tonight we went to see bacchae by euripdies at the ancient theatre of epidauros on the pelopenesian peninsula. from athens, we caught a chartered bus in kflathmonos square (by panepitisimo metro stop) which took us to gate 2 at piraeus port. here we got on the georgios which took us across the bay to epidaurous. another bus covered in rainbow stripes took us from that dock to the theatre which is up in the hills.
the play was amazing. it was all in modern greek and the fact that all i could understand was the occasional personal name totally didn’t matter. the ampitheatre held somewhere around 6000 people, though it wasn’t completely full. it was built in the 4th century bc, but was buried until the late 19th century and preserved relatively intact so very little restoration work has been done. in addition, the acoustics are flawless.
bacchae is about dionysus and pantheus, pantheus’ mother and the maenad. dionysus proclaims himself a god but his relatives mock him. in punishment he turns the women of thebes mad so they become his followers, the bacchae, also called maenad. pantheus has dionysus chained and brought before him in order to publicly denounce his godhood and prove him for a fake. in answer dionysus causes an earthquake.
the way they did this was one of my favorite moments in the whole play. earlier when the whirling dervishes of mad women were cackling and jumping with reckless undulating abandon across the stage, they were each given a pair of rocks by D’s acolytes. they would periodically bang them together in counterpointal rythym to the drums. when pantheus has finished castrating D’s godhood, D slips his binds and calls P a fool. he then strides out between the double file of women and pauses a moment at the top to pronounce a few more, no doubt, pithy statements. the women, all still doing thier weird imitation of a susserating giggle, suddenly go silent with him. in this breath of quiet space, they all simultaenously throw their paired rocks on the ground at pantheus’ feet and stare him out of countenance before whirling off like the truly mad mysteries they have become.
the beautiful thing was their intensity in every action they took. the cackling, the silence above all, the striking rocks on the floor, and the stare. those women, they had presence.
later on the bacchae rip pentheus to pieces and his mother is left holding his head. in a slight return to sanity, she recognizes her son and tries to give birth to him once more by performing an upside down crawl on hands and feet bent over backwards with his head resting on her pubis to be dumped in the box containing the rest of his unattached body parts. this doesn’t work.
i perfectly agree with lucy who says of the bacchae in prince caspian, “I wouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we had met them without Aslan.”
wise words, lucy, since probably they would have stained their teeth red with your blood.