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A monologue from the play by Euripides

NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Plays of Euripides in English, vol. ii. Trans. Shelley Dean Milman. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1922.


‘Tis easy to be eloquent, for him
That’s skilled in speech, and hath a stirring theme.
Thou hast the flowing tongue as of a wise man,
But there’s no wisdom in thy fluent words;
For the bold demagogue, powerful in speech,
Is but a dangerous citizen lacking sense.
This the new deity thou laugh’st to scorn,
I may not say how mighty he will be
Throughout all Hellas. Youth! there are two things
Man’s primal need, Demeter, the boon Goddess
(Or rather will ye call her Mother Earth?),
With solid food maintains the race of man.
He, on the other hand, the son of Semele,
Found out the grape’s rich juice, and taught us mortals
That which beguiles the miserable of mankind
Of sorrow, when they quaff the vine’s rich stream.
Sleep too, and drowsy oblivion of care
He gives, all-healing medicine of our woes.
He ‘mong the gods is worshipped a great god,
Author confessed to man of such rich blessings
Him dost thou love to scorn, as in Jove’s thigh
Sewn up. This truth profound will I unfold:
When Jove had snatched him from the lightning fire,
He to Olympus bore the new-born babe.
Stern Herè strove to thrust him out of heaven,
But Jove encountered her with wiles divine:
He clove off part of th’ earth-encircling air,
There Dionysus placed the pleasing hostage,
Aloof from jealous Herè. So men said
Hereafter he was cradled in Jove’s thigh
(From the assonance of words in our old tongue
For thigh and hostage the wild fable grew).
A prophet is our god, for Bacchanalism
And madness are alike prophetical.
And when the god comes down in all his power,
He makes the mad to rave of things to come.
Of Ares he hath attributes: he the host
In all its firm array and serried arms,
With panic fear scatters, ere lance cross lance:
From Dionysus springs this frenzy too.
And him shall we behold on Delphi’s crags
Leaping, with his pine torches lighting up
The rifts of the twin-headed rock; and shouting
And shaking all around his Bacchic wand
Great through all Hellas. Pentheus, be advised!
Vaunt not thy power o’er man, even if thou thinkest
That thou art wise (it is diseased, thy thought),
Think it not! In the land receive the god.
Pour wine, and join the dance, and crown thy brows.
Dionysus does not force our modest matrons
To the soft Cyprian rites; the chaste by nature
Are not so cheated of their chastity.
Think well of this, for in the Bacchic choir
The holy woman will not be less holy.
Thou’rt proud, when men to greet thee throng the gates,
And the glad city welcomes Pentheus’ name;
He too, I ween, delights in being honoured.
I, therefore, and old Cadmus whom thou mock’st,
Will crown our heads with ivy, dance along
An hoary pair–for dance perforce we must;
I war not with the gods. Follow my counsel;
Thou’rt at the height of madness, there’s no medicine
Can minister to disease so deep as thine.

Read the play here



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