What Really Happened: The Bacchae
In Euripides’ play, “The Bacchae,” the king of Thebes is an impious man named Pentheus. He dishonors the god, Dionysus, or Bacchus and hates all of the ceremonies taking place in his kingdom in the name of the god. Dionysus plots his revenge and decides to drive all of the women of Thebes mad, including Pentheus’ mother, Agave. These women, the Maenads, live in the mountains worshipping him. Dionysus disguises himself and convinces Pentheus to go to the mountains dressed as a woman, to spy on the Maenads. Later, their traveling companion comes back with a grave tale. When they arrived, Dionysus revealed Pentheus to the Maenads. He told them, as their master, that he was a threat to them, showing him to them as a mountain lion. Agave and the Maenads ran towards him, and despite his desperate cries, tore him limb from limb. Later Agave parades the body throughout Thebes, showing all what she thought to be the mountain lion she hunted. Her father, Cadmus, shows her the terrible crime she has done. When she learns the truth from him she is heartbroken. She laments and washes the body, then collapses in grief, while the chorus explains the importance of hubris. Dionysus gets his ultimate revenge. But this is what really happened:
CADMUS: In that house you bore your husband a child.
What was his name?
AGAVE: His name was Pentheus.
I conceived him with his father.
CADMUS: Well then,
this head your hands are holding—whose is it?
AGAVE: [Hoists the head] Check it out.
It’s a mountain lion. I know, right?
Awesome…. [Looks closer] Wait a minute….
CADMUS: Look at it. You’ll understand more clearly.
AGAVE: Oh jeez.
Wow. That…is not a mountain lion.
CADMUS: Harsh truth-
how you come to light at the wrong moment.
AGAVE: Well, this is uncomfortable.
But I see now. That is…clearly…not a mountain lion.
But you know, the sun was in my eyes, I’ve been having
those weird muscular spasms recently.
[Her hand shakes slightly] Look! There it goes again!
CADMUS: You killed him—
you and your sisters.
AGAVE: Well, we all have our off-days don’t we?
Come on, father, remember the other day,
you spilled marinara on your favorite tie?
We all make silly mistakes. Like this,
[Gestures to the head]
This is just…silly. And this,
[Gestures to the angry crowd]
…is even sillier.
CHORUS: What is wisdom? What is finer
than the rights men get from gods—
to hold their powerful hands
over the heads of their enemies?
AGAVE: Look, guys. Not right now, okay?
This is…a delicate situation.
CHORUS: The gods appear in many forms,
carrying with them unwelcome things.
What people thought would happen never did.
What they did not expect, the gods made happen.
That’s what this story has revealed.
AGAVE: Okay. Shut up. Stop narrating our lives.
It was cute at first. Now it’s just annoying.
CADMUS: I had trouble tracking the body down.
I brought back what I found.
AGAVE: Oh. Gross.
Well, guys, at the risk of sounding shameless
you have to admit, I did an okay job.
Yea, I know, I’ve been hitting the gym.
But yea, yea. Not the point, I get it.
But seriously though, how cool would it have been,
if I had killed a mountain lion with my bare hands.
You would have been all, “That’s so cool, Agave.”
And the chorus would’ve been like, “Yea, you’re awesome.
Praise be to Agave. “
CADMUS: Child, we’ve stumbled into this disaster.
AGAVE: Yea, I know. It looks bad.
But…in my defense…to be fair….
Look it’s Zeus!
Valerie Bodurtha, Age 16, Grade 11, Horace Mann School, Honorable Mention