Greek mythology has caught my attention lately, and I spent a few hours reading through The Bacchae, a play written by Euripides. It’s an ancient Greek tragedy that follows Pentheus, the king of Thebes, as he attempts to manage the unrest in his civilization – the crazed worshippers of the god Dionysus.

As I grappled with this ancient Greek text, I noticed the following points:

*SPOILER ALERT*

A MOTHER’S HORROR AT MURDERING HER SON. When Pentheus’ mother, Agave, hoots and hollers all over Thebes with her “prize,” I couldn’t help but cringe.

The entire play has been laced (poisonously, some would venture to say) with Dionysus’ plot for revenge (since someone has been spreading doubts about his divinity!).

In the scene with Agave and her “prize,” Dionysus altered Agave’s perception of reality. At last, the mother has a moment of devastating realization. She murdered her son in a frenzy of madness and now holds his severed head.

The sorrow fairly bowls me over. (I suggest you read The Bacchae, too, to get the full effect.)

OUR FEAR OF MADNESS. A major component of Dionysiac worship was that element of madness. Revelers would lose themselves in worship (often to the extent of Agave – no longer in control of their own minds).

Euripides paints madness in a strange and ominous light through The Bacchae. We do not meet the maenads (another name for Dionysus’ worshippers) in the beginning. Instead, they are portrayed in a far away sense – almost a fog of eerie cries and writhing silhouettes.

The creepiest part about madness is that it can impact anyone. Even our steady, stable, sturdy main character, Pentheus, winds up in the middle of the madness and succumbs (in a way) to a reversal of identity (dresses up as a maenad to sneak into their gatherings on the mountain).

Be aware, all you ghouls, as Halloween approaches! Watch out for maenads. :) How are you managing your own madness/horror? Tell me in the comments about the fiendish frights you’re planning.
 


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