Rational vs. Instinctual
The Greeks of the 5th century B.C. prized balance and order in their lives. Their art and architecture, laws, politics, and social structure suggest a culture that sought equilibrium in all things, including human behavior. Even their gods aligned themselves with opposing aspects of human essence. Apollo was the Greeks’ god of prophecy, music, and knowledge. He represented the rational, intellectual capacity of the human mind and its ability to create order out of chaos. As the god of wine and revelry, Dionysus represented the opposite but equally important feature of human instinct: the emotional, creative, uninhibited side of people that balances their daily rational, structured, lawabiding behavior. The main conflict in The Bacchae is between these two conflicting behavioral patterns, the rational and the instinctual, disciplines often referred to as the Apollonian and the Dionysian.
The fruits of Dionysus’s worship are extolled by Cadmus, the former king of Thebes; Tiresias, the elderly blind prophet of the city; and by the Chorus of Bacchae, the god’s followers. Never too old to learn a new lesson, Tiresias and Cadmus have discovered the joys of the Dionysian rites and in them a new youth. ‘‘I shall never weary, night or day, beating the earth with the thyrsus,’’ Cadmus boasts, ‘‘In my happiness I have forgotten how old I am.’’
The Chorus, who explain the history of the...
(The entire section is 1298 words.)
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