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The Bacchae

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great tragedy by Euripides, where Dionysus takes revenge on Thebans who denied his divinity, their king torn to shreds by his mother.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides' great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy.

The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.


Edith Hall
Professor of Classics at King’s College London

Emily Wilson
Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania


Rosie Wyles
Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

52 minutes

Last on

Thu 18 Mar 2021 21:30



Edith Hall at King's College London

Emily Wilson at the University of Pennsylvania

Rosie Wyles at the University of Kent


Aristophanes (trans. Judith Affleck), Frogs (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Euripides (trans. J. Morwood), Bacchae and Other Plays (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Euripides (trans. Holly Eckhardt), Iphigenia at Aulis (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Simon Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Edith Hall, Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh and Amanda Wrigley (eds.), Dionysus since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm (trans.), The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (Random House, 2016)

Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult (Indiana University Press, 1995)

Richard Seaford (trans. and ed.), Euripides’ Bacchae (Aris & Phillips, 1996)

Wole Soyinka, The Bacchae of Euripides (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004)

David Stuttard (ed.), Looking at Bacchae (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Donna Tartt, The Secret History (Penguin, 1993)

John J. Winkler (ed.), Nothing to Do with Dionysos? Athenian Drama in Its Social Context (Princeton University Press, 1992)

Rosie Wyles, Costume in Greek Tragedy (Bristol Classical Press, 2011)


The Bacchae - Wikipedia


  • Thu 18 Mar 2021 09:00
  • Thu 18 Mar 2021 21:30

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