In the kingdom of Thebes, the young ruler Pentheus is furious at the sudden arrival of a Stranger and the frenzied female followers of Dionysus, the Bacchae. Pentheus and his family (grandfather Cadmus, mother Agave, and aunts Ino and Autonoe) have disavowed Dionysus as Zeus’ son, and therefore as a god. Ironically, Dionysus is a member of this family: His mother, Semele, is another daughter of Cadmus. Slowly, methodically, Dionysus takes his revenge on the family. First, he seduces Agave, Ino, and Autonoe into the ranks of the Bacchae, where they flee to Mount Cithaeron. Next, Dionysus confronts Pentheus as the Stranger and presents him with impossible miracles (such as an earthquake destroying the palace), before luring the young man to Mount Cithaeron so that he may spy on the Bacchae. But Pentheus walks into his own destruction: In a scene of heartbreaking violence, Agave turns against her own son, sealing the fate of the house of Cadmus.
Euripides’ final play, performed posthumously at the City Dionysia, is a violent warning against defying the gods. The Bacchae dramatizes the battle between opposing forces in the human psyche, the rational and the frenzied, and the horrific consequences of honor and recognition coming too late.
The Bacchae guide sections