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Euripides: Bacchae

1. Dithyramb

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the opening chorus of the play, a type of song known as a dithyramb. In particular, we focus in the development of tragedy from the dithyramb, as well as the particular associations between dithyramb, tragedy, and the god Dionysus.


In this course, Professor Richard Seaford (University of Exeter) explores Euripides' great tragedy, The Bacchae, which ends with the king of Thebes, Pentheus, being torn to pieces by his own mother, Agave. In the first module, we think about the great procession of singing and dancing that begins the play, focusing in particular on the links between this scene and the historical origins of tragedy itself. In the second module, we introduce the idea of the mystery cult, Pentheus' (unwitting) initiation into which seems to be implied throughout the play. In the third module, we continue thinking about mystery cult to explain the scene in which Pentheus appears to acquire temporary double-vision ("I… I think I can see two suns… and our city of seven gates, Thebes… there are two of them also."), before moving on in the fourth module to focus more closely on the character of Pentheus himself. In the final module, we consider the concept of polis cult in the play, thinking in particular about how the destruction of Pentheus and the Theban royal family makes way for a cult of Dionysus which will benefit the whole city.


Richard Seaford is a professor of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter in England. He is the author of academic books, especially on ancient Greece, and has penned over seventy academic papers.

His work on Athenian tragedy and religion has led him to investigate the historical conditions for the radical development of Greek culture in the sixth century BC (sometimes called the origin of European culture), and to argue that a crucial factor in this development was money: the advanced Greek polis of this period was the first society in history that we know to have been thoroughly monetised.

Money and the Early Greek Mind. Homer, Tragedy, Philosophy (Cambridge 2004) explores the socio-historical conditions that made this first monetisation possible as well as its profound cultural consequences, notably the invention of 'philosophy' and of drama.

The investigation is taken further in several recent papers, for instance in ‘Money and Tragedy’ in W. V. Harris (ed.), The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans (2008). His most recent book is Cosmology and the Polis: the Social Construction of Space and Time in the Tragedies of Aeschylus (Cambridge 2012). In 2005-2008 he was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. For 2013-4 he was awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a comparative historical study of early Indian with early Greek thought.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Seaford, R. (2018, August 15). Euripides: Bacchae - Dithyramb [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Seaford, R. "Euripides: Bacchae – Dithyramb." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,