Sunday, January 11, 2015

2015-01-10 A Year WIth The Harvard Classics - Where Love Lies Waiting

January 10 - Where Love Lies Waiting - King Pantheus of Thebes contended against Dionysus, the God, for the adoration of the Theban woemn, The god was winning by bewitching the women when the king interceded.  Euripides tells the story in a masterpiece of Greek drama. Read from Euripides' The Bacchae, Vol. 8, pp. 368-372.

Click HERE for an online version of Euripides' Bacchae.

That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed.  
My mother sinned, said they; and in her need, 
With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame
With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame
From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God.
(from Euripides' The Bacchae, THC, Vol. 8, p. 379)

In  the Prologue  of Euripides' play we behold Dionysus, son of Zeus, who addresses the audience, describing Thebes, his birthplace and the ancestral home of his mother, Semele, who is mortal. After Semele's has an affair with Zeus, his wife, the goddess Hera, becomes jealous and taunts her husband's lover for never having known Zeus in his divine form. Semele then begs Zeus to appear to her as a divinity;so he appears as lightening bolt and Semele, who is unable to behold him, burns to death. Zeus then rescued the unborn fetus, Dionysus and stitches him into his thigh. 

Cadmus denies Dionysus divinity, his family accuses Semele of having a human lover and lying about Zeus, dying at his hands as punishment. The God-Human now returns punish the house of Cadmus for their disrespectful treatment of his mother's memory and their refusal to permit him to be worshiped. Appearing in Thebes in the guise of a male Lydian stranger, he has already driven the women of the place mad and they have taken to the hills of Mt. Cithaeron, where they, the maenads, sing, dance, and perform bacchic rites. And Pentheus, (grandson of Cadmus), who is now King refuses to worship Dionysus.

One study resource for the play notes that Euripides deviates form the traditional use of the prologue to show the human side of Dionysus in order to introduce the audience to the complex nature of this character who represents ambiguity itself.

The god not only embodies differences (belief and madness, celebration and destruction) but in his actions demonstrates a similar fluidity. His punishment of Pentheus, for example— which proves excessive, gruesome and terrible—is brought about in an extremely subtle, devious and gradual manner. 

Furthermore, the audience is the only entity that knows the true identity of the Lydian stranger which adds a great deal of emotional intensity as the audience forecasts the unavoidable tragedy that is unfolding before them.

Another study resource suggests that what is really at the heart of the play is the tension between rationality, represented by King Pentheus and the intuitive, represented by Dionysus, suggesting:

The Bacchae seems to be saying that it is perilous to deny or ignore the human desire for Dionysian experience; those who are open to the experience will find spiritual power, and those who suppress or repress the desire in themselves or others will transform it into a destructive force.
(Euripides. Dodds, E. R. trans. Bacchae; Plays of Euripides. Clarendon Press, 1960. pg.14)

How often have we experienced the destructive force of repression and oppression in this world?  The lesson of the Dionysian lust for revenge is that violence, in both its brutal and subtle forms begets violence. A lesson worth returning to again and again, especially as we prepare again this week to honor one of modernity's most beloved prophets and peacemakers.

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