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This poem tells in a few rapid strokes the story of Pentheus, his spying on the mysteries of Bacchus, and death at the hands of the Maenads. The description follows that of Euripides in the Bacchae with few unimportant variations. The motif of the poem is hard to determine. Herr Maass, writing in Hermes, 1891, holds that the poem was written as a hymn to Bacchus for performance at a Coan festival. The end certainly suits this view (l. 33 χαίροι μὲν Διόνυσος, κ.τ.λ.). Others hold that it is inspired by a painting; in this case the ending lines will express merely the thoughts suggested by the picture. The story was certainly taken as a subject by painters with great frequency, but no existing representation quite tallies with the description here. Lastly it is possible and by far most natural to regard the poem as a simple narrative like Id. xxii; the search for ulterior motives is a weakness among critics of the Alexandrian period, and the obvious is set aside too often.

μαλοπάραυος cf. vii. 117 μάλοισιν ῎Εροντες ἐρευθομένοισιν ὁμοῖοι: the word is possibly chosen as an intentional refinement of Hesiod's ᾿Αγαυὴν καλλιπάρῃον (Theog. 975). See generally Eurip. Bacch. 679: “ ὁρῶ δὲ θιάσους τρεῖς γυναικείων χορῶν,
ὧν ἦρχ᾽ ἑνὸς μὲν Αὐτονόη, τοῦ δευτέρου
μήτηρ ᾿Αγαυὴ σή, τρίτου δ᾽ ᾿Ινὼ χοροῦ.

[5] κάμον, 'made.'

[6] τὼς τρεῖς. The article is used regularly in Greek in mentioning a part or fraction of a larger number already given.

[8] εὐφάμως, 'in holy silence'; cf. the use of the verb: εὐφημεῖν χρὴ κἀξίστασθαι τοῖς ἡμετέροισι χοροῖσιν (Arist. Frogs 353).

νεοδρέπτων of new-plucked branches, as described above.

[9] ἐθυμάρει, 'was pleased.' Bacchus himself was the founder of the Bacchic worship; see Eurip. Bacch. 21: “ ἐκεῖ χορεύσας καὶ καταστήσας ἐμὰς
τελετὰς ἵν᾽ εἴην ἐμφανὴς δαίμων βροτοῖς.

[13] ἐτάραξε, 'dashed to pieces all the sacred things' (Hiller); ὄργια includes the altars and sacred vessels, etc. The motive is explained by the following words: τὰ δ᾽ οὐχ ὁρέοντι βέβηλοι ('on which the unhallowed look not').

[15] μαίνετο, 'raged'; cf. Ajax 81 μεμηνότ᾽ ἄνδρα.

μέν τεδέ expresses with the anaphora of μαίνοντο a very close connexion of the two actions; see Liddell and Scott, s. v. μέν B. ii. 3; Iliad v. 139 τοῦ μέν τε σθένος ὦρσεν, ἔπειτα δέ τ᾽ οὐ προσαμύνει: Theocr. xxv. 92.

[17] ἐρύσαισαι Aeolic form of participle, = ἐρύσασαι.

[19] Note the extraordinary abruptness of the style here and in the preceding lines. Each detail of the action is sharply expressed in disjointed sentences, each of a single line or couplet, without any subtle use of conjunction.

[22] Compare the account in Eurip. Bacch. 1125: “ λαβοῦσα δ᾽ ὠλέναις ἀριστερὰν χέρα,
πλευραῖσιν ἀντιβᾶσα τοῦ δυσδαίμονος,
ἀπεσπάραξεν ὦμον, οὐχ ὑπὸ σθένους,
ἀλλ᾽ θεὸς εὐμάρειαν ἐπεδίδου χεροῖν.
᾿Ινὼ δὲ τἀπὶ θάτερ᾽ ἐξειργάζετο,
ῥηγνῦσα σάρκας, Αὐτονόη τ᾽ ὄχλος τε πᾶς
ἐπεῖχε βακχῶν: ἦν δὲ πᾶσ᾽ ὁμοῦ βοή.

[24] κρεανομέοντο intentionally ghastly, like R. Kipling's-- “ 'ωηεν ωουνδεδ ψου λιε ον αφγηανισταν᾽ς πλαινς,
ανδ τηε ωομεν ξομε ουτ το ξυτ υπ ωηατ ρεμαινς.'

[26] πένθημα Πενθῆα : an instance of the fondness of the Greeks for seeing ominous significance in names; Eurip. Bacch. 367 Πενθεύσ--πένθος: Aesch. Agam. 686 ῾Ελένανἐπεὶ πρεπόντ̣̣ς ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέπτολις ('Helen ship's Hell, man's Hell, city's Hell'--Browning). So Shakespeare, Rich. II, ii. 1 'Old John of Gaunt and gaunt in being old,' though here there is less thought of the name as ominous.

[27] οὐκ ἀλέγω, 'I care not, nor let another give heed to him that is hated of Bacchus, nay, not if he suffered a harder fate than this.'

ἀπεχθομένω we may take this to refer to Pentheus, or to any other who offended the god; such as was Erysichthon who τόσσα Διώνυσον γὰρ καὶ Δάματρα χαλέπτει καὶ τῷ γὰρ Δάματρι συνωργίσθη Διόνυσος (Callim. vi. 70), and was punished with insatiable hunger.

[29] εἴη the subject must be ἄλλος of l. 27: 'Let not another care, but let him be a child of nine years or entering on the tenth.' The only passage which gives any key to the meaning seems to have been overlooked by the commentators. In Callim. iii. 14 Artemis asks her father: δὸς δέ μοι ἑξήκοντα χορίτιδας ὠκεανίνας, πάσας εἰναέτεας πάσας ἔτι παῖδας ἀμίτρους. Artemis' attendants are to be novices of nine years old. Add to this the fact often noticed that children were initiated into the Bacchic mysteries (A. Pal. xi. 40) and we get a possible explanation. 'But let him be as a young novice of Dionysus, as one nine years old or entering on his tenth, and let me too be pure and pleasing to the pure.'

δεκάτω cf. xv. 129.

[30] εὐαγέοιμι cf. Callim. Del. 98 εὐαγέων δὲ καὶ εὐαγέεσσι μελοίμην.

[31] αἰετός cf. Iliad xii. 243 εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης. The present passage shows a curious specialization of use.


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