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The Bacchae | Study Guide


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The Bacchae | Motifs


Wilderness and Hunting

The apparent disorder of the wilderness is contrasted with the clear organization of society's structure. Dionysus cannot be kept prisoner but instead destroys the palace, thereby further upsetting the distinction between order and disorder.

Hunting, a male activity, is entirely given over to women in Euripides's The Bacchae. First they hunt cattle and then young king Pentheus. At first Dionysus, as the stranger, is hunted by Pentheus. Upon his escape from Pentheus's clutches—as if he were ever his cousin's prisoner—the chorus identifies with him in their ode to the escaped fawn.


In addition to the Dionysian garb of fawn skin and thyrsus, worshippers also wore long hair. Dionysus is commonly portrayed as wearing long, flowing locks, and The Bacchae is no different. Pentheus is fascinated by the stranger's ringlets. Hair represents Dionysus's godhead, but it also represents the femininity Pentheus finds both attractive and repulsive. When Pentheus threatens to cut off the stranger's "sweet-smelling hair in golden ringlets," the god-in-disguise declares, "My hair is sacred. I grow it for the god."

When Pentheus is transformed into a faux Bacchant, he has unwittingly been transformed also into a Dionysian symbol. Dionysus' reference to Pentheus's hair emphasizes this point: "But here, this strand of hair is out of place. / It's not under the headband where I fixed it." Bacchants wear their hair long and loose, held in place typically by an ivy garland. Dionysus's ministrations encourage Pentheus to behold himself as a worshipper.

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