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. Dionysius distinctly opposes the usual views on gender, age, rationality and divinity, leaving the reader to wonder whether these contrasts were Euripidean attempts to illuminate specific facets of the culture itself. Examination of Dionysus's challenges should begin with The Bacchae's most obvious perversion of custom, the question of gender. As Dionysus indicates early in the play, the enraptured band of Bacchant followers is comprised only of females: "Every woman in Thebes-but the women only- / I drove from home" (35-36). Though Cadmus further illuminates the matter by raising the question, "Are we the only men / who will dance for Bacchus?" (195-196), the text offers no definitive explanation for why Dionysus calls solely upon the women. A superficial reading might suggest that Euripides attempted to portray the stereotypical "weaker sex" as the one "more susceptible to invasive passions than men, especially eros and daemonic possession," but more is probably at stake. As Edith Hall ... ... middle of paper ... ...ty since "things could happen in the real life of Athens which were virtually unthinkable in tragedy, and vice versa." Perhaps the safest assessment of Dionysus is that while not a direct opponent of the traditional ways, his presence, and especially his effect on other characters, serves to highlight many social norms. According to Bernad Knox, "From start to finish, Euripides was 'attempting to show citizens bred in the traditional views...that such conceptions of the gods should offend them.'" Perhaps we as readers will never fully understand the Dionysus that appears in this play, but a closing look at a remark of the Chorus may bring us a step closer to this understanding: --What is wisdom? What gift of the gods is held in honor like this: to hold your hand victorious over the heads of those you hate? Honor is precious forever. (877-881)

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