The Bacchae



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The Bacchae Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Euripides's The Bacchae. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Euripides

Euripides was the son of Mnesarchus, and thought to be from a fairly cultured and well-off family. As well as an aptitude for poetry and theater, Euripides was a talented athlete and painter. He married twice and had three sons. Though little biographical detail is known about his life, Euripides is thought to have been tutored by Protagoras, who was an agnostic (someone who believes that nothing is knowable of god or gods), which was unusual for the time. Euripides was associated with the sophists, a group of scholars and teachers whose primary values were skepticism, intellectual skill, and persuasive reasoning. Euripides was a lifelong friend of Socrates, and both men were criticized in their time as being intellectually indulgent. Euripides wrote around 90 plays in his time as a dramatist and poet, though only 19 of his works have survived. In ancient Greece, the tragedy was a venerated art form—though not without its critics—and Euripides’ plays were often entered into state-funded competitions as part of dramatic festivals. Despite his prolific nature and his posthumous reputation, Euripides won first prize in these competitions a mere five times. Euripides is said to have left Athens in 408 to live and write in Macedonia, having fallen out of favor in Greece and opting to exile himself rather than risk execution like his friend Socrates. Euripides was famous in his own day and has exerted a considerable influence on theater ever since.
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Historical Context of The Bacchae

For all its reputation as a time of civilization and democracy, ancient Greece was also a frequently tempestuous place. The Peloponnesian war, a conflict between the two leading city-states of ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta, was dragging on. Though he spent most of his life writing for performances in Athens, Euripides is said to have written The Bacchae in Macedonia, where he lived in self-imposed exile at the invitation of Archelaus, the Macedonian King. Macedonia frequently warred with Athens, though Euripides’ lived there during a lull in conflict. The importance of festivals in ancient Greece can’t be overstated, and they frequently centered on the worship of the gods. The “Dionysia” was a drama festival held during Spring, which placed tragedy at the forefront of its numerous theatrical performances.

Other Books Related to The Bacchae

Euripides is usually categorized as one of the three foremost tragic poets of ancient Greece, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles—though the other two won more competitions at the prestigious City Dionysia festival than Euripides did. Euripides is generally considered ahead of his time, giving more prominent—and thought-provoking—dramatic attention to slaves, women, and children than some of his contemporaries. In addition to The Bacchae, Euripedes wrote The Trojan Women, Hippolytus, and Medea. The influence of Protagoras, Euripides’ agnostic mentor, shows in Euripides portrayal of the gods as complicated, ambiguous figures—clearly visible in his last play, The Bacchae, which centers on the god Dionysus. The Bacchae had a great influence on Latin literature. Its reputation in the modern era as a powerful and provocative work was greatly enhanced by the central role it plays in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, which is chiefly concerned with the morality and philosophy of Dionysus.
Key Facts about The Bacchae
  • Full Title: The Bacchae
  • When Written: Before 410 BC
  • Where Written: Macedonia
  • When Published: First performed in 405 BC
  • Literary Period: Ancient Greek Tragedy
  • Genre: Greek Tragedy
  • Setting: Thebes, Greece
  • Climax: Entranced by the god Dionysus, Agave murders her son, King Pentheus, thinking him to be a lion.
  • Antagonist: Pentheus

Extra Credit for The Bacchae

Posthumous Award. The Bacchae was first performed because of the efforts of Euripides’ son, who organized the play’s (winning) entry into the “Dionysia” theater festival after his father’s death.

Greek Gods and Fried Chicken. Euripides’ play has lent itself well to a varied range of interpretations and re-writes—a recent play performed in London, Dennis of Penge, reinvents Dionysus as the owner of a south London fried chicken shop.