Bacchae Essay

770 Words2 Pages

In Euripides’ play The Bacchae, the ideals that were the foundation of Greek culture were called into question. Until early 400B.C.E. Athens was a society founded upon rational thinking, individuals acting for the good of the populace, and the “ideal” society. This is what scholars commonly refer to as the Hellenic age of Greek culture. As Athens is besieged by Sparta, however, the citizens find themselves questioning the ideals that they had previously lived their lives by. Euripides’ play The Bacchae shows the underlying shift in ideology of the Greek people from Hellenic (or classical), to Hellenistic; the god character Dionysus will be the example that points to the shifting Greek ideology.

In this shifting Greek society the cultural value that will experience the most dramatic shift is idealism. Fleming’s Arts and Ideas describes idealism as, “An idea or mental image that tries to transcend physical limitations, aspires toward a fulfillment that goes beyond actual observation and seeks a concept close to perfection” (55). Euripides begins his play with Dionysus describing the events that occurred until the present. Dionysus was a half-god, born of a human mother and Zeus; this is first example of the “ideal” being questioned. The fact that Dionysus describes himself as a god is the heaviest blow to the “ideal” however. Dionysus states on multiple occasions, “(I), appearing as a god to mortal men” (ln. 42), and “I was born a god” (ln.63). These statements reflect Dionysus’s ignorance to who he is, and the forgotten Greek sentiment of “know thy self”. It is not only the audience who recognizes that Dionysus is lacking the ‘ideal” attitude of a god but reasonable characters of the play will pick up on this as well.


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...trated this by betraying the trust that people had in men and the gods with his foolish and reckless action against Cadmus and his family. Dionysus refuted rational thinking by letting his emotions for revenge stand in the way of his contemplating how a god should behave. In doing all the things Dionysus has destroyed the ideal way one would expect a god to conduct their self. Euripides portrays a Dionysus that single handily destroys all the cultural values of Hellenic Greece; however, Euripides is able to capture the changing values of his audience and pave the way for the culture of Hellenistic Greece to begin to dominate societal thought.

Works Cited
Marien, Mary W., and Flemming, William. Arts and Ideas. Belmont: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005. Print.

Euripides. Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestic, Medea, The Bacchae. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1974. Print.

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