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THE BACCHANTES by Euripides, Part 11


Dionysus
Strange, ah! strange is thy career, leading to scenes of woe so
strange, that thou shalt achieve a fame that towers to heaven. Stretch
forth thy hands, Agave, and ye her sisters, daughters of Cadmus;
mighty is the strife to which I am bringing the youthful king, and the
victory shall rest with me and Bromius; all else the event will show.

Exit Dionysus.

CHORUS
To the hills! to the hills! fleet hounds of madness, where the
daughters of Cadmus hold their revels, goad them into wild fury
against the man disguised in woman's dress, a frenzied spy upon the
Maenads. First shall his mother mark him as he peers from some
smooth rock or riven tree, and thus to the Maenads she will call, "Who
is this of Cadmus' sons comes hasting to the mount, to the mountain
away, to spy on us, my Bacchanals? Whose child can he be? For he was
never born of woman's blood; but from some lioness maybe or Libyan
Gorgon is he sprung." Let justice appear and show herself, sword in
hand, to plunge it through and through the throat of the godless,
lawless, impious son of Echion, earth's monstrous child! who with
wicked heart and lawless rage, with mad intent and frantic purpose,
sets out to meddle with thy holy rites, and with thy mother's, Bacchic
god, thinking with his weak arm to master might as masterless as
thine. This is the life that saves all pain, if a man confine his
thoughts to human themes, as is his mortal nature, making no
pretence where heaven is concerned. I envy not deep subtleties; far
other joys have I, in tracking out great truths writ clear from all
eternity, that a man should live his life by day and night in purity
and holiness, striving toward a noble goal, and should honour the gods
by casting from him each ordinance that lies outside the pale of
right. Let justice show herself, advancing sword in hand to plunge
it through and through the throat of Echion's son, that godless,
lawless, and abandoned child of earth! Appear, O Bacchus, to our
eyes as a bull or serpent with a hundred heads, or take the shape of a
lion breathing flame! Oh! come, and with a mocking smile cast the
deadly noose about the hunter of thy Bacchanals, e'en as he swoops
upon the Maenads gathered yonder.

Enter SECOND MESSENGER.

SECOND MESSENGER
O house, so prosperous once through Hellas long ago, home of the
old Sidonian prince, who sowed the serpent's crop of earth-born men,
how do I mourn thee! slave though I be, yet still the sorrows of his
master touch a good slave's heart.
CHORUS
How now? Hast thou fresh tidings of the Bacchantes?
SECOND MESSENGER
Pentheus, Echion's son is dead.
CHORUS
Bromius, my king! now art thou appearing in thy might divine.
SECOND MESSENGER
Ha! what is it thou sayest? art thou glad, woman, at my master's
misfortunes?
CHORUS
A stranger I, and in foreign tongue I express my joy, for now no
more do I cower in terror of the chain.
SECOND MESSENGER
Dost think Thebes so poor in men?[*]

[* Probably the whole of one iambic line with part of another is
here lost.]

CHORUS
'Tis Dionysus, Dionysus, not Thebes that lords it over me.
SECOND MESSENGER
All can I pardon thee save this; to exult o'er hopeless
suffering is sorry conduct, dames.
CHORUS
Tell me, oh! tell me how he died, that villain scheming villainy!
SECOND MESSENGER
Soon as we had left the homesteads of this Theban land and had
crossed the streams of Asopus, we began to breast Cithaeron's heights,
Pentheus and I, for I went with my master, and the stranger too, who
was to guide us to the scene. First then we sat us down in a grassy
glen, carefully silencing each footfall and whispered breath, to see
without being seen. Now there was a dell walled in by rocks, with
rills to water it, and shady pines o'erhead; there were the Maenads
seated, busied with joyous toils. Some were wreathing afresh the
drooping thyrsus with curling ivy-sprays; others, like colts let loose
from the carved chariot-yoke, were answering each other in hymns of
Bacchic rapture. But Pentheus, son of sorrow, seeing not the women
gathered there, exclaimed, "Sir stranger, from where I stand, I cannot
clearly see the mock Bacchantes; but I will climb a hillock or a
soaring pine whence to see clearly the shameful doings of the
Bacchanals." Then and there I saw the stranger work a miracle; for
catching a lofty fir-branch by the very end he drew it downward to the
dusky earth, lower yet and ever lower; and like a bow it bent, or
rounded wheel, whose curving circle grows complete, as chalk and
line describe it; e'en so the stranger drew down the mountain-branch
between his hands, bending it to earth, by more than human agency. And
when he had seated Pentheus aloft on the pine branches, he let them
slip through his hands gently, careful not to shake him from his seat.
Up soared the branch straight into the air above, with my master
perched thereon, seen by the Maenads better far than he saw them;
for scarce was he beheld upon his lofty throne, when the stranger
disappeared, while from the sky there came a voice, 'twould seem, by
Dionysus uttered-

 

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