Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.). The Bacchæ.
King Pantheus of Thebes contended against Dionysus, the God, for the adoration of the Theban women. The god was winning by bewitching the women when the king interceded. Euripides tells the story in a masterpiece of Greek drama.
BEHOLD, God’s Son is come unto this land
Of heaven’s hot splendour lit to life, when she
Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand
Who bore me, Cadmus’ daughter Semelê,
Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man,
I walk again by Dirce’s streams and scan
Ismenus’ shore. There by the castle side
I see her place, the Tomb of the Lightning’s Bride,
The wreck of smouldering chambers, and the great
Faint wreaths of fire undying—as the hate
Dies not, that Hera held for Semelê.
Aye, Cadmus bath done well; in purity
He keeps this place apart, inviolate,
His daughter’s sanctuary; and I have set
My green and clustered vines to robe it round.
Far now behind me lies the golden ground
Of Lydian and of Phrygian; far away
The wide hot plains where Persian sunbeams play,
The Bactrian war-holds, and the storm-oppressed
Clime of the Mede, and Araby the Blest,
And Asia all, that by the salt sea lies
In proud embattled cities, motley-wise
Of Hellene and Barbarian interwrought;
And now I come to Hellas—having taught
All the world else my dances and my rite
Of mysteries, to show me in men’s sight
And first of Helene lands
I cry this Thebes to waken; set her hands
To clasp my wand, mine ivied javelin,
And round her shoulders hang my wild fawn-skin.
For they have scorned me whom it least beseemed,
Semelê’s sisters; mocked my birth, nor deemed
That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed.
My mother sinned, said they; and in her need,
With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame
With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame
From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God.
Thus must they vaunt; and therefore bath my rod
On them first fallen, and stung them forth wild-eyed
From empty chambers; the bare mountain side
Is made their home, and all their hearts are flame.
Yea, I have bound upon the necks of them
The harness of my rites. And with them all
The seed of womankind from hut and hall
Of Thebes, bath this my magic goaded out.
And there, with the old King’s daughters, in a rout
Confused, they make their dwelling-place between
The roofless rocks and shadowy pine trees green.
Thus shall this Thebes, how sore soe’er it smart,
Learn and forget not, till she crave her part
In mine adoring; thus must I speak clear
To save my mother’s fame, and crown me here
As true God, born by Semelê to Zeus.
Now Cadmus yieldeth up his throne and use
Of royal honour to his daughter’s son
Pentheus; who on my body hath begun
A war with God. He thrusteth me away
From due drink-offering, and, when men pray,
My name entreats not. Therefore on his own
Head and his people’s shall my power he shown.
Then to another land, when all things here
Are well, must I fare onward, making clear
My godhead’s might. But should this Theban town
Essay with wrath and battle to drag down
My maids, lo, in their path myself shall be,
And maniac armies battled after me!
For this I veil my godhead with the wan
Form of the things that die, and walk as Man.
O Brood of Tmolus o’er the wide world flown,
O Lydian band, my chosen and mine own,
Damsels uplifted o’er the orient deep
To wander where I wander, and to sleep
Where I sleep; up, and wake the old sweet sound,
The clang that I and mystic Rhea found,
The Timbrel of the Mountain! Gather all
Thebes to your song round Pentheus’ royal hall.
I seek my new-made worshippers, to guide
Their dances up Kithaeron’s pine clad side. [As he departs, there comes stealing in from the left a band of fifteen Eastern Women, the light of the sunrise streaming upon their long white robes and ivy-bound hair. They wear fawn-skins over the robes, and carry some of them timbrels, some pipes and other instruments. Many bear the thyrsus or sacred Wand, made of reed ringed with ivy. They enter stealthily till they see that the place is empty, and then begin their mystic song of worship.
From Asia, from the dayspring that uprises,
To Bromios ever glorying we came.
We laboured for our Lord in many guises;
We toiled, but the toil is as the prize is;
Thou Mystery, we hail thee by thy name!
Who lingers in the road? Who espies us?
We shall hide him in his house nor be bold.
Let the heart keep silence that defies us;
For I sing this day to Dionysus
The song that is appointed from of old.
All the Maidens
Oh, blessèd he in all wise,
Who hath drunk the Living Fountain,
Whose life no folly staineth,
And his soul is near to God;
Whose sins are lifted, pall-wise,
As he worships on the Mountain,
And where Cybele ordaineth,
Our Mother, he has trod:
His head with ivy laden
And his thyrsus tossing high,
For our God he lifts his cry;
“Up, O Bacchæ, wife and maiden,
Come, O ye Bacchæ, come;
Oh, bring the Joy-bestower,
God-seed of God the Sower,
Bring Bromios in his power
From Phrygia’s mountain dome;
To street and town and tower,
Oh, bring ye Bromios home.”
Whom erst in anguish lying
For an unborn life’s desire,
As a dead thing in the Thunder
His mother cast to earth;
For her heart was dying, dying,
In the white heart of the fire;
Till Zeus, the Lord of Wonder,
Devised new lairs of birth;
Yea, his own flesh tore to hide him,
And with clasps of hitter gold
Did a secret son enfold,
And the Queen knew not beside him;
Till the perfect hour was there;
Then a hornèd God was found,
And a God of serpents crowned;
And for that are serpents wound
In the wands his maidens bear,
And the songs of serpents sound
In the mazes of their hair.