The Bacchae

by

Euripides

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Dionysus Character Analysis

Dionysus, the protagonist of the play, is the Greek god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, and theater. He inspires the kind of devotion in his followers, the Bacchae, that Pentheus can only dream of as king. Dionysus has returned to his hometown of Thebes to avenge the death and dishonoring of his mother, Semele, who was the lover of the king of the gods, Zeus. Furthermore, Dionysus is determined to prove his godliness and does so in the cruelest way—by manipulating events to bring about the death of his cousin, King Pentheus, at the hands of his own mother, Agave, who is lost in Dionysian ritual. As a god, Dionysus is able to shape shift. In his human form, he takes on the character of Dionysian priest with beautiful long hair. His powers don’t stop there—at one point he conjures an earthquake and fire to bring down the palace of Thebes, symbolically dismantling King Pentheus’ power. Throughout the play, Dionysus is morally ambiguous, seemingly reveling in disrupting the status quo and bringing irrationality to the mortal world. Interestingly, he’s also the only Greek god who had a mortal parent.

Dionysus Quotes in The Bacchae

The The Bacchae quotes below are all either spoken by Dionysus or refer to Dionysus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ecco edition of The Bacchae published in 2015.
Lines 1 - 168 Quotes

So I must teach this Pentheus, teach all of Thebes,
what kind of god I am.
Once I am established here
I will move on to other lands and show myself there.
But if Thebes tries to drive my Bacchae
from the mountains by force of arms,
I will marshal my Maenads and bring on war.
I have readied myself for battle:
put my deity aside and taken human form.

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Pentheus, The Bacchae
Page Number: Lines 47-53
Explanation and Analysis:

Blessèd are those who know the mysteries of the god.
Blessèd are those who consecrate their lives to worship.
Blessèd are those who give themselves up to the dance,
to the mysteries, to purification on the holy mountain
where the dance and the mysteries take place.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Dionysus
Page Number: Lines 72-76
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 169 - 519 Quotes

CADMUS
Are we the only men who'll dance for Dionysus?

TIRESIAS
The rest are blind. Only we can see.

Related Characters: Cadmus (speaker), Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus
Page Number: Lines 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:

Women have deserted their homes for these
fraudulent rites up in the woods and mountains,
dancing to celebrate some new god
Dionysus, whoever he is.
Drink is at the bottom of it all.
Huge bowls stand in their midst, I'm told,
brimming with wine, and one by one the women
slip into the shadows to satisfy the lusts of men.
They say they are priestesses, sworn to Bacchus,
but it's clearly Aphrodite they adore.
I've had some of them trapped, and shackled in the prison.
The rest are still out there on the mountain –
Even my mother is among them,
she who bore me to Echion,
with her sisters Ino and Autonoe, mother of Actaeon.
I'll hunt them down with nets.
I'll put an end to their filthy orgies.

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus, Agave, The Bacchae, Ino, Autonoe, Actaeon
Page Number: Lines 215-232
Explanation and Analysis:

They say some foreigner has arrived from Lydia:
one of those charlatan magicians
with blond hair that reeks of scent,
the flush of wine in his cheeks
and all the tricks of Aphrodite in his eyes.
Day and night he's with the women,
showing them his mysteries –
holding up his secret, for them to adore.
Once I catch him there'll be none of that tossing of locks
and waving of wands:
I'11take that head from off his body!

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus, The Bacchae
Related Symbols: Thyrsus, Hair
Page Number: Lines 233-242
Explanation and Analysis:

And here's another miracle! The prophet Tiresias
all got up in fawn skin, and my mother's father
dressed up as a Bacchant with a wand.
You look ridiculous, both of you: have you lost your wits?
I'm ashamed of you, Grandfather.
Shake off that ivy and drop that bloody stick!
This is your doing, Tiresias, I can tell:
another imported god, another chance
to make money on the side from burnt offerings
and reading auguries from the guts of birds.

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus, Cadmus, Tiresias
Related Symbols: Thyrsus
Page Number: Lines 248-257
Explanation and Analysis:

The new god you ridicule will be a great Power in Greece.
Let me explain, young man, the two blessings of human life.
Firstly Demeter, Mother Earth – call her what you will –
sustains us mortals with the gift of grain, of solid food.
But he who came next – son of Semele – matched
her gift to man: he brought us wine.
And wine brought peace to the troubled mind,
gave an end to grief and gave us sleep – blessed sleep –
a forgetting of our sadnesses.
He, a god himself is poured out in honor of the gods.
Through that holy wine we win their favor.

Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus
Page Number: Lines 271-282
Explanation and Analysis:

As for the women, it is not for the god to enforce chastity.
Dionysus releases their true nature. Even plunged in delirium,
a virtuous soul does not turn vile.

Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus, The Bacchae
Page Number: Lines 315-317
Explanation and Analysis:

So. Not entirely unattractive—at least to women, I suppose,
which is why you’re here in Thebes.
Such long hair.
Not a wrestler then, I take it?
So long, it frames your cheeks.

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: Lines 454-458
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 520 - 866 Quotes

CHORUS
Look: the stone lintels gape from their columns!
The Roaring One is pulling down the palace from inside!

DIONYSUS
Spark the lightning bolt!
Let the flames feed on the house of Pentheus!

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Pentheus
Related Symbols: The Palace
Page Number: Lines 591-594
Explanation and Analysis:

This is maddening.
That stranger, that man I had in chains, has escaped!

What! How is it that you’re free, standing at the gates of my palace?

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus
Related Symbols: The Palace
Page Number: Lines 643-645
Explanation and Analysis:

PENTHEUS
Bar every gate of the city!

DIONYSUS
What good will that do? What is a wall to a god?

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Pentheus (speaker)
Page Number: Lines 654-655
Explanation and Analysis:

One woman struck her thyrsus on a rock
and a spring of water shot out, bubbling.
Another drove her fennel wand into the ground
and the god released a jet of wine.
Those who wanted milk
simply tapped the earth
with their fingers and a fountain started.
Pure honey spurted and streamed
from the tips of their wands.
If you had been there, sire,
you would have gone down on your knees and prayed
to the very god you deny.

Related Characters: The Herdsman (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus, The Bacchae
Related Symbols: Thyrsus
Page Number: Lines 705-710
Explanation and Analysis:

While he is sane he will never wear a woman's dress.
But he will shortly, as he is nearly mad.
After all those threats,
I want him walking down these streets in a frock;
I want him a laughing-stock.
Now I shall dress him for Hades,
where he will go by his mother's hand.
And he shall finally know Dionysus, son of Zeus,
a god both terrible and gentle to the world of man.

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Pentheus
Page Number: Lines 851-860
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 867 - 1022 Quotes

PENTHEUS
I see two suns in the sky;
two cities of Thebes, each with seven gates.
And you, my guide, you seem to be a bull.
Horns grow from your head.
Were you a beast all along? For you are a bull now.

DIONYSUS
The god is with us.
There were difficulties, but now we have a truce.
You see now what you should have seen before. The god.

PENTHEUS
So how do l look?
A little like Aunt Ino, or a bit more like my mother?

DIONYSUS
The very image of your mother, now I can see you plain.
But let me fix this curl that's come astray.

PENTHEUS
It must have been all that Bacchic ecstasy there in the palace.
I was shaking my head so much!

Related Characters: Dionysus (speaker), Pentheus (speaker), Agave, The Bacchae, Ino
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: Lines 918-930
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 1023 - 1392 Quotes

AGAVE
Cithaeron? But why was Pentheus there?

CADMUS
He went to mock the gods, and your rituals.

AGAVE
But we—why were we there?

CADMUS
You were out of your wits.
The whole city was possessed by Bacchus.

AGAVE
I see. Dionysus has destroyed us all.

Related Characters: Cadmus (speaker), Agave (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus
Page Number: Lines 1292-1296
Explanation and Analysis:

The gods take many shapes,
accomplish many things beyond our expectations.
What we look for does not happen;
what we least expect is fashioned by the gods.
And that is what has happened here today.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Dionysus
Page Number: Lines 1388-1392
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dionysus Character Timeline in The Bacchae

The timeline below shows where the character Dionysus appears in The Bacchae. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1 - 168
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Dionysus, Greek god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, and ecstasy, stands outside of the royal palace... (full context)
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...elderly Theban who has given over the rule of the kingdom to his grandson, and Dionysus’ cousin, Pentheus. Semele was impregnated by Zeus, the king of the gods. Hera, Zeus’ wife,... (full context)
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Dionysus tells the audience he has arrived in Thebes from the East, where he established his... (full context)
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Dionysus wants Thebes to “learn its lesson” and follow his rites and rituals. All of the... (full context)
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Dionysus is angry with Pentheus, the king of Thebes and grandson of Cadmus, for disrespecting him... (full context)
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The chorus sings Dionysus’ praises, charting their journey from Asia to Greece. They say those who give themselves to... (full context)
Lines 169 - 519
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...dance, despite their old age. They’re the only men in Thebes willing to dance for Dionysus. Cadmus tells Tiresias that he can see Pentheus approaching. (full context)
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...few days and is furious at the scenes he’s come back to. He complains about Dionysus and the way he has deceived the women of the town. He believes that “drink... (full context)
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Pentheus goes on, lambasting Dionysus as just some “charlatan magician”; Pentheus vows to put a stop to his mischief and... (full context)
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Tiresias argues in Dionysus’ favor, saying the god will be a great power in Greece. He says that the... (full context)
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...tells Pentheus that he needs to follow “customs and traditions.” He reasons that, even if Dionysus isn’t a god, it does no harm to act as if he is. Firstly, they’ll... (full context)
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Pentheus rejects Cadmus and Tiresias’ arguments, ordering his servants to capture the priest—actually Dionysus in disguise—who is leading the women astray. Tiresias and Cadmus leave to pay their respects... (full context)
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A servant enters, bringing in the enchained Dionysus, still in disguise and willingly held captive. He also tells Pentheus that the imprisoned Bacchae... (full context)
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Pentheus takes an intrigued look at Dionysus, saying that he is “not entirely unattractive” and praising his skin and hair. Pentheus interrogates... (full context)
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Dionysus’ evasiveness angers Pentheus. Pentheus cuts off Dionysus’ hair and snatches his thyrsus, before ordering him... (full context)
Lines 520 - 866
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The chorus sings about Dionysus’ birth and Pentheus’ betrayal of his origins. The singers call on Dionysus to “come down... (full context)
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Dionysus calls to the chorus and his other followers from within the palace. He brings about... (full context)
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Dionysus explains to the chorus how he escaped from the palace. Apparently, he had deceived Pentheus... (full context)
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Pentheus arrives with his retinue, furious that his prisoner has escaped. Suddenly he notices Dionysus—still in the guise of the Dionysian priest—standing there, and is baffled as to how he... (full context)
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...welcome this god, whoever he may be, to Thebes. Making his exit, the herdsman praises Dionysus for his gift of wine. (full context)
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The leader of the chorus tells Pentheus that there is no god greater than Dionysus. Pentheus tells his servant to go and mobilize the Theban army, declaring “we will not... (full context)
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Dionysus, still posing as the priest, offers Pentheus a last chance to avoid “taking arms against... (full context)
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Dionysus offers to bring the Bacchae back to Thebes with no bloodshed, but Pentheus doesn’t trust... (full context)
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Dionysus cunningly asks whether Pentheus would like to spy on the Bacchae as they “go about... (full context)
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Dionysus tells Pentheus that in order for him to spy on the Bacchae, he needs to... (full context)
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Pentheus hesitates about the cross-dressing plan, but Dionysus says it’s either that or “fight the women and spill blood.” Pentheus goes into the... (full context)
Lines 867 - 1022
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
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Dionysus comes back, ushering out Pentheus, who is dressed as a woman and carrying a thyrsus.... (full context)
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Dionysus fixes up Pentheus’ hair, which Pentheus says must have come loose in “all that Bacchic... (full context)
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Dionysus hints that Pentheus is heading towards his death, but the latter doesn’t pick up on... (full context)
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...his death. If only he had been “pure and pious,” they lament. They call on Dionysus to appear as a bull, a “many-headed serpent” and a “lion in flames”—and to “throw... (full context)
Lines 1023 - 1392
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The second messenger recounts what happened to Pentheus. He went with Pentheus and Dionysus to Mt. Cithaeron. They came across some of the Bacchae, who were singing songs and... (full context)
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Pentheus wanted to get a closer look, continues the second messenger, and asked Dionysus if it would be a good idea to climb up a nearby fir tree. Dionysus... (full context)
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...Pentheus at the top of the tree. The second messenger relates how the voice of Dionysus came from the sky and told the “Bacchae” that here was the man who “mocked”... (full context)
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...the top of her thyrsus. The second messenger says he heard her calling out to Dionysus, her “fellow huntsman” and “companion in the chase, in the taking of the prize.” The... (full context)
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...he pities her for the “grief to come,” and that they must have seriously wronged Dionysus to deserve what’s happened: “he has been so just, so terribly just, he has destroyed... (full context)
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Dionysus appears, “revealed as a god.” He tells Cadmus that he and his wife, Harmonia, will... (full context)
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Cadmus pleads with Dionysus, asking “should not gods stand above all mortal passions, such as anger?” Dionysus says that... (full context)
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Agave says “terrible is the ruin Lord Dionysus has visited on this house”; Cadmus says it’s their fault for dishonoring the god. They... (full context)