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The Bacchae | Stasimon 1 | Summary

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Summary

After Pentheus exits into the palace, Tiresias and Cadmus exit off to the mountains. The chorus members sing of Pentheus's "profanities" and "insults against Bromius." Dionysus's role, they claim, is to "lead men together in the dance," which ends sorrows and brings harmony. They also warn that Pentheus's words will "end only in disaster." They reflect not wisdom, but only a sort of cleverness. According to the chorus, Pentheus, like other mortal men, is not suitable for "thinking deeply about things," and suggests the mortality compelling some men to "chase greatness" prevents them from grasping "what's near at hand."

The chorus then prays to Dionysus to take them to Cyprus or Paphos or Peira—even to Olympus. There, they can worship in freedom. For the Bacchae, Dionysus is a god of peace and harmony, neither of which exists now in Thebes. Instead, Pentheus rushes headlong toward unhappiness, the antithesis of what the Bacchants celebrate. He is on a collision course with sorrow, which the god of wine ameliorates. According to the chorus, these and other actions move him father away from the goal of a Dionysian life. For this reason, Dionysus is angry.

Analysis

The chorus highlights a point Tiresias makes about Pentheus's actions: waging war against the gods is folly, madness. Pentheus's efforts to preserve the rationality of law and social order is a peculiar sort of madness. This madness is presented as dramatic irony since the audience is aware of the futility of Pentheus's efforts in the face of a powerful god. It is also a clear instance of the folly of mere mortals to think they can best the gods, let alone try to do it. Pentheus, in his refusal to acknowledge Dionysus's divinity, oversteps his reach. The Bacchants know this will end badly, and they advise the audience to do as they do, which is seek the common conception of happiness, which is what they believe Dionysus represents.

Here, too, the audience is admonished by the Bacchants to distinguish between cleverness and wisdom. Failure to make this distinction does not end well. So, for all of Pentheus's traditional beliefs about social order, he does not have the wisdom of his elders, namely Tiresias and Cadmus (who is the former king). This wisdom is a sort of prudence combined with humility—a king who thinks he knows everything or can control everything is bound to fall.

It is important to remember that Dionysus's followers are all women. The Bacchae derive freedom not merely in worship, but in being apart from men. In so doing they challenge the customary role of Greek woman.

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