Pentheus was a cautious and careful king of Thebes in ancient Greece. One day he became angry that his people were worshipping Dionysus, the god of wine (whose Roman name is Bacchus). Much to Pentheus’s annoyance, his own mother Agave and sisters began to worship Dionysus and, with other female followers – called Maenads (or Bacchante) – danced, drank wine and partied in the hills behind the palace.
One day Dionysus became angry with Pentheus’s attitude and persuaded him to dress like one of the Maenads so that he could witness their sacred mysteries. Disguised as a stranger, Dionysus led Pentheus to the mountains and delivered him into the hands of the women who, led by Agave, tore him limb from limb thinking he was a wild animal.
The play The Bacchae was written by Euripides around 400 BC. This production was performed by the Playbox Theatre Company in Melbourne in 1980. The set design and costumes were created by Mirka Mora, the director was Murray Copland, music by Barry Conyngham, with Warwick Camber as Dionysus and Teiresias, Robin Harrison as Cadmus, Robert Bell as Pentheus and Agave.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010