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Euripidis Index


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THE BACCHANTES by Euripides, Part 12

"Maidens, I bring the man who tried to mock you and me and
my mystic rites; take vengeance on him." And as he spake he raised
'twixt heaven and earth a dazzling column of awful flame. Hushed
grew the sky, and still hung each leaf throughout the grassy glen, nor
couldst thou have heard one creature cry. But they, not sure of the
voice they heard, sprang up and peered all round; then once again
his bidding came; and when the daughters of Cadmus knew it was the
Bacchic god in very truth that called, swift as doves they dirted
off in cager haste, his mother Agave and her sisters dear and all
the Bacchanals; through torrent glen, o'er boulders huge they
bounded on, inspired with madness by the god. Soon as they saw my
master perched upon the fir, they set to hurling stones at him with
all their might, mounting a commanding eminence, and with
pine-branches he was pelted as with darts; and others shot their wands
through the air at Pentheus, their hapless target, but all to no
purpose. For there he sat beyond the reach of their hot endeavours,
a helpless, hopeless victim. At last they rent off limbs from oaks and
were for prising up the roots with levers not of iron. But when they
still could make no end to all their toil, Agave cried: "Come stand
around, and grip the sapling trunk, my Bacchanals! that we may catch
the beast that sits thereon, lest he divulge the secrets of our
god's religion."
Then were a thousand hands laid on the fir, and from the ground
they tore it up, while he from his seat aloft came tumbling to the
ground with lamentations long and loud, e'en Pentheus; for well he
knew his hour was come. His mother first, a priestess for the nonce,
began the bloody deed and fell upon him; whereon he tore the snood
from off his hair, that hapless Agave might recognize and spare him,
crying as he touched her cheek, "O mother! it is I, thy own son
Pentheus, the child thou didst bear in Echion's halls; have pity on
me, mother dear! oh! do not for any sin of mine slay thy own son."
But she, the while, with foaming mouth and wildly rolling eyes,
bereft of reason as she was, heeded him not; for the god possessed
her. And she caught his left hand in her grip, and planting her foot
upon her victim's trunk she tore the shoulder from its socket, not
of her own strength, but the god made it an easy task to her hands;
and Ino set to work upon the other side, rending the flesh with
Autonoe and all the eager host of Bacchanals; and one united cry
arose, the victim's groans while yet he breathed, and their triumphant
shouts. One would make an arm her prey, another a foot with the sandal
on it; and his ribs were stripped of flesh by their rending nails; and
each one with blood-dabbled hands was tossing Pentheus' limbs about.
Scattered lies his corpse, part beneath the rugged rocks, and part
amid the deep dark woods, no easy task to find; but his poor head hath
his mother made her own, and fixing it upon the point of a thyrsus, as
it had been a mountain lion's, she bears it through the midst of
Cithaeron, having left her sisters with the Maenads at their rites.
And she is entering these walls exulting in her hunting fraught with
woe, calling on the Bacchic god her fellow-hunter who had helped her
to triumph in a chase, where her only prize was tears.
But I will get me hence, away from this piteous scene, before
Agave reach the palace. To my mind self-restraint and reverence for
the things of God point alike the best and wisest course for all
mortals who pursue them.

Exit SECOND MESSENGER.

CHORUS
Come, let us exalt our Bacchic god in choral strain, let us loudly
chant the fall of Pentheus from the serpent sprung, who assumed a
woman's dress and took the fair Bacchic wand, sure pledge of death,
with a bull to guide him to his doom. O ye Bacchanals of Thebes!
glorious is the triumph ye have achieved, ending in sorrow and
tears. 'Tis a noble enterprise to dabble the hand in the blood of a
son till it drips. But hist! I see Agave, the mother of Pentheus, with
wild rolling eye hasting to the house; welcome the revellers of the
Bacchic god.
Enter AGAVE.

AGAVE
Ye Bacchanals from Asia
CHORUS
Why dost thou rouse me? why?
AGAVE
From the hills I am bringing to my home a tendril
freshly-culled, glad guerdon-of the chase.
CHORUS
I see it, and I will welcome thee unto our revels. All hail!
AGAVE
I caught him with never a snare, this lion's whelp, as ye may see.
CHORUS
From what desert lair?
AGAVE
Cithaeron-
CHORUS
Yes, Cithaeron?
AGAVE
Was his death.
CHORUS
Who was it gave the first blow?
AGAVE
Mine that privilege; "Happy Agave!" they call me 'mid our
revellers.
CHORUS
Who did the rest?

 

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