Dionysus and the Bacchae

In this week’s lessons, we have been exploring the god Dionysus and one of the most famous examples of a Greek tragedy.

We started the lesson by looking at two Greek words, “thyrsus” and “Bacchae”. After you had transliterated these, I explained what they both meant – a thyrus is a wooden stick with a fir cone on the top which was used by “Bacchae”, one of the names used for the female followers of the god of wine and revelry, Dionysus (or Bacchus). In front of you, I had placed plates with items sacred to Dionysus. I asked you to identify each one and guess why it might have been sacred to the god.
There was honey, figs, grapes, and a fir cone, and some ivy too. All of these items is connected some way to wine – honey was used to sweeten wine, ivy to counteract its effects, and figs to purge toxins. We then looked at the cult of Dionysus – it was attractive to the marginalised of Greek society – women, slaves and foreigners – and it used intoxicants such as wine – as well as dance and music to encourage a state of “ecstasy” – literally meaning “to be outside of oneself”.
The female followers of Dionysus would dance and drink on the mountainsides and hunt wild animals – this was viewed as scandalous behaviour by the authorities, especially as women were so controlled and their roles so limited in ancient Greek society.
We then went on to look at one of the most highly regarded ancient Greek tragedies, Bacchae by Euripides, which tells the story of the god Dionysus coming to Thebes, being rejected by his family, and then driving the women mad, and coming into conflict with King Pentheus who is scathing of the worship of the god. It comes to a tragic end, as we saw in the lesson.
We watched an excerpt from a modernised version of the play by the National Theatre of Scotland as well as interviews with some of the actors about their roles. We also talked about how the play explores the complexity and ambiguity of society’s ideas about male and female.
Finally, we looked at the perfect tense in Latin and started translating chapter nine which tells the story of Daedalus building the labyrinth.
Continue working on your plays – I would like a poster and trailer in from every group next week. Happy rehearsing!

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