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“The Bacchae”, written by Euripides

One of ancient Greece’s tragic plays in entitled “The Bacchae”, written by Euripides. Many larger and deeper philosophical views are expressed in the play. The plot contains many speeches, and one might think at certain points that they would be the moral. The actual moral, however, is almost impossible to define. Euripides uses a style of writing that is heavy with surreal details that are not present in other Greek tragedies.

On page 21, lines 506-7, the comment “How do you live? What are you doing? Who are you? You don’t know! elps the reader to comprehend what the play is all about when looked at from a critical point of view. Dionysus, throughout the play speaks in a term that is almost cynical. His tone is mocking and at times sarcastic. Many times in the play, he refers to himself in the third person to heighten the sense of his power that the characters receive in the play, as well as make himself out to be a messenger of Dionysus, not the god himself. He encourages all to let out their true nature. As a god in ancient Greece, he stood for wine and drunkenness, ecstasy, sexual being, dance, and madness.

It is hinted many times throughout the reading that Dionysus has a revenge motive. It is as if he wants to punish the population of Thebes for not taking his true power seriously. When he appeared on Earth, he could have made himself look like an all powerful god, but instead took on the form of a deviant youth and a weakling. He is irrational and one can pick up a sense of his wrath toward the people. Knowing all this, when Dionysus said, “How do live? What are you doing? Who are you? You don’t know! ” it is easier to define the meaning behind the statement.

Dionysus knew all along what his plan was against the people of Thebes. He also knew exactly how everything was going to turn out. It was his plan all along to punish the people for not treating him like the truly powerful god he was. He used Pentheus and a kind of sacrifice, and the women he drove to the mountains as his pawns. He used to women because he knew that the true power in the city lay in the women of the houses, not the men. City life without them would fall apart. When Dionysus said this, it was to show Pentheus that he knew all of those things about himself, and that Pentheus knew none of those things.

It helped weaken Pentheus’s assurance in himself in his duties. There is, however a deeper philosophical meaning to this statement. Pentheus at the beginning of the play is portrayed as a strong self-assured man. He didn’t like the fact that the women had found power in themselves. Pentheus had a side of him that he was perhaps afraid to show to the world until a spell was cast upon him by Dionysus. Although Pentheus looked like the more dominant man, he was in fact the weaker. He was manipulated by Dionysus and his inner reason was broken.

He had the love for the Bacchae, but had to suppress it because of the social repercussions. He was a tough guy on the outside, but he felt he had to hide his weaknesses. This helps propel one of the themes of the play, true self versus false self. Dionysus ultimately broke Pentheus’s assurance and masculinity when he persuaded Pentheus to dress like a woman in order to infiltrate the women’s mountain. When Dionysus was walking Pentheus to the mountain, there was a sense of mockery when Dionysus says that Pentheus will be carried in his mother’s arms (pg. 40, line 966).

The deeper philosophical meaning is found in the fact that the many themes of the play are expressed behind it. Themes such as appearance versus reality, god versus mortal, man versus woman, and good versus evil. Deep philosophical views are expressed in Euripides’s play “The Bacchae”. The speeches and certain points in the plot help illustrate the themes, as well as the moral. The statement “How do you live? What are you doing? Who are you? You don’t know! ” helps in the comprehension of the deeper philosophical views in this play that are not present other Greek tragedies.

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