Euripides and Bacchus

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The Metamorphoses by Ovid and Euripides' play entitled, The Bacchae present the same two stories in very different directions. The general story revolves around the figure of Pentheus, a Theban prince who challenges the might of Bacchus, his cousin and a god. While both include the same key plot driven aspects, the interpretations given by the two different writers are vastly different in what morals and concepts they try to let out from the text. The Metamorphoses is essentially a testament of hundreds of many different Roman myths culminated together where the tale of Pentheus is but a small part, thus holding much significance in the manner in which his story should be interpreted. Euripides, The Bacchae, while still the same story as the one Ovid presents, is written as a play, and therefore it too needs to be interpreted from that standpoint. As such, the two writers also show a very different focus in how the character of Pentheus ultimately reaches his fate. Ovid uses the mythology, history, and mysticism of the Gods to justify the punishment and denigration of Pentheus, while Euripides, though granting him the same fate, humanizes the story to offer some defense to Pentheus' character.

Ovid presents the tale of Pentheus as a doomed figure for continuing his family's long tradition of offending the feminine aspects of the gods. Book three within the metamorphoses not only holds the story of Pentheus and his conflict with Bacchus, but also the entire history of the line of Cadmus. The history of Pentheus' bloodline is both crucial to his fate and displays how Ovid steers the morals of his stories towards religious superstition. Pentheus was doomed from the moment the first in his line, Cadmus, abandoned his journey to find Europa to establish the city of Thebes. Doing this, Ovid right away establishes the theme of Cadmus's line denying some aspect of feminine power or responsibility for some form of personal gain. The city Cadmus establishes is born from the seeds of Ares upon slaying his serpentine beast and planting his teeth where Thebes is to be established, further pressing the idea that he, and those who come from Thebes, stand as a symbolic masculine representative. His doom is sealed by an unseen godly figure uttering the words, "You, too, will be a snake at whom men gaze" (Metamorphoses pg. 80). By keeping the voice unrepresented by a physical entity, it establishes another theme within the Metamorphoses of raising the undeniable power of the Gods to a level far beyond humans. It is a trait that will echo within Pentheus' tale.

Continuing along the bloodline of Cadmus, the tale of Actaeon represents another instance of insult towards a greater feminine power. Actaeon, the masculine hunter, happens to spy upon the Goddess Diana as she bathes within a River. He is punished by being turned into a stag and then hunted down by his own kinsmen. This story far more directly foreshadows the fate of Pentheus who is murdered by his own mother and other related, feminine kinsmen when Bacchus possesses their minds to have them believe that Pentheus is a wild beast. The similarities in text regarding the final moments of Actaeon and Pentheus are clear. In describing Actaeon's death Ovid writes, "his hounds have hemmed him in; they sink their muzzles into every limb- the flesh of their own master in false guise as stag. Diana was not satisfied until, so mangled, Actaeon died" (Metamorphoses 86). And then, in describing Pentheus' death he writes, "[Agave] tears off his head, and yells, as she lifts high his head: ‘This, comrades, spells our victory- our work!'" (Metamorphoses 106). The similar deaths between these two family members exemplifies yet again Ovid's theme of Godly supremacy in both the aspects of fate and mans submission to them.

The two interludes of Book three are the stories of Tiresias, and Narcissus and Echo, both further demonstrating the power of feminine wrath and...
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