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Edith Hamilton's Mythology

by Edith Hamilton

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Who was Pentheus and what fate did he suffer due to Dionysus?

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Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) is the God of Wine, Wine and Inspiration. Dionysus was born on Mount Nysa in Asia Minor. Dionysus's father, Zeus, a Greek God and the ruler of Mount Olympus, doubted that he would ever have a son but his mother, Semele, daughter of Cadmus King of Thebes and Harmonia, told him that if she could see him in his full glory she would bear him a son. Zeus agreed to her request and appeared before her in all his glory blazing with fire. Semele died instantly at the sight of his majesty.

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Pentheus was the king of Thebes. His mother was Agave, who was the daughter of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. When Pentheus became the king of Thebes, one of his actions was to ban the worship of Dionysus. He acted in such a way because he believed that the followers of Dionysus, with their so-called “divinely inspired mania,” were making an excuse to break the laws of an orderly Thebes. So he ordered his soldiers to prohibit the worship of Dionysus. This action put him at odds with Dionysus, one of the youngest gods, who may have been seeking a greater following.

Dionysus was bent on seeking revenge. He lured Pentheus into the woods where his followers were. Among them were Agave (his mother) and his aunts Ino and Autonoë. In a Bacchic frenzy, Dionysus's female devotees, the Maenads, tore apart Pentheus and killed him. Agave even took the head of Pentheus as a trophy, believing him to be a mountain lion.

Dionysus exiled Agave from Thebes for the murder of his son. Dionysus, in a final act of punishment, turned the aged Cadmus into a snake.

It should be noted that "Pentheus," in Greek, means "the man of sorrows." Pentheus lives up to his name. For further reading, the two main accounts are in Euripides’s Bacchae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book 3.

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Pentheus was the king of Thebes. When he took the throne, he banned the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. In doing this, Pentheus incited the anger of the Bacchae, the women who worshipped Dionysus (Bacchus).

Dionysus and Pentheus were cousins. Dionysus lured Pentheus into the forest to spy on the women who were engaging in forbidden worship. The women, including Pentheus's own mother, thought that Pentheus was a wild animal and tore him into pieces.

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