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Old 10-06-2017, 09:47 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Default Bacchae--The Prologue

Here I am, Dionysus, Zeus’s son,
the god whom Semele, the daughter of Cadmus,
birthed, with a bolt of lightning for a midwife.
I am back home in the land of Thebes.

My sacred form exchanged for this mere mortal
disguise, I have arrived here where the Springs
of Dirce and the River Ismenos
are flowing. I can see my lightning-blasted
mother’s tomb right there beside the palace,
and I can see as well her former bedroom’s
rubble giving off the living flame
of Zeus’ fire—Hera’s deathless rage
against my mother. I am pleased that Cadmus
has set the site off as a sanctuary
to keep her memory. I am the one
who covered it on all sides round with grape vines
and ripe grape clusters.
and ripe grape clusters. I have left behind
the gold-rich countries of the Lydians
and Phrygians, the Persians’ sun-struck plains,
the battlements of Bactria, and passed through
wealthy Arabia and Asia Minor
where, all along the barren ocean, towns
with handsome circuit walls enclose non-Greeks
and Greeks alike. I came to this Greek city
first of all, made it dance and instituted
my raucous rites so that the people here
see my divinity with their own eyes.

I have compelled this town to rant and howl,
dressed it in fawnskin, put my pine-cone-tipped
and ivy-vested spear into its hands,
and all because my mother’s sisters claim
that Zeus is not the father of Dionysus—
how could they speak such slander? They allege
some mortal sired the child on Semele,
and she blamed Zeus for her disgraceful error
on Cadmus’s advice. That’s why (they say)
Zeus smote my mother with a lightning bolt—
because she lied about the pregnancy.

So I have maddened them in retribution,
driven them from their homes, and they, unhinged,
have occupied a mountain. I have forced them
to don the vestments of my rites. In fact,
the women of Thebes—all of them, every one—
under my influence have fled their homes
in madness. Mixed among the daughters of Cadmus,
they lounge about in broad daylight on cliffs
beneath the green fir trees. Since Thebes is still
ignorant of my rites, it needs to learn them—
even against its will. I must defend
the honor of Semele by teaching mortals
it was a god she bore to Zeus.
it was a god she bore to Zeus. What’s more,
Cadmus has handed down the privilege
of kingship to his grandson Pentheus
who, as I see it, wars against the gods—
he bars me from the honors owed to me
and never names me in his prayers. My godhood
therefore must be driven home to him
and all of Thebes. I will be off again,
once matters have been settled here, to show
my glory elsewhere. If the city of Thebes
attempts to rout my Bacchants from the mountain
with spears and anger, I shall lead the Maenads
against it like a general. To that end
I have disguised my superhuman form
beneath the trappings of a mortal man.

(A chorus of Bacchae from Asia enters. Dionysus turns and address them.)

You who have left Mount Tmolus, the bulwark
of Lydia, all you devotees whom I
have led out of exotic lands to serve
as confidants to me in peace and war,
take up the drum they use in Phrygia, my
and Mother Rhea’s special instrument,
and gather round the royal house of Pentheus!
Beat time now, and let the townsfolk stare!
I meanwhile will go up to Mount Cithaeron,
join my Bacchants and enjoy their dances.

Prose translation by Gregory Nagy and Alexander Sens

I am Dionysus, the child of Zeus, and I have come to this land of the Thebans, where Cadmus’ daughter Semele once bore me, delivered by a lightning-blast. Having assumed a mortal form in place of my divine one, 5 I am here at the fountains of Dirce and the water of Ismenos. Here near the palace I see the tomb of my thunder-stricken mother and the remains of her abode, smouldering with the still living flame of Zeus’ fire, Hera’s everlasting hubris against my mother. 10 I praise Cadmus, who has made this place hallowed, the shrine of his daughter, which now I have covered all around with the cluster-bearing grapevine.

I have left the rich lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, the sunny plains of the Persians, and 15 the walls of Bactria, passing over the harsh land of the Medes, and fertile Arabia, and all of Asia which lies along the coast of the sea, its beautifully-towered cities replete with a mixture of Hellenes and barbarians. 20 In Hellenic territory I have come here to Thebes first, having already established my khoroi and mysteries in those other lands so that I might be a daimôn manifest among mortals, and have raised my cry here, fitting a fawn-skin to my body and 25 taking a thyrsos in my hand, a dart of ivy. For my mother’s sisters - the very ones for whom it was least becoming - claimed that I was not the child of Zeus, but that Semele had conceived a child from a mortal father and then blamed her sexual misconduct on Zeus, 30 Cadmus’ plot, for which reason they claim that Zeus killed her, because she had told a false tale about her marriage.

Therefore have I driven them from the house with frenzy, and they dwell in the mountains, out of their phrenes; and I have given them the compulsion to wear the outfit of my mysteries. All the female offspring of the house of Cadmus, 35 as many as are women, I have made to leave the house with madness, and they, mingled with the sons of Cadmus, sit on roofless rocks beneath green pines. It is necessary that this polis learn, even though it should not wish to, 40 that it is not an initiate into my Bacchic rites, and that I plead the case of my mother, Semele, in making myself manifest to mortals as a daimôn, whom she bore to Zeus.
Cadmus then gave his office and his tyranny to Pentheus, his daughter’s son, 45 who fights against the gods in my person and drives me away from treaties, never making mention of me in his prayers. For which reasons I will show him and all the Thebans that I am a god. And when I have arranged the situation here to my satisfaction I will move on to another land, 50 revealing myself. But if ever the polis of Thebes should in anger seek to drive the the Bacchae down from the mountains with arms, I, leading on my Maenads , will join battle with them. For these reasons I have assumed a mortal form, altering my shape into the nature of a man. 55

My sacred band, you women who have left Tmolos, the bulwark of Lydia, whom I have brought from among the barbarians as assistants and companions for myself, raise up your kettle-drums, the native instruments of the polis of the Phrygians, the invention of mother Rhea and myself, 60 and going about the palace of Pentheus beat them, so that Cadmus’ polis might see. I myself will go off to the folds of Kithairon, where the Bacchae are, and will join in their khoroi.

Greek Text

ἥκω Διὸς παῖς τήνδε Θηβαίων χθόνα
Διόνυσος, ὃν τίκτει ποθ᾽ ἡ Κάδμου κόρη
Σεμέλη λοχευθεῖσ᾽ ἀστραπηφόρῳ πυρί:
μορφὴν δ᾽ ἀμείψας ἐκ θεοῦ βροτησίαν
5πάρειμι Δίρκης νάματ᾽ Ἰσμηνοῦ θ᾽ ὕδωρ.
ὁρῶ δὲ μητρὸς μνῆμα τῆς κεραυνίας
τόδ᾽ ἐγγὺς οἴκων καὶ δόμων ἐρείπια
τυφόμενα Δίου πυρὸς ἔτι ζῶσαν φλόγα,
ἀθάνατον Ἥρας μητέρ᾽ εἰς ἐμὴν ὕβριν.
10αἰνῶ δὲ Κάδμον, ἄβατον ὃς πέδον τόδε
τίθησι, θυγατρὸς σηκόν: ἀμπέλου δέ νιν
πέριξ ἐγὼ 'κάλυψα βοτρυώδει χλόῃ.
λιπὼν δὲ Λυδῶν τοὺς πολυχρύσους γύας
Φρυγῶν τε, Περσῶν θ᾽ ἡλιοβλήτους πλάκας
15Βάκτριά τε τείχη τήν τε δύσχιμον χθόνα
Μήδων ἐπελθὼν Ἀραβίαν τ᾽ εὐδαίμονα
Ἀσίαν τε πᾶσαν, ἣ παρ᾽ ἁλμυρὰν ἅλα
κεῖται μιγάσιν Ἕλλησι βαρβάροις θ᾽ ὁμοῦ
πλήρεις ἔχουσα καλλιπυργώτους πόλεις,
20ἐς τήνδε πρῶτον ἦλθον Ἑλλήνων πόλιν,
τἀκεῖ χορεύσας καὶ καταστήσας ἐμὰς
τελετάς, ἵν᾽ εἴην ἐμφανὴς δαίμων βροτοῖς.
πρώτας δὲ Θήβας τῆσδε γῆς Ἑλληνίδος
ἀνωλόλυξα, νεβρίδ᾽ ἐξάψας χροὸς
25θύρσον τε δοὺς ἐς χεῖρα, κίσσινον βέλος:
ἐπεί μ᾽ ἀδελφαὶ μητρός, ἃς ἥκιστα χρῆν,
Διόνυσον οὐκ ἔφασκον ἐκφῦναι Διός,
Σεμέλην δὲ νυμφευθεῖσαν ἐκ θνητοῦ τινος
ἐς Ζῆν᾽ ἀναφέρειν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν λέχους,
30Κάδμου σοφίσμαθ᾽, ὧν νιν οὕνεκα κτανεῖν
Ζῆν᾽ ἐξεκαυχῶνθ᾽, ὅτι γάμους ἐψεύσατο.
τοιγάρ νιν αὐτὰς ἐκ δόμων ᾤστρησ᾽ ἐγὼ
μανίαις, ὄρος δ᾽ οἰκοῦσι παράκοποι φρενῶν:
σκευήν τ᾽ ἔχειν ἠνάγκασ᾽ ὀργίων ἐμῶν,
35καὶ πᾶν τὸ θῆλυ σπέρμα Καδμείων, ὅσαι
γυναῖκες ἦσαν, ἐξέμηνα δωμάτων:
ὁμοῦ δὲ Κάδμου παισὶν ἀναμεμειγμέναι
χλωραῖς ὑπ᾽ ἐλάταις ἀνορόφοις ἧνται πέτραις.
δεῖ γὰρ πόλιν τήνδ᾽ ἐκμαθεῖν, κεἰ μὴ θέλει,
40ἀτέλεστον οὖσαν τῶν ἐμῶν βακχευμάτων,
Σεμέλης τε μητρὸς ἀπολογήσασθαί μ᾽ ὕπερ
φανέντα θνητοῖς δαίμον᾽ ὃν τίκτει Διί.
Κάδμος μὲν οὖν γέρας τε καὶ τυραννίδα
Πενθεῖ δίδωσι θυγατρὸς ἐκπεφυκότι,
45ὃς θεομαχεῖ τὰ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ καὶ σπονδῶν ἄπο
ὠθεῖ μ᾽, ἐν εὐχαῖς τ᾽ οὐδαμοῦ μνείαν ἔχει.
ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ αὐτῷ θεὸς γεγὼς ἐνδείξομαι
πᾶσίν τε Θηβαίοισιν. ἐς δ᾽ ἄλλην χθόνα,
τἀνθένδε θέμενος εὖ, μεταστήσω πόδα,
50δεικνὺς ἐμαυτόν: ἢν δὲ Θηβαίων πόλις
ὀργῇ σὺν ὅπλοις ἐξ ὄρους βάκχας ἄγειν
ζητῇ, ξυνάψω μαινάσι στρατηλατῶν.
ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ εἶδος θνητὸν ἀλλάξας ἔχω
μορφήν τ᾽ ἐμὴν μετέβαλον εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν.
55ἀλλ᾽, ὦ λιποῦσαι Τμῶλον ἔρυμα Λυδίας,
θίασος ἐμός, γυναῖκες, ἃς ἐκ βαρβάρων
ἐκόμισα παρέδρους καὶ ξυνεμπόρους ἐμοί,
αἴρεσθε τἀπιχώρι᾽ ἐν πόλει Φρυγῶν
τύμπανα, Ῥέας τε μητρὸς ἐμά θ᾽ εὑρήματα,
60βασίλειά τ᾽ ἀμφὶ δώματ᾽ ἐλθοῦσαι τάδε
κτυπεῖτε Πενθέως, ὡς ὁρᾷ Κάδμου πόλις.
ἐγὼ δὲ βάκχαις, ἐς Κιθαιρῶνος πτυχὰς
ἐλθὼν ἵν᾽ εἰσί, συμμετασχήσω χορῶν.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 10-08-2017 at 10:30 AM.
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Old 10-07-2017, 06:58 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 1,853

Hi Aaron,

This is as usual elegantly rendered into natural English, and will I think read well from the stage. Molodets, they say in Russian!
My only question is: does the Greek end stop its lines more than the English? And if so, could you bring in more end stops?
Question for Euripides: I wonder how Pentheus will name Dionysus more in prayer when he is torn in pieces.

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Old 10-07-2017, 01:57 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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John, thank you. You raise an interesting question--the Greek here has more enjambment and fewer endstops than my English version. You have gotten me interested in whether Greek poetry generally "hard-enjambs" more often then English poetry. My impression is that it does.

Yes, there is that question in the play--why does the Stranger give Pentheus the opportunity to mend his ways when it has already been decided that Pentheus will die.

Thank you,

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Old 10-07-2017, 02:07 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Location: TX
Posts: 1,853

Thank you, Aaron - interesting to hear that news about the Greek! I now wonder whether lyric and dramatic poetry differ. It sounds like a research topic. Moliere has some wild and crazy alexandrines, writing comedy as he does.
I think a lot of poor sods in Greek drama never stand a chance. They're for it.

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Old 10-07-2017, 03:10 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 789


I love the natural flow of this. It's well done, with some excellent turns of phrase ("lightning-blasted / mother’s tomb" stands out).

There's very little to crit, though I would imagine "wages war on god" might cause difficulties on the stage. I see it's coming from "θεομαχεῖ," which can be singular, but my sense of the phrase is that Pentheus, in ignoring Dionysus, is waging war on all the gods. I think that can be read into that line, but since this is going to be read aloud, I think it could cause some confusion. I might consider letting that line spill over like
who, as I see it, wages war on all
the gods
And then losing a foot over the next line and a half. I've been tinkering with it for a while and haven't gotten it myself, but I'm close enough to know that it may be worth trying.
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Old 10-08-2017, 10:28 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Andrew, thank you--yes, "wages war on god" would sound like "wages war on God" to the audience. I had better stress the polytheism. I will go with "wars against the gods". Thank you for pointing out the problem.

Best, best,

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Old 10-12-2017, 04:23 PM
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AZ Foreman AZ Foreman is offline
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For τοιγάρ νιν αὐτὰς ἐκ δόμων ᾤστρησ᾽ ἐγὼ μανίαις I wonder if you might use the same verb "drive" to do double duty as a bit of mild wordplay. In English we can both drive someone mad, and also drive them from their homes. Perhaps something along the lines of "And so I drove them mad out of their homes/ in retribution." Or maybe "out of their homes and minds." After all, the Greek here is quite pregnant. οἰστράω has, so to speak, a bit of a sting to it.

Given that Dionysus is maddening the townsfolk to prove a point and show them who his daddy is, I can't help thinking of the Zeus-made gadfly that put Bellerophon in his place with a sting to the steed. (And in Euripides version of the tale, it was because Bellerophon dared suggest that the gods were not real.)
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Old 12-06-2017, 10:58 AM
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Nicholas Stone Nicholas Stone is offline
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Posts: 592

Hi Aaron, I enjoyed reading this. I hope I'm not too late to offer some minor criticisms.

For metrical reasons perhaps line 2 might be easier as "the god whom Cadmus' daughter, Semele," though I know you've used "Cadmus's" elsewhere, which stops this being an easy change.

I'm not sure if your rendering of 21f conveys the sense of the Greek right. Perhaps "I came to this Greek city / first; for other lands I've taught my rites / and made them dance..."

"ivy-vested" sounds incongruously American to me. I haven't got any good suggestions for replacements.

35f - I find the metrical difference between these lines a bit difficult for speaking easily, and not justified by the Greek, which is entirely regular.

I like "I will be off again," its informality makes the duality of Dionysus' tone available to the actor.
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Old 12-06-2017, 02:21 PM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Location: Saeby, Denmark
Posts: 2,805

You have "address" instead of "addresses" in the stage direction.

I'm also wondering whether the chorus of Bacchae shouldn't take the plural rather than the singular, i.e. "enter" instead of "enters".


Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 12-06-2017 at 02:23 PM.
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