Dionysus–Bacchae The god, Dionysus, fills an integral role in Grecian Myth. According to Euripides’ Bacchae, Dionysus represents the animalistic and mystic life force that connects humanity to its innate earthy roots – roots that are illogical, chaotic, and instinctual. In this paper I will be discussing this aforementioned mystic life force and its existence in ancient Greece’s supremely logical society. Being as completely logical as the ancient Greeks tended to be, they needed some sort of release valve that kept them from all going crazy in their otherwise rigid existence. The god, Dionysus, provided this release in their world through the manifestations of “wine, women, and song.” Without these simple earthy pleasures, the human spirit became warped in its confinement as illustrated in the Bacchae through the character of Pentheus. The polar opposites portrayed in the confrontations between Dionysus and Pentheus were meant to illustrate the point that you simply cannot ignore your earthy half.
When the people of Thebes attempted to maintain indifference to Dionysus’ claims of divinity, he came to the town personally to invoke his punishment on all those who would not pay him his due worship. Possessing the women of Thebes and turning them into what they tried most to resist demonstrated was the ultimate irony that also demonstrated his awesome mystical powers – powers that as yet had remained unseen by mortal men not initiated into Dionysus’ mysteries. These mystical powers that Dionysus possessed allowed him to perform all sorts of miracles that baffled and frightened the Thebians. Beyond the miracle of possessing all the women of Thebes and making them head to the mountains, what occurred on the mountain was what really expressed all that Dionysus was to the Thebians and to the readers of Euripides’ play. The women were reported as performing “weird fantastic things, what miracles and more than miracles” while under Dionysus’ influence (665-66).
Each one of those different mystical acts they performed represented a different aspect of Dionysus’ divinity. The women struck the ground and wine sprang forth for them to drink, they tore live cattle limb from limb, and flew among other things. The wine was representative of Dionysus’ gift of wine to mortals. The animals were a reminder of Dionysus’ love for raw animal flesh. The women flying were simply examples of Dionysus’ awesome powers and the things mortals can do when under the mystical “high” you experience under Dionysus’ control. These awesome acts were spread far and wide by the shepherds who witnessed them first hand.
The stories they told of the miracles performed instigated a powerful and destructive curiosity in Pentheus. His curiosity was born out of his attempts to suppress his human side that was all Dionysus represented. Pentheus became so focused on denying his irrational and animalistic values that they eventually became his obsession. What should have been a natural human “high” turned into a perversion of the normal mortal experience with Dionysus.
Pentheus’ manic desire to view the acts of the women on the mountain was the manifestation of his perverted sense of pleasure. This voyeuristic desire could only be satisfied through experiencing another perversion set up by Dionysus himself for the complete and utter humiliation of Pentheus. Pentheus was coerced into dressing up as a woman to go and view the mountain miracles. This perversion that gave Pentheus’ personality a complete turn-about from stubborn prude to cross-dressing voyeur was what the Bacchae Chorus warned about throughout the play.
If you accepted Dionysus’ world, you could achieve a peaceful existence with the balance between life and logic. The balance that was meant to be achieved in every day life was what Dionysus was truly all about. Yes, he was the extreme end of irrational instincts, but he was what the Greeks needed because they were so completely logical. Dionysus provided the balance in ancient Grecian life that allowed them to maintain their supremely straight-laced society values.
Without the “wine, women, and song,” Grecian life would have been completely mundane and lifeless; they would have lost everything that made them mortal. After all, ” .. if there is no god of wine, there is no love, no Aphrodite either, nor other pleasure left to men (774-76).” Mythology Essays.