Fiction > Harvard Classics > Euripides > The Bacchæ
Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.).  The Bacchæ.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 800–1199

Our herded kine were moving in the dawn
Up to the peaks, the greyest, coldest time,
When the first rays steal earthward, and the rime
Yields, when I saw three bands of them. The one
Autonoë led, one Ino, one thine own        804
Mother, Agâvê. There beneath the trees
Sleeping they lay, like wild things flung at ease
In the forest; one half sinking on a bed
Of deep pine greenery; one with careless head        808
Amid the fallen oak leaves; all most cold
In purity—not as thy tale was told
Of wine-cups and wild music and the chase
For love amid the forest’s loneliness.        812
Then rose the Queen Agâvê suddenly
Amid her band, and gave the God’s wild cry,
“Awake, ye Bacchanals! I hear the sound
Of hornèd kine. Awake ye!”—Then, all round,        816
Alert, the warm sleep fallen from their eyes,
A marvel of swift ranks I saw them rise,
Dames young and old, and gentle maids unwed
Among them. O’er their shoulders first they shed        820
Their tresses, and caught up the fallen fold
Of mantles where some clasp had loosened hold,
And girt the dappled fawn-skins in with long
Quick snakes that hissed and writhed with quivering tongue,        824
And one a young fawn held, and one a wild
Wolf cub, and fed them with white milk, and smiled
In love, young mothers with a mother’s breast
And babes at home forgotten! Then they pressed        828
Wreathed ivy round their brows, and oaken sprays
And flowering bryony. And one would raise
Her wand and smite the rock, and straight a jet
Of quick bright water came. Another set        832
Her thyrsus in the bosomed earth, and there
Was red wine that the God sent up to her,
A darkling fountain. And if any lips
Sought whiter draughts, with dipping finger-tips        836
They pressed the sod, and gushing from the ground
Came springs of milk. And reed-wands ivy-crowned
Ran with sweet honey, drop by drop.—O King,
Hadst thou been there, as I, and seen this thing,        840
With prayer and most high wonder hadst thou gone
To adore this God whom now thou rail’st upon!
  Howbeit, the kine-wardens and shepherds straight
Came to one place, amazed, and held debate;        844
And one being there who walked the streets and scanned
The ways of speech, took lead of them whose hand
Knew but the slow soil and the solemn hill,
And flattering spoke, and asked: “Is it your will,        848
Masters, we stay the mother of the King,
Agâvê, from her lawless worshipping,
And win us royal thanks?”—And this seemed good
To all; and through the branching underwood        852
We hid us, cowering in the leaves. And there
Through the appointed hour they made their prayer
And worship of the Wand, with one accord
Of heart and cry—“Iacchos, Bromios, Lord,        856
God of God born!”—And all the mountain felt,
And worshipped with them; and the wild things knelt
And ramped and gloried, and the wilderness
Was filled with moving voices and dim stress.        860
  Soon, as it chanced, beside my thicket-close
The Queen herself passed dancing, and I rose
And sprang to seize her. But she turned her face
Upon me: “Ho, my rovers of the chase,        864
My wild White Hounds, we are hunted! Up, each rod
And follow, follow, for our Lord and God!”
Thereat, for fear they tear us, all we fled
Amazed; and on, with hand unweaponèd        868
They swept toward our herds that browsed the green
Hill grass. Great uddered kine then hadst thou seen
Bellowing in sword-like hands that cleave and tear,
A live steer riven asunder, and the air        872
Tossed with rent ribs or limbs of cloven tread,
And flesh upon the branches, and a red
Rain from the deep green pines. Yea, bulls of pride,
Horns swift to rage, were fronted and aside        876
Flung stumbling, by those multitudinous hands
Dragged pitilessly. And swifter were the bands
Of garbèd flesh and bone unbound withal
Than on thy royal eyes the lids may fall.        880
  Then on like birds, by their own speed upborne,
They swept toward the plains of waving corn
That lie beside Asopus’ banks, and bring
To Thebes the rich fruit of her harvesting.        884
On Hysiae and Erythrae that lie nursed
Amid Kithaeron’s bowering rocks, they burst
Destroying, as a foeman’s army comes.
They caught up little children from their homes,        888
High on their shoulders, babes unheld, that swayed
And laughed and fell not; all a wreck they made;
Yea, bronze and iron did shatter, and in play
Struck hither and thither, yet no wound had they;        892
Caught fire from out the hearths, yea, carried hot
Flames in their tresses and were scorchèd not!
  The village folk in wrath took spear and sword,
And turned upon the Bacchæ. Then, dread Lord,        896
The wonder was. For spear nor barbèd brand
Could scathe nor touch the damsels; but the Wand,
The soft and wreathèd wand their white hands sped,
Blasted those men and quelled them, and they fled        900
Dizzily. Sure some God was in these things!
  And the holy women back to those strange springs
Returned, that God had sent them when the day
Dawned, on the upper heights; and washed away        904
The stain of battle. And those girdling snakes
Hissed out to lap the waterdrops from cheeks
And hair and breast.
                      Therefore I counsel thee,        908
O King, receive this Spirit, whoe’er he be,
To Thebes in glory. Greatness manifold
Is all about him; and the tale is told
That this is he who first to man did give        912
The grief-assuaging vine. Oh, let him live;
For if he die, then Love herself is slain,
And nothing joyous in the world again

Albeit I tremble, and scarce may speak my thought
To a king’s face, yet will I hide it not.
Dionyse is God, no God more true nor higher!

It bursts hard by us, like a smothered fire,
This frenzy of Bacchic women! All my land        920
Is made their mock.—This needs an iron hand!
  Ho, Captain! Quick to the Electran Gate;
Bid gather all my men-at-arms thereat;
Call all that spur the charger, all who know        924
To wield the orbèd targe or bend the bow;
We march to war—’Fore God, shall women dare
Such deeds against us? ’Tis too much to bear!

Thou mark’st me not, O King, and boldest light
My solemn words; yet, in thine own despite,
I warn thee still. Lift thou not up thy spear
Against a God, but hold thy peace, and fear
His wrath! He will not brook it, if thou fright        932
His Chosen from the hills of their delight.

Peace, thou! And if for once thou hast slipped thy chain,
Give thanks!—Or shall I knot thine arms again?

Better to yield him prayer and sacrifice
Than kick against the pricks, since Dionyse
Is God, and thou but mortal.

                              That will I!
Yea, sacrifice of women’s blood, to cry        940
His name through all Kithaeron!

                                Ye shall fly,
All, and abase your shields of bronzen rim
Before their wands.        944

                    There is no way with him,
This stranger that so dogs us! Well or ill
I may entreat him, he must babble still!

Wait, good my friend! These crooked matters may
Even yet be straightened.  [PENTHEUS has started as though to seek his army at the gate.

                          Aye, if I obey
Mine own slaves’ will; how else?

                                  Myself will lead
The damsels hither, without sword or steed.

How now?—This is some plot against me!

Dost fear? Only to save thee do I plot.        956

It is some compact ye have made, whereby
To dance these hills for ever!

That is my compact, plighted with my Lord!        960
PENTHEUS (turning from him)

Ho, armourers! Bring forth my shield and sword!—
And thou, be silent!

(after regarding him fixedly, speaks with resignation)
                      Ah!—Have then thy will!  [He fixes his eyes upon PENTHEUS again, while the armourers bring out his armour; then speaks in a tone of command.        964
Man, thou wouldst fain behold them on the hill

(who during the rest of this scene, with a few exceptions, simply speaks the thoughts that DIONYSUS puts into him, losing power over his own mind).
          That would I, though it cost me all        968
The gold of Thebes!

                    So much? Thou art quick to fall
To such great longing.

(somewhat bewildered at what he has said)
                        Aye; ’twould grieve me much
To see them flown with wine.

                              Yet cravest thou such
A sight as would much grieve thee?        976

                                    Yes; I fain
Would watch, ambushed among the pines.

                                        ’Twere vain
To hide. They soon will track thee out.        980

                                        Well said
’Twere best done openly.

                          Wilt thou be led
By me, and try the venture?        984

                            Aye, indeed!
Lead on. Why should we tarry?

                              First we need
A rich and trailing robe of fine-linen        988
To gird thee.

              Nay; am I a woman, then,
And no man more,

                  Wouldst have them slay thee dead?
No man may see their mysteries.

                                Well said!—
I marked thy subtle temper long ere now.

’Tis Dionyse that prompteth me.

                                And how
Mean’st thou the further plan?

                                First take thy way
Within. I will array thee.        1000

                            What array!
The woman’s? Nay, I will not.

                              Doth it change
So soon, all thy desire to see this strange        1004

          Wait! What garb wilt thou bestow
About me?

          First a long tress dangling low
Beneath thy shoulders.

                        Aye, and next?

                                        The said
Robe, falling to thy feet; and on thine head        1012
A snood.

          And after? Hast thou aught beyond?

Surely; the dappled fawn-skin and the wand.
PENTHEUS (after a struggle with himself)

Enough! I cannot wear a robe and snood.

Wouldst liefer draw the sword and spill men’s blood?
PENTHEUS (again doubting)

True, that were evil.—Aye; ’tis best to go
First to some place of watch.

                              Far wiser so,
Than seek by wrath wrath’s bitter recompense.

What of the city streets? Canst lead me hence
Unseen of any?

                Lonely and untried
Thy path from hence shall be, and I thy guide!

I care for nothing, so these Bacchanals
Triumph not against me!… Forward to my halls
Within!—I will ordain what seemeth best.        1028

So be it, O King! ’Tis mine to obey thine hest,
Whate’er it be.

(after hesitating once more and waiting)
                Well, I will go—perchance        1032
To march and scatter them with serried lance,
Perchance to take thy plan…. I know not yet.  [Exit PENTHEUS into the Castle.

Damsels, the lion walketh to the net!
He finds his Bacchæ now, and sees and dies,        1036
And pays for all his sin!—O Dionyse,
This is thine hour and thou not far away.
Grant us our vengeance!—First, O Master, stay
The course of reason in him, and instil        1040
A foam of madness. Let his seeing will,
Which ne’er had stooped to put thy vesture on,
Be darkened, till the deed is lightly done.
Grant likewise that he find through all his streets        1044
Loud scorn, this man of wrath and bitter threats
That made Thebes tremble, led in woman’s guise.
  I go to fold that robe of sacrifice
On Penthet’s, that shall deck him to the dark,        1048
His mother’s gift!—So shall he learn and mark
God’s true Son, Dionyse, in fulness God,
Most fearful, yet to man most soft of mood.  [Exit DIONYSUS, following PENTHEUS into the Castle.

Some Maidens
    Will they ever come to me, ever again,
        The long long dances,
    On through the dark till the dim stars wane?
    Shall I feel the dew on my throat, and the stream        1056
    Of wind in my hair? Shall our white feet gleam
        In the dim expanses?
    Oh, feet of a fawn to the greenwood fled,
      Alone in the grass and the loveliness;        1060
    Leap of the hunted, no more in dread,
      Beyond the snares and the deadly press:
    Yet a voice still in the distance sounds,
    A voice and a fear and a haste of hounds;        1064
    O wildly labouring, fiercely fleet,
      Onward yet by river and glen…
    Is it joy or terror, ye storm-swift feet?…
      To the dear lone lands untroubled of men,        1068
Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green
The little things of the woodland live unseen.
What else is Wisdom? What of man’s endeavour
  Or God’s high grace, so lovely and so great?        1072
  To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait;
  To hold a hand uplifted over Hate;
And shall not Loveliness he loved for ever?

    O Strength of God, slow art thou and still,
        Yet failest never!
    On them that worship the Ruthless Will,
    On them that dream, doth His judgment wait.
    Dreams of the proud man, making great        1080
        And greater ever,
    Things which are not of God. In wide
      And devious coverts, hunter-wise,
    He coucheth Time’s unhasting stride,        1084
      Following, following, him whose eyes
    Look not to Heaven. For all is vain,
    The pulse of the heart, the plot of the brain,
    That striveth beyond the laws that live.        1088
    And is thy Fate so much to give,
    Is it so bard a thing to see,
    That the Spirit of God, whate’er it be,
The Law that abides and changes not, ages long,        1092
The Eternal and Nature-born—these things be strong?
What else is Wisdom? What of man’s endeavour
  Or God’s high grace so lovely and so great?
  To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait;        1096
  To hold a hand uplifted over Hate;
And shall not Loveliness be loved for ever?

    Happy he, on the weary sea
Who bath fled the tempest and won the haven.        1000
    Happy whoso bath risen, free,
Above his striving. For strangely graven
    Is the orb of life, that one and another
    In gold and power may outpass his brother.        1104
    And men in their millions float and flow
And seethe with a million hopes as leaven;
    And they win their Will, or they miss their Will,
    And the hopes are dead or are pined for still;        1108
        But whoe’er can know,
        As the long days go,
That To Live is happy, bath found his Heaven!
Re-enter DIONYSUS, from the Castle


O eye that cravest sights thou must not see,
O heart athirst for that which slakes not! Thee,
Pentheus, I call; forth and be seen, in guise
Of woman, Maenad, saint of Dionyse,
To spy upon His Chosen and thine own        1116
Mother!  [Enter PENTHEUS, clad like a Bacchanal, and strangely excited, a spirit of Bacchic madness overshadowing him.
        Thy shape, methinks, is like to one
Of Cadmus’ royal maids!

                        Yea; and mine eye
Is bright! Yon sun shines twofold in the sky,
Thebes twofold and the Wall of Seven Gates….
And is it a Wild Bull this, that walks and waits
Before me? There are horns upon thy brow!        1124
What art thou, man or beast! For surely now
The Bull is on thee!

                      He who erst was wrath,
Goes with us now in gentleness. He hath        1128
Unsealed thine eyes to see what thou shouldst see

Say; stand I not as Ino stands, or she
Who bore me?

              When I look on thee, it seems
I see their very selves!—But stay; why streams
That lock abroad, not where I laid it, crossed
Under the coif?

                I did it, as I tossed
My head in dancing, to and fro, and cried
His holy music!
DIONYSUS (tending him)

                It shall soon be tied
Aright. ’Tis mine to tend thee…. Nay, but stand        1140
With head straight.

                    In the hollow of thine hand
I lay me. Deck me as thou wilt.

                                Thy zone
Is loosened likewise; and the folded gown
Not evenly falling to the feet.

                                ’Tis so,
By the right foot. But here methinks, they flow        1148
In one straight line to the heel.
DIONYSUS (while tending him)

                                  And if thou prove
Their madness true, aye, more than true, what love
And thanks hast thou for me?        1152
PENTHEUS (not listening to him)

                              In my right hand
Is it, or thus, that I should bear the wand,
To be most like to them?

                          Up let it swing
In the right hand, timed with the right foot’s spring….
’Tis well thy heart is changed!
PENTHEUS (more wildly)

                                What strength is this!
Kithaeron’s steeps and all that in them is—        1160
How say’st thou?—Could my shoulders lift the whole?

Surely thou canst, and if thou wilt! Thy soul,
Being once so sick, now stands as it should stand.

Shall it be bars of iron? Or this bare hand
And shoulder to the crags, to wrench them down?

Wouldst wreck the Nymphs’ wild temples, and the brown
Rocks, where Pan pipes at noonday?

                                    Nay; not I!
Force is not well with women. I will lie
Hid in the pine-brake.

                        Even as fits a spy
On holy and fearful things, so shalt thou lie!        1172
PENTHEUS (with a laugh)

They lie there now, methinks—the wild birds, caught
By love among the leaves, and fluttering not!

It may be. That is what thou goest to see,
Aye, and to trap them—so they trap not thee I        1176

Forth through the Thebans’ town! I am their king,
Aye, their one Man, seeing I dare this thing!

Yea, thou shalt hear their burden, thou alone;
Therefore thy trial awaiteth thee!—But on;        1180
With me into thine ambush shalt thou come
Unscathed; then let another bear thee home!

The Queen, my mother.

                      Marked of every eye.

For that I go!

                Thou shalt be borne on high I

That were like pride!

                      Thy mother’s hands shall share
Thy carrying.

              Nay; I need not such soft care!

So soft?

          Whate’er it be, I have earned it well!  [Exit PENTHEUS towards the Mountain.

Fell, fell art thou; and to a doom so fell
Thou walkest, that thy name from South to North
Shall shine, a sign for ever!—Reach thou forth
Thine arms, Agâvê, now, and ye dark-browed        1196
Cadmeian sisters! Greet this prince so proud
To the high ordeal, where save God and me,
None walks unscathed!—The rest this day shall see.  [Exit DIONYSUS following PENTHEUS.


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