Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 3: Pentheus and Bacchus (1) Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the story of Narcissus spreads through Greece, everyone worships Teiresias as a great prophet. Pentheus, however, scoffs at the gods and Teiresias’s foresight. Teiresias predicts that when Pentheus refuses to worship Bacchus—the son of Jupiter and Semele and the new god—his body will be torn to pieces and strewn throughout the land. Pentheus throws Teiresias out.
Pentheus refuses to respect either the gods or the idea of fate. Teiresias predicts that Pentheus will die when he refuses to worship a god. This interaction between Pentheus and Teiresias foreshadows a new conflict between the gods and humanity in which the gods demand worship and certain people refuse to give it.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
When Bacchus arrives, crowds gather to worship him. Pentheus accuses everyone of going crazy. He asks how the same people who fought bravely in wars and traversed the world to found the new city of Thebes under Cadmus can now be so overcome by madness. Pentheus believes that, since these people were born from the dragon’s teeth that Cadmus sowed, they are strong and should therefore banish effeminate boys like Bacchus. Pentheus can’t bear that Thebes will bow to Bacchus and instructs his enslaved men to bring Bacchus to him in chains.
Pentheus would rather worship the feats of human beings than the gods. As the human race has developed and founded their own cities, they have their own creations and legacies to be proud of. This development leads certain people, such as Pentheus, to honor the human race in its bravery more than the gods whose power is, in Pentheus’s view, ridiculous and feminine. Pentheus believes that humans are more righteous than the gods.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Quotes
Cadmus tries to reason with Pentheus, but Pentheus ignores him. Pentheus’s enslaved men return. They didn’t find Bacchus, but they captured one of Bacchus’s henchmen instead. Pentheus wants to kill the prisoner as a warning to Bacchus, but first he questions him about where he came from and why he practices Bacchus’s religion.
Pentheus views the practice of Bacchus’s religion as an irrational madness. On the other hand, Cadmus tries to reason with Pentheus. The rational view of religion would hold that the gods deserve worship, and also that defying the gods leads to punishment.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon