Women in Antiq.

Women in Ancient Literature

from The Bacchae

Note:  This excerpt has explanatory notes from the original translator or editor. Mouse over or click on the symbol for more information.

Source: Translation by Ian Johnston, 2003.

The Bacchae tells the story of the introduction of the worship of the god Dionysus from Asia into Greece. But as Dionysus arrives in the Greek city of Thebes, he fnds that the populace, led by its king, Pentheus, refuses to acknowledge his divinity.
  Dionysus sets out to punish the unfaithful, and “stings the female population of Thebes with daemonic frenzy, sending them to the mountains outside of the city where they celebrate his rites at last.”

[Scene: The Greek city of Thebes, outside the royal palace. Dionysus, appearing as young man, is alone, with the palace behind him, its main doors facing the audience. He speaks directly to the audience]

I’ve arrived here in the land of Thebes,
I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, born to him
from Semele, Cadmus’ daughter, delivered
by a fiery midwife—Zeus’s lightning flash.
Yes, I’ve changed my form from god to human,
appearing here at these streams of Dirce,
the waters of Ismarus. I see my mother’s tomb—
for she was wiped out by that lightning bolt.
It’s there, by the palace, with that rubble,
the remnants of her house, still smoldering
from Zeus’s living fire—Hera’s undying outrage
against my mother. But I praise Cadmus. [10]
He’s made his daughter’s shrine a sacred place.
I have myself completely covered it
with leafy shoots of grape-bearing vines.

I’ve left the fabulously wealthy East,
lands of Lydians and Phrygians,
Persia’s sun-drenched plains, walled towns in Bactria.
I’ve moved across the bleak lands of the Medes,
through rich Arabia, all Asian lands,
along the salt-sea coast, through those towns
with their beautifully constructed towers,
full of barbarians and Greeks all intermingled.
Now I’ve come to Thebes, city of Greeks, [20]
only after I’ve set those eastern lands
dancing in the mysteries I established,
making known to men my own divinity.
Thebes is the first city of the Greeks
where I’ve roused people to shout out my cries,
with this deerskin draped around my body,
this ivy spear, a thyrsus, in my hand.
For my mother’s sisters have acted badly,
something they, of all people, should avoid.
They boasted aloud that I, Dionysus,
was no child of Zeus, claiming Semele,
once she was pregnant by some mortal man,
attributed her bad luck in bed to Zeus,
a story made up (they said) to trick Cadmus. [30]
Those sisters state that is why Zeus killed her,
because she lied about the man she’d slept with.
So I’ve driven those women from their homes
in a frenzy—they now live in the mountains,
out of their minds. I’ve made them put on costumes,
outfits appropriate for my mysteries.
All Theban offspring—or, at least, all women—
I’ve driven in a crazed fit from their homes.
Now they sit out there among the rocks,
underneath green pine trees, no roof overhead,
Cadmus’ daughters in their company as well.
For this city has to learn, though against its will,
that it has yet to be initiated
into my Dionysian rites. Here I plead [40]
the cause of my own mother, Semele,
appearing as a god to mortal men,
the one she bore to Zeus. Now Cadmus,
the old king, has just transferred his power,
his royal authority, to Pentheus,
his daughter’s son, who, in my case at least,
fights against the gods, prohibiting me
all sacrificial offerings. When he prays,
he chooses to ignore me. For this neglect
I’ll demonstrate to him, to all in Thebes,
that I was born a god. Once these things here
have been made right, I’ll move on somewhere else,
to some other land, revealing who I am.
But if Thebans in this city, in their anger, [50]
try to make those Bacchic women leave,
to drive them from the mountains forcibly,
then I, commander of these Maenads,
will fight them. That’s why I’ve transformed myself,
assumed a mortal shape, altered my looks,
so I resemble any human being.

[Enter the Chorus of Bacchae, dressed in ritual deerskin, carrying small drums like tambourines.]

But you there, you women who’ve left Tmolus,
backbone of Lydia, my band of worshippers,
whom I’ve led here from barbarian lands,
my comrades on the road and when we rest,
take up your drums, those instruments of yours
from Phrygian cities, first invented
by mother Rhea and myself. Move round here,
beat those drums by Pentheus’s palace,[60]
let Cadmus’ city see you, while I go,
in person, to the clefts of Mount Cithaeron,
to my Bacchae, to join in their dancing.

[Exit Dionysus.]


In this passage, a messenger describes to Pentheus the sights he has seen on Mount Cithaeron, where the Theban women—now Bacchants, Dionysus’ female adherents—have fed. Among them are Pentheus’ mother Agave, and her sisters Autonoe and Ino.

The grazing cattle
were just moving into upland pastures,
at the hour the sun sends out its beams
to warm the earth. Right then I saw them—
three groups of dancing women. One of them[680]
Autonoe led. Your mother, Agave,
led the second group, and Ino led the third.

They were all asleep, bodies quite relaxed,
some leaning back on leafy boughs of pine,
others cradling heads on oak-leaf pillows,
resting on the ground—in all modesty.
They weren’t as you described—all drunk on wine
or on the music of their flutes, hunting
for Aphrodite in the woods alone.

Once she heard my horned cattle lowing,
your mother stood up amid those Bacchae,
then called them to stir their limbs from sleep.
They rubbed refreshing sleep out of their eyes, [690]
and stood up straight there—a marvelous sight,
to see such an orderly arrangement,
women young and old and still unmarried girls.
First, they let their hair loose down their shoulders,
tied up the fawn skins (some had untied the knots
to loosen up the chords). Then around those skins
they looped some snakes, who licked the women’s cheeks.
Some held young gazelles or wild wolf cubs
and fed them on their own white milk, the ones[700]
who’d left behind at home a new-born child,
whose breasts were still swollen full of milk.
They draped themselves with garlands from oak trees,
ivy and flowering yew. Then one of them,
taking a thyrsus, struck a rock with it,
and water gushed out, fresh as dew. Another,
using her thyrsus, scraped the ground. At once,
the god sent fountains of wine up from the spot.
All those who craved white milk to drink
just scratched the earth with their fingertips—
it came out in streams. From their ivy wands [710]
thick sweet honey dripped. Oh, if you’d been there,
if you’d seen this, you’d come with reverence
to that god whom you criticize so much.

Well, we cattle herders and shepherds met
to discuss and argue with each other
about the astonishing things we’d seen.
And then a man who’d been in town a bit
and had a way with words said to us all,
“You men who live in the holy regions
of these mountains, how’d you like to hunt down
Pentheus’ mother, Agave—take her [720]
away from these Bacchic celebrations,
do the king a favour?” To all of us
he seemed to make good sense. So we set up
an ambush, hiding in the bushes,
lying down there. At the appointed time,
the women started their Bacchic ritual,
brandishing the thyrsus and calling out
to the god they cry to, Bromius, Zeus’s son.
The entire mountain and its wild animals
were, like them, in one Bacchic ecstasy.
As these women moved, they made all things dance.
Agave, by chance, was dancing close to me.
Leaving the ambush where I’d been concealed,
I jumped out, hoping to grab hold of her. [730]
But she screamed out, “O my quick hounds,
men are hunting us. Come, follow me.
Come on, armed with that thyrsus in your hand.”

We ran off, and so escaped being torn apart.
But then those Bacchic women, all unarmed,
went at the heifers browsing on the turf,
using their bare hands. You should have seen one
ripping a fat, young, lowing calf apart—
others tearing cows in pieces with their hands.
You could have seen ribs and cloven hooves[740]
tossed everywhere—some hung up in branches
dripping blood and gore. And bulls, proud beasts till then,
with angry horns, collapsed there on the ground,
dragged down by the hands of a thousand girls.
Hides covering their bodies were stripped off
faster than you could wink your royal eye.

Then, like birds carried up by their own speed,
they rushed along the lower level ground,
beside Asopus’ streams, that fertile land
which yields its crops to Thebes. Like fighting troops, [750]
they raided Hysiae and Erythrae,
below rocky Cithaeron, destroying
everything, snatching children from their homes.
Whatever they carried their shoulders,
even bronze or iron, never tumbled off
onto the dark earth, though nothing was tied down.
They carried fire in their hair, but those flames
never singed them. Some of the villagers,
enraged at being plundered by the Bacchae,
seized weapons. The sight of what happened next, [760]
my lord, was dreadful. For their pointed spears
did not draw blood. But when those women
threw the thrysoi in their hands, they wounded them
and drove them back in flight. The women did this
to men, but not without some god’s assistance.

Then they went back to where they’d started from,
those fountains which the god had made for them.
They washed off the blood. Snakes licked their cheeks,
cleansing their skin of every drop. My lord,
you must welcome this god into our city,
whoever he is. He’s a mighty god[770]
in many other ways. The people say,
so I’ve heard, he gives to mortal human beings
that vine which puts an end to human grief.
Without wine, there’s no more Aphrodite—
or any other pleasure left for men.

I’m afraid to talk freely before the king,
but nonetheless I’ll speak—this Dionysus
is not inferior to any god.

This Dionysian arrogance, like fire,
keeps flaring up close by—a great insult
to all the Greeks. We must not hesitate.

[To one of his armed attendants]
Go to the Electra Gates. Call out the troops,[780]
the heavy infantry, all fast cavalry.
Tell them to muster, along with all those
who carry shields—all the archers, too,
the men who pull the bowstring back by hand.
We’ll march out against these Bacchae.
In this whole business we will lose control,
if we have to put up with what we’ve suffered
from these women.

        You’ve heard what I had to say,
Pentheus, but still you’re not convinced.
Though I’m suffering badly at your hands,
I say you shouldn’t go to war against a god.
You should stay calm. Bromius will not let you [790]
move his Bacchae from their mountains.

Don’t preach to me! You’ve got out of prison—
enjoy that fact. Or shall I punish you some more?

I’d sooner make an offering to that god
than in some angry fit kick at his whip—
a mortal going to battle with a god.

I’ll sacrifice all right—with a slaughter
of those women, just as they deserve—
in the forests on Cithaeron.

        You’ll all run.
What a disgrace! To turn your bronze shields round,
fleeing the thyrsoi of those Bacchic women!

[turning to one of his armed attendants, as if to go]
It’s useless trying to argue with this stranger—[800]
whatever he does or suffers, he won’t shut up.

DIONYSUS [calling Pentheus back]
My lord! There’s still a chance to end this calmly.

By doing what? Should I become a slave
to my own slaves?

        I’ll bring the women here—
without the use of any weapons.

        I don’t think so.
You’re setting me up for your tricks again.

What sort of trick, if I want to save you
in my own way?

You’ve made some arrangement,
you and your god, so you can always dance
your Bacchanalian orgies.

        Yes, that’s true.
I have made some arrangement with the god.

PENTHEUS [to one of his armed servants]
You there, bring me my weapons.
[To Dionysus] And you—
No more talk! Keep quiet!

        Just a minute! [810]
[Moving up to Pentheus]
How would you like to gaze upon those women
sitting together in the mountains?

        I’d like that.
Yes, for that I’d pay in gold—and pay a lot.

Why is that? Why do you desire it so much?

I’d be sorry to see the women drunk.

Would you derive pleasure from looking on,
viewing something you find painful?

        Yes, I would—
if I were sitting in the trees in silence.

But even if you go there secretly,
they’ll track you down.

        You’re right.
I’ll go there openly.

        So you’re prepared,
are you, to make the trip? Shall I lead you there?

Let’s go, and with all speed. I’ve got time. [820]

In that case, you must clothe your body
in a dress—one made of eastern linen.

What! I’m not going up there as a man?
I’ve got to change myself into a woman?

If they see you as a man, they’ll kill you.

Right again. You always have the answer.

Dionysus taught me all these things.

How can I best follow your suggestion?

I’ll go inside your house and dress you up.

What? Dress up in a female outfit?
I can’t do that—I’d be ashamed to.

You’re still keen to see the Maenads, aren’t you?

What sort of clothing do you recommend?
How should I cover up my body?[830]

I’ll fix up a long hair piece for your head.

All right.
What’s the next piece of my outfit?

A dress down to your feet—then a headband,
to fit just here, around your forehead.

What else? What other things will you provide?

A thyrsus to hold and a dappled fawn skin.

No. I can’t dress up in women’s clothes!

But if you go fighting with these Bacchae,
you’ll cause bloodshed.

        Yes, that’s true.
So first, we must go up and spy on them.

Hunt down evil by committing evil—
that sounds like a wise way to proceed.

But how will I make it through the city
without the Thebans noticing me?[840]

We go by deserted streets. I’ll take you.

Well, anything is easier to accept
than being made a fool by Bacchic women.
Let’s go in the house. I’ll think about what’s best.

As you wish. Whatever you do, I’m ready.

I think I’ll go in now. It’s a choice
of going with weapons or taking your advice.

[Exit Pentheus into the palace. Dionysus turns to face the chorus.]

My women! that man’s now entangled in our net.
He’ll go to those Bacchae, and there he’ll die.
That will be his punishment. Dionysus,
you’re not far away. Now it’s up to you.
Punish him. First, make sure he goes insane[850]
with some crazed fantasy. If his mind is strong,
he’ll not agree to put on women’s clothes.
But he’ll do it, if you make him mad.
I want him made the laughing stock of Thebes,
while I lead him through the city, mincing
as he moves along in women’s clothing,
after he made himself so terrifying
with all those earlier threats. Now I’ll be off,
to fit Pentheus into the costume
he’ll wear when he goes down to Hades,
once he’s butchered by his mother’s hands.
He’ll come to acknowledge Dionysus,
son of Zeus, born in full divinity,[860]
most fearful and yet most kind to men.


Pentheus goes to Mount Cithaeron to see what the women are doing, but Dionysus traps Pentheus in a tree and calls on the Maenads to punish the one who denounced and ridiculed them. In their unreasoning frenzy they tear Pentheus apart, limb from limb, led by Pentheus’s mother, Agave, daughter of Cadmus.

[Enter Agave, cradling the head of Pentheus.]

Asian Bacchae . . .

        Why do you appeal to me?

AGAVE [displaying the head]

From the mountains I’ve brought home [1170]
this ivy tendril freshly cut.
We’ve had a blessed hunt.

        I see it.
As your fellow dancer, I’ll accept it.

I caught this young lion without a trap,
as you can see.

        What desert was he in?


        On Cithaeron?

Cithaeron killed him.

        Who struck him down?

The honour of the first blow goes to me.
In the dancing I’m called blessed Agave.[1180]

Who else?

        Well, from Cadmus . . .

               From Cadmus what?

His other children laid hands on the beast,
but after me—only after I did first.
We’ve had good hunting. So come, share our feast.

What? You want me to eat that with you?
O you unhappy woman.

This is a young bull. Look at this cheek
It’s just growing downy under the crop
of his soft hair.

        His hair makes him resemble
some wild beast.

        Bacchus is a clever huntsman—[1190]
he wisely set his maenads on this beast.

Yes, our master is indeed a hunter.

Have you any praise for me?

        I praise you.

Soon all Cadmus’ people. . .

        . . . and Pentheus, your son . . .

. . . will celebrate his mother, who caught the beast,
just like a lion.

        It’s a strange trophy.

And strangely captured, too.

        You’re proud of what you’ve done?

Yes, I’m delighted. Great things I’ve done—
great things on this hunt, clear for all to see.

Well then, you most unfortunate woman, [1200]
show off your hunting prize, your sign of victory,
to all the citizens.

AGAVE [addressing everyone]
        All of you here,
all you living in the land of Thebes,
in this city with its splendid walls,
come see this wild beast we hunted down—
daughters of Cadmus—not with thonged spears,
Thessalian javelins, or by using nets,
but with our own white hands, our finger tips.
After this, why should huntsmen boast aloud,
when no one needs the implements they use?
We caught this beast by hand, tore it apart—[1210]
with our own hands. But where’s my father?
He should come here. And where’s Pentheus?
Where is my son? He should take a ladder,
set it against the house, fix this lion’s head
way up there, high on the palace front.
I’ve captured it and brought it home with me.

[Enter Cadmus and attendants, carrying parts of Pentheus’s body.]

Follow me, all those of you who carry
some part of wretched Pentheus. You slaves,
come here, right by the house.

[They place the bits of Pentheus’ body together in a chest front of the palace.]

        I’m worn out.
So many searches—but I picked up the body.
I came across it in the rocky clefts
on Mount Cithaeron, ripped to pieces,[1220]
no parts lying together in one place.
It was in the woods—difficult to search.
Someone told me what my daughter’d done,
those horrific acts, once I’d come back,
returning here with old Tiresias,
inside the city walls, back from the Bacchae.
So I climbed the mountains once again.
Now I bring home this child the maenads killed.
I saw Autonoe, who once bore
Actaeon to Aristeius—and Ino,
she was with her there, in the forest,
both still possessed, quite mad, poor creatures.
Someone said Agave was coming here,[1230]
still doing her Bacchic dance. He spoke the truth,
for I see her there—what a wretched sight!

Father, now you can be truly proud.
Among all living men you’ve produced
by far the finest daughters. I’m talking
of all of us, but mostly of myself.
I’ve left behind my shuttle and my loom,
and risen to great things, catching wild beasts
with my bare hands. Now I’ve captured him,
I’m holding in my arms the finest trophy,
as you can see, bringing it back home to you,
so it may hang here.

[Offering him Pentheus’ head]

        Take this, father [1240]
let your hands welcome it. Be proud of it,
of what I’ve caught. Summon all your friends—
have a banquet, for you are blessed indeed,
blessed your daughters have achieved these things.

This grief’s beyond measure, beyond endurance.
With these hands of yours you’ve murdered him.
You strike down this sacrificial victim,
this offering to the gods, then invite me,
and all of Thebes, to share a banquet.
Alas—first for your sorrow, then my own.
Lord god Bromius, born into this family,
has destroyed us, acting out his justice, [1250]
but too much so.

        Why such scowling eyes?
How sorrowful and solemn old men become.
As for my son, I hope he’s a fine hunter,
who copies his mother’s hunting style,
when he rides out with young men of Thebes
chasing after creatures in the wild.
The only thing he seems capable of doing
is fighting with the gods. It’s up to you,
father, to reprimand him for it.
Who’ll call him here into my sight,
so he can see my good luck for himself?

Alas! Alas! What dreadful pain you’ll feel
when you recognize what you’ve just done. [1260]
If you stay forever in your present state,
you’ll be unfortunate, but you won’t feel
as if you’re suffering unhappiness.

But what in all this is wrong or painful?

First, raise your eyes. Look up into the sky.

All right. But why tell me to look up there?

Does the sky still seem the same to you,
or has it changed?

        It seems, well, brighter . . .
more translucent than it was before.

And your inner spirit—is it still shaking?

I don’t understand what it is you’re asking.
But my mind is starting to clear somehow.
It’s changing . . . it’s not what it was before.[1270]

Can you hear me? Can you answer clearly?

Yes. But, father, what we discussed before,
I’ve quite forgotten.

        Then tell me this—
to whose house did you come when you got married?

You gave me to Echion, who, men say,
was one of those who grew from seeds you cast.

In that house you bore your husband a child.
What was his name?

        His name was Pentheus.
I conceived him with his father.

        Well then,
this head your hands are holding—whose is it?

It’s a lion’s. That’s what the hunters said.

Inspect it carefully. You can do that
without much effort.

AGAVE [inspecting the head]
        What is this?
What am I looking at? What am I holding? [1280]

Look at it. You’ll understand more clearly.

What I see fills me with horrific pain . . .
such agony . . .

        Does it still seem to you
to be a lion’s head?

        No. It’s appalling—
this head I’m holding belongs to Pentheus.

Yes, that’s right. I was lamenting his fate
before you recognized him.

        Who killed him?
How did he come into my hands?

        Harsh truth—
how you come to light at the wrong moment.

Tell me. My heart is pounding in me
to hear what you’re about to say.

        You killed him—
you and your sisters.

Where was he killed?
At home? In what sort of place? [1290]

        He was killed
where dogs once made a common meal of Actaeon.

Why did this poor man go to Cithaeron?

He went there to ridicule the god
and you for celebrating Dionysus.

But how did we happen to be up there?

You were all insane—the entire city
was in a Bacchic madness.

        Now I see.
Dionysus has destroyed us all.

He took offense at being insulted.
You did not consider him a god.

Father, where’s the body of my dearest son?

I had trouble tracking down the body.
I brought back what I found.

        Are all his limbs laid out
just as they should be? And Pentheus, [1300]
what part did he play in my madness?

Like you, he was irreverent to the god.
That’s why the god linked you and him together
in the same disaster—thus destroying
the house and me, for I’ve no children left,
now I see this offspring of your womb,
you unhappy woman, cruelly butchered
in the most shameful way. He was the one
who brought new vision to our family.

[Addressing the remains of Pentheus]

My child, you upheld the honour of our house,
my daughter’s son. You were feared in Thebes. [1310]
No one who saw you ever would insult me,
though I was old, for you would then inflict
fit punishment. Now the mighty Cadmus,
the man who sowed and later harvested
the most splendid crop—the Theban people—
will be an exile, banished from his home,
a dishonoured man. Dearest of men,
even though, my child, you’re alive no more,
I count you among those closest to me.
You won’t be touching my cheek any more,
holding me in your arms, and calling me
“grandfather,” as you ask me, “Old man,
who’s injuring or dishonouring you?[1320]
Who upsets your heart with any pain?
Tell me, father, so I can punish him—
anyone who treats you in an unjust way.”
Now you’re in this horrifying state,
I’m in misery, your mother’s pitiful,
and all your relatives are in despair.
If there’s a man who disrespects the gods,
let him think about how this man perished—
then he should develop faith in them.

I’m sorry for you Cadmus—you’re in pain.
But your grandson deserved his punishment.

Father, you see how all has changed for me.
[From being your royal and honoured daughter,
the mother of a king, I’m now transformed—
an abomination, something to fill
all people’s hearts with horror, with disgust—
the mother who slaughtered her only son,
who tore him apart, ripping out the heart
from the child who filled her own heart with joy—
all to honour this god Dionysus.
But, father, give me your permission now
to lay out here the body of my son,
prepare his corpse for proper burial.

That’s no easy task to undertake.
His body, all the parts I could collect,
lies here, in this chest, not a pretty sight.
My own eyes can hardly bear to see him.
But if you think you can endure the work,
then, my child, begin the appropriate rites.

[removing Pentheus’s limbs and placing them on the ground in front of her]
Alas, for my poor son, my only child,
destroyed by his mother’s Bacchic madness.
How could these hands of mine, which loved him so,
have torn these limbs apart, ripped out his flesh.
Here’s an arm which has held me all these years,
growing stronger as he grew into a man,
his feet . . . O how he used to run to me,
seeking assurance of his mother’s love.
His face was handsome, on the verge of manhood.
See the soft down still resting on these lips,
which have kissed me thousands of times or more.
All this, and all the rest, set here before us.
O Zeus and all you Olympian gods . . . .

[She cannot complete the ritual and collapses in grief]

It makes no sense—it’s unendurable.
How could the god have wished such things on me?

CHORUS LEADER [helping Agave get up]
Lady, you must bear what cannot be borne.
Your suffering is intense, but the god is just.
You insulted him in Thebes, showed no respect—
you’ve brought the punishment upon yourself.

What is wisdom? What is finer
than the rights men get from gods—
to hold their powerful hands
over the heads of their enemies?
Ah yes, what’s good is always loved.
So all praise Dionysus,
praise the dancing god,
god of our revelry,
god whose justice is divine,
whose justice now reveals itself.

[Enter Dionysus.]

Yes, I am Dionysus, son of Zeus.
You see me now before you as a god.
You Thebans learned about my powers too late.
Dishonouring me, you earn the penalty.
You refused my rites. Now you must leave—
abandon your city for barbarian lands.
Agave, too, that polluted creature,
must go into perpetual banishment.
And Cadmus, you too must endure your lot.]
Your form will change, so you become a serpent. [1330]
Your wife, Harmonia, Ares’ daughter,
whom you, though mortal, took in marriage,
will be transformed, changing to a snake.
As Zeus’s oracle declares, you and she
will drive a chariot drawn by heifers.
You’ll rule barbarians. With your armies,
too large to count, you’ll raze many cities.
Once they despoil Apollo’s oracle,
they’ll have a painful journey back again.
But Ares will guard you and Harmonia.
In lands of the blessed he’ll transform your lives.
That’s what I proclaim—I, Dionysus,[1340]
born from no mortal father, but from Zeus.
If you had understood how to behave
as you should have when you were unwilling,
you’d now be fortunate, with Zeus’s child
among your allies.


Agave and Cadmus take leave of each other, both cursed by the horrifc events.

How I grieve for you, my father.

And I grieve for you, my child,
as I weep for your sisters.

Lord Dionysus has inflicted
such brutal terror on your house.

Yes. For at your hands I suffered, too—
and dreadfully. For here in Thebes
my name received no recognition.

Farewell, father.

        My most unhappy daughter,
may you fare well. That will be hard for you.[1380]

Lead on, friends, so I may take my sisters,
those pitiful women, into exile with me.
May I go somewhere where cursed Cithaeron
will never see me, nor my eyes glimpse
that dreadful mountain, a place far away
from any sacred thyrsus. Let others
make Bacchic celebrations their concern.

[Exit Agave.]

The gods appear in many forms,
carrying with them unwelcome things.
What people thought would happen never did.
What they did not expect, the gods made happen.
That’s what this story has revealed.

[Exeunt Chorus and Cadmus, leaving on stage the remains of Pentheus’s body.]