The Bacchae

by

Euripides

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Bacchae can help.

Pentheus Character Analysis

Pentheus, the antagonist of the play, is the naïve king of Thebes and Dionysus’ cousin. He stubbornly refuses to worship Dionysus—or even to believe in his godliness—and tries to impose his authoritarian might on Dionysus’ female followers, known as the Bacchae. Pentheus tries to play the role of strong patriarch, but shows himself to be impetuous and ill-equipped for leadership. Though he professes his disgust for the hedonistic revelry of the Bacchae, Pentheus admits to Dionysus (disguised as a priest) that the women’s behavior intrigues him. Accordingly, Dionysus exploits these latent fantasies and tricks Pentheus into dressing as a woman in order to spy on the Bacchae. Caught in the frenzy of Dionysian ritual, Pentheus’ mother, Agave, then brutally attacks Pentheus. Desperately trying to reveal his true identity, mighty King Pentheus is swiftly reduced to the status of a small, scared boy pleading with his mother.

Pentheus Quotes in The Bacchae

The The Bacchae quotes below are all either spoken by Pentheus or refer to Pentheus. 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:
Lines 169 - 519 Quotes

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:

They snatched children
from their homes, and pillaged houses.
Everything they threw on their backs stayed there:
nothing, not even bronze or iron, fell to the earth.
Flames danced in their hair but did not burn them.
The furious villagers took up their weapons in defense
and, sire, what happened next was dreadful to see.
The men's spears of pointed metal drew no blood,
while the flung wands of the women ripped open flesh,
and the men turned and ran.

Related Characters: The Herdsman (speaker), Pentheus, The Bacchae
Related Symbols: Thyrsus
Page Number: Lines 753-763
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

His own mother,
like a priestess with her sacrifice, fell on him first.
But he snatched off his headdress and wig
so she could see who he was.
He reached out his hand to touch her cheek
and cried out: "Mother! Mother! Look!
It's me, Pentheus, Your own son!
The son you bore to Echion!
Spare me, Mother, I beg You!
I have done wrong, Perhaps,
but you cannot kill your own son!"
But Agave's eyes were rolling,
and her mouth filling with foam.
In the grip of the god and the god's frenzy,
it was as if she couldn't see him, couldn't hear.
Grabbing his left hand at the wrist,
she planted her foot against his flank and wrenched,
pulling his arm straight out of his shoulder—
not with her own strength but the strength of the god.

Related Characters: The Second Messenger (speaker), Pentheus, Agave, The Bacchae
Page Number: Lines 1115-1128
Explanation and Analysis:

Father, you have the right to make the proudest boast,
for you have sired the bravest daughters in the world.
And of us all, I am the foremost:
leaving the shuttle and loom for bigger things –
hunting animals with my bare hands.
As you can see, I have a trophy for our house,
to hang here on the wall.

Related Characters: Agave (speaker), Pentheus, Cadmus
Page Number: Lines 1231-1240
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Get the entire The Bacchae LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Bacchae PDF

Pentheus Character Timeline in The Bacchae

The timeline below shows where the character Pentheus 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
...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, was jealous... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Dionysus is angry with Pentheus, the king of Thebes and grandson of Cadmus, for disrespecting him by refusing to offer... (full context)
Lines 169 - 519
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
...men in Thebes willing to dance for Dionysus. Cadmus tells Tiresias that he can see Pentheus approaching. (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Pentheus appears, accompanied by his attendants. He has been out of the country for a few... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Pentheus goes on, lambasting Dionysus as just some “charlatan magician”; Pentheus vows to put a stop... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus notices Cadmus and Tiresias and their Dionysian attire. He mocks them, and tells Cadmus he... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
...“blessed sleep.” He says Dionysus doesn’t corrupt women, but releases their “true nature,” and that Pentheus is “mad” not to pay tribute. (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Cadmus tells Pentheus that he needs to follow “customs and traditions.” He reasons that, even if Dionysus isn’t... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus rejects Cadmus and Tiresias’ arguments, ordering his servants to capture the priest—actually Dionysus in disguise—who... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
...bringing in the enchained Dionysus, still in disguise and willingly held captive. He also tells Pentheus that the imprisoned Bacchae have miraculously escaped their shackles and are now returning to the... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus takes an intrigued look at Dionysus, saying that he is “not entirely unattractive” and praising... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Dionysus’ evasiveness angers Pentheus. Pentheus cuts off Dionysus’ hair and snatches his thyrsus, before ordering him to be locked... (full context)
Lines 520 - 866
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
The chorus sings about Dionysus’ birth and Pentheus’ betrayal of his origins. The singers call on Dionysus to “come down from Olympus” and... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...flames and crumbles to the ground. Dionysus is reunited with the fearful chorus, who, like Pentheus, perceive him as a priest. Those in the chorus are in awe of the power... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Dionysus explains to the chorus how he escaped from the palace. Apparently, he had deceived Pentheus throughout their interaction. Pentheus thought he had shackled a Dionysian priest, but in fact it... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Pentheus arrives with his retinue, furious that his prisoner has escaped. Suddenly he notices Dionysus—still in... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
A herdsman arrives with a message from Mt. Cithaeron. He has come to tell Pentheus of what he’s seen: the Bacchae are running wild. He tells Pentheus he saw Agave,... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...city asked the herdsman if they should earn the “gratitude of the king” and capture Pentheus’ mother, Agave. They lay in ambush as the Bacchae came by, practicing their rituals, seemingly... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...their flesh. The herdsman says it was clear some god was empowering them. He implores Pentheus to welcome this god, whoever he may be, to Thebes. Making his exit, the herdsman... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The leader of the chorus tells Pentheus that there is no god greater than Dionysus. Pentheus tells his servant to go and... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Dionysus, still posing as the priest, offers Pentheus a last chance to avoid “taking arms against a god.” He warns that there will... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Dionysus offers to bring the Bacchae back to Thebes with no bloodshed, but Pentheus doesn’t trust him. Pentheus tells his guard to bring him his armor, and Dionysus to... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Dionysus cunningly asks whether Pentheus would like to spy on the Bacchae as they “go about their mysteries.” Pentheus says... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Dionysus tells Pentheus that in order for him to spy on the Bacchae, he needs to disguise himself... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Pentheus hesitates about the cross-dressing plan, but Dionysus says it’s either that or “fight the women... (full context)
Lines 867 - 1022
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Dionysus comes back, ushering out Pentheus, who is dressed as a woman and carrying a thyrsus. Pentheus seems disoriented, telling Dionysus... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Dionysus fixes up Pentheus’ hair, which Pentheus says must have come loose in “all that Bacchic ecstasy there in... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Dionysus hints that Pentheus is heading towards his death, but the latter doesn’t pick up on the suggestion. Dionysus... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...the mountains and send the Bacchae into a frenzy against “the man in woman’s clothes.” Pentheus, they sing, is walking, is walking “headlong” to his death. If only he had been... (full context)
Lines 1023 - 1392
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The second messenger arrives, bearing “mournful” news—Pentheus is dead. The leader of the chorus celebrates. When chastised by the messenger, the chorus... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
The second messenger recounts what happened to Pentheus. He went with Pentheus and Dionysus to Mt. Cithaeron. They came across some of the... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus wanted to get a closer look, continues the second messenger, and asked Dionysus if it... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The Bacchae then spotted Pentheus at the top of the tree. The second messenger relates how the voice of Dionysus... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The Bacchae threw stones and branches at Pentheus, but he held his grip. Then Agave, his mother, gathered the Bacchae around the tree... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Pentheus pleaded with Agave for his life, but her “eyes were rolling, and her mouth filling... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Agave picked up Pentheus’ head and mounted it on the top of her thyrsus. The second messenger says he... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The chorus celebrates what’s happened to Pentheus. Agave enters, carrying her thyrsus with the head of Pentheus impaled upon it. Agave addresses... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Agave shows off the head before asking the whereabouts of Cadmus and Pentheus. Cadmus arrives with a servant carrying a “draped stretcher.” Cadmus has been searching for the... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
...her sisters, given their skill at “hunting animals” with their bare hands. She gives him Pentheus’ head, calling it a “trophy for our house” and asking him to “share the glory... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Agave calls out for Pentheus, so he can witness “his mother’s good fortune.” Cadmus says that if she ever realizes... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...She reluctantly takes a look and realizes she is holding the head of her son, Pentheus. (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Agave asks who killed Pentheus. Cadmus explains what happened—that Agave and her sisters are responsible. She doesn’t remember anything, not... (full context)
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Cadmus explains to Agave that Pentheus was made to suffer because “he refused the god.” He laments that their dynasty has... (full context)