meddle with thy holy rites, and with thy mother's, Bacchic god, thinking
with his weak arm to master might as masterless as thine. This is
the life that saves all pain, if a man confine his thoughts to human
themes, as is his mortal nature, making no pretence where heaven is
concerned. I envy not deep subtleties; far other joys have I, in tracking
out great truths writ clear from all eternity, that a man should live
his life by day and night in purity and holiness, striving toward
a noble goal, and should honour the gods by casting from him each
ordinance that lies outside the pale of right. Let justice show herself,
advancing sword in hand to plunge it through and through the throat
of Echion's son, that godless, lawless, and abandoned child of earth!
Appear, O Bacchus, to our eyes as a bull or serpent with a hundred
heads, or take the shape of a lion breathing flame! Oh! come, and
with a mocking smile cast the deadly noose about the hunter of thy
Bacchanals, e'en as he swoops upon the Maenads gathered yonder. (Enter
SECOND MESSENGER O house, so prosperous once through Hellas long
ago, home of the old Sidonian prince, who sowed the serpent's crop
of earth-born men, how do I mourn thee! slave though I be, yet still
the sorrows of his master touch a good slave's heart.
CHORUS How now? Hast thou fresh tidings of the Bacchantes?
SECOND MESSENGER Pentheus, Echion's son is dead.
CHORUS Bromius, my king! now art thou appearing in thy might divine.
SECOND MESSENGER Ha! what is it thou sayest? art thou glad, woman,
at my master's misfortunes?
CHORUS A stranger I, and in foreign tongue I express my joy, for
now no more do I cower in terror of the chain.
SECOND MESSENGER Dost think Thebes so poor in men?(*, * Probably
the whole of one iambic line with part of another is here lost.)
CHORUS 'Tis Dionysus, Dionysus, not Thebes that lords it over me.
SECOND MESSENGER All can I pardon thee save this; to exult o'er hopeless
suffering is sorry conduct, dames.
CHORUS Tell me, oh! tell me how he died, that villain scheming villainy!
SECOND MESSENGER Soon as we had left the homesteads of this Theban
land and had crossed the streams of Asopus, we began to breast Cithaeron's
heights, Pentheus and I, for I went with my master, and the stranger
too, who was to guide us to the scene. First then we sat us down in
a grassy glen, carefully silencing each footfall and whispered breath,
to see without being seen. Now there was a dell walled in by rocks,
with rills to water it, and shady pines o'erhead; there were the Maenads
seated, busied with joyous toils. Some were wreathing afresh the drooping
thyrsus with curling ivy-sprays; others, like colts let loose from
the carved chariot-yoke, were answering each other in hymns of Bacchic
rapture. But Pentheus, son of sorrow, seeing not the women gathered
there, exclaimed, "Sir stranger, from where I stand, I cannot clearly
see the mock Bacchantes; but I will climb a hillock or a soaring pine
whence to see clearly the shameful doings of the Bacchanals." Then
and there I saw the stranger work a miracle; for catching a lofty
fir-branch by the very end he drew it downward to the dusky earth,
lower yet and ever lower; and like a bow it bent, or rounded wheel,
whose curving circle grows complete, as chalk and line describe it;
e'en so the stranger drew down the mountain-branch between his hands,
bending it to earth, by more than human agency. And when he had seated
Pentheus aloft on the pine branches, he let them slip through his
hands gently, careful not to shake him from his seat. Up soared the
branch straight into the air above, with my master perched thereon,
seen by the Maenads better far than he saw them; for scarce was he
beheld upon his lofty throne, when the stranger disappeared, while
from the sky there came a voice, 'twould seem, by Dionysus uttered-
"Maidens, I bring the man who tried to mock you and me and my mystic
rites; take vengeance on him." And as he spake he raised 'twixt heaven
and earth a dazzling column of awful flame. Hushed grew the sky, and
still hung each leaf throughout the grassy glen, nor couldst thou
have heard one creature cry. But they, not sure of the voice they