"Many are the forms taken by the plans of the gods and many the things they accomplish beyond men's hopes.  What men expect does not happen; for the unexpected heaven finds a way.  And so it has turned out here today."

-- The Chorus in Euripides, Bacchae


In one scene, Dionysus asks Pentheus a leading question:  "Would you really like to see what gives you pain?"  What do you think is the source of human suffering, according to the Bacchae?

Describe Pentheus.  What are the different qualities that define him?  Does he have a "tragic flaw" and, if so, what is it?  What are his public responsibilities and to what extent does he seem devoted to these?  Why does Pentheus find Dionysus and the Maenads so threatening?  Why do you think he is so drawn to spy on the Maenads?

How would you describe the Dionysus of the Bacchae?  What sort of god is he and what are his attributes?  Why has he returned to Thebes?  Why do you think he seems so obsessed with proving his power and divinity?  What are the gifts of Dionysus and in what ways is he a dangerous god?  Is Euripides "anti-Dionysus" or "pro-Dionysus"?

How would you  analyze the relationship between Pentheus and Dionysus?  To what extent are they rivals for the affections of the citizens of Thebes?  To what extent is Pentheus the plaything of Dionysus and to what extent does he construct his own prisons?  To what degree are the boy-king and the boy-god opposites, or is the relationship more complex than that?  Is Pentheus destroyed because he is drawn to the gifts of Dionysus or because he misunderstands the nature of those gifts?

How are women portrayed in the Bacchae?  Why are women attracted to Dionysus and what does Euripides seem to think about the role of women in his society?  How would you begin to assess the gender dynamics at the heart of the play?  Does Euripides seem to assume that men and women are fundamentally similar to each other or fundamentally different?

Complete the following.  The message or moral of this play is ________________ .

What do you think Euripides, a famous agnostic, is saying about religion in the Bacchae?  To what extent is this a play about the dangers of religious fanaticism?  About the need to integrated Dionysian elements into the life of the city?  How would you describe the relationship between mortals and the gods as portrayed in the play?  How would you respond to those critics who argue that they find in the play evidence of a late-in-life Euripidean religious conversion after many decades of skepticism?

What is the role of reason and madness in the play?  The role of self-knowledge or the lack thereof?  Human perception?  How would you compare and contrast the madness of the worshippers of Dionysus and the madness of Pentheus?

What is the role of the Chorus?  Can they be described as impartial observers?  How would you compare and contrast these Bacchants with the women of Thebes?

What other characters do you find to be interesting and what would you highlight here?

Assess the ways in which a series of dualities structure the play -- between, for example, human and divine; male and female; masculine and effeminate; Greek and foreigner; city and nature; madness and reason.

Iphigenia at Aulis and the Bacchae were first performed at the same Athenian Dionysian Festival in 405 BCE.  How would you compare and contrast these two tragedies?  How would you compare and contrast the Sacrifice of Iphigenia with the Sacrifice of Pentheus?

How would you compare and contrast Pentheus to that other famous Theban, Oedipus?





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