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The Bacchantes   


thou sayest, seeking to gratify their lusts alone amid the woods,
by wine and soft flute-music maddened.
Anon in their midst thy mother uprose and cried aloud to wake them
from their sleep, when she heard the lowing of my horned kine. And
up they started to their feet, brushing from their eyes sleep's quickening
dew, a wondrous sight of grace and modesty, young and old and maidens
yet unwed. First o'er their shoulders they let stream their hair;
then all did gird their fawn-skins up, who hitherto had left the fastenings
loose, girdling the dappled hides with snakes that licked their cheeks.
Others fondled in their arms gazelles or savage whelps of wolves,
and suckled them-young mothers these with babes at home, whose breasts
were still full of milk; crowns they wore of ivy or of oak or blossoming
convolvulus. And one took her thyrsus and struck it into the earth,
and forth there gushed a limpid spring; and another plunged her wand
into the lap of earth and there the god sent up a fount of wine; and
all who wished for draughts of milk had but to scratch the soil with
their finger-tips and there they had it in abundance, while from every
ivy-wreathed staff sweet rills of honey trickled.
Hadst thou been there and seen this, thou wouldst have turned to pray
to the god, whom now thou dost disparage. Anon we herdsmen and shepherds
met to discuss their strange and wondrous doings; then one, who wandereth
oft to town and hath a trick of speech, made harangue in the midst,
"O ye who dwell upon the hallowed mountain-terraces! shall we chase
Agave, mother of Pentheus, from her Bacchic rites, and thereby do
our prince a service?" We liked his speech, and placed ourselves in
hidden ambush among the leafy thickets; they at the appointed time
began to wave the thyrsus for their Bacchic rites, calling on Iacchus,
the Bromian god, the son of Zeus, in united chorus, and the whole
mount and the wild creatures re-echoed their cry; all nature stirred
as they rushed on. Now Agave chanced to come springing near me, so
up I leapt from out my ambush where I lay concealed, meaning to seize
her. But she cried out, "What ho! my nimble hounds, here are men upon
our track; but follow me, ay, follow, with the thyrsus in your hand
for weapon." Thereat we fled, to escape being torn in pieces by the
Bacchantes; but they, with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked
our cattle as they browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering
some sleek lowing calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb.
Before thy eyes there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this
way and that; and strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as
they hung from the pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now
with rage along their horns, found themselves tripped up, dragged
down to earth by countless maidens' hands. The flesh upon their limbs
was stripped therefrom quicker than thou couldst have closed thy royal
eye-lids. Then off they sped, like birds that skim the air, to the
plains beneath the hills, which bear a fruitful harvest for Thebes
beside the waters of Asopus; to Hysiae and Erythrae, hamlets 'neath
Cithaeron's peak, with fell intent, swooping on everything and scattering
all pellmell; and they would snatch children from their homes; but
all that they placed upon their shoulders, abode there firmly without
being tied, and fell not to the dusky earth, not even brass or iron;
and on their hair they carried fire and it burnt them not; but the
country-folk rushed to arms, furious at being pillaged by Bacchanals;
whereon ensued, O king, this wondrous spectacle. For though the ironshod
dart would draw no blood from them, they with the thyrsus, which they
hurled, caused many a wound and put their foes to utter rout, women
chasing men, by some god's intervention. Then they returned to the
place whence they had started, even to the springs the god had made
to spout for them; and there washed off the blood, while serpents
with their tongues were licking clean each gout from their cheeks.
Wherefore, my lord and master, receive this deity, whoe'er he be,
within the city; for, great as he is in all else, I have likewise
heard men say, 'twas he that gave the vine to man, sorrow's antidote.
Take wine away and Cypris flies, and every other human joy is dead.
CHORUS Though I fear to speak my mind with freedom in the presence

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