaming through the woods on their own.
775 I fear to speak freely to the turannos , but I will speak nevertheless. Dionysus is inferior to none of the gods.
Already like fire does this hubris of the Bacchae blaze up, a great source of reproach for the Hellenes. 780 But we must not hesitate. Go to the gates of Electra, bid all the shield-bearers and riders of swift horses to assemble, as well as all who brandish the light shield and pluck bowstrings with their hands, so that we can make an assault against the Bacchae. 785 For it is all too much if we suffer [ paskhein ] what we are suffering [ paskhein ] at the hands of women.
Pentheus, though you hear my words you obey not at all. I say that it is not right for me to suffer [ paskhein ] at your hands and for you to raise arms against me the god; you must be serene [ hēsukhos ] instead. 790 Bromios will not allow you to remove the Bacchae from the joyful mountains.
Do not instruct me, but be content in your escape from prison. Or shall I bring punishment upon you again?
As a mortal I would sacrifice to the god rather 795 than kick against the goads in anger.
I will sacrifice, slaughtering the women as they deserve, in the glens of Kithairon.
You will all flee. And it will be a source of shame that you turn your bronze shield in flight from the thyrsoi of the Bacchae.
800 This xenos with whom we are wrestling is impossible and will be quiet neither suffering [ paskhein ] nor acting.
Friend, you can still settle this situation satisfactorily.
Doing what? By being a slave to my servants?
Without arms I will bring the women here.
805 Alas! You are contriving this as a trick against me.
What sort of trick is it if I wish to save you?
You have conspired in common, so that you may have your revelry forever.
I certainly did, with the god, that is.
Bring me my armor. And you keep quiet.
810 Wait! Do you wish to see the women sitting in the mountains?
Certainly. I’d pay an enormous amount of gold to see them.
Why do you want this so badly?
I would be sorry to see them in their drunkenness.
815 But would you see gladly what is grievous to you?
To be sure, sitting quietly under the pines.
But they will track you down, even if you go in secret.
You are right; I will go openly.
Shall I guide you? Will you attempt the journey?
820 Lead me as quickly as possible. I grudge you the time.
Put clothes of eastern linen on your body then.
What is this? Shall I then, instead of a man, be reckoned among the women?
So that they don’t kill you if you appear there as a man.
Again you speak correctly; how sophos you have been all along.
825 Dionysus gave me this education.
How can these things which you advise me so well be done?
I will go inside and dress you.
In what clothing? Female? But shame [ aidōs ] holds me back.
Are you no longer eager to view the Maenads?
830 What attire do you bid me to put on my body?
I will spread out your hair at length on your head.
What is the second part of my outfit?
A robe down to your feet. And you will wear a headband.
And what else will you add to this for me?
835 A thyrsos in your hand, and dappled fawn-skin.
I could not possibly put on a woman’s dress.
But you will shed blood if you join battle with the Bacchae.
True. We must go first and spy.
This is more sophos than hunting trouble with trouble.
840 How will I go through the city without being seen by the Thebans?
We will go on deserted roads. I will lead you.
Anything is better than to be mocked by the Bacchae. Let us two go into the house, and I will consider what seems best.
We can do what we like. I am at your service for anything.
845 I will go in. For I will either go bearing arms, or I will obey your guidance.
Women, the man is caught in our net. He will reach the Bacchae, where he will pay the penalty [ dikē ] with his death. Dionysus, now it is your task. You are not far off. 850 Let us punish him: first drive him out of his phrenes , send upon him a dizzying madness, since if he is of sound phrenes he will not consent to wear women’s clothing, but he will put it on in insanity. I want him to be a source of laughter to the Thebans, led through the city in 855 women’s guise after making such terrible threats in the past. 857 I am going now. The costume [ kosmos ] that he will take with him to the house of Hādēs 858 when he goes off to that place, slaughtered by the two hands of his own mother 859 —that costume will I attach to Pentheus. And he will come to know the son of Zeus, 860 Dionysus, the one who is by his own nature a god in the end [ telos ], 861 the one who is most terrifying [ deinos ], but, for humans, also most gentle [ ēpios ].
862 Shall I ever, in choruses that last all night long, 863 set in motion my gleaming white 864 foot in a Bacchic revel as I thrust my throat 865 toward the upper air wet with dew, yes, thrusting it forward 866 —just like a fawn playfully 867 skipping around in the green delights of a meadow 868 after she has escaped from the terrifying 869 hunt. Now she is out of reach, 870 having leapt beyond their hunting nets, 871 even while the hunter keeps shouting 872 his hunting cry to his hounds, urging them to run faster and faster. 873 But the fawn, like a gust of wind with the vigor of her swift running, is now bounding past the meadow 874 that has the river next to it, and she can take sweet delight 875 in the absence of mortal men 876 amidst the tender shoots growing in the forest with its shady leaves. What is wisdom [ sophon ]? Or what finer prize do the gods give to mortals than to hold one’s hand 880 in victory over the head of one’s enemies? 881 Whatever is beautiful [ kalon ] is near and dear [ philon ] forever.
Divine strength is roused with difficulty, but is trustworthy nevertheless. It chastises those mortals 885 who give tīmē to folly and those who in their insanity do not extol the gods. The gods cunningly conceal the slow foot of time and hunt out the impious. 890 One must not think or practice anything greater than the laws. It costs little to reckon that whatever involves a daimōn has power, 895 and that whatever has long been lawful is eternally and naturally so. What is wisdom [ sophon ]? Or what finer prize do the gods give to mortals than to hold one’s hand 900 in victory over the head of one’s enemies? 901 Whatever is beautiful [ kalon ] is near and dear [ philon ] forever. Fortunate [ eudaimōn ] is he who has fled a storm on the sea and reached harbor. Eudaimōn too is he who has overcome his toils. 905 Different people surpass others in various ways, be it in wealth [ olbos ] or in power. Mortals have innumerable hopes, and some come to telos in prosperity [ olbos ], while others fail. 910 I deem him blessed whose life is eudaimōn day by day.
912 You there! Yes, I’m talking to you, to the one who is so eager to see the things that should not be seen 913 and who rushes to accomplish things that cannot be rushed. It is you that I am talking to, Pentheus. 914 Come out from inside the palace. Let me have a good look at you 915 wearing the costume of a woman who is a maenad [ mainas ], a Bacchant [ bakkhē ], 916 ready to spy on your mother and her company.
917 The way you are shaped, you look just like one of the daughters of Kadmos.
918 What is this? I think I see two suns, 919 and not one seven-gated city [ polisma ] of Thebes but two. 920 And, as you are leading me, you look like a bull 921 and horns seem to have sprouted on your head. 922 Were you ever before a beast? You have certainly now become a bull.
923 The god accompanies us, though formerly he was not of good intentions [ eu-menēs ]. 924 He has a truce with us, and now you see what you should be seeing.
925 So what do I appear [ phainesthai ] to be? Do I not have the dancing pose [ stasis ] of Ino 926 or of Agaue my mother?
927 Looking at you I think I see them right now. 928 Oh, but watch out: this lock of hair [ plokamos ] here is out of place. It stands out, 929 not the way I had secured it, to be held down by the headband [ mitra ].
930 While I was inside, I was shaking it [= the lock of hair] forward and backward, 931 and, in a Bacchic state of mind [ bakkhiazōn ], I displaced it, moving it out of place.
932 Then I, whose concern it is to care [ therapeuein ] for you, will 933 arrange it [= the lock hair] all over again. Come on, hold your head straight.
934 You see it [= the lock of hair]? There it is! You arrange [ kosmeîn ] it for me. I can see I am really depending on you.
935 And your waistband has come loose. And those things are not in the right order, 936 I mean, the pleats of your robe [ peplos ], the way they extend down around your ankles.
937 That’s the way I see it from my angle as well. At least, that is the way it is down around my right foot, 938 but, on this other side, the robe [ peplos ] does extend in a straight line down around the calf.
937 I really do think you will consider me the foremost among those who are near and dear [ philoi ] to you 940 when, contrary to your expectations, you see that Bacchants [ bakkhai ] are moderate [= sōphrones ].
941 So which one will it be? I mean, shall I hold the wand [ thursos ] with my right hand 942 or with this other one here? Which is the way I will look more like a Bacchant [ bakkhē ]?
943 You must hold it in your right hand and, at the same time, with your right foot 944 you must make an upward motion. I approve [ aineîn ] of the way you have shifted in your thinking [ phrenes ].
945 Could I not carry on my shoulders the ridges of Mount Kithairon, 946 Bacchants and all?
947 You could if you wanted to. Your earlier thoughts [ phrenes ] 948 were not sound, but now they are the way they should be.
949 Shall we bring levers, or shall I use my hands for lifting, 950 throwing a shoulder or arm under the mountains as I raise them up?
951 But you must not destroy the dwelling places of the Nymphs 952 and the places where Pan stays, playing on his pipe.
953 You said it well. It is not by force that my victory over 954 the women should happen. I will hide my body under the shelter of the fir trees.
955 You will hide yourself by hiding as you should be hidden, 956 coming as a crafty spy on the maenads [ mainades ].
957 You know, I have this vision of them: there they are in the bushes, like birds in their most beloved [ phila ] hiding places, held in the tight grip of making love.
959 Yes, and are you not like a guardian who has been sent out to counter exactly this kind of thing? 960 Perhaps you will catch them, unless they beat you to it and you yourself get caught.
961 Bring me there, let us go there, passing right through the middle of Thebes on our way. 962 I am the only one of those [ Thebans ] who dares to do this.
963 You alone [ monos ] enter the struggle for the sake of this city [ polis ], you alone [ monos ]. 964 And so the ordeals [ agōnes ] that must happen are awaiting you. 965 Follow me. I am your guide, giving salvation [ sōtērios ]. 966 But then, on the way back, someone else will lead you down from up there.
Yes, it will be my mother.
967 And you will be a distinctive sign [ epi-sēmon ] to all.
I am going with that objective in mind.
968 You will return here being carried—
You are talking about my desire for luxury [ habrotēs ]
969 —in the arms of your mother.
Yes indeed, in such luxury [ truphē ].
970 I am reaching for things I deserve.
I am undertaking worthy deeds.
971 A man of terror [ deinos ] you are, a man of terror [ deinos ], and you are going after experiences [ pathos plural] that are things of terror [ deina ]. 972 The result will be that you will find a glory [ kleos ] reaching all the way up to the sky. 973 Hold out your hands, Agaue, and you too, her sisters, 974 daughters of Kadmos. The young man is being led by me 975 to this great ordeal [ agōn ] here. 976 And the one who will win the victory—that will be I myself. Bromios [= Dionysus the Thunderer] and I myself will be the victors. What signals [ sēmainein ] it are other things that are yet to happen.
Dionysus and Pentheus exit.
Go to the mountain, go, fleet hounds of Madness, where the daughters of Kadmos hold their company, and goad them 980 against the mad spy on the Maenads, the one dressed in women’s garb. His mother first will see him from a smooth rock or crag, as he lies in ambush, and she will cry out to the Maenads: 985 “Who is this seeker of the mountain-going Kadmeians who has come to the mountain, to the mountain, Bacchae? Who bore him? For he was not born from a woman’s blood, but is the offspring of some lioness 990 or of Libyan Gorgons.” Let manifest dikē go forth, let it go with sword in hand, slay with a blow through the throat this 995 godless, lawless, unjust, earth-born offspring of Ekhion.
He with wicked plan and unjust disposition regarding your rites, Bacchus, and those of your mother, comes with raving heart 1000 and mad disposition to overcome by force [ biā ] what is invincible. The balance [ sōphrosunē ] for his purposes is death, that accepts no excuses when the affairs of the gods are concerned. To act like a mortal—this is a life that is free from pain. 1005 I do not envy the sophon , but rejoice in seeking it. But other things are great and manifest. Oh, that life might flow towards the good, cultivating pure and pious things day and night, giving tīmē to the gods, 1010 banishing customs outside of dikē . Let manifest dikē go forth, let it go with sword in hand, slay with a blow through the throat this 1015 godless, lawless, unjust, earth-born offspring of Ekhion.
Reveal yourself as a bull or many-headed serpent or raging lion in appearance. 1020 Go, Bacchus, with smiling face throw a deadly noose around the neck of this hunter of the Bacchae as he falls beneath the flock of Maenads.
House once fortunate in Hellas, 1025 house of the Sidonian old man who once sowed in the ground the earth-born harvest of the serpent Ophis, how I groan for you, though I am but a slave. But still the masters’ affairs are of concern to good servants.
What’s the matter? Do you bring some news from the Bacchae?
1030 Pentheus, the child of Ekhion, is dead.
Lord Bacchus, truly you appear to be a great god.
What do you mean? Why have you said this? Do you rejoice at the misfortunes of my masters, woman?
I, a xenē , rejoice in barbarian strains; 1035 no longer do I cower in fear of chains.
Do you think Thebes so devoid of men?
Bacchus, Bacchus, not Thebes, holds power [ kratos ] over me.
You may be forgiven, 1040 but it is not good to rejoice at troubles once they have actually taken place, women.
Speak. Tell me what kind of death he died, the man without dikē , who contrived things without dikē .
When we left the settlements of the Theban land and crossed the streams of Asopos, 1045 we began to ascend the heights of Kithairon, Pentheus and I— for I was following my master—and the xenos , who was the conductor of our mission. First we sat in a grassy vale, 1050 keeping our feet and voice quiet, so that we might see them without being seen. There was a little valley surrounded by precipices, wet with water, shaded by pine trees, where the Maenads were sitting, their hands busy with delightful labors [ ponoi ]. Some of them were 1055 again crowning the wilted thyrsos , making it leafy with ivy, while some, like colts freed from the dappled yoke, were singing a Bacchic tune to one another. Pentheus, that unhappy man, said, not seeing the crowd of women: “ xenos , 1060 from where we are standing I cannot see these false Maenads. But on the banks of the ravine, ascending a lofty pine, I might view properly the shameful acts of the Maenads.” And then I saw the xenos perform a marvel. Seizing hold of the lofty top-most branch of a pine tree, 1065 he drew it down, down, down to the black ground. It was bent just as a bow or a curved wheel, when it is marked out by a compass, describes a circular course; in this way the xenos drew the mountain bough and bent it to the earth, doing what no mortal could. 1070 He sat Pentheus down on the pine branch, and released it gently from his hands, taking care not to shake him off. The pine stood firmly upright into the sky, with my master seated on its back. 1075 He was seen by the Maenads more than he saw them. He was just becoming visible sitting on the tree up above, and the xenos was no longer anywhere to be seen, when a voice, Dionysus, I guess, cried out from the air: “Young women, 1080 I bring the one who has made you and me and my rites a laughing-stock. Punish him!” And as he said this a light of holy fire was placed between heaven and earth.
His own mother, as priestess, began the slaughter, 1115 and fell upon him. He threw the miter from his head so that wretched Agaue might recognize and not kill him. Touching her cheek, he said: “It is I, mother, your son Pentheus, whom you bore in the house of Ekhion. 1120 Pity me, mother! Do not kill me, your child, for my errors!”
But she, foaming at the mouth and rolling her eyes all about, with her phrenes not as they should be, was under the control of Bacchus, and he did not convince her. 1125 Seizing his left arm at the elbow and propping her foot against the unfortunate man’s side, she tore out his shoulder, not by her own strength, but with the god providing assistance to her hands. Ino began to work on the other side, 1130 tearing his flesh, while Autonoe and the rest of the crowd pressed on. All were making noise together, and he groaned to the extent that he had life left in him, while they shouted in victory. One of them started to carry an arm, another a leg, boots and all. His ribs were stripped bare 1135 by their tearings. The whole band, hands bloodied, started playing a game of catch with Pentheus’ flesh.
Let us honor Bacchus with the khoroi , let us cry out what has happened. 1155 Pentheus, descendant of the serpent, who assumed female garb and beautiful thyrsos [ narthēx ]— certain death—and a bull was the leader of his calamity. 1160 Kadmeian Bacchae, you have accomplished a glorious victory, but one that brings woe and tears. It is a fine agōn to cover one’s dripping hands with the blood of one’s own son. 1165 But I see Pentheus’ mother Agaue coming home, her eyes contorted; receive the triumphal procession [ kōmos ] of the god of joy!
Asian Bacchae . . .
Why do you urge me?
We bring home from the mountain a 1170 freshly cut tendril, our blessed prey.
I see it and will accept you as a fellow member of the procession [ kōmos ].
I caught this young wild lion cub without snares, 1175 as you can see.
From what wilderness?
Kithairon . . .
. . . slew him.
Who is she who struck him?
The prize is mine first. 1180 I am called blessed Agaue by the worshippers.
Kadmos’ other . . .
Kadmos’ other offspring lay hold of this beast after me. This is a lucky catch!
[The chorus’ response is missing.]
Share in the feast then.
What? I share in the feast, wretched woman?
1185 The bull is young; he has just recently grown a downy cheek under the crest of his hair.
Yes, his hair looks like a wild beast’s.
Bacchus, a sophos huntsman, 1190 wisely set the Maenads against this beast.
Our lord is hunter.
Do you approve of this?
Soon the Kadmeians . . .
1195 And your son Pentheus, too . . .
. . . will praise his mother who has caught this lion-like catch.
And extraordinarily caught.
Are you proud?
I am delighted, for I have performed great, great, conspicuous deeds on this hunt.
1200 Now show the citizens, wretched woman, the prize which you have brought in victory.
You who dwell in this fair-towered city of the Theban land, come to see this catch which we the daughters of Kadmos hunted down, 1205 not with thonged Thessalian javelins, or with nets, but with the white-armed edges of our hands. Should huntsmen boast when they use in vain the work of spear-makers? We caught and 1210 tore apart the limbs of this beast with our very own hands. Where is my old father? Let him approach. Where is my son Pentheus? Let him raise a ladder against the house so that he can ascend and affix to the triglyphs this 1215 lion’s head which I have captured and brought back.
Follow me, carrying the miserable burden of Pentheus, follow me, attendants, before the house. There I am bringing this body of his, exhausted from countless searches, for I discovered it torn apart in the folds of Kithairon. 1220 I picked up nothing in the same place, and it was lying in the woods where discovery was difficult. I heard of my daughters’ bold deeds when I had already come within the walls of the city on my return from the Bacchae with old Teiresias. 1225 I turned back to the mountain and now bring back the child who was killed by the Maenads. I saw Autonoe, who once bore Aktaion to Aristaios, and Ino with her, both in the thickets, still mad, wretched creatures. 1230 But someone told me that Agaue was coming here with Bacchic foot, and this was correct, for I see her—not a happy [ eudaimōn ] sight!
Father, you may boast a great boast, that you have sired daughters the best by far of all mortals. 1235 I mean all of them, but myself in particular, who have left my shuttle at the loom and gone on to bigger things: to catch wild animals with my two hands. I carry the trophy of these noble feats [ aristeiā ] in my arms, as you see, 1240 so that it may hang from your house. And you, father, receive it in your hands. Preening yourself in my catch, summon your philoi to a feast. For you are blessed, blessed indeed, now that I have performed these deeds.
Oh, penthos beyond measuring, one which I cannot stand to see, 1245 since you have committed murder with miserable hands! Having cast down a fine sacrificial victim to the daimones , you invite Thebes and me to a banquet. Alas, first for your woes, then for my own! With dikē , yet too severely, lord Bromios has destroyed us, 1250 though he is a member of our own family.
How morose and sullen in its countenance is man’s old age. I hope that my son is a good hunter, taking after his mother, when he goes after wild beasts together with the young men of Thebes. 1255 But all he can do is fight with the gods. You must admonish him, father. Who will call him here to my sight, so that he may see how happy [ eudaimōn ] I am?
Alas, alas! When you realize what you have done you will suffer a 1260 terrible pain. But if you remain time and again in the state you are in now, though hardly fortunate you will not imagine that you have encountered disaster.
But what of these matters is not good, or what is painful?
First cast your eye to the sky.
1265 Well, why did you tell me to look at it?
Is it still the same, or does it appear to have changed?
It is brighter than before and more translucent.
Is your psūkhē still quivering?
I don’t understand your utterance [ epos ], for I have become somehow 1270 sobered, changing from my former phrenes .
Can you hear and respond clearly?
How I forget what I said before, father!
To whose house did you come in marriage?
You gave me, as they say, to Ekhion, one of the Spartoi.
1275 What son did you bear to your husband in the house?
Pentheus, from my union with his father.
Whose head do you hold in your hands?
A lion’s, as they who hunted him down said.
Examine it correctly then; it takes but little effort to see.
1280 Alas! What do I see? What is this that I carry in my hands?
Look at it and learn more clearly.
I see the greatest pain, wretched that I am.
Does it look at all like a lion?
No, but I, wretched, hold the head of Pentheus.
1285 Mourned by me before you recognized him.
Who killed him? How did he come into my hands?
Miserable truth [ alētheia ], how inopportunely you arrive!
Tell me. My heart leaps awaiting what is to come.
You and your sisters killed him.
1290 Where did he die? Was it here at home, or in what place?
Where formerly dogs divided Aktaion among themselves.
And why did this miserable man go to Kithairon?
He went to mock the god and your revelry.
But in what way did we go there?
1295 You were mad, and the whole city was frantic with Bacchus.
Dionysus destroyed us—now I understand.
He was wronged with hubris : you did not consider him a god.
And where is the most philon body of my child, father?
I have tracked it with difficulty and brought it back.
1300 Are its joints laid properly together?
[Kadmos’ response is missing from our text.]
What part had Pentheus in my folly?
He, just like you, did not revere the god, who therefore joined all in one ruin, both you and this one here, and thus destroyed the house and me. 1305 I did not beget male children, and I see this offspring of your womb, wretched woman, most miserably and disgracefully slain. He was the hope of our line— you, child, who supported the house, son of my daughter, 1310 an object of fearful reverence for the polis . Seeing you, no one wished to treat the old man with hubris , for you would have taken fitting dikē . But now I, great Kadmos, who sowed and reaped a most beautiful crop, the Theban people, will be banished from the house without tīmē . 1315 Most philos of men—though you are dead I still count you among my most philoi —child, no longer will you address and embrace me, your mother’s father, touching my chin with your hand and 1320 saying: “Who treats you without dikē and tīmē , old man? Who vexes and troubles your heart? Tell me, father, so that I can punish the one who does you wrong.” But now I am miserable, while you are wretched, your mother pitiful, and your relatives wretched. 1325 If anyone scorns the daimones , let him look to the death of this man and acknowledge them.
I grieve for you, Kadmos. Your daughter’s child has the dikē he deserved, but it is grievous to you.
Father, you see how much my situation has turned around.
1330 Changing your form, you will become a dragon, and your wife Harmonia, Arēs’ daughter, whom you, though mortal, took in marriage, will be turned into a beast, and will receive in exchange the form of a serpent. And as the oracle of Zeus says, you will drive along with your wife a pair of heifers, ruling over barbarians. 1335 You will sack many cities with a force of countless numbers. And when they plunder the oracle of Apollo, they will have a miserable nostos , but Arēs will protect you and Harmonia and will settle your life in the land of the blessed. 1340 So say I, Dionysus, born not from a mortal father, but from Zeus. If you had known how to be balanced [ sōphrōn ] when you did not wish to, you would have acquired Zeus’ offspring as an ally, and would now be fortunate [ eudaimōn ].
Dionysus, we beseech you, we have acted without dikē .
1345 You have learned it too late; you did not know it when you should have.
Now we know, but you go too far against us.
I, a god by birth, was insulted by your hubris .
Gods should not resemble mortals in their anger.
My father Zeus decreed this long ago.
1350 Alas! A miserable exile has been decreed for us, old man.
Why then do you delay what must necessarily be?
Child, what a terrible misery has befallen us—you, your brothers and sisters, and wretched me. I shall go as an aged immigrant to the barbarians. 1355 Still, it is foretold that I shall bring into Hellas a motley barbarian army. I, leading their spears, endowed with the fierce nature of a serpent, will lead my wife Harmonia, daughter of Arēs, against the altars and tombs of Hellas. 1360 I will neither rest from my evils in my misery, nor will I sail over the downward-flowing Acheron and be at peace [ hēsukhos ].
O father, I will go into exile deprived of you.
Why do you embrace me with your hands, child, 1365 like a white swan does its exhausted parent?
Where can I turn, banished from my fatherland?
Farewell, home! Farewell, polis of my forefathers! In misfortune I leave you, an exile from my bedchamber.
1370 Go now, child, to the land of Aristaios.
I bemoan you, father.
And I you, child, and I weep for your sisters.
Terribly indeed has 1375 lord Dionysus brought this suffering to your home.
I suffered [ paskhein ] terrible things at your hands, and my name was without honor in Thebes.
Farewell, my father.
Farewell, 1380 unhappy daughter. With difficulty indeed would you reach this “faring well”!
Lead me, escorts, where I may take comfort in my pitiful sisters as companions to my exile. May I go where accursed Kithairon may not see me, 1385 nor I see Kithairon with my eyes, nor where a memorial of a Bacchic thyrsos has been dedicated; let these concern other Bacchae.
Many are the forms of things of the daimones , and the gods bring many things to pass unexpectedly. 1390 What is expected does not come to telos , and a god finds a way for the unexpected. So too has this affair turned out.