Fiction > Harvard Classics > Euripides > The Bacchæ
Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.).  The Bacchæ.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1200–1691

Some Maidens
O hounds raging and blind,
  Up by the mountain road,
Sprites of the maddened mind,
  To the wild Maids of God;        1204
Fill with your rage their eyes,
  Rage at the rage unblest,
Watching in woman’s guise,
  The spy upon God’s Possessed.        1208
A Bacchanal

Who shall be first, to mark
  Eyes in the rock that spy,
Eyes in the pine-tree dark—
  Is it his mother?—and cry:        1212
“Lo, what is this that comes,
  Haunting, troubling still,
Even in our heights, our homes,
  The wild Maids of the Hill?        1216
What flesh hare this child?
  Never on woman’s breast
Changeling so evil smiled;
  Man is he not, but Beast!        1220
Loin-shape of the wild,
  Gorgon-breed of the waste!”
All the Chorus

        Hither, for doom and deed!
          Hither with lifted sword,        1224
          Justice, Wrath of the Lord,
        Come in our visible need!
        Smite till the throat shall bleed,
        Smite till the heart shall bleed,        1228
Him the tyrannous, lawless, Godless, Echîon’s earth-born seed!
Other Maidens

Tyrannously hath he trod;
  Marched him, in Law’s despite,
Against thy Light, O God,        1232
  Yea, and thy Mother’s Light;
Girded him, falsely bold,
  Blinded in craft, to quell
And by man’s violence hold        1236
  Things unconquerable
A Bacchanal

A strait pitiless mind
  Is death unto godliness;
And to feel in human kind        1240
  Life, and a pain the less.
Knowledge, we are not foes!
  I seek thee diligently;
But the world with a great wind blows,        1244
  Shining, and not from thee;
Blowing to beautiful things,
  On, amid dark and light,
Till Life, through the trammellings        1248
  Of Laws that are not the Right,
Breaks, clean and pure, and sings
  Glorying to God in the height!
All the Chorus

        Hither for doom and deed!
          Hither with lifted sword,
          Justice, Wrath of the Lord,
        Come in our visible need!
        Smite till the throat shall bleed,        1256
        Smite till the heart shall bleed,
Him the tyrannous, lawless, Godless, Echîon’s earth born seed!

Appear, appear, whatso thy shape or name
  O Mountain Bull, Snake of the Hundred Heads,        1260
      Lion of Burning Flame!
O God, Beast, Mystery, come! Thy mystic maids
Are hunted!—Blast their hunter with thy breath,
      Cast o’er his head thy snare;        1264
And laugh aloud and drag him to his death,
  Who stalks thy herded madness in its lair!
Enter hastily a MESSENGER from the Mountain, pale and distraught.


Woe to the house once blest in Hellas! Woe
To thee, old King Sidonian, who didst sow        1268
The dragon-seed on Ares’ bloody lea!
Alas, even thy slaves must weep for thee!

News from the mountain?—Speak! How hath it sped?

Pentheus, my king, Echîon’s son, is dead!

          All hail, God of the Voice,
          Manifest ever more!

What say’st thou?—And how strange thy tone, as though
In joy at this my master’s overthrow!        1276

        With fierce Joy I rejoice,
          Child of a savage shore;
For the chains of my prison are broken, and the dread where I cowered of yore!

And deem’st thou Thebes so beggared, so forlorn
Of manhood, as to sit beneath thy scorn?

      Thebes bath o’er me no sway!
      None save Him I obey,
Dionysus, Child of the Highest, Him I obey and adore!        1284

One can forgive thee!—Yet ’tis no fair thing,
Maids, to rejoice in a man’s suffering.

      Speak of the mountain side!
      Tell us the doom he died,        1288
The sinner smitten to death, even where his sin was sore!

We climbed beyond the utmost habitings
Of Theban shepherds, passed Asopus’ springs,
And struck into the land of rock on dim        1292
Kithaeron—Pentheus, and, attending him,
I, and the Stranger who should guide our way,
Then first in a green dell we stopped, and lay,
Lips dumb and feet unmoving, warily        1296
Watching, to be unseen and yet to see.
  A narrow glen it was, by crags o’ertowered,
Torn through by tossing waters, and there lowered
A shadow of great pines over it. And there        1300
The Maenad maidens sate; in toil they were,
Busily glad. Some with an ivy chain
Tricked a worn wand to toss its locks again;
Some, wild in joyance, like young steeds set free,        1304
Made answering songs of mystic melody.
  But my poor master saw not the great band
Before him. “Stranger,” he cried, “where we stand
Mine eyes can reach not these false saints of thine.        1308
Mount we the bank, or some high-shouldered pine,
And I shall see their follies clear!” At that
There came a marvel. For the Stranger straight
Touched a great pine-tree’s high and heavenward crown,        1312
And lower, lower, lower, urged it down
To the herbless floor. Round like a bending bow,
Or slow wheel’s rim a joiner forces to,
So in those hands that tough and mountain stem        1316
Bowed slow—oh, strength not mortal dwelt in them!—
To the very earth. And there he set the King,
And slowly, lest it cast him in its spring,
Let back the young and straining tree, till high        1320
It towered again amid the towering sky;
And Pentheus in the branches! Well, I ween,
He saw the Maenads then, and well was seen!
For scarce was he aloft, when suddenly        1324
There was no stranger any more with me,
But out of Heaven a Voice—oh, what voice else?—
’Twas He that called! “Behold, O damosels,
I bring ye him who turneth to despite        1328
Both me and ye, and darkeneth my great Light.
’Tis yours to avenge!” So spake he, and there came
’Twixt earth and sky a pillar of high flame.
And silence took the air, and no leaf stirred        1332
In all the forest dell. Thou hadst not heard
In that vast silence any wild things’s cry.
And up they sprang; but with bewildered eye,
Agaze and listening, scarce yet hearing true.        1336
Then came the Voice again. And when they knew
Their God’s clear call, old Cadmus’ royal brood,
Up, like wild pigeons startled in a wood,
On flying feet they came, his mother blind,        1340
Agâvê, and her sisters, and behind
All the wild crowd, more deeply maddened then,
Through the angry rocks and torrent-tossing glen,
Until they spied him in the dark pine-tree:        1344
Then climbed a crag hard by and furiously
Some sought to stone him, some their wands would fling
Lance-wise aloft, in cruel targeting.
But none could strike. The height o’ertopped their rage,        1348
And there he clung, unscathed, as in a cage
Caught. And of all their strife no end was found.
Then, “Hither,” cried Agâvê; “stand we round
And grip the stem, my Wild Ones, till we take        1352
This climbing cat-o’-the-mount! He shall not make
A tale of God’s high dances!” Out then shone
Arm upon arm, past count, and closed upon
The pine, and gripped; and the ground gave, and down        1356
It reeled. And that high sitter from the crown
Of the green pine-top, with a shrieking cry
Fell, as his mind grew clear, and there hard by
Was horror visible. ’Twas his mother stood        1360
O’er him, first priestess of those rites of blood.
He tore the coif, and from his head away
Flung it, that she might know him, and not slay
To her own misery. He touched the wild        1364
Cheek, crying: “Mother, it is I, thy child,
Thy Pentheus, born thee in Echîon’s hall!
Have mercy, Mother! Let it not befall
Through sin of mine, that thou shouldst slay thy son!”        1368
  But she, with lips a-foam and eyes that run
Like leaping fire, with thoughts that ne’er should be
On earth, possessed by Bacchios utterly,
Stays not nor hears. Round his left arm she put        1372
Both hands, set hard against his side her foot,
Drew … and the shoulder severed!—not by might
Of arm, but easily, as the God made light
Her hand’s essay. And at the other side        1376
Was Ino rending; and the torn flesh cried,
And on Autonoë pressed, and all the crowd
Of ravening arms. Yea, all the air was loud
With groans that faded into sobbing breath,        1380
Dim shrieks, and joy, and triumph-cries of death.
And here was borne a severed arm, and there
A hunter’s hooted foot; white bones lay bare
With rending; and swift hands ensanguinèd        1384
Tossed as in sport the flesh of Pentheus dead.
His body lies afar. The precipice
Hath part, and parts in many an interstice
Lurk of the tangled woodland—no light quest        1388
To find. And, ah, the head! Of all the rest,
His mother hath it, pierced upon a wand,
As one might pierce a lion’s, and through the land,
Leaving her sisters in their dancing place,        1392
Bears it on high! Yea, to these walls her face
Was set, exulting in her deed of blood,
Calling upon her Bromios, her God,
Her Comrade, Fellow-Render of the Prey,        1396
Her All-Victorious, to whom this day
She bears in triumph … her own broken heart!
  For me, after that sight, I will depart
Before Agâvê comes.—Oh, to fulfil        1400
God’s laws, and have no thought beyond His will,
Is man’s hest treasure. Aye, and wisdom true,
Methinks, for things of dust to cleave unto!  [The MESSENGER departs into the Castle.

Some Maidens

Weave ye the dance, and call
      Praise to God!
Bless ye the Tyrant’s fall!
      Down is trod
Pentheus, the Dragon’s Seed!        1408
Wore he the woman’s weed?
Clasped he his death indeed,
      Clasped the rod?
A Bacchanal

Yea, the wild ivy lapt him, and the doomed
Wild Bull of Sacrifice before him loomed!

Ye who did Bromios scorn,
      Praise Him the more,
Bacchanals, Cadmus-born;        1416
      Praise with sore
Agony, yea, with tears!
Great are the gifts he bears!
Hands that a mother rears        1420
      Red with gore!

But stay, Agâvê cometh! And her eyes
Make fire around her, reeling! Ho, the prize
Cometh! All hail, O Rout of Dionyse!  [Enter from the Mountain AGAVE, mad, and to all seeming wondrously happy, bearing the head of PENTHEUS in her hand. The CHORUS MAIDENS stand horror-struck at the sight; the LEADER, also horror-struck, strives to accept it and rejoice in it as the God’s deed.        1424

Ye from the lands of Morn!

  Call me not; I give praise!

Lo, from the trunk new-shorn
Hither a Mountain Thorn        1428
Bear we! O Asia-born
  Baechanals, bless this chase!

I see. Yea; I see.
Have I not welcomed thee?        1432
AGAVE (very calmly and peacefully)

He was young in the wildwood:
  Without nets I caught him!
    Nay; look without fear on
      The Lion; I have ta’en him!        1436

Where in the wildwood?
  Whence have ye brought him?



The Mountain hath slain him!

Who first came nigh him?

  I, I, ’tis confessèd!
And they named me there by him        1444
  Agâvê the Blessèd!

Who was next in the hand on him?

The daughters….

                  The daughters?

Of Cadmus laid hand on him.
  But the swift hand that slaughters
Is mine; mine is the praise!
Bless ye this day of days!  [The LEADER tries to speak, but is not able; AGAVE begins gently stroking the head.        1452

Gather ye now to the feast!

Feast!—O miserable!

See, it falls to his breast,
Curling and gently tressed,        1456
The hair of the Wild Bull’s crest—
  The young steer of the fell!

Most like a beast of the wild
That head, those lacks defiled.        1460
AGAVE (lifting up the head, more excitedly)

He wakened his Mad Ones,
  A Chase-God, a wise God!
    He sprang them to seize this!
      He preys where his band preys.        1464
LEADER (brooding, with horror)

In the trail of thy Mad Ones
  Thou tearest thy prize, God!

  Dost praise it?

                  I praise this?

      Ah, soon shall the land praise!

And Pentheus, O Mother,
  Thy child?

              He shall cry on
My name as none other,
  Bless the spoils of the Lion!

Aye, strange is thy treasure!

And strange was the taking!

  Thou art glad?

                  Beyond measure;
    Yea, glad in the breaking
Of dawn upon all this land,        1480
By the prize, the prize of my hand!

Show them to all the land, unhappy one,
The trophy of this deed that thou hast done!

Ho, all ye men that round the citadel
And shining towers of ancient Thêbê dwell,
Come! Look upon this prize, this lion’s spoil,
That we have taken—yea, with our own toil,
We, Cadmus’ daughters! Not with leathern-set        1488
Thessalian javelins, not with hunter’s net,
Only white arms and swift hands’ bladed fall.
Why make ye much ado, and boast withal
Your armourers’ engines? See, these palms were bare        1492
That caught the angry beast, and held, and tare
The limbs of him!… Father!… Go, bring to me
My father!… Aye, and Pentheus, where is he,
My son? He shall set up a ladder-stair        1496
Against this house, and in the triglyphs there
Nail me this lion’s head, that gloriously
I bring ye, having slain him—I, even I!  [She goes through the crowd towards the Castle, showing the head and looking for a place to hang it. Enter from the Mountain CADMUS, with attendants, bearing the body of PENTHEUS on a bier.

On, with your awful burden. Follow me,
Thralls, to his house, whose body grievously
With many a weary search at last in dim
Kithaeron’s glens I found, torn limb from limb,
And through the intervening forest weed        1504
Scattered.—Men told me of my daughters’ deed,
When I was just returned within these walls,
With grey Teiresias, from the Bacchanals.
And back I hied me to the hills again        1508
To seek my murdered son. There saw I plain
Actaeon’s mother, ranging where he died,
Autonoë; and Ino by her side,
Wandering ghastly in the pine-copses.        1512
  Agâvê was not there. The rumour is
She cometh fleet-foot hither.—Ah! ’Tis true;
A sight I scarce can bend mine eyes unto.

(turning from the Palace and seeing him)
My father, a great boast is thine this hour.
Thou hast begotten daughters, high in power
And valiant above all mankind—yea, all
Valiant, though none like me! I have let fall        1520
The shuttle by the loom, and raised my hand
For higher things, to slay from out thy land
Wild beasts! See, in mine arms I hear the prize,
That nailed above these portals it may rise        1524
To show what things thy daughters did! Do thou
Take it, and call a feast. Proud art thou now
And highly favoured in our valiancy!

O depth of grief, how can I fathom thee
Or look upon thee!—Poor, poor bloodstained hand!
Poor sisters!—A fair sacrifice to stand
Before God’s altars, daughter; yea, and call
Me and my citizens to feast withal!        1532
  Nay, let me weep—for thine affliction most,
Then for mine own. All, all of us are lost,
Not wrongfully, yet is it hard, from one
Who might have loved—our Bromios, our own!        1536

How crabbèd and how scowling in the eyes
Is man’s old age!—Would that my son likewise
Were happy of his hunting, in my way
When with his warrior hands he will essay        1540
The wild beast!—Nay, his valiance is to fight
With God’s will! Father, thou shouldst set him right…..
Will no one bring him thither, that mine eyes
May look on his, and show him this my prize!        1544

Alas, if ever ye can know again
The truth of what ye did, what pain of pain
That truth shall bring! Or were it best to wait
Darkened for evermore, and deem your state        1548
Not misery, though ye know no happiness?

What seest thou here to chide, or not to bless?
CADMUS (after hesitation, resolving himself)

Raise me thine eyes to yon blue dome of air!

’Tis done. What dost thou bid me seek for there?

Is it the same, or changèd in thy sight?

More shining than before, more heavenly bright!

And that wild tremour, is it with thee still?
AGAVE (troubled)

I know not what thou sayest; but my will
Clears, and some change cometh, I know not how.

Caust hearken then, being changed, and answer Dow!

I have forgotten something; else I could.

What husband led thee of old from mine abode?

Echîon, whom men named the Child of Earth.

And what child in Echîon’s house had birth?

Pentheus, of my love and his father’s bred.

Thou bearest in thine arms an head-what head?
AGAVE (beginning to tremble, and not looking at what she carries)

A lion’s—so they all said in the chase.

Turn to it now—’tis no long toil—and gaze.

Ah! But what is it? What am I carrying here?

Look once upon it full, till all be clear!

I see … most deadly pain! Oh, woe is me!

Wears it the likeness of a lion to thee?

No; ’tis the head—O God!—of Pentheus, this!

Blood-drenched ere thou wouldst know him! Aye ’tis his.

Who slew him?—How came I to hold this thing?

O cruel Truth, is this thine home-coming?

Answer! My heart is hanging on thy breath!

’Twas thou.—Thou and thy sisters wrought his death.

In what place was it? His own house, or where?

Where the dogs tore Actaeon, even there.

Why went he to Kithaeron? What sought he?

To mock the God and thine own ecstasy.

But how should we he on the hills this day?

Being mad! A spirit drove all the land that way.

’Tis Dionyse hath done it! Now I see.
CADMUS (earnestly)

Ye wronged Him! Ye denied his deity!
AGAVE (turning from him)

Show me the body of the son I love!
CADMUS (leading her to the bier)

’Tis here, my child. Hard was the quest thereof.

Laid in due state?  [As there is no answer, she lifts the veil of the bier, and sees.
                    Oh, if I wrought a sin,        1588
’Twas mine! What portion had my child therein!

He made him like to you, adoring not
The God; who therefore to one bane hath brought
You and this body, wrecking all our line,        1592
And me. Aye, no man-child was ever mine;
And now this first-fruit of the flesh of thee,
Sad woman, foully here and frightfully
Lies murdered! Whom the house looked up unto,  [Kneeling by the body.        1596
O Child, my daughter’s child! who heldest true
My castle walls; and to the folk a name
Of fear thou wast; and no man sought to shame
My grey beard, when they knew that thou wast there,        1600
Else had they swift reward!—And now I fare
Forth in dishonour, outcast, I, the great
Cadmus, who sowed the seed-rows of this state
Of Thebes, and reaped the harvest wonderful.        1604
O my belovèd, though thy heart is dull
In death, O still belovèd, and alway
Beloved! Never more, then, shalt thou lay
Thine hand to this white heard, and speak to me        1608
Thy “Mother’s Father”; ask “Who wrongeth thee?
Who stints thine honour, or with malice stirs
Thine heart? Speak, and I smite thine injurers!”
But now—woe, woe, to me and thee also,        1612
Woe to thy mother and her sisters, woe
Alway! Oh, whoso walketh not in dread
Of Gods, let him but look on this man dead!

Lo, I weep with thee. ’Twas but due reward
God sent on Pentheus; but for thee… ’Tis hard.

My father, thou canst see the change in me,
      ·        ·        ·        ·        ·
      ·        ·        ·        ·        ·
  [A page or more has here been torn out of the MS. from which all our copies of “The Bacchæ” are derived. It evidently contained a speech of Agâvê (followed presumably by some words of the Chorus), and an appearance of DIONYSUS upon a cloud. He must have pronounced judgment upon the Thebans in general, and especially upon the daughters of CADMUS, have justified his own action, and declared his determination to establish his godhead. Where the MS. begins again, we find him addressing CADMUS.]
      ·        ·        ·        ·        ·

      ·        ·        ·        ·        ·
      ·        ·        ·        ·        ·
And tell of Time, what gifts for thee he bears,
What griefs and wonders in the winding years.
For thou must change and be a Serpent Thing
Strange, and beside thee she whom thou didst bring
Of old to be thy bride from Heaven afar,        1624
Harmonia, daughter of the Lord of War.
Yea, and a chariot of kine—so spake
The word of Zeus—thee and thy Queen shall take
Through many lands, Lord of a wild array        1628
Of orient spears. And many towns shall they
Destroy beneath thee, that vast horde, until
They touch Apollo’s dwelling, and fulfil
Their doom, back driven on stormy ways and steep.        1632
Thee only and thy spouse shall Ares keep,
And save alive to the Islands of the Blest.
  Thus speaketh Dionysus, Son confessed
Of no man but of Zeus!—Ah, had ye seen        1636
Truth in the hour ye would not, all had been
Well with ye, and the Child of God your friend!

Dionysus, we beseech thee! We have sinned!

Too late! When there was time, ye knew me not!

We have confessed. Yet is thine hand too hot.

Ye mocked me, being God; this your wage.

Should God be like a proud man in his rage?

’Tis as my sire, Zeus, willed it long ago.
AGAVE (turning from him almost with disdain)

Old man, the word is spoken; we must go.

And seeing ye must, what is it that ye wait?

Child, we are come into a deadly strait,
All; thou, poor sufferer, and thy sisters twain,        1648
And my sad self. Far off to barbarous men,
A grey-haired wanderer, I must take my road.
And then the oracle, the doom of God,
That I must lead a raging horde far-flown        1652
To prey on Hellas; lead my spouse, mine own
Harmonia, Ares’ child, discorporate
And haunting forms, dragon and dragon-mate,
Against the tombs and altar-stones of Greece,        1656
Lance upon lance behind us; and not cease
From toils, like other men, nor dream, nor past
The foam of Acheron find my peace at last.

Father! And I must wander far from thee!

O Child, why wilt thou reach thine arms to me,
As yearns the milk-white swan, when old swans die?

Where shall I turn me else? No home have I

I know not; I can help thee not.

    Farewell, O home, O ancient tower!
    Lo, I am outcast from my bower,
And leave ye for a worser lot.

Go forth, go forth to misery,
    The way Actaeon’s father went!

    Father, for thee my tears are spent.

Nay, Child, ’tis I must weep for thee;
For thee and for thy sisters twain!        1672

    On all this house, in bitter wise,
    Our Lord and Master, Dionyse,
Hath poured the utter dregs of pain!

In bitter wise, for bitter was the shame
Ye did me, when Thebes honoured not my name.

Then lead me where my sisters be;
    Together let our tears be shed,
    Our ways be wandered; where no red        1680
Kithaeron waits to gaze on me;
Nor I gaze back; no thyrsus stem,
    Nor song, nor memory in the air.
    Oh, other Bacchanals be there,        1684
Not I, not I, to dream of them!  [AGAVE with her group of attendants goes out on the side away from the Mountain. DIONYSUS rises upon the Cloud and disappears.

There may he many shapes of mystery,
And many things God makes to be,
    Past hope or fear.        1688
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought.
    So hath it fallen here.  [Exeunt.


Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.