Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Dionysus (di-eh-NI-suhs), also called Bromius, Evius, and Bacchus (BA-kuhs). He is a god of the general fertility of nature and especially of wine. He has been traveling through the world spreading his teachings but has met with opposition at Thebes, where he appears disguised as his own prophet to take measures on the human level to overcome his opponents. He has driven his mother’s sisters (he was the son of Semele by Zeus) to frenzy because they refused to recognize him as a god, and they now revel as thyrsus-bearing Bacchantes with the other women of Thebes on the slopes of Mount Cithaeron. Chief of the god’s foes was young King Pentheus, who refuses to recognize Dionysus as a god. Appearing at first as the friend of mortals, he is joyful and willing to reason with the young king, even when Pentheus imprisons him in the royal stables. He frees himself and makes one last attempt to convince Pentheus that he must acknowledge Dionysus’ divinity and power. Only when Pentheus determines to drive the Bacchantes from the hills by force does Dionysus reveal the opposite aspect of his character. Becoming cruel, ruthless, and cunning, he establishes control over the mind of Pentheus and leads him, disguised as a woman, through the streets of Thebes to Cithaeron, where he is torn apart by the maddened women of his own city, led by Pentheus’ mother, Agave. At the end of the play,...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
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Agave is daughter to Cadmus, the founder and former king of Thebes, and mother to Pentheus, the city’s current ruler. As revealed by Dionysus in the play’s prologue, Agave insulted the god by saying he was not the son of Zeus; that Semele, Dionysus’s mother and Agave’s own sister, lied about her lover, who was actually some mortal. For her heresy, Dionysus has driven Agave, and all the women of Thebes, mad and sent them into the hills where they have been wearing animal skins, dancing, and singing hymns of praise to the god of wine and revelry. Near the end of the play, Agave, still in a mad frenzy, leads the women in a bloody attack on Pentheus, her own son, who she mistakes for a mountain lion. She returns to Thebes triumphant, carrying her son’s head as a trophy. Cadmus finally breaks the spell she has been under, bringing her back to sanity and the painful realization of what she has done. She and her father are both condemned to exile by the angry Dionysus.
In Greek mythology, Cadmus was the ancient founder of Thebes. He populated the city by sowing the teeth of a dragon he and his brothers had slain. The planted teeth grew into soldiers called Spartoi, who became the Theban nobility and helped Cadmus build the city’s citadel. Interestingly, because one of Cadmus’s daughters, Semele, was Dionysus’s mother, Cadmus is actually the god’s uncle. In The Bacchae, Cadmus appears in his old age,...
(The entire section is 1573 words.)