The story of Dionysos’ punishment of the sacriligeous Pentheus is most fully described in Euripides’ play the Bacchae. Selected passages are quoted below (the work is not quoted in its entirety).


Euripides, Bacchae 25 ff (trans. Buckley) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
“Dionysos: In the land of Hellas, I have first excited Thebes to my cry, fitting a fawn-skin to my body and taking a thyrsos in my hand, a weapon of ivy . . . I have goaded them [the daughters of Kadmos] from the house in frenzy, and they dwell in the mountains, out of their wits; and I have compelled them to wear the outfit of my mysteries (orgia). And all the female offspring of Thebes, as many as are women, I have driven maddened from the house, and they, mingled with the daughters of Kadmos, sit on roofless rocks beneath green pines. For this city must learn, even if it is unwilling, that it is not initiated into my Bakkheuma (Bacchic rites), and that I plead the case of my mother, Semele, in appearing manifest to mortals as a divinity whom she bore to Zeus.
Now Kadmos has given his honor and power to Pentheus, his daughter’s son, who fights against the gods as far as I am concerned and drives me away from sacrifices, and in his prayers makes no mention of me, for which I will show him and all the Thebans that I was born a god. And when I have set matters here right, I will move on to another land, revealing myself. But if ever the city of Thebes should in anger seek to drive the the Bakkhai down from the mountains with arms, I, the general of the Mainaides, will join battle with them. On which account I have changed my form to a mortal one and altered my shape into the nature of a man.
My sacred band [of women Bakkhai] . . . take your drums . . . [and] about this palace of Pentheus beat them, so that Kadmos’ city may see. I myself will go to the folds of Kithairon, where the Bakkhai are, to share in their dances.”

Euripides, Bacchae 215 ff :
“Pentheus: I happened to be at a distance from this land, when I heard of strange evils throughout this city, that the women have left our homes in contrived Bakkhic rites, and rush about in the shadowy mountains, honoring with dances this new deity Dionysos, whoever he is. I hear that mixing-bowls stand full in the midst of their assemblies, and that they each creep off different ways into secrecy to serve the beds of men, on the pretext that they are Mainades worshipping; but they consider Aphrodite [sex] before Bakkhos.
As many of them as I have caught, servants keep in the public strongholds with their hands bound, and as many as are absent I will hunt from the mountains, I mean Ino and Agaue, who bore me to Ekhion, and Autonoe, the mother of Aktaion. And having bound them in iron fetters, I will soon stop them from this ill-working revelry. And they say that some stranger has come [Dionysos disguised as the mortal leader of the band], a sorcerer, a conjuror from the Lydian land, fragrant in hair with golden curls, having in his eyes the wine-dark graces of Aphrodite. He is with the young girls day and night, alluring them with joyful mysteries. If I catch him within this house, I will stop him from making a noise with the thyrsos and shaking his hair, by cutting his head off.
That one claims that Dionysos is a god, claims that he was once stitched into the thigh of Zeus – Dionysos, who was burnt up with his mother by the flame of lightning, because she had falsely claimed a marriage with Zeus. Is this not worthy of a terrible death by hanging, for a stranger to insult me with these insults, whoever he is?”


Euripides, Bacchae 345 ff :
“Pentheus: I will seek the punishment of this teacher of your folly [Dionysos in disguise]. Let someone go quickly to the seat where he watches the flights of birds, upset and overturn it with levers, turning everything upside down; and release his garlands to the winds and storms. In this way I will especially wound him. And some of you hunt throughout the city for this effeminate stranger, who introduces a new disease to women and pollutes our beds.If you catch him, bring him here bound, so that he might suffer as punishment a death by stoning, having seen a bitter Bacchic revelry (Bakkheusis) in Thebes.”

Euripides, Bacchae 435 ff :
“Enter a servant, Servant: Pentheus, we are here, having caught this prey for which you sent us, nor have we set out in vain. This beast was docile in our hands and did not withdraw in flight, but yielded not unwillingly. He did not turn pale or change the wine-dark complexion of his cheek, but laughed and allowed us to bind him and lead him away. He remained still, making my work easy . . . And the Bakkhai whom you shut up, whom you carried off and bound in the chains of the public prison, are set loose and gone, and are gamboling in the meadows, invoking Bromios as their god. Of their own accord, the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors without human hand. This man has come to Thebes full of many wonders. You must take care of the rest.
Pentheus: Release his hands, for caught in the nets he is not so swift as to escape me. But your body is not ill-formed, stranger, for women’s purposes, for which reason you have come to Thebes . . . First then tell me who your family is.
Dionysos: [introduces himself as the human leader of the Bakkhai] . . .
Pentheus: Why do you bring these rites to Hellas?
Dionysos: Dionysos, the child of Zeus, sent me.
Pentheus [sarcastically]: Is there a Zeus who breeds new gods there?
Dionysos: No, but the one who married Semele here . . .
Pentheus: Did you come here first, bringing the god?
Dionysos: All the barbarians celebrate these rites.
Pentheus: Yes, for they are far more foolish than Hellenes.
Dionysos: In this at any rate they are wiser; but their laws are different.
Pentheus: Do you perform the rites (hiera) by night or by day?
Dionysos: Mostly by night; darkness conveys awe.
Pentheus: This is treacherous towards women, and unsound . . . You must pay the penalty for your evil contrivances.
Dionysos: And you for your ignorance and impiety toward the god . . . Tell me what I must suffer; what harm will you do to me?
Pentheus: First I will cut off your delicate hair . . . Next give me this thyrsos from your hands . . . We will guard your body within, in prison.
Dionysos: The god himself will release me, whenever I want.
Pentheus: Yes, when you call him, standing among the Bakkhai.
Dionysos: Even now he see my sufferings from close by.
Pentheus: Where is he? He is not visible to my eyes.
Dionysos: Near me; but you, being impious, do not see him.
Pentheus To attendants: Seize him; he insults me and Thebes!
Dionysos: I warn you not to bind me, since I am in my senses and you are not.
Pentheus: And I, more masterful than you, bid them to bind you.
Dionysos: You do not know why you live, or what you are doing, or who you are.
Pentheus: I am Pentheus, son of Ekhion and Agave.
Dionysos: You are well-suited to be miserable in your name [a pun on his name, penthos was Greek word for misery].
Pentheus: Go.
Pentheus To attendants: Shut him up near the horse stable, so that he may see only darkness.
Pentheus To Dionysos: Dance there; and as for these women whom you have led here as accomplices to your crimes, we will either sell them or, stopping their hands from this noise and beating of skins, I will keep them as slaves at the loom.
Dionysos: I will go, for I need not suffer that which is not necessary. But Dionysos, who you claim does not exist, will pursue you for these insults. For in injuring us, you put him in bonds.”


Euripides, Bacchae 615 ff :
“Dionysos: I saved myself easily, without trouble.
Chorus Leader (Bakkhante): Did he not tie your hands in binding knots?
Dionysos: In this too I mocked him, for, thinking to bind me, he neither touched nor handled me, but fed on hope. He found a bull by the stable where he took and shut me up, and threw shackles around its knees and hooves, breathing out fury, dripping sweat from his body, gnashing his teeth in his lips. But I, being near, sitting quietly, looked on. Meanwhile, Bakkhos came and shook the house and kindled a flame on his mother’s tomb. When Pentheus saw this, thinking that the house was burning, he ran here and there, calling to the slaves to bring water, and every servant was at work, toiling in vain. Then he let this labor drop, as I had escaped, and snatching a dark sword rushed into the house. Then Bromios, so it seems to me – speak my opinion – created a phantom (phasma) in the courtyard. Pentheus rushed at it headlong, stabbing at the shining air, as though slaughtering me. Besides this, Bakkhos inflicted other damage on him: he knocked his house to the ground, and everything was shattered into pieces, while he saw my bitter chains. From fatigue, dropping his sword, he is exhausted. For he, a man, dared to join battle with a god. Now I have quietly left the house and come to you, with no thought of Pentheus.
But I think – at any rate I hear the tramping of feet inside – he will soon come to the front of the house. What will he say after this? I shall easily bear him, even if he comes boasting greatly. For it is the part of a wise man to practice restrained good temper.
(Enter Pentheus) Pentheus: I have suffered terrible things; the stranger, who was recently constrained in bonds, has escaped me. Ah! Here is the man. What is this? How do you appear in front of my house, having come out? . . . How have you escaped your chains and come outside?
Dionysos: Did I not say – or did you not hear – that some one would deliver me? . . .
(Enter a messenger) Messenger: Pentheus, ruler of this land of Thebes, I have come from Kithairon . . . Having seen the holy Bakkhai, who goaded to madness have darted from this land with their fair feet, I have come to tell you and the city, lord, that they are doing terrible things, beyond marvel . . .
Pentheus: Speak, as you will have immunity from me in any case. For it is not right to be angry with the just. The more you tell me terrible things about the Bakkhai, the more I will punish this one here who taught the women these tricks.
Messenger: The herds of grazing cattle were just climbing up the hill, at the time when the sun sends forth its rays, warming the earth. I saw three companies of dancing women, one of which Autonoe led, the second your mother Agaue, and the third Ino. [He describes the magical wonders of the revelling Bakkhai.] . . . Agaue happened to be leaping near me, and I sprang forth, wanting to snatch her, abandoning the ambush where I had hidden myself. But she cried out: ‘O my fleet hounds, we are hunted by these men; but follow me! follow armed with your thyrsoi in your hands!’ We fled and escaped from being torn apart by the Bakkhai, but they, with unarmed hands, sprang on the heifers browsing the grass. and you might see one rending asunder a fatted lowing calf, while others tore apart cows . . . they proceeded along the level plains . . . and falling like soldiers upon Hysiae and Erythrai, towns situated below the rock of Kithairon, they turned everything upside down.”


Euripides, Bacchae 780 ff :
“Pentheus: Already like fire does this insolence of the Bakkhai blaze up, a great reproach for the Hellenes. But we must not hesitate. Go to the Elektran gates, bid all the shield-bearers and riders of swift-footed horses to assemble, as well as all who brandish the light shield and pluck bowstrings with their hands, so that we can make an assault against the Bakkhai. For it is indeed too much if we suffer what we are suffering at the hands of women.
Dionysos: Pentheus, though you hear my words, you obey not at all. Though I suffer ill at your hands, still I say that it is not right for you to raise arms against a god, but to remain calm. Bromios will not allow you to remove the Bakkhai from the joyful mountains.
Pentheus: Do not instruct me, but be content in your escape from prison. Or shall I bring punishment upon you again?
Dionysos: I would sacrifice to the god rather than kick against his spurs in anger, a mortal against a god.
Pentheus: I will sacrifice, making a great slaughter of the women, as they deserve, in the glens of Kithairon.
Dionysos: You will all flee. And it will be a source of shame that you turn your bronze shields away from the thyrsoi of the Bakkhai.
Pentheus: This stranger with whom I am locked together is impossible, and neither suffering nor doing will he be quiet.
Dionysos: My friend, there is still opportunity to arrange these things well.
Pentheus: Doing what? Being a slave to my slaves?
Dionysos: Without weapons I will bring the women here.
Pentheus: Alas! You are contriving this as a trick against me.
Dionysos: What sort, if I wish to save you by my contrivances?
Pentheus: You have devised this together, so that you may have your revelry forever.
Dionysos: I certainly did – that is so- with the god.
Pentheus (To a servant): Bring me my armor.
Pentheus (To Dionysos): And you, stop speaking.
Dionysos: Ah! Do you wish to see them sitting together in the mountains?
Pentheus: Certainly. I’d give an enormous amount of gold for that.
Dionysos: Why do you desire this so badly?
Pentheus: I would be sorry to see them in their drunkenness.
Dionysos: But would you see gladly what is grievous to you?
Pentheus: To be sure, sitting quietly under the pines.
Dionysos: But they will track you down, even if you go in secret.
Pentheus: You are right: I will go openly.
Dionysos: Shall I guide you? Will you attempt the journey?
Pentheus: Lead me as quickly as possible. I grudge you the time.
Dionysos: Put linen clothes on your body then.
Pentheus: What is this? Shall I then, instead of a man, be reckoned among the women?
Dionysos: Lest they kill you if you are seen there as a man.
Pentheus: Again you speak correctly: how wise you have been all along!
Dionysos: Dionysos taught me these things fully.
Pentheus: How can your advice to me be well carried out?
Dionysos: I will go inside and dress you.
Pentheus: In what clothing? Female? But shame holds me back.
Dionysos: Are you no longer eager to view the Mainades?
Pentheus: What clothing do you bid me to put on my body?
Dionysos: I will spread out hair at length on your head.
Pentheus: What is the second part of my outfit?
Dionysos: A robe down to your feet. And you will wear a headband.
Pentheus: And what else will you add to this for me?
Dionysos: A thyrsos in your hand, and a dappled fawn-skin.
Pentheus: I could not put on a woman’s dress.
Dionysos: But you will shed blood if you join battle with the Bakkhai.
Pentheus: True. We must go first and spy.
Dionysos: This is at any rate wiser than hunting trouble with trouble.
Pentheus: And how will I go through the city without being seen by the Thebans?
Dionysos: We will go on deserted roads. I will lead you.
Pentheus: Anything is better than to be mocked by the Bakkhai. We two will go into the house and I will consider what seems best.
Dionysos: It will be so; in any case I am ready.
Pentheus: I will go in. For either I will go bearing arms, or I will obey your counsels.
Dionysos: Women, the man is caught in our net. He will go to the Bakkhai, where he will pay the penalty with his death. Dionysos, now it is your job; for you are not far off. Let us punish him. First drive him out of his wits, send upon him a dizzying madness, since if he is of sound mind he will not consent to wear women’s clothing, but driven out of his senses he will put it on. I want him to be a source of laughter to the Thebans, led through the city in women’s guise after making such terrible threats in the past. But now I will go to fit on Pentheus the dress he will wear to the house of Hades, slaughtered by his mother’s hands. He will recognize the son of Zeus, Dionysos, who is in fact a god, the most terrible and yet most mild to men . . .
You who are eager to see what you ought not and hasty in pursuit of what ought not to be pursued – I mean you, Pentheus, come forth before the house, be seen by me, wearing the clothing of a woman, of an inspired maenad, a spy upon your mother and her company.
(Pentheus emerges in appearance you are like one of Kadmos’ daughters.)
Pentheus: Oh look! I think I see two suns, and twin Thebes, the seven-gated city. And you seem to lead me, being like a bull and horns seem to grow on your head. But were you ever before a beast? For you have certainly now become a bull.
Dionysos: The god accompanies us, now at truce with us, though formerly not propitious. Now you see what you should see.
Pentheus: How do I look? Don’t I have the posture of Ino, or of my mother Agaue?
Dionysos: Looking at you I think I see them. But this lock of your hair has come out of place, not the way I arranged it under your headband.
Pentheus: I displaced it indoors, shaking my head forwards and backwards and practising my Bacchic revelry.
Dionysos: But I who ought to wait on you will re-arrange it. Hold up your head.
Pentheus: Here, you arrange it; for I depend on you, indeed.
Dionysos: Your girdle has come loose, and the pleats of your gown do not extend regularly down around your ankles.
Pentheus: At least on my right leg, I believe they don’t. But on this side the robe sits well around the back of my leg.
Dionysos: You will surely consider me the best of your friends, when contrary to your expectation you see the Bakkhai acting modestly.
Pentheus: But shall I be more like a Mainas holding the thyrsos in my right hand, or in my left?
Dionysos: You must hold it in your right hand and raise your right foot in unison with it. I praise you for having changed your mind.
Pentheus: Could I carry on my shoulders the glens of Kithairon, Bakkhai and all?
Dionysos: You could if you were willing. The state of mind you had before was unsound, but now you think as you ought.
Pentheus: Shall we bring levers? Or shall I draw them up with my hands, putting a shoulder or arm under the mountain-tops?
Dionysos: But don’t destroy the seats of the Nymphai and the places where Pan plays his pipes.
Pentheus: Well said. The women are not to be taken by force; I will hide in the pines.
Dionysos: You will hide yourself as you should be hidden, coming as a crafty spy on the Mainades.
Pentheus: Oh, yes! I imagine that like birds they are in the bushes held in the sweetest grips of love.
Dionysos: You have been sent as a guard against this very event. Perhaps you will catch them, if you yourself are not caught before.
Pentheus: Bring me through the midst of the Theban land. I am the only man of them who dares to perform this deed.
Dionysos: You alone bear the burden for this city, you alone. Therefore the labors which are proper await you. Follow me. I am your saving guide: another will lead you down from there.
Pentheus: Yes, my mother.
Dionysos: And you will be remarkable to all.
Pentheus: I am going for this reason.
Dionysos: You will return here being carried –
Pentheus: You talk of a delicacy for me.
Dionysos: In the arms of your mother.
Pentheus: You will force me to luxury.
Dionysos: Yes indeed, such luxury!
Pentheus: I will get what I deserve.
Dionysos: You are terrible, terrible, and you go to terrible sufferings, so that you will find a renown reaching to heaven. Reach out your hands, Agaue, and you too, her sisters, daughters of Kadmos. I lead this young man to a great contest, and Bromios and I will be the victors. The rest the matter itself will show.”



  • Aeschylus, Eumenides – Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Fragments – Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Euripides, Bacchae – Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Apollodorus, The Library – Greek Mythography C2nd BC
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece – Greek Geography C2nd AD
  • Hyginus, Fabulae – Latin Mythography C2nd AD
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses – Latin Epic C1st BC – C1st AD
  • Seneca, Oedipus – Latin Tragedy C1st AD
  • Oppian, Cynegetica – Greek Poetry C3rd AD

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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