Can someone give me a comparison between Dionysus' successful right of passage and Pentheus' failed right of passage?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An important part of a comparison between Dionysus and Pentheus in relation to the rites of passage relates to the kratos, or the power to rule. For Dionysus, his kratos descends to him from his father Zeus while, for Pentheus, his kratos descends from him mother. In Greek rites of male passage from boyhood to independent manhood, which encompasses a warrior's role or a civic role of power or a ruler's authority, boys pass from dominance by women and mother-care to shared authority with men and father-power. In the rite's journey as a hunter, followed by the journey from hunting to a successfully attained place in the polis, the break from women-mother and the unification with men-father is symbolized.

Dionysus, as the bearer of his father kratos, has the advantage over Pentheus, as the bearer of his mother's kratos, in efforts to successfully complete the rites of passage. In addition, since Pentheus' mother leads the Dionysian nymph Maenads, who rampage through the wilderness in which Pentheus faces his rite (a rite meant to give him victory over and separation from women-mother), Pentheus has an added disadvantage in the effort of successfully completing his rite of passage (his mother's power to overwhelm is symbolized in her leadership of the Maenads). While Dionysus becomes a celebrated god, firmly established as the bearer of kratos derived from his father's power, Pentheus is overwhelmed in the wilderness, does not safely reach the polis where he would join men-father in warrior power and/or civic service and ruling power, is brutally conquered by the Maenads (who, we remember, are led by his mother) and dies, thus does not successfully conquer and separate from women-mother dominance nor become an independent man.

The comparison of this element of their rites of passage show that while Dionysus (who had an initial advantage) separated from women-mother dominance so that he could assert his kratos and embrace sexual power, Pentheus (who had the kratos disadvantage) was overwhelmed by women-mother dominance and died, never having unified with men-father nor having attained authentic social-political kratos nor having embraced personal sexual power. In addition, the advantage that Dionysus bore over Pentheus is illustrated by their exchange regarding the Maenads and how it is best for Pentheus to witness their revelry, which occurs after Dionysus has burst his prison chains and Pentheus is forced into a discourse with him ("PENTHEUS: What's happening to me—total disaster! / The stranger's escaped, and we'd just chained him up. / Ah ha! Here is the man—right here. / What's going on?  How did you get out?"):

DIONYSUS:  So you're prepared,
         are you, to make the trip?  Shall I lead you there?
PENTHEUS: Let's go, and with all speed.  I've got time.                     
DIONYSUS: In that case, you must clothe your body
         in a dress—one made of eastern linen.
PENTHEUS: What! I'm not going up there as a man?
         I've got to change myself into a woman?
DIONYSUS: If they see you as a man, they'll kill you.
PENTHEUS: Right again. You always have the answer.               1010
DIONYSUS: Dionysus taught me all these things.
PENTHEUS: How can I best follow your suggestion?
DIONYSUS: I'll go inside your house and dress you up.
PENTHEUS: What? Dress up in a female outfit?
         I can't do that—I'd be ashamed to.   

Read the study guide:
The Bacchae

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