The Bacchae In the Bacchae, for whom do you feel more sympathy Pentheus or Dionysus? In the Bacchae, Pentheus and Dionysus have very different characters. They are both very complex characters and they both go through changes that alter the way you see them. At the beginning of the play, we are given a very dramatic image of Dionysus at his mothers, Semeles monument. He is wearing a crown of ivy, carrying a thyrsus and wearing a fawn skin. It is a very mysterious and haunting scene. When Dionysus speaks he speaks angrily and passionately – you do not get the impression that he is a very subdued character.
In contrast, however, when you first meet Pentheus you see him as a very proud man. He is outraged with the women of Thebes, he has a strict sense of his own beliefs he simply cannot understand why the women are choosing to believe in a foreign god, an upstart god . He is instinctively sceptical. He believes that the women of Troy have left on some pretence of Bacchic worship. He is so cynical he honestly cannot believe in the power of Bacchus. When we first meet the two adversaries face to face, we at first feel sympathy for Dionysus, for he is the prisoner.
Pentheus starts the conversation thinking he has the upper hand because he has more power over the situation. However, it is clear to the audience that Dionysus is in control of the situation. He is calm and strong. He could have felt threatened, being in a kings presence, but instead he acts confidently. This could have made me feel proud of Dionysus for handling the situation so well; if it was not for the fact that he cruelly mocks Pentheus. Pentheus obviously has no idea that he is talking to a god, and Dionysus takes full advantage of this. Dionysus drops hints that he is not simply a Bacchic worshiper, but these are only obvious to the audience. Dionysus tells us that Dionysus is close at hand and sees whats being done to me.
The audience can appreciate the subtly in this, but to Pentheus the man is just provoking him. I think that Pentheus is jealous of Dionysus power over women, long curls and white skin. This would explain why he is so condescending to Dionysus. Pentheus does not want to believe that Dionysus is really the son of Zeus. I think that deep down he knows that he is and that is why he constantly needs to reassure himself of his royal status. I think Dionysus is aware of Pentheus jealousy and he uses this to his own advantage.
We know that he can manipulate people, as he can make the guard feel guilty for simply bringing him before the king. I can sympathise with Pentheus because it is hard for him to understand this new, foreign cult, let alone accept it. He is a young and relatively new king and unused to his power, without having it questioned by a foreigner. He wants to assert his power and to be in control. He can not do this when being threatened by an eastern cult.
I do disagree, however, with the way Pentheus tries to dictate Thebes – it should be up to the people of Thebes to make up their own minds as to their beliefs. If they want to believe that Dionysus is the son of Zeus, there is nothing Pentheus can do to change their minds. Pentheus is frightened by the way that the women are so sure of themselves, he does not like the way they are suddenly at ease with nature. What he does not realise is that Dionysus does not want the women to completely abandon themselves to nature, but just to recognise his importance and the importance of his worship. There are many qualities that make Dionysus a strong god, he is very wise and helps the people to forget their suffering by procuring wine.
He is also a prophet and can enable people to see their future. Dionysus is often blamed for his female followers being unchaste and without morals. I do not think that this is a fair accusation, as he does not make them act immoral. If they do, then they are already immoral and would have been so even of they had stayed at home with their families. Teiresias makes this clear when he says Dionysus will not compel women to be chaste, since in all matters self-control resides in our own natures. Dionysus is also thought to have been the reason the women of Thebes become fiends and ransack the nearby villages when faced with any opposition or violence.
I do not think that this has anything to do with the religion, for when the chorus, the true Bacchants, are faced with violence they instead lie prostrate on the floor calling for their god to rescue them. What I do not agree with though, is the way Dionysus turns everyone mad. It is not the people of Thebes fault that Agau, Ino and Autonoe believed that a mortal fathered Dionysus. It is very unjust of Dionysus to punish the whole city. I also do not agree with the way that he punishes Cadmus.
The man has done nothing wrong, he believed in Bacchus and followed his rituals. He has to come to terms with the murder of his grandson, by his own daughter. It is not fair to also banish him from his home. Cadmus even appeals to Dionysus, telling him that Gods should not be like mortals in vindictiveness. His pleas are ignored.
There are also reasons for not sympathising with Pentheus. He immediately judges Dionysus to be an effeminate weakling and mocks him for this. He also judges the women of Thebes and the Maenads too quickly. He is xenophobic, racist and snobbish. Whilst these are not admirable characteristics in a person, they can be excused because Pentheus is only a mortal. Dionysus does not have that excuse. However, Pentheus can sometimes simply be accused of being incompetent. He makes a foolish judgement in locking Dionysus up.
He has blatantly ignored the guards and Dionysus warnings, about the miracles that Dionysus can perform. In the third scene when Dionysus is hunting Pentheus, Pentheus is wearing Bacchanal garb, much as a victim of sacrifice would have. This is a central scene in the play. It is here that I can clearly see that the roles of Dionysus and Pentheus have been reversed. Now it is Dionysus in control of Pentheus utter humiliation.
I feel far more sympathy for Pentheus than Dionysus because Pentheus is not aware that he is under spell or being mocked. Even when it was Dionysus being hunted, he was always aware of what he was doing. Pentheus would never have humiliated himself by dressing in womens clothes and acting vain, if he had been of sane mind. When it finally comes to the death of Pentheus, I feel no warmth for Dionysus whatsoever. He has cruelly lured Pentheus to his death and has sent Agaue mad and unable to tell that she is murdering her own son. Whatever sympathy I had once felt for Dionysus character is now gone.
He has acted in such a cold, heartless manner to everyone around him. He has driven every one who did not believe that he was the son of Zeus mad, as well as some who did. He has acted in a vindictive and vengeful manner not fitting for a god. He is the son of Zeus, but he acts like a resentful mortal. Pentheus, though he has made some bad decisions, is definitely the character I feel more sympathy for.
Almost all the way through the play, he is not aware of what is happening around him, or the way he is being used. It is quite pitiful to see the way he tries to grasp on to his power and sanity. He deludes himself all through the play that he is the one in charge, the one with the authority. Bibliography The Bacchae, and other plays, by Euripides Mythology.