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The Bacchae | Parados | Summary



After Dionysus exits to join his Maenads, the chorus of nine begins to exalt their god. They call for everyone to remain inside their homes and "speak no profanities." They tell the audience the god "merges" with worshippers as they dance and engage in Dionysian rites.

The audience also learns the story of Dionysus's survival after his mother was killed. It was his father, Zeus, who rescued him and stitched the premature infant into his thigh to hide the child from his wife, Hera. Dionysus was born with ox horns and a crown of wreathed snakes. For this reason, Dionysus's worshippers capture snakes to put in their hair. Bacchants also wear fawn skins and carry pine cones to place atop a thyrsus. The chorus makes clear that the power of nature contained in these symbols is an awesome, violent power, which can incite "all the earth [to] dance at once."


One of Euripides's important innovations was to use the chorus in a new way. At the time he wrote The Bacchae, the chorus was becoming outmoded. Traditionally removed from the action, the chorus would chant and move in unison, but they did not interact with the actors. Instead, they commented on the proceedings as a voice independent of the action. Euripides integrated the chorus with the action of the play, and in so doing, made the chorus and the Bacchae one and the same. By making the chorus actual followers of Dionysus, rather than anonymous figures, he brings them directly into the proceedings. So, while Euripides's chorus does fulfill its traditional function, they also humanize the joyful followers. Their authentic passion intensifies the drama, allowing the audience more than a glimpse into the Bacchic rites.

These rites or mysteries have been passed down from Cybele, the great mother of the gods, whom the chorus mentions in their singing. She not only was the mother of the gods, but also was a maternal figure for all of nature. It is from this feature that the orgiastic nature of Dionysian worship is derived. His worshippers' garments and accoutrements characterize this wildness. The thyrsus, for example, is a fennel rod that, when adorned with ivy, becomes a symbol of Dionysus. The thyrsus is a transformational symbol: the fennel rod acquires the power of the thyrsus when the Dionysian worshipper is crowned with leaves and raises it—a phallic symbol of fertility. The chorus urges Thebes to crown itself with ivy as a symbolic conversion to the religion.

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