About Bacchantes in 2SLO

On November 8, 2022, we hosted dr Aleksander Wolicki – a historian who took us on a journey to ancient Greece in the 5th century BC , to the Athenian theater, where soon after Euripides’ death his son staged his father’s play entitled “The Bacchae”. This play is the only surviving Greek play in which a god is the protagonist. It is also a play about the struggle between man and god. Professor Walicki introduced us to the world of religious Greece and explained the difference in understanding religion in ancient Greece compared with modern times. The Greek religion was a traditional religion, that is  it had no conscious beginning for its followers, it was not a religion of faith, but a collection of ideas – myths and it was an element of the civilization of the Greek polis – the basic form of political organization with its own patron deity and calendar of holidays. What united all Greeks was blood, customs and gods. Homer and Hesiod were the creators of stories common to the Greeks, that is Panhellenic elements, and Delphi and Olympia were the centers of the greatest Greek religious celebrations. Dionysus was a god, but not a hero, for he was born of a mortal woman. He had various nicknames such as: raw meat eater, gentle, he was called a bull, mad or reliever, or bestowing grace. At the same time, the Greeks did not want to accept him fully and considered him a stranger from the East. In the mid-twentieth century, after deciphering the Linear B writing, it turned out that the figure of the god of wine-Dionysus was mentioned in Mycenaean records as early as 450 years before Homer, and the same name of the month appeared regularly in the calendars of Greek cities – Lenaion from Lenai, which is directly related to the Bacchae.

This means that most likely the Greeks wanted Dionysus to be a foreign god. They seem to have made a collective cultural effort to imagine his foreigness. “The Bacchae” was staged in Athens, during the celebration of the great Dionysia – one of the five great holidays associated with the cult of the god of wine. The play deals with the refusal of the god Dionysus by the king of Thebes Pentheus and paying for it with his own life. In the eyes of the Athenians, Thebes served to represent the others. The Thebans’ tragic fate was a kind of warning against rejecting the god. The Athenians could thus survive the defeat of Thebes on stage and confirm themselves in being wiser than the Thebans.

(text: Beata Ciacek; photo: Beata Ciacek)