[474] Praefatio Gaspari Stiblini in Euripidis Bacchas
Preface to Bacchae

Return to main page for Stiblinus. | See the page images at BSB Munich.

Dionysus propter ingentia beneficia in humanum genus et res abs se praeclare gestas inter deos relatus, cum ab una Thebarum civitate non reciperetur, quam tamen in primis colebat ac praestantissimis uinetis nobilitarat, manifestum suae diuinitatis documentum dare uoluit. Venit itaque Thebas omnesque mulieres in furorem actas ad montem Cithaeronem compulit utque ibi orgia sua celebrarent effecit. Hanc rem diuinitus fieri seniores, ut Cadmus et Tiresias, facile ut crederent adducebantur. Quare et se ad ferendum honores debitos Deo nouo parant. Pentheus autem solus refractarius Bacchantibus poenas minatur, orgia disturbare meditatur: Dionysum ridet ac in vincula ducit. Nec illum mouent ea quae cum domi a deo fieri cernebat tum a pastore facta foris narrari audiebat. Tandem Dionysus, ut impius θεόμαχος pertinaciae poenas daret, ei rectam mentem eripit. Et ut indutus Baccharum amictum iret uisum Maenadas ὀργιάζοντας* persuadet. Quocirca impos sui Pentheus ad Cithaeronem ridiculus in ueste muliebri praeeunte sub mutata figura Dionyso pergit correptusque a Bacchis miserrime et cru[475]delissime laniatur. Agaue autem cum sororibus postquam ad se rediissent cum decrepito patre in exilium mittuntur.

*[sic: it should be ὀργιαζούσας]

Dionysus, who has been accepted as one of the gods because of his huge benefactions toward the human race and the deeds brilliantly accomplished by him, when he was not received by the state of Thebes alone, despite the fact that he favored it especially and had made it glorious with outstanding vineyards, wished to give clear proof of his divinity. Accordingly, he came to Thebes, drove all the women mad, and compelled them to go to Mount Cithaeron, and he brought it about that they celebrated his ecstatic rites there. That this happened by divine causation the older men, such as Cadmus and Tiresias, were easily induced to believe. And therefore they prepare themselves to bring the honors due to the new God. Pentheus alone, however, is obstinate, and he threatens punishment for the Bacchae and intends to disrupt their rites: he laughs at Dionysus, and puts him into chains. Nor is he moved either by what he saw the god do in his house or by the deeds outside the city which he heard narrated by a shepherd. Finally Dionysus, in order that the impious fighter again the gods (theomachos) might pay the penalty of his obstinacy, deprives him of his right mind. And he persuades him that, having put on the dress of the Bacchae, he should go to view the Maenads performing their rites. For which reason Pentheus, without power over himself, laughable in women’s clothing, with Dionysus in a changed form leading the way, proceeds to Mount Cithaeron and, seized by the Bacchae, is most miserably and [475] cruelly torn apart. Furthermore, Agave and her sisters, after they have returned to themselves, are sent into exile with their decrepit father.

Poeta ergo hoc Dramate quo Pentheus stolidae pertinaciae et impietatis poenas dat sui saeculi homines hortari voluit ad colendam pietatem: cui neglectae subeunt impietas, temeritas, αὐθάδεια aliaeque eiusdem generis pestes quae respublicas subuertunt. Nec id obscure agit, cum dicit τὸ σωφρονεῖν δὲ καὶ σέβειν τὰ τῶν θεῶν κάλλιστον οἶμαι, etc.† Item circa finem Actus 5.*

εἰ δ’ ἔστιν ὅστις δαιμόνων ὑπερφρονεῖ,
εἰς τοῦδ’ ἀθρήσας θάνατον ἡγείσθω θεοὺς, etc.

Nam ut pietas (teste Circerone) fundamentum est omnium uirtutum,†† sic interitus religionis radix omnium malorum. Unde Plato ἐν τῷ ι. de Legibus# docet impios, hoc est in Deum ac religionem delinquentes, grauissime uindicandos esse: eo quod talium hominum scelera saepe totius civitatis malo expientur et ab his publica corruptela† morum veniat nisi puniantur. Sicut ergo neglectas religiones clades sequi solent, ita semper Respublicas amplicatas fuisse eorum imperiis qui religionibus paruissent constat. Quamobrem vere Plato in Euthyphrone:## τὸ δὲ μέν σοι (inquit Euthyphron) ἁπλῶς λέγω ὅτι ἐὰν μὲν κεχαρισμένα τὶς ἐπίστηται τοῖς θεοῖς λέγειν τε καὶ πράττειν εὐχόμενός τε καὶ θύων, ταῦτ’ ἐστὶ τὰ ὅσια, καὶ σώζει τὰ τοιαῦτα τούσδε ἰδίους οἴκους καὶ τὰ κοινὰ τῶν πόλεων· τὰ δ’ ἐναντία τῶν κεχαρισμένων ἀσεβῆ, ἃ δὴ καὶ ἀνατρέπει ἅπαντα καὶ ἀπόλλυσι. Quod si ad hoc nostrum saeculum respiciamus, in quo ea religio uigere debebat quam ipse Dei filius e caelo ad homines et tulit et fundauit quaeque sui obseruantes caelestibus et aeternis bonis beat: facile intelligemus, quale omnium bonarum rerum diluuium ex huius neglectu ac interitu hodie orbem terrarum obruerit, adeo ut publica disciplina extincta sit, iaceat virtus, dissentientium ac disputantium pugnae perpertuae gliscant: denique licentia, clades, caedes, periuria, seditiones, euersiones civitatum, omnia profanent funestentque. Et cum tantum studium priscis fuerit, non solum observandae (ut Valerius Maximus inquit)** sed etiam amplificandae religionis eiusque falsae, erubescenda certe et piacularis nostra uaecordia est, qui tantis praemiis inuitati ueram religionem, sanguine Christi consecratam, diuinitus traditam, uel negligimus uel extinctam cupimus, a cuius incolumitate tamen reliquae partes reipublicae pendent et conseruantur.

†[Lines 1150-51, spoken by the messenger after narrating Pentheus’ destruction; the typesetter put σωφρονεῖν, καὶ, mistaking the abbreviation for δὲ as a comma.]

*[Lines 1325-26, spoken by Cadmus; εἰς is misprinted as εἰ.]

††[Cicero, Pro Cn. Plancio 29: nam meo iudicio pietas fundamentum est omnium virtutum]

#[Plato, Laws, Book 10, 907d-912d]

†[corrected from corruprela]

##[Plato, Euthyphro 14b: read τόδε for the initial τὸ δὲ, and read τούς τε ἰδίους for τούσδε ἰδίους.]

**[possibly a reference to Val.Max. 1.1.8]

The poet, therefore, with this play, in which Pentheus suffers punishment for his stupid obstinance and impiety, wished to exhort the men of his age to cultivate piety: when this is neglected, in its place come impiety, heedlessness, self-will and other diseases of the same type which subvert republics. Nor does he do this in a covert way, since he says “I believe the finest thing is to be of sound and modest mind and to revere the gods and their laws, etc.” Similarly around the end of Act 5.

If there is anyone who scorns the gods,
Let him look at this man’s death and believe in them, etc.

For as piety (according to Cicero) is the basis of every virtue, thus the destruction of religion is the root of all evils. Whence Plato in the tenth book of the Laws teaches that the impious men, that is, those offending against God and religion, must be punished most severely, because the sins of such men are often atoned for with the misfortune of the whole state, and from these men comes public corruption of morals, unless they are punished. Just as, therefore, disasters are accustomed to follow neglect of religious prescriptions, thus it is agreed that nations have always been improved under the rule of those who have obeyed them. Wherefore Plato writes truly in Euthyphro: “This I say to you quite simply, that if a person knows how to say and do things pleasing to the gods, praying and sacrificing, that is what piety is, and such behavior preserves their own houses and the common interests of their cities. Whatever is the opposite of the pleasing things is impious, and these things in fact overthrow and destroy everything.” But if we look at our own age, in which that religion ought to thrive which the son of God himself bore to men from heaven and established, and which blesses those who observe it with heavenly and eternal rewards: we will easily understand what sort of deluge destructive of all good things has today overrun the whole world as a result of the neglect and downfall of this, to such a degree that public discipline has been destroyed, virtue lies prostrate, constant battles of men disagreeing and disputing increase: finally, licentiousness, misfortune, bloodshed, purjuries, insurrections, overthrowings of governments profane and desecrate everything. And when the ancients had such zeal, not only for following (as Valerius Maximus says) but even for expanding and enhancing religion, and that a false one: we should certainly blush in shame at our own folly and think it requires atonement, we who, though enticed with such great rewards, neglect (or wish to see extinguished) the true religion, consecrated with the blood of Christ, handed down from heaven, on the safe survival of which, nevertheless, the remaining parts of the nation depend and are preserved.

Cadmi et Tiresiae senum spectata prudentia et salutaria consilia sunt: uerum ea contumax repudiat Pentheus. Denique obseruandum figurari in hac fabula id quod plerumque mortalibus usuuenit, ut post acceptam cladem sapere et sero paenitere incipiant. Sic Penthetus iam inter manus discerpentium resipescere et agnoscere errorem sero incipit: sic Agaue iam caeso a se filio frustra ingemiscit. Ita male coepta et temeraria consilia efferati iuuenis tristissimus exitus sequitur, funera nimirum et post longam felicitatem aerumnosum exilium.

The good judgment of the old men Cadmus and Tiresias is evident and their advice beneficial: but obstinate Pentheus rejects it. Finally, it should be observed that in this play is shown something that happens to many mortals: that after they have met with disaster they begin to be sensible and repent too late. Thus Pentheus, only once he is in the hands of those tearing him to pieces, begins to recover his senses and recognize his error too late; thus Agave, only after her son is torn to pieces by herself, groans in vain. Thus the most unhappy outcome follows the bad beginnings and rash decisions of the wildly savage young man, namely, death, and after long happiness an exile full of misery.

Argumentum Actus primi.

Dionysus prologum agens argumentum et occasionem praesentis fabulae aperit. Dicit enim se venisse ut certo aliquo specimine diuinitatem suam probet adversus Pentheum impie orgiis adversantem. Deinde Bacchas sacerdotes suas hortatur ad sollemnia carmina quae Bacchanalibus cani solebant. 2 Chorus Bacchum celebrat et quasi praeludia quaedam ad thiasos futuros increpat. Item Bacchi genus, sacra, et eorundem apparatum, ut thyrsos, hederas, faces, cymbala, tympana, nebrides, cantus, praedicat. 3 Senile colloquium est de peragendis orgiis. cui interuenit Pentheus, ac iratus in orgia tamquam in pestiferi cuiusdam Asiatici hominis corruptelas inuehitur, poenasque minatur Bacchantibus. 4 Tiresias pulcherrima oratione conatur reuocare Pentheum ab obstinatione nimia et impietate in Deum: id quod non minore studio Cadmus quoque facit. Sed ille spreto senum prudentissimo consilio destinata persequi nihilominus cogitat. Quin ad hoc Tiresiae etiam minatur, et qui Dionysum uinctum ad lapidationem ducant dimittit: unde senes desperata iam Penthei salute ad orgia pergunt. 5 Chorus Bacchi laudes uinique effecta nobilia commemorat.

Argument of the First Act

Dionysus, speaking the prologue, reveals the topic and occasion of the present story. For he says that he has come to prove his own divinity with some certain evidence against Pentheus, who impiously opposes his rites. Then he urges his own priestesses, the Bacchae, to the ritual songs which are usually sung at the Bacchanals. 2. The Chorus praises Bacchus, and so to speak sounds out grandly certain preludes for future Bacchic bands. Likewise, it proclaims Bacchus’ birth, sacred rites, and the equipment of these rites, like the thyrsus, ivy, torches, cymbals, drums, fawnskins, and songs. 3. The conversation between the old men concerns carrying out the rites. Pentheus interrupts them, and in his anger inveighs against the rites as the corrupt practices of some pernicious Asiatic man, and he threatens punishment for the Bacchae. 4. Tiresias with a very beautiful speech tries to recall Pentheus from his excessive stubbornness and impiety against God: that which Cadmus also does with no less zeal. But, having spurned the very wise advice of the old men, Pentheus intends to follow through nonetheless on his decisions. What is more, he even threatens Tiresias, and he sends away those who are to bring back Dionysus in chains to be stoned: whence the old men, having now despaired of the safety of Pentheus, proceed to the rites. 5. The Chorus sings the praises of Bacchus and the celebrated effects of wine.

[477] Argumentum Actus secundi.

Adducunt famuli uinctum Dionysum nec uultu mutatum nec restitantem: praeterea mulieres e custodiis euasisse, non sine aliqua diuina ope, nuntiant. 2 Pentheus genus Dionysi et unde, cuiusue iussu orgia introduxerit, quaerit. In quo colloquio miram Dionysi simulationem ac tergiuersationem (nam induerat se in uultus luxuriosi et deliciosi cuiusdam adolescentis) ac in excipiendis dictis Penthei acumen obseruandum. Unde et tyrannus tandem commotus nec diutius ferens aenigmatistam eum abduci iubet. 3 Chorus Pentheo Orgiis aduersanti pestem ominatur Bacchumque vocat, ubiubi ille tandem sit, ad uindicandum contumeliam et impietatem uaecordis tyranni tum in se tum in ipsum numen.

[477] Argument of the Second Act

Attendants lead in the bound Dionysus, whose countenance is not changed and who does not offer any resistance: moreover, they report that the women have escaped from their imprisonment, not without some divine aid. 2. Pentheus asks about the family origin of Dionysus and from where he comes or by whose order he has introduced the rites. In which conversation should be noted the astonishing play-acting of Dionysus, the subterfuge (for the god had assumed the appearance of a certain extravagant and delicate young man), and his shrewd skill in parrying Pentheus’ words. Whence the king, finally stirred to anger and no longer enduring this speaker of riddles, orders him to be taken away. 3. The Chorus predicts ruin for Pentheus for opposing the rites, and calls upon Bacchus, wherever he may be, to avenge the insult and impiety of the senseless king both against themselves and against the divinity himself.

Argumentum Actus tertii.

Dionysus e carcere euadens Bacchas uocat attonitas stupore, cum omnia ardere, tremere ac collabi uiderentur: eisque exponit quomodo praestigiis quibusdam illuserit Pentheo ac miris simulacris rerum insanientem distinuerit, ad testificandum numinis sui praesentiam, nisi caecus furore Pentheus fuisset: qui et ipse accurrit, indigne ferens se a Dionyso ludificari. 2 Pastor quidam ex Cithaerone adueniens longa narratione* exponit quibus ceremoniis, quo ritu, uestitu, more, ubi, Bacchae orgia celebrent: item quomodo pecudes discerpserint. ex quibus rebus colligit manifesta praesentiae numinis argumenta: simulque ut Dionysum nouum deum in urbem recipiat tyrannum hortatur. 3 Nihil his mouetur Pentheus, sed primum arma capere ciues iubet: deinde mutata sententia, ipse prius speculatum abire statuit, idque ductore nuntio. Dionysi autem uerba habent parasceuen sequentis actus, qui continet lacerationem ac flebile fatum Penthei. 4 Chorus optat choreas ac sollemnes Orgiorum saltationes. Deinde subiicit locum communem de uindicta deorum in contemptores religionum: quae etsi aliquando tardius uenit, tamen aliquando uenit. Monet praeterea nihil temere tentandum adversus receptos religionum ritus statasque ceremonias. Non enim carere eam rem periculo. Denique uitam mediocrem cum pietate coniunctam et tranquillo animo omnibus ceteris quibus mundus inhiat felicitatibus anteferendam esse dicit.

*[corrected from narrarione]

Argument of the Third Act

Dionysus, escaping from the prison, calls the Bacchae, who are stupified with astonishment when everything seems to catch fire, tremble, and fall in ruins: and he explains to them how he tricked Pentheus with certain deceptions, and diverted the insane man with marvelous images of things to demonstrate the presence of his own divinity, if Pentheus had not been blind with madness: and Pentheus himself runs out, indignant that he is mocked by Dionysus. 2. A certain shepherd, arriving from Mount Cithaeron, explains with a long narrative with what ceremonies, what ritual, what clothing, in what manner, and where the Bacchae are celebrating their rites, and likewise in what manner they tore cattle into pieces. From which occurences he concludes there is clear evidence for the presence of a deity: and at the same time he urges that the king accept Dionysus, the new god, into the city. 3. None of this moves Pentheus at all, but at first he orders the citizens to take up their arms: then, having changed his mind, he resolves to first go away himself to spy, and to do this with the messenger as a guide. The words of Dionysus, however, contain preparation for the following act, which contains the tearing apart and tearful fate of Pentheus. 4. The Chorus longs for dances and the religious leaping of the Bacchic rites. Then it adds the general topic about the punishment of the gods against despisers of religion, which even if it sometimes comes rather late, nevertheless comes at some time. Moreover, it warns that one must not rashly attempt anything against accepted rites of religions and established ceremonies, for this act is not without danger. Lastly, it says that a moderate life joined with piety and a tranquil spirit should be preferrred to all other forms of happiness for which the world is eager.

[478] Argumentum Actus quarti.

Dionysus Pentheum iam Baccharum ornatu indutum ac mente alienatum foras uocat, spectatorumque ludibrio exponit: ac simul cum eo pergit Bacchas exploratum, hoc est, dux illi fit ad manifestum exitium. 2 Chorus euntem Pentheum prosequitur carmine insultatorio, quo uindictam et poenam in hominem impium contemptoremque numinis exsuscitat. Monet etiam non impunitum manere si quid in deorum religionem peccetur: ac raro bene cedere iis qui aduersus consuetudines ueteres ac priscos longoque usu receptos ritus quid moliantur. 3 Secunda pars huius Actus, quae et ad sequentem Actum commode referri posset, continet narrationem nuntii de discerpto a Bacchis Pentheo: quae locorum, personarum et rerum elegantissimis descriptionibus constat, quibus crebra πάθη καὶ ἤθη intersperguntur. 4 Chorus uictoriae Bacchi de Pentheo gratulatur et applaudit.

[478] Argument of the Fourth Act

Dionysus calls Pentheus, now dressed in the attire of the Bacchae and deprived of control of his mind, out of doors, and exposes him to the mockery of the spectators, and together with him he goes off to spy on the Bacchae, that is, he becomes for Pentheus the guide to his obvious ruin. 2. As Pentheus departs, the Chorus attacks him with an insulting song, by which it stirs up vengenance and punishment against the impious man, the despiser of divinity. It also warns that it does not remain unpunished if any sin is committed against the prerogatives of the gods: and that it rarely goes well for those who struggle against the old customs and ancient rites accepted with long use. 3. The second part of this Act, which could be suitably assigned also to the following Act, contains the narration of the messenger about Pentheus, who was torn into pieces by the Bacchae. This contains very elegant descriptions of the places, characters, and events, among which numerous expressions of suffering and character are mingled. 4. The Chorus rejoices in Bacchus’ victory over Pentheus and applauds it.

Argumentum Actus quinti.

Ultimus actus summam habet epitasin. nam Agaue adhuc insana in scenam procedit iactatque caput Penthei et serio triumphat: ac, quod sibi palmarium putat, leonem a se occisum dicit. Quare omnes ad congratulandum hortatur. 2 Cadmus ex monte rediens et collectos Penthei artus secum ferens vix ad pristinam mentem tandem reuocat Agauem: quae agnoscens filium a se interemptum acerbissimum sentit dolorem. Queritur et Cadmus futuram domus solitudinem. Dionysus vero dicit poenam esse hanc neglecti sui numinis. Tristis sequitur finis et tragicus. Cadmus enim cum suis in exilium mittitur.

Argument of the Fifth Act

The last act has the final heigthening of tension (epitasis), for Agave proceeds onto the stage still insane, and boasts of the head of Pentheus, and sincerely exults: and she says that she has killed a lion, which she thinks is a prizeworthy feat for herself. Therefore she urges everyone to congratulate her. 2. Cadmus, returning from the mountain and bearing the collected limbs of Pentheus with him, with difficulty finally recalls Agave to her regular state of mind, and she, recognizing her son killed by herself, feels the sharpest grief. Cadmus too laments the future destitution of his house. Dionysus however says that this is the punishment for neglecting his divinity. The sad and tragic end follows, for Cadmus is sent into exile with his family.

Translation by Meghan Bowers

Return to main page for Stiblinus.