Otherness in Euripides' Bacchae and Soyinka's The Bacchae of Euripides

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Otherness in Euripides'Bacchae and Soyinka's The Bacchae of Euripides

Both Euripides and Wole Soyinka are focused on a fundamental ethical imperative in their plays: welcome the stranger into your midst. Acceptance of Dionysus as a god, as "an essence that will not exclude or be excluded", is stressed (Soyinka 1). Pentheus is punished severely for excluding, for refusing to acknowledge or submit to, Dionysus' divine authority. In order to carve out a place for himself (in the pantheon, in the minds of the people), Dionysus' divinity manifests itself in an overtly political manner: its effect on those who worship him. This struggle for acceptance is first given voice in the confrontation between Pentheus and Teiresias in each play. While Euripedes is required to answer specific challenges made by Dionysus to Greek society, Soyinka attempts to trace Dionysian influences into the future, beyond the existence of an historically bound god or culture. Soyinka is more attentive to the transcendent qualities which separate Dionysus from all others. By examining this first conflict in each play, it may be possible to determine how (if at all) Soyinka expands the ethical dilemma first created by Euripedes.

In Euripedes' play, Pentheus perceives Dionysus as a challenge to the status quo. Dionysus is a threat politically, morally, and spiritually to Thebes. Pentheus uses images of corruption and defilement, anarchy and unmitigated evil to characterize Dionysus. Pentheus is empowered as a defender of traditional notions of justice and truth. Similarly, Soyinka's Pentheus is driven by an overwhelming sense of order. This order must be enforced even at the cost of individual freedoms. "I shall have order! Let the city know...

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...eet (or are reunited) with a second stranger as well: our inner self.

While both playwrights elaborate their arguments more completely as each play progresses, the fundamental thematic groundwork has been laid by this initial conflict between Pentheus and Teiresias. Reconciliation and inclusion are introduced and fostered by their debate and absolutism, in its many forms, is eventually punished. By extending his concept of Dionysian worship to the exploration and expression of a singular personal knowledge of self, Wole Soyinka pushes Euripedes potent ethical argument past its historical boundaries, making it particularly relevant and accessible to a modern audience.

Works Cited

Euripides. Bacchae. Rpt. in Ten Greek Plays. Ed. L.R. Lind, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

Soyinka, Wole. The Bacchae of Euripides. New York: W.W. Norton, 1974.

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