Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Pentheus’s palace

Pentheus’s palace. Home of the Theban ruler Pentheus, Dionysus’s cousin, in front of which the action of Euripides’ play takes place. The palace represents the social structure of Thebes and the power of its king. For this reason the god drives the women of Thebes, who had refused to accept Pentheus willingly, away from the palace. The women worship him in the countryside, that is, beyond the boundary of Thebes. This place provides a way for Aeschylus’s Greek audiences to connect with the plot of this exotic play. When Dionysus is captured and brought before the palace, Pentheus questions his divinity and imprisons him in the palace as a fraud. In retaliation, Dionysus demonstrates his power and divinity by destroying the palace and driving Pentheus insane. The destruction of the palace illustrates the ability of the god to dominate human civilization in general and Theban society in particular. The tension between the worlds of Pentheus and Dionysus is further emphasized by the place of Pentheus’s death, which occurs offstage. Savagely torn apart by the women of Thebes, including his own mother, the king dies not in his city but in Dionysus’s realm, the countryside.