till now the separate stories in Ovid’s
one being either a consequence of
the other,or its cause, but the story
king and founder of Thebes, who
earlier in this series had his own
tale told, starts, as my German
teacher used to say, from the
This sad event, therefore, in the
first line of the poem, refers to
what will follow, not what came
This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame,
Through Greece establish’d in a prophet’s name.
blinded by Juno / Hera, goddess of the
/ Zeus, her husband, in a wager between
them he’d been called upon to decide,
Tiresias, as consolation, having been
barred by a pact among the gods not
to undo each other’s spells, the gift
of insight, prophecy
the example that follows, of his divination,
establish[‘d] at that time his reputation
[t]hrough[out] Greece as a prophet
Th’ unhallow’d Pentheus only durst deride
The cheated people, and their eyeless guide.
unhallow’d, unholy, wicked, sinful
his grandfather, Cadmus, but that’s
an entirely other story
only, of all the people, none but
Pentheus durst, dared, deride,
mock, their eyeless guide, Tiresias
To whom the prophet in his fury said,
Shaking the hoary honours of his head:
hoary, grizzled, gray, aged
“‘Twere well, presumptuous man, ’twere well forthee
If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me:
For the time comes, nay, ’tis already here,
When the young God’s solemnities appear:
intoxication, wild abandon
Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn,
Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn,
Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev’ry thorn.
impious carcass, dishonoured corpse,
of any thou who wouldn’t’ve honoured
Then, then, remember what I now foretel,
And own the blind Tiresias saw too well.”
own, agree to, admit
Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill;
But time did all the prophet’s threats fulfil.
For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus rode,
prostrate, beholden, reverent, observant
of the solemnities
Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God:
All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran,
To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train.
the rites of Bacchus were bacchanals,
orgies, celebrations of abandon, Mardi
Gras, for instance, in New Orleans,
annual Gay Parades, now everywhere,
or Hallowe’en since time immemorial
When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express’d:
“What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess’d?
Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout,
And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout,
Thus quell your courage;
quell your courage, overcome your
sense of discipline
can the weak alarm
Of women’s yells those stubborn souls disarm,
those stubborn souls, the Theban
spirit of pride and honour
Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e’er could fright,
Nor the loud din and horror of a fight?
And you, our sires, who left your old abodes,
our sires, the older generation of
Thebans, of his grandfather
And fix’d in foreign earth your country Gods;
foreign earth, very Thebes, from Tyre,
where Cadmus and his followers had
come from, in search of Europa, if
Will you without a stroak your city yield,
And poorly quit an undisputed field?
undisputed field, there are no
But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire
Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire,
Whom burnish’d arms and crested helmets grace,
Not flow’ry garlands and a painted face;
Remember him to whom you stand ally’d:
him, Pentheus himself, their king
The serpent for his well of waters dy’d.
The serpent, a reference here to the
dragon that Cadmus slew, which had
guarded the cavern where his crew
had been scouting for water, if you’ll
He fought the strong; do you his courage show,
And gain a conquest o’er a feeble foe.
a feeble foe, licentiousness, abandon,
If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford
A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword.
Pentheus appeals to a loftier reason
for defeat, famine, fire, or sword, than
mere, and ignoble, debauchery
Then might the Thebans perish with renown:
But now a beardless victor sacks the town;
beardless victor, the young Bacchus /
Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond’rous shield,
Nor the hack’d helmet, nor the dusty field,
But the soft joys of luxury and ease,
The purple vests, and flow’ry garlands please.
by armour, military accomplishments,
prowess, but by grace, elegance, and
Stand then aside, I’ll make the counterfeit
Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat.
Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell’d
This boasted pow’r; why then should Pentheus yield?
also repell’d from his city Bacchus /
Dionysus, according to the poem
Go quickly drag th’ impostor boy to me;
th’ impostor boy, the counterfeit,
I’ll try the force of his divinity.”
Thus did th’ audacious wretch those rites profane;
th’ audacious wretch, Pentheus
His friends dissuade th’ audacious wretch in vain:
In vain his grandsire urg’d him to give o’er
His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.
his grandsire, Cadmus
So have I seen a river gently glide,
In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide;
But if with dams its current we restrain,
It bears down all, and foams along the plain.
nature will have its way, so will the
gods, watch out, the narrator says,
who it is that you challenge
But now his servants came besmear’d with blood,
Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God;
his servants, Pentheus‘ men
The God they found not in the frantick throng,
But dragg’d a zealous votary along.
votary, follower, adherent,
the servants, Pentheus‘ men,
who did not, apparently, deliver
R ! chard