Essay on Describe the Nature of Dionysus’s Power in Euripides’ Bacchae and Zeus’ Tyranny in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound
Number of words: 1382
In ancient Greek, gods and goddesses were very highly respected supreme beings who deserved to be happy for the people to be happy as well. Even without consent, the people had to fulfill the wishes of the gods and goddesses. Failure to attend to these supreme beings, the people would suffer consequences and nothing much could be done to escape from God’s anger. For this paper, I will explore the nature and powers possessed by the god Dionysus as written by Euripides in the early 5th century BC as well as the Zeus tyranny as written by Aeschylus in 430 BC.
Dionysus is described as a foreigner and a Greek, a divine god as well as a mortal Stranger which signifies his contradictory nature. The divine and mortal nature is depicted from his birth story. Dionysus’ mother, Semele was a human who got pregnant by the king of gods, Zeus (Grube). However, Zeus’ wife was angry and convinced Semele to look at the true form of Zeus which was a lightning bolt leading to her death. However, in her death, Zeus saved the unborn Dionysus until he was ready. Semele’s sister, Agave, didn’t believe the story of a divine child. She was convinced that Semele died from her blasphemous lies and as a result the young god Dionysus was declared an outcast. Dionysus went all over Asia making a cult of female worshippers and he went back to Thebes, his birthplace, to revenge on Cadmus for failing to worship him as well as to vindicate Semele, his mother. Besides, some women refused to recognize him as a god and claim that he was a result of the blasphemous acts of his mother. Such a story depicts the divine and mortal nature of Dionysus and the Greek and foreigner title he possessed.
However, Dionysus’ cult of female worshippers was becoming a nuisance to other gods. The young King Pentheus condemned the Dionysian worship and ordered the arrest of Dionysian cult members. Dionysus uses his human nature “the stranger” and disguises himself as a Lydian leader to get himself arrested. The idealistic and skeptical Pentheus shows his interest in the Dionysiac rites but the stranger refuses to answer his questions. He then locks up Dionysus but being a god, he breaks free and without hesitation with earthquake and fire, razes Pentheus’ palace to the ground. The female worshippers were possessed by the Dionysian ecstasy, thereby becoming wild and performing miracles. Dionysus is known as the god of wine and revelry (Grube). Therefore, the women constantly partying like a spell had been cast on them. Pentheus was more eager to encounter the ecstatic women. Dionysus wanted revenge and he convinced his cousin Pentheus to dress up as a female Maenad and attend the rites to see for himself. Dionysus then alerted the women of a snooper among them and such intrusion combined with their wild nature, they tore Pentheus into pieces. With time the Dionysian ecstasy begins to wear off and Agave, Pentheus’ mother, realizes what she had done to her son. In his true form, Dionysus sends Agave and her sister into exile. His final revenge was turning his grandfather, Cadmus, and his wife into snakes. Dionysus’ harsh revenge was felt by many signifying his fury and revengeful nature.
The Prometheus Bound depicts Zeus as the almighty God, the ruler of other gods and all mortals. It is shown that Zeus’ power is enhanced by instilling fear in people, who obey him in fear of wrath and misery. Prometheus bound is a play against Zeus, describing his hard-hearted and bad character as well as bringing out Zeus’ tyranny and punishment for Prometheus. Prometheus, also a god, was punished by Zeus due to his love and compassion for mankind. He gifted man with fire and disobeyed Zeus laws, hence his punishment. Zeus, being a god, comes across as an upstart following his disregard for all. He is contented with a centralized rule, opposes any skepticism or resistance with violence, and has a great temper against gods of old (Todd). Zeus answers to no one and hence his misdeeds are forever unaccounted for. Such power made his tyranny brutal as seen in the painful death he brought upon Prometheus and Io, the daughter of Inachus, who he lusted after. He finds pleasure in the prolonged suffering of his enemies and all those who disobeyed him, even other gods. For his punishment, Prometheus was shackled to a wintry cliff where he was grilled by the hot sun and suffer a slow death. For Io, she was exiled and turned into a cow. Io was condemned to wander around the world in search of ways to end her misery.
Zeus had an unforgiving nature which caused anyone to suffer under his wrath even if he was faithful before. His tyrannical rule does not recognize solidarity and faithfulness but reigns in distrust even his closest allies. According to Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths and craftworks, like Zeus, every ruler is cruel. He empathized with Prometheus following his misery. Prometheus told Oceanus, God of water bodies, not to say bad things about Zeus in fear of more wrath. He claims Zeus is the lawmaker, the overall decision-maker, the justice system and he set the law. Zeus believed no man could beat a God. The punishment Prometheus was subject to depicted what happens when you defy Zeus and support mortal man (Todd). Nevertheless, Zeus was concerned by Prometheus’ prophecy that his rule will come to an end because of a woman, that is, his rule and power will end with his marriage. Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound says that Zeus’ marriage shall cost him his power and throne. Prometheus was the only help for Zeus. Zeus sends Hermes to inquire more about the woman and failure to speak up, he would encounter more painful punishment. Prometheus had the right to say bad things concerning Zeus since he was subject to punishment for giving mankind fire. Zeus rules by fear and brute force and since he was also not infallible, he would fall from power as Prometheus prophesized.
Both Dionysus and Zeus were great gods. They both exercised their power however they wished and wanted to take revenge on those who wronged, disobeyed, and never identified with them. The difference is that Dionysus’s revenge was towards vindicating his mother while Zeus exercises wrath on other gods like Prometheus for defying his rule. Aeschylus notes that Hippolytus and Prometheus acted against Zeus’ will, so they deserved to be punished. In both plays, we can conclude that the gods don’t care much about mankind. Dionysus controlled women as he wished, while Zeus punished Prometheus for giving man fire. Zeus was not convinced of the mortals deserving fire. Dionysus and Zeus did not hesitate to use full power in taking revenge. Zeus’ extreme punishment for Io and Prometheus and Dionysus’ harsh revenge on Agave and her sister depicts how these gods had little compassion for the mortals. The mode of revenge for these gods depicts them as sadistic because their enemies suffer to their death. However, as Cadmus noted, Dionysus’s revenge was deserving though excessively felt. For Zeus, his revenge was misguided and rather a show-off of his power.
Following such acts of gods in ancient Greece, we gain an understanding of rationality against instinctual aspects of entities. In this time, the Greeks observed order and balance in their lives. Their laws, social structure depict a culture that embraced equilibrium, even in their behavior. The gods also had order. Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, showed a creative and emotional aspect of people. Zeus’ tyrannical leadership keep other gods and mortals in order. The nature of Dionysus and Zeus’ power is fundamentally the same – brutal, excessive and largely unjust. In this regard, it remained extremely important to obey and please the Gods and goddesses in ancient Greek. the only thing that mattered was the satisfaction of immortals to attain a happy life.
Grube, George Maximilian Antony. “Dionysus in the Bacchae.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. American Philological Association, 1935.
Todd, O. J. “The Character of Zeus in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound.” The Classical Quarterly 19.2 (1925): 61-67.