SOLDIER: Pentheus, we’re here because we’ve caught the prey
you sent us out to catch. Yes, our attempts
have proved successful. The beast you see here
was tame with us. He didn’t try to run.
No, he surrendered willingly enough,
without turning pale or changing colour
on those wine dark cheeks. He even laughed at us,
inviting us to tie him up and lead him off.
He stood still, making it easier for me
to take him in. It was awkward, so I said,
“Stranger, I don’t want to lead you off,
but I’m under orders here from Pentheus,
who sent me.” And there’s something else—
those Bacchic women you locked up, the ones
you took in chains into the public prison—
they’ve all escaped. They’re gone—playing around
in some meadow, calling out to Bromius,
summoning their god. Chains fell off their feet,
just dropping on their own. Keys opened doors
not turned by human hands. This man here
has come to Thebes full of amazing tricks.
But now the rest of this affair is up to you.
PENTHEUS: [Moving up close to Dionysus, inspecting him carefully]
Untie his hands. I’ve got him in my nets.
He’s not fast enough to get away from me.
Well, stranger, I see this body of yours
is not unsuitable for women’s pleasure—
that’s why you’ve come to Thebes. As for your hair,
it’s long, which suggests that you’re no wrestler.
It flows across your cheeks That’s most seductive.
You’ve a white skin, too. You’ve looked after it,
avoiding the sun’s rays by staying in the shade,
while with your beauty you chase Aphrodite.
But first tell me something of your family.
DIONYSUS: That’s easy enough, though I’m not boasting.
You’ve heard of Tmolus, where flowers grow.
PENTHEUS: Did this Zeus overpower you at night,
in your dreams? Or were your eyes wide open?
DIONYSUS: I saw him—he saw me. He gave me
the sacred rituals.
PENTHEUS: Tell me what they’re like,
those rituals of yours.
DIONYSUS: That information
cannot be passed on to men like you,
those uninitiated in the rites of Bacchus.
PENTHEUS: You’ve avoided that question skillfully,
making me want to hear an answer.
DIONYSUS: The rituals are no friend of any man
who’s hostile to the gods.
PENTHEUS: This god of yours,
since you saw him clearly, what’s he like?
PENTHEUS: Again you fluently evade my question,
saying nothing whatsoever.
DIONYSUS: Yes, but then
a man can seem totally ignorant
when speaking to a fool.
PENTHEUS: Is Thebes
the first place you’ve come to with your god?
DIONYSUS: In this they are much wiser. But their laws
are very different, too.
PENTHEUS: When you dance these rites,
is it at night or during daylight?
DIONYSUS: You, too—for foolishness, impiety
towards the god.
PENTHEUS: How brash this Bacchant is!
How well prepared in using language!
DIONYSUS: What punishment am I to suffer?
What harsh penalties will you inflict?
DIONYSUS: This wand I carry is the god’s, not mine.
You’ll have to seize it from me for yourself.
DIONYSUS: The god will personally set me free,
whenever I so choose.
PENTHEUS: That only works
if you call him while among the Bacchae.
DIONYSUS: He’s where I am. You can’t see him,
because you don’t believe.
PENTHEUS: [To his attendants] Seize him.
He’s insulting Thebes and me.
DIONYSUS: I warn you—you shouldn’t tie me up.
I’ve got my wits about me. You’ve lost yours.
PENTHEUS: But I’m more powerful than you,
so I’ll have you put in chains.
DIONYSUS: You’re quite ignorant
of why you live, what you do, and who you are.
PENTHEUS: [to his soldiers] Go now.
Lock him up—in the adjoining stables.
That way he’ll see nothing but the darkness.
There you can dance. As for all those women,
those partners in crime you brought along with you,
we’ll sell them off or keep them here as slaves,
working our looms, once we’ve stopped their hands
beating those drum skins, making all that noise.
DIONYSUS: I’ll go, then. For I won’t have to suffer
what won’t occur. But you can be sure of this—
Dionysus, whom you claim does not exist,
will go after you for retribution
after all your insolence. He’s the one
you put in chains when you treat me unjustly.
CHORUS: O Sacred Dirce, blessed maiden,
daughter of Achelous,
your streams once received
the new-born child of Zeus,
when his father snatched him
from those immortal fires,
then hid him in his thigh,
crying out these words,
enter my male womb.
I’ll make you known as Bacchus
to all those in Thebes,
who’ll invoke you with that name.”
But you, o sacred Dirce,
why do you resist me,
my garland-bearing company,
along your river banks?
Why push me away?
Why seek to flee from me?
I tell you, you’ll find joy
in grape-filled vines from Dionysus.
They’ll make you love him.
What rage, what rage
shows up in that earth-bound race
of Pentheus, born to Echion,
an earth-bound mortal.
He’s descended from a snake,
that Pentheus, a savage beast,
not a normal mortal man,
but some bloody monster
who fights against the gods.
He’ll soon bind me in chains,
as a worshipper of Bacchus.
Already he holds in his house
my fellow Bacchic revelers,
hidden there in some dark cell.
Do you see, Dionysus,
child of Zeus, your followers
fighting their oppression?
Come down, my lord,
down from Olympus,
wave your golden thyrsus,
to cut short the profanities
of this blood-thirsty man.
Where on Mount Nysa,
which nourishes wild beasts,
where on the Corcyrean heights,
where do you wave your thyrsus
over your worshippers,
Perhaps in those thick woods
of Mount Olympus,
where Orpheus once played his lyre,
brought trees together with his songs,
collecting wild beasts round him.
Oh blessed Peiria,
whom Dionysus loves—
he’ll come to set you dancing
in the Bacchic celebrations.
He’ll cross the foaming Axius,
lead his whirling Maenads on,
leaving behind the river Lydias
which enriches mortal men,
and which, they say, acts as a father,
nourishing with many lovely streams
a land where horses flourish.