Dionysus and the Unraveling of Ideologies in The Bacchae

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Dionysus and the Unraveling of Ideologies in The Bacchae

Some evaluations claim that the Dionysus appearing in The Bacchae is fairly true embodiment of the ideals of ancient Athens. He demands only worship and proper reverence for his name, two matters of honor that pervaded both the Greek tragedies and the pious society that viewed them. In other plays, Oedipus' consultations with Apollo and the many Choral appeals to Zeus reveal the Athenian respect for their gods, while Electra's need for revenge and Antigone's obligation to bury Polyneices both epitomize the themes of respect and dignity. Yet although Dionysus personifies these two motifs, his clashes with the rest of Athenian tradition seem to make him its true adversary.
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The Chorus first alludes to the traditional place of Athenian women with the statement, "driven from shuttle and loom, / possessed by Dionysus!" (118-199), and Pentheus later employs the same motif when threatening, "I shall have them sold as slaves or put to work / at my looms" (513-514). Such a deliberate analogy amidst the clash of divine and earthly power seems to highlight the woman's domesticated place and to call attention to her role as a pawn in the struggle between the king and the god. Though "women were almost excluded from Athenian public life" and "women's presence in male company [was] surrounded by many taboos in Athenian culture," the frenzied Bacchae serve a necessary and conspicuous function in this drama.

Women in The Bacchae not only leave their traditional place within the home but are thrust into a promiscuous position that contrasts sharply with the usual characterization, "[of] submissiveness and modesty." The proper conduct of a Greek woman can be seen in another of Euripides' dramas, Iphigenia at Aulis, where the 'blameless wife' is portrayed as 'chaste with regard to sexual matters.' Certainly the indulgences of the woodland orgies break from such "secluded and silent" positions of "respectable Athenian women," a challenge to traditional
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