“History rolled right over my body.” — Sidney Rittenberg
At the end of Euripedes’ play The Bacchae, Cadmus asks his daughter Agave, “What do you see?” Agave is sitting center stage with a severed human head in her lap. It is the head of her son Pentheus, who was torn limb from limb by the women of Thebes as they danced naked on the mountainside worshipping the Asiatic god Dionysos. Still intoxicated by the revelry that led to her son’s death, Agave says, “it’s a lion’s head, a trophy for the palace.” At this point, Cadmus says, “Look carefully. Study it more closely.” As the intoxication wears off, Agave recognizes what she has done and answers, “I see horror. I see suffering. I see grief.”
“Does it still look like a lion?” Cadmus asks.
“No, Pentheus. I am holding his head.”
“You were mad,” Cadmus tells his daughter. “The city was possessed by Dionysos.”
At this point, Agave awakes to the full consequence of her actions.
“I see now,” she says, “Dionysos has destroyed us.”
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