The Bacchae is one of the final plays by Euripides, a Greek poet who left Athens for Macedon to compose works for King Archelaus. He dies in the year 406 B.C.E and his son, later on, produced this work.
The play begins in Thebes when Zeus visits Semele, King Cadmus’ daughter, and she becomes pregnant. When Semele prays to see Zeus, he appears in the form of lightning and strikes her to death. He takes the unborn child and puts him inside his body. After the child’s birth, he is named Dionysus.
Dionysus then becomes the god of wine and entertainment, and a cult is established for his worship. However, the cult fails to gain following within Europe. It is then that Dionysus resolves to make his hometown, Thebes the western establishment of his cult. Initially, the Thebans resist the cult due to Dionysian demeanor. They are unwilling to accept him as Zeus’ son. The current king of Thebes, Pentheus, who is Dionysus cousin and grandson to Cadmus, opposes the new cult due to its mysteries nature riddled with frenzied and orgiastic rites of nature.
When some Thebans convert to this new religion, Pentheus becomes furious, and orders for the imprisonment of all women found in possession of Bacchic symbols. These include ivy crowns, wine, or even staff. The king reviles his grandfather and blames Tiresias of promoting the cult within Thebes. Tiresias supports Dionysus, arguing that wine offers men a temporary release from the harsh realities of life and its miseries. He also claims that the maidens are purified and exalted by the Bacchic practices.
The King orders for the arrest of a Lydian stranger, whom he believes is the cause of all the trouble. He does not know that the stranger is Dionysius. Upon being brought to the King, various attempts are made to chain and even kill Dionysius, but they all fail.
Suddenly, all the jailed women find themselves liberated in the forest. Dionysus attempts to convince Pentheus to stop his actions, but Pentheus refuses. All the women of Thebes go mad in the woods, and a messenger arrives to inform Pentheus. Dionysus then tricks the King into anonymously venturing into the forest to see the spectacle. He makes Pentheus dress in feminine attire, and together they go into the woods. Pentheus climbs a tree for a better view, but the insane women see him. They pull him down the tree, and he gets killed by his mother.
The people at the palace are now singing Dionysus’ praises. When Pentheus’s mother comes back to the palace, Cadmus brings her back to her senses. He informs her that the gods have punished the family. Dionysus then banishes her and transforms Cadmus & his wife into snakes that will invade Greek territories.