AGAVE: [addressing everyone] All of you here,
all you living in the land of Thebes,
in this city with its splendid walls,
come see this wild beast we hunted down—
daughters of Cadmus—not with thonged spears,
Thessalian javelins, or by using nets,
but with our own white hands, our finger tips.
After this, why should huntsmen boast aloud,
when no one needs the implements they use?
We caught this beast by hand, tore it apart—
with our own hands. But where’s my father?
He should come here. And where’s Pentheus?
Where is my son? He should take a ladder,
set it against the house, fix this lion’s head
way up there, high on the palace front.
I’ve captured it and brought it home with me.
CADMUS: Follow me, all those of you who carry
some part of wretched Pentheus. You slaves,
come here, right by the house.
I’m worn out.
So many searches—but I picked up the body.
I came across it in the rocky clefts
on Mount Cithaeron, ripped to pieces,
no parts lying together in one place.
It was in the woods—difficult to search.
Someone told me what my daughter’d done,
those horrific acts, once I’d come back,
returning here with old Tiresias,
inside the city walls, back from the Bacchae.
So I climbed the mountains once again.
Now I bring home this child the Maenads killed.
I saw Autonoe, who once bore
Actaeon to Aristeius—and Ino,
she was with her there, in the forest,
both still possessed, quite mad, poor creatures.
Someone said Agave was coming here,
still doing her Bacchic dance. He spoke the truth,
for I see her there—what a wretched sight!
AGAVE: Father, now you can be truly proud.
Among all living men you’ve produced
by far the finest daughters. I’m talking
of all of us, but especially of myself.
I’ve left behind my shuttle and my loom,
and risen to great things, catching wild beasts
with my bare hands. Now I’ve captured him,
I’m holding in my arms the finest trophy,
as you can see, bringing it back home to you,
so it may hang here.
Take this, father
let your hands welcome it. Be proud of it,
of what I’ve caught. Summon all your friends—
have a banquet, for you are blessed indeed,
blessed your daughters have achieved these things.
CADMUS: This grief’s beyond measure, beyond endurance.
With these hands of yours you’ve murdered him.
You strike down this sacrificial victim,
this offering to the gods, then invite me,
and all of Thebes, to share a banquet.
Alas—first for your sorrow, then my own.
Lord god Bromius, born into this family,
has destroyed us, acting out his justice,
but too much so.
AGAVE: Why such scowling eyes?
How sorrowful and solemn old men become.
As for my son, I hope he’s a fine hunter,
who copies his mother’s hunting style,
when he rides out with young men of Thebes
chasing after creatures in the wild.
The only thing he seems capable of doing
is fighting with the gods. It’s up to you,
father, to reprimand him for it.
Who’ll call him here into my sight,
so he can see my good luck for himself?
CADMUS: Alas! Alas! What dreadful pain you’ll feel
when you recognize what you’ve just done.
If you stay forever in your present state,
you’ll be unfortunate, but you won’t feel
as if you’re suffering unhappiness.
CADMUS: Does the sky still seem the same to you,
or has it changed?
AGAVE: It seems, well, brighter . . .
more translucent than it was before.
AGAVE: I don’t understand what it is you’re asking.
But my mind is starting to clear somehow.
It’s changing . . . it’s not what it was before.
AGAVE: Yes. But, father, what we discussed before,
I’ve quite forgotten.
CADMUS: Then tell me this—
to whose house did you come when you got married?
AGAVE: You gave me to Echion, who, men say,
was one of those who grew from seeds you cast.
CADMUS: In that house you bore your husband a child.
What was his name?
AGAVE: His name was Pentheus.
I conceived him with his father.
CADMUS: Well then,
this head your hands are holding—whose is it?
CADMUS: Inspect it carefully. You can do that
without much effort.
AGAVE: [inspecting the head] What is this?
What am I looking at? What am I holding?
AGAVE: What I see fills me with horrific pain . . .
such agony . . .
CADMUS: Does it still seem to you
to be a lion’s head?
AGAVE: No. It’s appalling—
this head I’m holding belongs to Pentheus.
CADMUS: Yes, that’s right. I was lamenting his fate
before you recognized him.
AGAVE: Who killed him?
How did he come into my hands?
CADMUS: Harsh truth—
how you come to light at the wrong moment.
AGAVE: Tell me. My heart is pounding in me
to hear what you’re about to say.
CADMUS: You killed him—
you and your sisters.
AGAVE: Where was he killed?
At home? In what sort of place?
CADMUS: He was killed
where dogs once made a common meal of Actaeon.
CADMUS: He went there to ridicule the god
and you for celebrating Dionysus.
CADMUS: You were insane—the entire city
was in a Bacchic madness.
AGAVE: Now I see.
Dionysus has destroyed us all.
CADMUS: He took offense at being insulted.
You did not consider him a god.
CADMUS: I had trouble tracking the body down.
I brought back what I found.
AGAVE: Are all his limbs laid out
just as they should be? And Pentheus,
what part did he play in my madness?
CADMUS: Like you, he was irreverent to the god.
That’s why the god linked you and him together
in the same disaster—thus destroying
the house and me, for I’ve no children left,
now I see this offspring of your womb,
you unhappy woman, cruelly butchered
in the most shameful way. He was the one
who brought new vision to our family.
My child, you upheld the honour of our house,
my daughter’s son. You were feared in Thebes.
No one who saw you ever would insult me,
though I was old, for you would then inflict
fit punishment. Now the mighty Cadmus,
the man who sowed and later harvested
the most splendid crop—the Theban people—
will be an exile, banished from his home,
a dishonoured man. Dearest of men,
even though, my child, you’re alive no more,
I count you among those closest to me.
You won’t be touching my cheek any more,
holding me in your arms, and calling me
“grandfather,” as you ask me, “Old man,
who’s injuring or dishonouring you?
Who upsets your heart with any pain?
Tell me, father, so I can punish him—
anyone who treats you in an unjust way.”
Now you’re in this horrifying state,
I’m in misery, your mother’s pitiful,
and all your relatives are in despair.
If there’s a man who disrespects the gods,
let him think about how this man perished—
then he should develop faith in them.
CHORUS LEADER: I’m sorry for you Cadmus—you’re in pain.
But your grandson deserved his punishment.
AGAVE: Father, you see how all has changed for me.
[From being your royal and honoured daughter,
the mother of a king, I’m now transformed—
an abomination, something to fill
all people’s hearts with horror, with disgust—
the mother who slaughtered her only son,
who tore him apart, ripping out the heart
from the child who filled her own heart with joy—
all to honour this god Dionysus.
But, father, give me your permission now
to lay out here the body of my son,
prepare his corpse for proper burial.
CADMUS: That’s no easy task to undertake.
His body, all the parts I could collect,
lies here, in this chest, not a pretty sight.
My own eyes can hardly bear to see him.
But if you think you can endure the work,
then, my child, begin the appropriate rites.
AGAVE: [removing Pentheus’ limbs and placing them on the ground in front of her]
Alas, for my poor son, my only child,
destroyed by his mother’s Bacchic madness.
How could these hands of mine, which loved him so,
have torn these limbs apart, ripped out his flesh.
Here’s an arm which has held me all these years,
growing stronger as he grew into a man,
his feet . . . oh, how he used to run to me,
seeking assurance of his mother’s love.
His face was handsome, on the verge of manhood.
See the soft down still resting on these lips,
which have kissed me thousands of times or more.
All this, and all the rest, set here before us.
Oh Zeus and all you Olympian gods . . . .
It makes no sense—it’s unendurable.
How could the god have wished such things on me?
CHORUS LEADER [helping Agave get up]
Lady, you must bear what cannot be borne.
Your suffering is intense, but the god is just.
You insulted him in Thebes, showed no respect—
you’ve brought the punishment upon yourself.
CHORUS: What is wisdom? What is finer
than the rights men get from gods—
to hold their powerful hands
over the heads of their enemies?
Ah yes, what’s good is always loved.
So all praise Dionysus,
praise the dancing god,
god of our revelry,
god whose justice is divine,
whose justice now reveals itself.
DIONYSUS: Yes, I am Dionysus, son of Zeus.
You see me now before you as a god.
You Thebans learned about my powers too late.
Dishonouring me, you earn the penalty.
You refused my rites. Now you must leave—
abandon your city for barbarian lands.
Agave, too, that polluted creature,
must go into perpetual banishment.
And Cadmus, you too must endure your lot.] Your form will change, so you become a dragon.
Your wife, Harmonia, Ares’ daughter,
whom you, though mortal, took in marriage,
will be transformed, changing to a snake.
As Zeus’ oracle declares, you and she
will drive a chariot drawn by heifers.
You’ll rule barbarians. With your armies,
too large to count, you’ll raze many cities.
Once they despoil Apollo’s oracle,
they’ll have a painful journey back again.
But Ares will guard you and Harmonia.
In lands of the blessed he’ll transform your lives.
That’s what I proclaim—I, Dionysus,
born from no mortal father, but from Zeus.
If you had understood how to behave
as you should have when you were unwilling,
you’d now be fortunate, with Zeus’ child
among your allies.
CADMUS: O Dionysus,
we implore you—we’ve not acted justly.
DIONYSUS: You learn too late. You were ignorant
when you should have known.
CADMUS: Now we understand.
Your actions against us are too severe.
AGAVE: Alas, old man, then this must be our fate,
a miserable exile.
DIONYSUS: Why then delay?
Why postpone what necessity requires?
CADMUS: Child, we’ve stumbled into this disaster,
this terrible calamity—you and me,
both in agony—your sisters, too.
So I’ll go out to the barbarians,
a foreign resident in my old age.
And then for me there’s that oracle
which says I’ll lead a mixed barbarian force
back into Greece. And I’ll bring here with me
Harmonia, Ares’ daughter, my wife.
I’ll have the savage nature of a snake,
as I lead my soldiers to the altars,
to the tombs, in Greece. But even then,
there’ll be no end to my wretched sorrows.
I’ll never sail the downward plunging Acheron
and reach some final peace.
CADMUS: Why do you throw your arms about me,
my unhappy child, just like some young swan
protecting an old one—gray and helpless.
AGAVE: Because I’ve no idea where to go,
once I’m banished from my father’s land.
AGAVE: Farewell, then, to my home.
Farewell to my native city.
In my misfortune I abandon you,
an exile from spaces once my own.
CADMUS: And I grieve for you, my child,
as I weep for your sisters.
AGAVE: Lord Dionysus has inflicted
such brutal terror on your house.
DIONYSUS: Yes. For at your hands I suffered, too—
and dreadfully. For here in Thebes
my name received no recognition.
CADMUS: My most unhappy daughter,
may you fare well. That will be hard for you.
AGAVE: Lead on, friends, so I may take my sisters,
those pitiful women, into exile with me.
May I go somewhere where cursed Cithaeron
will never see me, nor my eyes glimpse
that dreadful mountain, a place far away
from any sacred thyrsus. Let others
make Bacchic celebrations their concern.
CHORUS: The gods appear in many forms,
carrying with them unwelcome things.
What people thought would happen never did.
What they did not expect, the gods made happen.
That’s what this story has revealed.