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A comparison of the characters of pentheus and dionysus in bacchae

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733

There is the heterogeneous crowd of Thebans who, having fallen under the spell of Bacchus, rush to perform his rites 3. There are the henchmen whom Pentheus sends out to capture Bacchus and who return, blood-spattered, with someone identifying himself as Acoetes 3. We may also add the old senes and young men iuvenes of Thebes whom Pentheus tries to rally against Bacchus 3.

The Bacchae Characters

Amidst this kaleidoscopic assortment of dramatis personae, four principal figures stand out: Tiresias, Pentheus, Bacchus, and Acoetes. Or perhaps we should say three, since the last two may in fact be one and the same figure.

The Bacchae

Thebes is his ancestral home: He makes his earliest literary appearance in Odyssey 11, as the seer whom Odysseus seeks out in the Underworld in order to receive advice on his homecoming. If Homeric epic and Attic tragedy foreground his privileged access to divine knowledge late in life or even after deathother texts put the emphasis elsewhere, not least to explain how Tiresias acquired the gift of foresight in the first place.

Here another aspect of his mythical CV comes to the fore: Tradition has it that the perambulating Tiresias once struck copulating snakes with his staff, whereupon he mysteriously morphed from male to female — only to return to his original sex when he did likewise several years later. Forbidden by cosmic law to undo the punishment inflicted by his wife, the well-pleased Jupiter granted Tiresias the gift of prophecy in recompense.

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  2. Thebes is his ancestral home. For Dionysus, he is capable of leadership as he has traveled across Asia converting women into his cult; he later tried that in Athens.
  3. Last of all, we'd like to point out that Dionysus is both animal and human.
  4. We definitely see plenty of evidence of this.

Our earliest witness for this tale is pseudo-Hesiodic Melampodia, a fragmentary epic poem probably dating to the 6th century BCE. When first encountering him midway through Book 3, we get the tale of copulating snakes, sex changes, and erotic expertise, with the ensuing loss of sight and gain of fore-sight Met.

He is dismayed by the inability of the citizenry to stand up to what he regards as a feeble and unworthy foe.

Compare and Contrast Pentheus and Dionysus

The very idea that a group of revellers known for orgiastic noise, magical tricks, female ululations, alcoholic excess, and sexual license can overpower the population of a city descended from a dragon of Mars offends his martial pride 3. In his vain exhortation to his fellow Thebans he goes so far as to adduce the dragon of Mars, which his grandfather Cadmus slew, as a paragon of virtue that bravely gave its life in defence of its lair, fighting valiantly against overwhelming odds 3.

So, for example, the response of Pentheus to the caterwauling of the Maenads on Mount Cithaeron is likened to that of a warhorse hearing the trumpeter of an army giving the signal to fight 3.

Ovid similarly characterizes Romulus and Remus, the founde.

  • First of all, in some ways he represents both human and god;
  • Amidst this kaleidoscopic assortment of dramatis personae, four principal figures stand out;
  • The King goes on to tell Dionysus that he has "nice ringlets," and that they're "very fetching […] the way they ripple round [his] cheeks" 32;
  • There are the henchmen whom Pentheus sends out to capture Bacchus and who return, blood-spattered, with someone identifying himself as Acoetes 3.

But Pentheus here fashions Cadmus himself as an Aeneas avant la lettre, a leader of an exiled people, profugi from the East, who traversed the sea to settle his people and their penates in a new homeland. The Romanizing touches continue with the characterization of Thebans as a proles Mavortia 3.

This scene, with its emphasis on theatrical cross-dressing and gender-bending is crucial and emblematic for Euripides.

  • Still though, part of him is human;
  • It is also worth mentioning that both Pentheus and Dionysus are proud and arrogant.

Instead, after the lengthy inset narrative of the prisoner Acoetes, the narrative focus returns to Pentheus, now more bellicose than ever. The defining emotion is wrath ira. Without further ado, he storms to his doom. In both Euripides and Ovid, this is a key theme, as Pentheus endeavours to repulse Bacchus and his cult as something alien, Eastern, and corrosive of the norms and values he holds dear.

  • Last of all, we'd like to point out that Dionysus is both animal and human;
  • His attempt to reintroduce Dionysian is thwarted by his cousin although he seemed to admire it;
  • When Dionysus puts Pentheus into a trance, the King observes the god's animal form saying, "Now I'd say your head was horned…or were you an animal all the while?
  • When first encountering him midway through Book 3, we get the tale of copulating snakes, sex changes, and erotic expertise, with the ensuing loss of sight and gain of fore-sight Met.

Aggressiveness bordering on brutality to protect the self against others, i. Belief that men are superior to women, who are conceived of as passive and as tied to traditional roles of wife and mother.

In Euripides, female sexual license is a major concern for Pentheus, and whereas Ovid plays down the importance of gender, his Pentheus too is beholden to a narrow set of martial and masculine values.

Characters Discussed

Confronted with the arrival of a new god, he mounts a stubborn resistance that includes the rhetorical denigration of his perceived adversary via a familiar set of prejudices about Easterners.

Hesiod, in his Theogony 940—42likewise recounts the birth of Dionysus, highlighting that a mortal woman gave birth to an immortal child. This is one of many remarkable aspects of the god: Unlike other Olympian deities, he encounters human defiance, deriving in large part from scepticism as to his godhood.

  1. Tiresias, Pentheus, Bacchus, and Acoetes.
  2. In a way he's a bridge between the two forces. But Pentheus here fashions Cadmus himself as an Aeneas avant la lettre, a leader of an exiled people, profugi from the East, who traversed the sea to settle his people and their penates in a new homeland.
  3. In a way, though Dionysus has returned to his hometown, he's totally foreign.
  4. Hesiod, in his Theogony 940—42 , likewise recounts the birth of Dionysus, highlighting that a mortal woman gave birth to an immortal child. Aggressiveness bordering on brutality to protect the self against others, i.

Given his parentage, this is not altogether surprising: His physical representation is also noteworthy for its variation: