radio 4 ‘today’Today_Programme.htmlToday_Programme.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0
talks & lecturestalks_%26_lectures.htmltalks_%26_lectures.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0
trojan trilogyTrojan_Trilogy.htmlTrojan_Trilogy.htmlshapeimage_11_link_0

Looking at Bacchae

Bloomsbury Press 

Bacchae is one of the most troubling yet intriguing of Greek tragedies. Written during Euripides’ self-imposed exile in Macedonia, it tells of the brutal murder and dismemberment of Pentheus by his mother and aunts who, driven temporarily insane, have joined the Bacchae (devotees of the god Dionysus, or Bacchus). The startling plot, driven by Dionysus' desire to punish his family for refusing to accept his divinity, and culminating in the excruciating pathos of a mother’s realization that she has killed her son, has held audiences transfixed since its original performance (when it won first prize). It is one of the most performed and studied plays in the Greek tragic corpus, with a strong history of reception down to the present day.

This collection of essays by eminent academics gathered from across the globe explores the themes, staging and reception of the play, with essays on the characters Dionysus and Pentheus, the role of the chorus of Bacchae, key themes such as revenge, women and religion, and the historical and literary contexts of the play. The essays are accompanied by David Stuttard's English translation which is performer-friendly, accessible and closely accurate to the original.

Reviews and Comments include

Just like the poor character of Pentheus, this volume really tears Euripides’ Bacchae apart and offers up a series of fascinating angles, ideas and themes for inspection from some of the finest scholars currently working on Greek tragedy, ably ring-mastered by Stuttard, who tops the volume with his own lively and pulsating translation of one of Euripides’ most disturbing plays.

Michael Scott, Associate Professor, University of Warwick, UK

Behind the twelve essays that form the meat of this collection lies Stuttard’s translation... The translation is free, yet maintains the essential meaning... For performance, this style has much to offer while the radical translations of the choral odes with their repetitive phrasing are distinguished by a more musical treatment... The essays may be more complex and less informal than the talks at performances, yet they are still written in an accessible style that makes the volume useful and stimulating for a wide range of readers.

Alan Beale, Classics for All


The volume is a welcome a contribution, bringing the highest level of academic scholarship to bear on this important tragedy in the interest of a broader audience for whom it may continue to hold salience. For this, Stuttard and the contributors should be applauded.  I expect that this volume will add to an ever growing renaissance of Greek tragedy, moving it beyond the walls of the academy and into the wider public theater.

Courtney J.P. Friesen, University of Arizona

in Bryn Mawr Classical Review

The work fills several niches rather well. Accessible to the interested layman, it would also support either a college course on tragedy on one on the play in Greek. I plan to require it for my own Bacchae class next year.

Bruce McMenomy

Classical Journal

With contributions from leading scholars across the globe, and a lively, well-paced and clear translation of the tragedy by Stuttard, this book is essential reading for all students of Euripides’ Bacchae, Greek-readers  or not. The play itself remains a key text for anyone studying the god Dionysus, and Looking at Bacchae would serve these readers well, too.

Lucia Marchini, Minerva Magazine


radio 4 ‘today’Today_Programme.htmlToday_Programme.htmlshapeimage_14_link_0
talks & lecturestalks_%26_lectures.htmltalks_%26_lectures.htmlshapeimage_15_link_0
trojan trilogyTrojan_Trilogy.htmlTrojan_Trilogy.htmlshapeimage_18_link_0

In politics a speaker who has passion without wisdom can be very dangerous.’

Bacchae’s basic plot can easily be summarized. After years spent in Asia, the god Dionysus returns to Greece and his homeland, Thebes, accompanied by female devotees (called bacchae, after another of the god’s names, Bacchus). Here he finds that, while the prophet Teiresias willingly accepts his godhead, his grandfather Cadmus does so only out of expediency. Moreover, many of his aunts and female relatives refuse completely to accept his divinity, so he drives them ‘like cattle from their houses, maddened on the mountain-side, hallucinating and delirious’. Meanwhile King Pentheus threatens to persecute Dionysus’ followers, forcing the god to take grim revenge. He causes Pentheus to be torn apart by his own mother Agavë and his aunts in the hallucinatory belief that he is a wild animal; when Agavë realizes what she has done, she is horrified, but the implacable Dionysus drives both her and Cadmus into exile, effectively destroying the royal house of Thebes.

Using this basic storyline – a storyline, which (as Alan Sommerstein shows in this collection) drew heavily on earlier plays – Euripides wove a richly complex tragedy, pulsating with questions which are as alive today as they were in the late fifth century bc. They include issues of gender and identity, madness and rationality, vengeance and repression, foreignness and fanaticism so extreme, that it leads young men (or, in this case, a young god) to gloat in icy triumph over an enemy’s severed head.

However, what Euripides meant to convey in Bacchae and how modern readers or audiences understand the play are not necessarily the same things. In many respects Bacchae is a product of its age, both a response and challenge to beliefs that were widely held at the end of the fifth century bc. It a play, too, which assumes an easy familiarity with certain myths, which may be unknown to most modern audiences. So, to set both Bacchae and this collection of essays in context, we shall briefly consider some of those issues: the god Dionysus and the myths surrounding him, as well as the circumstances in which Euripides wrote the play and in which it was first performed.