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The Bacchantes   


heard, sprang up and peered all round; then once again his bidding
came; and when the daughters of Cadmus knew it was the Bacchic god
in very truth that called, swift as doves they dirted off in cager
haste, his mother Agave and her sisters dear and all the Bacchanals;
through torrent glen, o'er boulders huge they bounded on, inspired
with madness by the god. Soon as they saw my master perched upon the
fir, they set to hurling stones at him with all their might, mounting
a commanding eminence, and with pine-branches he was pelted as with
darts; and others shot their wands through the air at Pentheus, their
hapless target, but all to no purpose. For there he sat beyond the
reach of their hot endeavours, a helpless, hopeless victim. At last
they rent off limbs from oaks and were for prising up the roots with
levers not of iron. But when they still could make no end to all their
toil, Agave cried: "Come stand around, and grip the sapling trunk,
my Bacchanals! that we may catch the beast that sits thereon, lest
he divulge the secrets of our god's religion."
Then were a thousand hands laid on the fir, and from the ground they
tore it up, while he from his seat aloft came tumbling to the ground
with lamentations long and loud, e'en Pentheus; for well he knew his
hour was come. His mother first, a priestess for the nonce, began
the bloody deed and fell upon him; whereon he tore the snood from
off his hair, that hapless Agave might recognize and spare him, crying
as he touched her cheek, "O mother! it is I, thy own son Pentheus,
the child thou didst bear in Echion's halls; have pity on me, mother
dear! oh! do not for any sin of mine slay thy own son."
But she, the while, with foaming mouth and wildly rolling eyes, bereft
of reason as she was, heeded him not; for the god possessed her. And
she caught his left hand in her grip, and planting her foot upon her
victim's trunk she tore the shoulder from its socket, not of her own
strength, but the god made it an easy task to her hands; and Ino set
to work upon the other side, rending the flesh with Autonoe and all
the eager host of Bacchanals; and one united cry arose, the victim's
groans while yet he breathed, and their triumphant shouts. One would
make an arm her prey, another a foot with the sandal on it; and his
ribs were stripped of flesh by their rending nails; and each one with
blood-dabbled hands was tossing Pentheus' limbs about. Scattered lies
his corpse, part beneath the rugged rocks, and part amid the deep
dark woods, no easy task to find; but his poor head hath his mother
made her own, and fixing it upon the point of a thyrsus, as it had
been a mountain lion's, she bears it through the midst of Cithaeron,
having left her sisters with the Maenads at their rites. And she is
entering these walls exulting in her hunting fraught with woe, calling
on the Bacchic god her fellow-hunter who had helped her to triumph
in a chase, where her only prize was tears.
But I will get me hence, away from this piteous scene, before Agave
reach the palace. To my mind self-restraint and reverence for the
things of God point alike the best and wisest course for all mortals
who pursue them. (Exit SECOND MESSENGER.)
CHORUS Come, let us exalt our Bacchic god in choral strain, let us
loudly chant the fall of Pentheus from the serpent sprung, who assumed
a woman's dress and took the fair Bacchic wand, sure pledge of death,
with a bull to guide him to his doom. O ye Bacchanals of Thebes! glorious
is the triumph ye have achieved, ending in sorrow and tears. 'Tis
a noble enterprise to dabble the hand in the blood of a son till it
drips. But hist! I see Agave, the mother of Pentheus, with wild rolling
eye hasting to the house; welcome the revellers of the Bacchic god.
(Enter AGAVE.)
AGAVE Ye Bacchanals from Asia
CHORUS Why dost thou rouse me? why?
AGAVE From the hills I am bringing to my home a tendril freshly-culled,
glad guerdon-of the chase.
CHORUS I see it, and I will welcome thee unto our revels. All hail!
AGAVE I caught him with never a snare, this lion's whelp, as ye may
see.

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