THE BACCHANTES by Euripides, Part 03
What impiety! Hast thou no reverence, sir stranger, for the gods
or for Cadmus who sowed the crop of earth-born warriors? Son of Echion
as thou art, thou dost shame thy birth.
Whenso a man of wisdom finds a good topic for argument, it is no
difficult matter to speak well; but thou, though possessing a glib
tongue as if endowed with sense, art yet devoid thereof in all thou
sayest. A headstrong man, if he have influence and a capacity for
speaking, makes a bad citizen because he lacks sense. This new
deity, whom thou deridest, will rise to power I cannot say how
great, throughout Hellas. Two things there are, young prince, that
hold first rank among men, the goddess Demeter, that is, the earth,
calf her which name thou please; she it is that feedeth men with solid
food; and as her counterpart came this god, the son of Semele, who
discovered the juice of the grape and introduced it to mankind,
stilling thereby each grief that mortals suffer from, soon as e'er
they are filled with the juice of the vine; and sleep also he
giveth, sleep that brings forgetfulness of daily ills, the sovereign
charm for all our woe. God though he is, he serves all other gods
for libations, so that through him mankind is blest. He it is whom
thou dost mock, because he was sewn up in the thigh of Zeus. But I
will show thee this fair mystery. When Zeus had snatched him from
the lightning's blaze, and to Olympus borne the tender babe, Hera
would have cast him forth from heaven, but Zeus, as such a god well
might, devised a counterplot. He broke off a fragment of the ether
which surrounds the world, and made thereof a hostage against Hera's
bitterness, while he gave out Dionysus into other hands; hence, in
time, men said that he was reared in the thigh of Zeus, having changed
the word and invented a legend, because the god was once a hostage
to the goddess Hera. This god too hath prophetic power, for there is
no small prophecy inspired by Bacchic frenzy; for whenever the god
in his full might enters the human frame, he makes his frantic
votaries foretell the future. Likewise he hath some share in Ares'
rights; for oft, or ever a weapon is touched, a panic seizes an army
when it is marshalled in array; and this too is a frenzy sent by
Dionysus. Yet shalt thou behold him e'en on Delphi's rocks leaping
o'er the cloven height, torch in hand, waving and brandishing the
branch by Bacchus loved, yea, and through the length and breadth of
Hellas. Hearken to me, Pentheus; never boast that might alone doth
sway the world, nor if thou think so, unsound as thy opinion is,
credit thyself with any wisdom; but receive the god into thy realm,
pour out libations, join the revel rout, and crown thy head. It is not
Dionysus that will force chastity on women in their love; but this
is what we should consider, whether chastity is part of their nature
for good and all; for if it is, no really modest maid will ever fall
'mid Bacchic mysteries. Mark this: thou thyself art glad when
thousands throng thy gates, and citizens extol the name of Pentheus;
he too, I trow, delights in being honoured. Wherefore I and Cadmus,
whom thou jeerest so, will wreath our brows with ivy and join the
dance; pair of grey beards though we be, still must we take part
therein; never will I for any words of thine fight against heaven.
Most grievous is thy madness, nor canst thou find a charm to cure
thee, albeit charms have caused thy malady.
Old sir, thy words do not discredit Phoebus, and thou art wise
in honouring Bromius, potent deity.
My son, Teiresias hath given thee sound advice; dwell with us, but
o'erstep not the threshold of custom; for now thou art soaring
aloft, and thy wisdom is no wisdom. E'en though he be no god, as
thou assertest, still say he is; be guilty of a splendid fraud,
declaring him the son of Semele, that she may be thought the mother of
a god, and we and all our race gain honour. Dost thou mark the awful
fate of Actaeon? whom savage hounds of his own rearing rent in
pieces in the meadows, because he boasted himself a better hunter than
Artemis. Lest thy fate be the same, come let me crown thy head with
ivy; join us in rendering homage to the god.
Touch me not away to thy Bacchic rites thyself! never try to
infect me with thy foolery! Vengeance will I have on the fellow who
teaches thee such senselessness. Away one of you without delay! seek
yonder seat where he observes his birds, wrench it from its base
with levers, turn it upside down, o'erthrowing it in utter
confusion, and toss his garlands to the tempest's blast. For by so
doing shall I wound him most deeply. Others of you range the city
and hunt down this girl-faced stranger, who is introducing a new
complaint amongst our women, and doing outrage to the marriage tie.
And if haply ye catch him, bring him hither to me in chains, to be
stoned to death, a bitter ending to his revelry in Thebes.
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