Option 1: Ian Johnston (it is his translation of The Bacchae used in this lesson) offers a short interpretive summary of the play. Read this summary, here: An Introductory Note to Euripides Bacchae. Johnston suggests two alternative interpretations: “A more sophisticated (and certainly more interesting) version of … the play looks at Dionysus, not simply as a foreign god, but as the embodiment of certain aspects of human experience, as a symbol for the irrational, communal excitement, bonding, power, joy, intoxication, and excess which all too often get lost in the careful life of the city, governed by habit, rules, laws, and responsibilities. This approach to the play stresses the fact that Thebes has lost touch with those irrational energizing unconscious powers of life and, in Agave’s and Pentheus’ refusal to acknowledge the divinity of Dionysus, created a situation where these powers (which cannot be forever denied) simply break out with disastrous consequences. If that doesn’t carry an explicit moral, at least it serves as a cautionary tale.” [on the other hand] ” … it is not difficult to see why some interpreters have viewed this play as an indictment of religion because of its hostility to the survival of the community, on the ground that religion (as depicted by Dionysus and his followers) is the basis for the irrational destructiveness which threatens and ultimately overthrows the well-ordered city in an orgy of cruel excess. On this view, the play is a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious superstitions.” Question: With which of these interpretations do you tend to agree? Why? Need we choose between the two? Develop your answer in a crafted reply of around 500 words, and post to your group discussion page for this lesson. Be sure to draw on evidence in the text in developing your answer.
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