September 12, 2011
Response Paper #2
In Euripides' play “The Bacchae”, the god Dionysus is presented in having several contradicting elements to his character. Dionysus embodies characteristics that are both god-like and human, as he has male and female descriptions and is seen as both animalistic and human. Dionysus appears to have split genders as both male and female. He is indeed a male god, but his human form is described throughout the play as very feminine and beautiful. Pentheus refers to Dionysus' hair as “very fetching...the way they ripple around [his] cheeks” (32) and of his “nice ringlets.” The issue of the god's birth is also questionable to gender, as he was first conceived in his mother Semele's wound but then later buried in Zeus' thigh in a secret birthing chamber to finish developing. In this way, Dionysus is concieved from both a woman and a man, making the role of gender questionable yet again. Finally, the Maenads that follow him are all women, making Dionysus represent both male and female to the worshippers of ancient Greeks. Not only does Dionysus embody contradicting gender roles, but he represents both animal and human qualities as well. In the play, Dionysus is referred to as animal-like when the chorus sings, “Appear now to our sight, O Bacchus—
come as a bull or many-headed serpent or else some fire-breathing lion.” Also, he is the god of irrational thought and primal instincts such as sex, chaos, desire, violence, discord, madness, and adrenaline, all animalistic emotions. While he is in his human form, he is the direct opposite of his bull-like appearance and frenzied emotions, as he is level headed and calm in his manipulations and tricks for punishing Pentheus. Once again, Dionysus is presented in a contradicting light, as he is a connecting force between both human rationality and animalistic irrationality.
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