Type of Thesis
Prof. Laurialan Reitzammer, Department of Classics
Prof. Sarah James, Department of Classics
Prof. Myles Osborne, Department of History
Scholars have frequently observed that Dionysus is a god who breaks down barriers (of gender, class, social norms, et cetera). This is true in Euripides’s Bacchae to a certain extent, and the play’s breakdown of the divide between male/female and Greek/foreign has been well examined in scholarship. However, the limitations of this questioning of boundaries are much less discussed. For instance, while Dionysus frees the women of Thebes from their homes, he does not free slaves during the Bacchae. In a play that places considerable emphasis on liberation and freedom, this is a curious omission. The few slave characters in the Bacchae, like most slaves in tragedy, support their masters and the status quo. However, the worshipers of Dionysus are also equated with slaves: Pentheus wishes to enslave them, and both the Theban bacchants and the chorus of Lydian devotees represent a kind of slavery to the god. Far from any Dionysiac destruction of social norms, the identification of the Theban women with slaves actually reveals the limits of the Bacchae’s other explorations as well. The women seem doomed by both femaleness and foreignness (the chorus is inherently foreign, the Thebans foreign by association with Dionysus) to be slaves either to Dionysus or to Pentheus. I argue that this is symptomatic of the limitations of Dionysus’s breakdown of identities. His questioning of barriers tends to be metaphorical rather than literal, and although he breaks down social identities in the Bacchae, he leaves social hierarchies securely in place.
Goggin, Marina, "The Limits of Dionysiac Liberation in Euripides' Bacchae" (2015). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 833.