- Plot Summary of Euripides' The Bacchae
- Terms to Know
- Study Questions
- Study Guide for Euripides' The Bacchae
Each year in Athens there was a religious and civic event that honored the god Dionysus. It was called the Great or City Dionysia. Although the festival honored Dionysus, the playwrights who competed wrote on a wide variety of topics, usually from myth and legend, but also from history, as in the case of the Persian War-themed tragedy with which Aeschylus first won the prize. In 405 B.C. the City Dionysia at Athens featured Euripides' Dionysus-themed Bacchae. Normally, prize-winning tragedies resulted in wreaths for the playwright, but in the case of The Bacchae, the playwright was already dead. He had died a 75-year old man at the court of the king of Macedonia, as an exile from Athens. Natural death wasn't enough for his reputation. Eerily like the fate of Euripides' Pentheus, the ubiquitous "they" said a pack of hounds mangled Euripides.
In Greek tragedy, violence occurred off-stage with a messenger bringing the bad news. A chorus that sang and dance also offered opinions or commentary on the on-stage events and conversed with the actors.
The following are some pages on this site that may help you appreciate Euripides' Bacchae, especially if you are new to reading Greek tragedy. One additional tip I have used in reading tragedy in translation is to rewrite every line into my own words. This helps me focus and provides a condensed version for later reference. It also forces me to make as much sense as I can of the dialogue. (When struggling with the Greek, my vocabulary lists present an almost word-for-word translation, so I don't have to paraphrase.)
It is easy to see the Bacchae as divided into modern acts based on the episodes and stasima. Here is a quick summary of the acts. See if your line-by-line rewrite of the tragedy corresponds with this.
Among other points you should pay attention to when reading the Bacchae is how Euripides portrays the gods. Is Dionysus portrayed in the way someone who wanted to honor him at a festival held in his honor would do it? Did the fact of his exile from which location he had no possible opportunity to stage the play at the City Dionysia influence how he wrote? Scholars continue to argue such points, so don't expect to come up with the final answer, but think about these and more as you read.
The cast of characters is relatively small -- if you exclude non-speaking roles and the chorus, but one man played multiple parts with a change of mask and costume.
These are some terms about Greek tragedy and the myths that are specifically for the Bacchae and other Theban plays.
Here are 8 self-grading multiple-choice questions on Euripides' tragedy.
Did you enjoy the play? If so, you might want to read more about the playwright.
While the list of terms about the Bacchae may help in understanding this particular play, there are many other concepts you'll find in Greek tragedy if you start reading articles on it.