The Character of Dionysus in The Bacchae

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The character Dionysus who is the protagonist in the play The Bacchae represents one colossal contradiction. Bacchae follows the story of god Dionysus who prances out and informs the audience in disguise in the form of a mortal stranger. Dionysus comes to Thebes with the sole aim of spreading his religion. Though his wild and crazy rituals are a hit in Asia, however, it is in Thebes where he finds a rude shock as the Cadmus house- ruling family-manages to ward off the god by denying the Dionysus’s divinity. Besides, we also learn that though the religion was first developed in Asia, Dionysus brings it to Thebes as the first place in the whole of Greece.

Dionysus embodies a variety of dualities exhibited throughout the play. This essay aims to highlight some of the instances that depict Dionysus flexibility in the play. First, the character Dionysus is both represented as both a god and human in various stages of the play (Angeletti 133). Sure enough, Dionysus possesses all the power that qualify to make him a god, a characteristic exhibited on various occasion. For instance, he summons lightning, earthquakes, and can get into the minds of people consequently describing them overly insane.

Still, though, Dionysus's part is also human. Even though he is Zeus's father and King of all gods, he is the son of a mortal woman by the name Semele. Besides, throughout most parts of the play, Dionysus appear as the Stranger, his human disguise. Similarly, Euripides manages to associate Dionysus with the mortal world though depicts himself as a god throughout the play. Another duality worth noting is that he is both Greek and foreign. Though Dionysus was born and raised in Greece, the religion he professed to some extent spread first in Asia. In Dionysus’s opening monologue to the audience, he states "All Asia is mine"however, that which is In the land of Hellas [Greece] this city Thebes is the first place I have visited"(Euripides and Richard 31)

Dionysus comes to his birthplace of Thebes, his hometown with the sole objective of spreading his religion and punishing his mortal family members have long forsaken his divinity. In this scene, Dionysus is seen surrounded by a collection of Asian women and not followers from his native Greek place (Angeletti 133). Nonetheless, the mortal form he assumes is Asian and not Greek. To some extent, even though Dionysus makes a return trip to his native hometown, in a way, he is foreign.

            Further, gender non-specificity is yet another of Dionysus' flexibility notable in the play. Dionysus on some occasions is represented as both female and male though is he is regarded as a male version of god. However, the mortal form he assumes is seen as somewhat effeminate. As Pentheus first sees Dionysus, he exclaims, "Hm, my man – not a bad figure, eh? At least for the ladies"(Euripides and Richard 32). The King further goes ahead and tells Dionysus that “you nice ringlets,"and that they're "very fetching […] the way they ripple round [his] cheeks"(Euripides and Richard 32). Also, also worth noting is that virtually all of his disciples are women. The group entails Asian female followers, whereas, the Maenads contain women from the whole of Thebes.

            Dionysus’s strange way of being born is also another of his flexibility and duality. Immediately after obliteration of his mother, Zeus took and stitched fetus Dionysus on to his thigh upto the time when the baby was almost delivered. In some way, he was conceived of both female and male (Granade 172). In this manner, it appears as if there exists gender blurring in regards to Dionysus existence.  Lastly, it is worth noting that Dionysus represents himself as both human and animal further exhibiting his flexibility as embodied in the play.

When Dionysus engages Pentheus to take part in a trance, the King acknowledges Dionysus’s animal form and goes ahead to say, "Now I'd say your head was horned…or were you an animal all the while? For certainly you've turned into a bull"(Euripides and Richard 178). Besides, the Asian entourage describe their god using animal terms by singing "Appear as a bull or be seen as a many-headed dragon. Or come as a fire-breathing vision of a lion"(Euripides and Richard 179). This man-animal duality is seen as flexibility existing within some form of duality, which is either a woman or man or god or human. By exploring both forms of flexibility, it is evident that Dionysus bears one foot within the nature and another in civilization.

Additionally, Dionysus is regarded as a bride bringing together two forces. Besides, he is also considered a link connecting animalistic irrational powers and those that bring out the very forces that are human rational (Granade 172).  Though the character Dionysus creates a lot of turbulence and chaos within the play, however each time he assumes his human personality in the play, Dionysus appears composed, cool, and calm.

So, in summary, the most challenging question to arise is what the meaning of all the dualities exhibited by Dionysus is? Perhaps the most intriguing part is trying to explain that as everything has existence, so is their contrasts at the very same, especially when it comes to human beings. Therefore, it is prudent to conclude that human is inherently and general contradictive. As much as we are rational, we are irrational at the same time. As humans, we are also animals. However, there exists something inherently unique that irrefutably sets us apart from other earthly creatures (Angeletti 133). Though most humans belong to a specific gender, there are aspects concerning every human does not necessarily fit into the roles prescribe by the society for particular sexes.

Similarly, though every human hails from a specific location or place, at the same time one is always a foreigner elsewhere. In some occasion, an individual can even become a foreigner in their hometowns. Lastly, though every human is certainly mortal, perhaps, some part of us is always divine and eternal. Thus, it is through Dionysus's character that it is observable and Euripides does an excellent job capturing the amazing contrasts and flexibilities that defines every human being.

Works Cited

Angeletti, Gioia. "Embodied Otherness and Hybridity: David Greig's The Bacchae and the Reprise of Ancient Greek Tragedy."Textus 30.2 (2017): 121-140.

Euripides, and Richard Seaford. Bacchae. Aris & Phillips, 1996.

Granade, Andrew. "Decoding Harry Partch's Aesthetic: Satire, Duality, and Water! Water!."American Music 35.2 (2017): 172-196.

November 24, 2023


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