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The Bacchantes   


TEIRESIAS No subtleties do I indulge about the powers of heaven.
The faith we inherited from our fathers, old as time itself, no reasoning
shall cast down; no! though it were the subtlest invention of wits
refined. Maybe some one will say, I have no respect for my grey hair
in going to dance with ivy round my head; not so, for the god did
not define whether old or young should dance, but from all alike he
claims a universal homage, and scorns nice calculations in his worship.
CADMUS Teiresias, since thou art blind, I must prompt thee what to
say. Pentheus is coming hither to the house in haste, Echion's son,
to whom I resign the government. How scared he looks I what strange
tidings will he tell? (Enter PENTHEUS.)
PENTHEUS I had left my kingdom for awhile, when tidings of strange
mischief in this city reached me; I hear that our women-folk have
left their homes on pretence of Bacchic rites, and on the wooded hills
rush wildly to and fro, honouring in the dance this new god Dionysus,
whoe'er he is; and in the midst of each revel-rout the brimming wine-bowl
stands, and one by one they steal away to lonely spots to gratify
their lust, pretending forsooth that they are Maenads bent on sacrifice,
though it is Aphrodite they are placing before the Bacchic god. As
many as I caught, my gaolers are keeping safe in the public prison
fast bound; and all who are gone forth, will I chase from the hills,
Ino and Agave too who bore me to Echion, and Actaeon's mother Autonoe.
In fetters of iron will I bind them and soon put an end to these outrageous
Bacchic rites. They say there came a stranger hither, a trickster
and a sorcerer, from Lydia's land, with golden hair and perfumed locks,
the flush of wine upon his face, and in his eyes each grace that Aphrodite
gives; by day and night he lingers in our maidens' company on the
plea of teaching Bacchic mysteries. Once let me catch him within these
walls, and I will put an end to his thyrsus-beating and his waving
of his tresses, for I will cut his head from his body. This is the
fellow who says that Dionysus is a god, says that he was once stitched
up in the thigh of Zeus-that child who with his mother was blasted
by the lightning flash, because the woman falsely said her marriage
was with Zeus. Is not this enough to deserve the awful penalty of
hanging, this stranger's wanton insolence, whoe'er he be?
But lo! another marvel. I see Teiresias, our diviner, dressed in dappled
fawn-skins, and my mother's father too, wildly waving the Bacchic
wand; droll sight enough! Father, it grieves me to see you two old
men so void of sense. Oh! shake that ivy from thee! Let fall the thyrsus
from thy hand, my mother's sire! Was it thou, Teiresias, urged him
on to this? Art bent on introducing this fellow as another new deity
amongst men, that thou mayst then observe the fowls of the air and
make a gain from fiery divination? Were it not that thy grey hairs
protected thee, thou shouldst sit in chains amid the Bacchanals, for
introducing knavish mysteries; for where the gladsome grape is found
at women's feasts, I deny that their rites have any longer good results.
CHORUS What impiety! Hast thou no reverence, sir stranger, for the
gods or for Cadmus who sowed the crop of earth-born warriors? Son
of Echion as thou art, thou dost shame thy birth.
TEIRESIAS Whenso a man of wisdom finds a good topic for argument,
it is no difficult matter to speak well; but thou, though possessing
a glib tongue as if endowed with sense, art yet devoid thereof in
all thou sayest. A headstrong man, if he have influence and a capacity
for speaking, makes a bad citizen because he lacks sense. This new
deity, whom thou deridest, will rise to power I cannot say how great,
throughout Hellas. Two things there are, young prince, that hold first
rank among men, the goddess Demeter, that is, the earth, calf her
which name thou please; she it is that feedeth men with solid food;
and as her counterpart came this god, the son of Semele, who discovered
the juice of the grape and introduced it to mankind, stilling thereby
each grief that mortals suffer from, soon as e'er they are filled
with the juice of the vine; and sleep also he giveth, sleep that brings
forgetfulness of daily ills, the sovereign charm for all our woe.
God though he is, he serves all other gods for libations, so that

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