THE BACCHANTES by Euripides, Part 07
Shamefully have I been treated; that stranger, whom but now I made
so fast in prison, hath escaped me. Ha! there is the man! What means
this? How didst thou come forth, to appear thus in front of my palace?
Stay where thou art; and moderate thy fury.
How is it thou hast escaped thy fetters and art at large?
Did I not say, or didst thou not hear me, "There is one will loose
Who was it? there is always something strange in what thou sayest.
He who makes the clustering vine to grow for man.
[I scorn him and his vines!]
A fine taunt indeed thou hurlest here at Dionysus!
PENTHEUS (To his servants)
Bar every tower that hems us in, I order you.
What use? Cannot gods pass even over walls?
How wise thou art, except where thy wisdom is needed!
Where most 'tis needed, there am I most wise. But first listen
to yonder messenger and hear what he says; he comes from the hills
with tidings for thee; and I will await thy pleasure, nor seek to fly.
Pentheus, ruler of this realm of Thebes! I am come from Cithaeron,
where the dazzling flakes of pure white snow ne'er cease to fall.
What urgent news dost bring me?
I have seen, O king, those frantic Bacchanals, who darted in
frenzy from this land with bare white feet, and I am come to tell thee
and the city the wondrous deeds they do, deeds passing strange. But
I fain would hear, whether I am freely to tell all I saw there, or
shorten my story; for I fear thy hasty temper, sire, thy sudden bursts
of wrath and more than princely rage.
Say on, for thou shalt go unpunished by me in all respects; for to
be angered with the upright is wrong. The direr thy tale about the
Bacchantes, the heavier punishment will I inflict on this fellow who
brought his secret arts amongst our women.
I was just driving the herds of kine to a ridge of the hill as I
fed them, as the sun shot forth his rays and made the earth grow warm;
when lo! I see three revel-bands of women; Autonoe was chief of one,
thy mother Agave of the second, while Ino's was the third. There
they lay asleep, all tired out; some were resting on branches of the
pine, others had laid their heads in careless ease on oak-leaves piled
upon the ground, observing all modesty; not, as thou sayest, seeking
to gratify their lusts alone amid the woods, by wine and soft
Anon in their midst thy mother uprose and cried aloud to wake them
from their sleep, when she heard the lowing of my horned kine. And
up they started to their feet, brushing from their eyes sleep's
quickening dew, a wondrous sight of grace and modesty, young and old
and maidens yet unwed. First o'er their shoulders they let stream
their hair; then all did gird their fawn-skins up, who hitherto had
left the fastenings loose, girdling the dappled hides with snakes that
licked their cheeks. Others fondled in their arms gazelles or savage
whelps of wolves, and suckled them-young mothers these with babes at
home, whose breasts were still full of milk; crowns they wore of ivy
or of oak or blossoming convolvulus. And one took her thyrsus and
struck it into the earth, and forth there gushed a limpid spring;
and another plunged her wand into the lap of earth and there the god
sent up a fount of wine; and all who wished for draughts of milk had
but to scratch the soil with their finger-tips and there they had it
in abundance, while from every ivy-wreathed staff sweet rills of honey
Hadst thou been there and seen this, thou wouldst have turned to
pray to the god, whom now thou dost disparage. Anon we herdsmen and
shepherds met to discuss their strange and wondrous doings; then
one, who wandereth oft to town and hath a trick of speech, made
harangue in the midst, "O ye who dwell upon the hallowed
mountain-terraces! shall we chase Agave, mother of Pentheus, from
her Bacchic rites, and thereby do our prince a service?" We liked
his speech, and placed ourselves in hidden ambush among the leafy
thickets; they at the appointed time began to wave the thyrsus for
their Bacchic rites, calling on Iacchus, the Bromian god, the son of
Zeus, in united CHORUS, and the whole mount and the wild creatures
re-echoed their cry; all nature stirred as they rushed on. Now Agave
chanced to come springing near me, so up I leapt from out my ambush
where I lay concealed, meaning to seize her. But she cried out,
"What ho! my nimble hounds, here are men upon our track; but follow
me, ay, follow, with the thyrsus in your hand for weapon." Thereat
we fled, to escape being torn in pieces by the Bacchantes; but they,
with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked our cattle as they
browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering some sleek lowing
calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb. Before thy eyes
there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this way and that; and
strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as they hung from the
pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now with rage along their
horns, found themselves tripped up, dragged down to earth by countless
maidens' hands. The flesh upon their limbs was stripped therefrom
quicker than thou couldst have closed thy royal eye-lids. Then off
they sped, like birds that skim the air, to the plains beneath the
hills, which bear a fruitful harvest for Thebes beside the waters of
Asopus; to Hysiae and Erythrae, hamlets 'neath Cithaeron's peak,
with fell intent, swooping on everything and scattering all
pellmell; and they would snatch children from their homes; but all
that they placed upon their shoulders, abode there firmly without
being tied, and fell not to the dusky earth, not even brass or iron;
and on their hair they carried fire and it burnt them not; but the
country-folk rushed to arms, furious at being pillaged by
Bacchanals; whereon ensued, O king, this wondrous spectacle. For
though the ironshod dart would draw no blood from them, they with
the thyrsus, which they hurled, caused many a wound and put their foes
to utter rout, women chasing men, by some god's intervention. Then
they returned to the place whence they had started, even to the
springs the god had made to spout for them; and there washed off the
blood, while serpents with their tongues were licking clean each
gout from their cheeks. Wherefore, my lord and master, receive this
deity, whoe'er he be, within the city; for, great as he is in all
else, I have likewise heard men say, 'twas he that gave the vine to
man, sorrow's antidote. Take wine away and Cypris flies, and every
other human joy is dead.