The Bacchae of Euripides - Euripides - ebook

“The Bacchae” is a Euripides tragedy, written while the author was at the court of Archelao, king of Macedonia, between 407 and 406 BC Euripides died a few months after completing it. The work was represented in Athens a few years later, probably in 403 BC, under the direction of the son (or grandson) of the author, also called Euripides. It was staged under a trilogy which also included Alcmeone in Corinth (now lost) and Ifigenia in Aulide. This trilogy of works gave the author a posthumous victory at the Grand Dionysons of that year.

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First digital edition 2017 by Gianluca Ruffini





DIONYSUS, THE GOD; son of Zeus and of the Theban princess Semele. CADMUS, formerly King of Thebes, father of Semele. PENTHEUS, King of Thebes, grandson of Cadmus. AGAVE, daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus. TEIRESIAS, an aged Theban prophet. A SOLDIER OF PENTHEUS’ GUARD. TWO MESSENGERS. A CHORUS OF INSPIRED DAMSELS, following Dionysus from the East.

“The play was first produced after the death of Euripides by his son, who bore the same name, together with the ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ and the ‘Alcmaeon,’ probably in the year 405 B.C.”


The background represents the front of the Castle of PENTHEUS, King of Thebes. At one side is visible the sacred Tomb of Semele, a little enclosure overgrown with wild vines, with a cleft in the rocky floor of it from which there issues at times steam or smoke. The God DIONYSUS is discovered alone.


Behold, God’s Son is come unto this land Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand Of heaven’s hot splendour lit to life, when she Who bore me, Cadmus’ daughter Semele, Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man, I walk again by Dirce’s streams and scan Ismenus’ shore. There by the castle side I see her place, the Tomb of the Lightning’s Bride, The wreck of smouldering chambers, and the great Faint wreaths of fire undying - as the hate Dies not, that Hera held for Semele. Aye, Cadmus hath done well; in purity, He keeps this place apart, inviolate, His daughter’s sanctuary; and I have set My green and clustered vines to robe it round. Far now behind me lies the golden ground Of Lydian and of Phrygian; far away The wide hot plains where Persian sunbeams play, The Bactrian war-holds, and the storm-oppressed Clime of the Mede, and Araby the Blest, And Asia all, that by the salt sea lies In proud embattled cities, motley-wise Of Hellene and Barbarian interwrought; And now I come to Hellas - having taught All the world else my dances and my rite Of mysteries, to show me in men’s sight Manifest God. And first of Hellene lands I cry thus Thebes to waken; set her hands To clasp my wand, mine ivied javelin, And round her shoulders hang my wild fawn-skin. For they have scorned me whom it least beseemed, Semele’s sisters; mocked my birth, nor deemed That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed. My mother sinned, said they; and in her need, With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God. Thus, must they vaunt; and therefore hath my rod On them first fallen, and stung them forth wild-eyed From empty chambers; the bare mountain side Is made their home, and all their hearts are flame. Yea, I have bound upon the necks of them The harness of my rites. And with them all The seed of womankind from hut and hall Of Thebes, hath this my magic goaded out. And there, with the old King’s daughters, in a rout Confused, they make their dwelling-place between The roofless rocks and shadowy pine trees green. Thus shall this Thebes, how sore soe’er it smart, Learn and forget not, till she crave her part In mine adoring; thus must I speak clear To save my mother’s fame, and crown me here As true God, born by Semele to Zeus.

Now Cadmus yieldeth up his throne and use Of royal honour to his daughter’s son Pentheus; who on my body hath begun A war with God. He thrusteth me away From due drink-offering, and, when men pray, My name entreats not. Therefore on his own Head and his people’s shall my power be shown. Then to another land, when all things here Are well, must I fare onward, making clear My godhead’s might. But should this Theban town Essay with wrath and battle to drag down My maids, lo, in their path myself shall be, And maniac armies battled after me! For this I veil my godhead with the wan Form of the things that die, and walk as Man.

O Brood of Tmolus o’er the wide world flown, O Lydian band, my chosen and mine own, Damsels uplifted o’er the orient deep To wander where I wander, and to sleep Where I sleep; up, and wake the old sweet sound, The clang that I and mystic Rhea found, The Timbrel of the Mountain! Gather all Thebes to your song round Pentheus’ royal hall. I seek my new-made worshippers, to guide Their dances up Kithaeron’s pine-clad side.

[As he departs, there comes stealing in from the left a band of fifteen Eastern Women, the light of the sunrise streaming upon their long white robes and ivy-bound hair. They wear fawn-skins over the robes, and carry some of them timbrels, some pipes and other instruments. Many bear the thyrsus, or sacred Wand, made of reed ringed with ivy. They enter stealthily till they see that the place is empty, and then begin their mystic song of worship.


A Maiden.

From Asia, from the dayspring that uprises, To Bromios ever glorying we came. We laboured for our Lord in many guises; We toiled, but the toil is as the prize is; Thou Mystery, we hail thee by thy name!


Who lingers in the road? Who espies us? He shall hide him in his house nor be bold. Let the heart keep silence that defies us; For I sing this day to Dionysus The song that is appointed from of old.

All the Maidens.

Oh, blessed he in all wise, Who hath drunk the Living Fountain, Whose life no folly staineth, And his soul is near to God; Whose sins are lifted, pall-wise, As he worships on the Mountain, And where Cybele ordaineth, Our Mother, he has trod:

His head with ivy laden And his thyrsus tossing high, For our God he lifts his cry; “Up, O Bacchae, wife and maiden, Come, O ye Bacchae, come; Oh, bring the Joy-bestower, God-seed of God the Sower, Bring Bromios in his power From Phrygia’s mountain dome; To street and town and tower, Oh, bring ye Bromios home!”

Whom erst in anguish lying For an unborn life’s desire, As a dead thing in the Thunder His mother cast to earth; For her heart was dying, dying, In the white heart of the fire; Till Zeus, the Lord of Wonder, Devised new lairs of birth;

Yea, his own flesh tore to hide him, And with clasps of bitter gold Did a secret son enfold, And the Queen knew not beside him; Till the perfect hour was there; Then a horned God was found, And a God with serpents crowned; And for that are serpents wound In the wands his maidens bear, And the songs of serpents sound In the mazes of their hair.

Some Maidens.

All hail, O Thebes, thou nurse of Semele! With Semele’s wild ivy crown thy towers; Oh, burst in bloom of wreathing bryony, Berries and leaves and flowers; Uplift the dark divine wand, The oak-wand and the pine-wand, And don thy fawn-skin, fringed in purity With fleecy white, like ours.

Oh, cleanse thee in the wands’ waving pride! Yea, all men shall dance with us and pray, When Bromios his companies shall guide Hillward, ever hillward, where they stay, The flock of the Believing, The maids from loom and weaving By the magic of his breath borne away.


Hail thou, O Nurse of Zeus, O Caverned Haunt Where fierce arms clanged to guard God’s cradle rare, For thee of old some crested Corybant First woke in Cretan air The wild orb of our orgies, Our Timbrel; and thy gorges Rang with this strain; and blended Phrygian chant And sweet keen pipes were there.

But the Timbrel, the Timbrel was another’s, And away to Mother Rhea it must wend; And to our holy singing from the Mother’s The mad Satyrs carried it, to blend In the dancing and the cheer Of our third and perfect Year; And it serves Dionysus in the end!

A Maiden.

O glad, glad on the mountains To swoon in the race outworn, When the holy fawn-skin clings, And all else sweeps away, To the joy of the red quick fountains, The blood of the hill-goat torn, The glory of wild-beast ravenings, Where the hill-tops catch the day; To the Phrygian, Lydian, mountains! ‘Tis Bromios leads the way.

Another Maiden.

Then streams the earth with milk, yea, streams With wine and nectar of the bee, And through the air dim perfume steams Of Syrian frankincense; and He, Our leader, from his thyrsus spray A torchlight tosses high and higher, A torchlight like a beacon-fire, To waken all that faint and stray; And sets them leaping as he sings, His tresses rippling to the sky, And deep beneath the Maenad cry His proud voice rings: “Come, O ye Bacchae, come!”

All the Maidens.

Hither, O fragrant of Tmolus the Golden, Come with the voice of timbrel and drum; Let the cry of your joyance uplift and embolden The God of the joy-cry; O Bacchanals, come! With pealing of pipes and with Phrygian clamour, On, where the vision of holiness thrills, And the music climbs and the maddening glamour, With the wild White Maids, to the hills, to the hills! Oh, then, like a colt as he runs by a river, A colt by his dam, when the heart of him sings, With the keen limbs drawn and the fleet foot a-quiver, Away the Bacchanal springs!

Enter TEIRESIAS. He is an old man and blind, leaning upon a staff and moving with slow stateliness, though wearing the Ivy and the Bacchic fawn-skin.


Ho, there, who keeps the gate? Go, summon me Cadmus, Agenor’s son, who crossed the sea From Sidon and upreared this Theban hold. Go, whosoe’er thou art. See he be told Teiresias seeketh him. Himself will gauge Mine errand, and the compact, age with age, I vowed with him, grey hair with snow-white hair, To deck the new God’s thyrsus, and to wear His fawn-skin, and with ivy crown our brows.

Enter CADMUS from the Castle. He is even older than TEIRESIAS, and wears the same attire.