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  • Sebastian Zerhoch (a1)


Euripides’ Bacchae is one of the most intensively studied Greek tragedies. Generations of scholars have explored the play from different perspectives and offered fascinating insights. But there are still aspects that have not received the attention they deserve. One such aspect is Euripides’ use of libation as a dramatic motif. Even though this motif relates directly to the question of the tragic conflict between Dionysus and Pentheus, it has never been discussed in detail and its dramatic impact has not been fully acknowledged.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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I am most grateful to Prof. Susanne Gödde, Prof. Renate Schlesier and Prof. Bernd Seidensticker for critical comments and discussions. I would also like to thank Dr. Oliver Wehr for his thorough reading of an earlier version of this article, and the anonymous referee of CQ for very helpful suggestions.



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1 There are only few studies of libation as a literary motif. For Greek tragedy, see Henrichs, A., ‘The “sobriety” of Oedipus: Sophocles OC 100 misunderstood’, HSPh 87 (1983), 87100; Henrichs, A., ‘“Let the good prevail”: perversions of the ritual process in Greek tragedy’, in Yatromanolakis, D. and Roilos, P. (edd.), Greek Ritual Poetics (Washington, D.C., 2004), 189–98. For libation in general, see von Fritze, J., De libatione veterum Graecorum (Berlin, 1893); Hanell, K., ‘Trankopfer’, RE 6.A.2 (1937), 2131–7; Rudhardt, J., Notions fondamentales de la pensée religieuse et actes constitutifs du culte dans la Grèce classique (Genève, 1958), 240–8; Casabona, J., Recherches sur le vocabulaire des sacrifices en grec – des origines à la fin de l’époque classique (Aix-en-Provence, 1966), 231–97; Graf, F., ‘Milch, Honig und Wein. Zum Verständnis der Libation im griechischen Ritual’, in Perennitas. Studi in onore di Angelo Brelich (Roma, 1980), 209–21; Simon, E., ‘Libation’, ThesCRA 1 (2004), 237–53; Burkert, W., Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche (Stuttgart, 2011 2), 113–17. For libation as a motif in art, see Lissarrague, F., ‘Un rituel du vin: la libation’, in Murray, O. and Tecuşan, M., (edd.), In Vino Veritas (London, 1995), 126–44; Gaifman, M., The Art of Libation in Classical Athens (New Haven and London, 2018); and, for the theme of divine libation, Patton, K.C., Religion of the Gods: Ritual, Paradox, and Reflexivity (Oxford, 2009), 27180.

2 For the uses of the group σπένδω-σπονδή, and also for the libation terms of the groups χέω-χοή and λείβω-λοιβή, see Casabona (n. 1), 231–97.

3 For these suggestions, see below, sections 1 and 3 respectively.

4 Cf. Segal, C., Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides’ Bacchae (Princeton, 1997 2), 45–6. The pertinent commentaries do not include discussion of libation as a motif in the Bacchae. These include Dodds, E.R., Euripides: Bacchae (Oxford, 1960 2), Seaford, R., Euripides: Bacchae (Warminster, 1996) and Roux, J., Euripide: Les Bacchantes. Vol. 2: Commentaire (Paris, 1972).

5 For Dionysus and the polis, see Seaford, R., Reciprocity and Ritual: Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-State (Oxford, 1994), 235327. For the historical polis as a background of the play, see Seaford (n. 4), 44–52; see also Segal (n. 4), ix–x. For the significance of politico-religious concepts in the Bacchae, see Leinieks, V., The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides’ Bakchai (Stuttgart, 1996), 327–49. For the political dimension of Dionysus in tragedy in general, see Bierl, A., Dionysos und die griechische Tragödie. Politische und ‘metatheatralische’ Aspekte im Text (Tübingen, 1991), 45110.

6 Segal's narrow interpretation of libation is particularly surprising in view of the significance he attaches to the connection of Dionysus with liquids (cf. Segal [n. 4], 65, 69, 149–56) as well as to Pentheus’ martial opposition to the god (cf. Segal [n. 4], 99, 105–6, 129–30). The former points to the significance of libation as a ritual centring on liquids, the latter to the relevance of the political sense of the group σπένδω-σπονδή.

7 The text of the Bacchae is cited after Diggle, J., Euripidis fabulae. Tomus III (Oxford, 1994). Translations from the Greek are my own.

8 Cf. e.g. Hom. Il. 3.295–6; Xenophanes B 1.15 West; Pind. Isthm. 6.37–46; Thuc. 6.32.1–2; Xen. Cyr. 2.3.1; Dem. 19.128; see Casabona (n. 1), 255; Burkert (n. 1), 114.

9 The crucial point of the complaint is Pentheus’ general refusal to worship the god, which includes libations and prayers in all kinds of circumstances. Seaford (n. 4), 153 suggested that it may concern ‘community (not palace) rituals’.

10 For the semantic difference between the singular σπονδή (‘libation’) and the plural σπονδαί (‘libations’, ‘truce’), see Casabona (n. 1), 253–65. The plural also denotes the so-called ‘sacred truce’ which was announced by heralds called σπονδοφόροι before greater festivals such as the Olympian Games (e.g. Thuc. 5.49; Pind. Isthm. 2.23) and the Eleusinian mysteries (e.g. Syll.3 42.55; Aeschin. 2.133); see A. Citron, Semantische Untersuchungen zu σπένδεσθαι – σπένδειν – εὔχεσθαι (Winterthur, 1965), 35–7; Baltrusch, E., Symmachie und Spondai. Untersuchungen zum griechischen Völkerrecht der archaischen und klassischen Zeit (8.–5. Jahrhundert v. Chr.) (Berlin, 1994), 117–22.

11 For emphasis on the political aspect of the prologue, see also Segal (n. 4), 99.

12 Cf. Kamerbeek, J.C., ‘On the conception of θεομάχος in relation with Greek tragedy’, Mnemosyne 1 (1948), 271–83, at 274.

13 Cf. LSJ s.v. ὠθέω I 2.

14 Euripides uses the plural σπονδαί in the sense ‘truce’ in Med. 898, Hel. 1235 and Ph. 364–6. For the truce Polynices speaks of in the latter passage, see also Ph. 81, 273 and 450 (ὑπόσπονδον μολεῖν); Ph. 171 (ἔνσπονδος). For the middle voice ἐσπείσαντο in Ph. 1240, see n. 33 below.

15 Cf. Sommerstein, A.H. and Bayliss, A.J., Oath and State in Ancient Greece (Berlin and Boston, 2013), 302.

16 Cf. Hom. Il. 3.245–8 (Trojans bringing wine: wineskin, mixing vessel and cup); 269–70 (mixing of the wine by heralds); 295–301 (libation and curse: οἶνον […] ἔκχεον […]. ὧδε […] ἐγκέφαλος χαμάδις ῥέοι ὡς ὅδε οἶνος).

17 Cf. Casabona (n. 1), 258; Baltrusch (n. 10), 107.

18 On the connection of libations and oaths, see also Sommerstein, A.H. and Torrance, I.C., Oaths and Swearing in Ancient Greece (Berlin and Boston, 2014), 147–8, where it is pointed out (at 147) that libations are rarely mentioned in non-political oaths. For a comparative Indo-European perspective on the political dimension of libations denoted by the group σπένδω-σπονδή, see Benveniste, E., Indo-European Language and Society, transl. Palmer, E. (London, 1973), 470–4.

19 Cf. MacDowell, D.M., Aristophanes: Wasps (Oxford, 1971), 247 (‘reconciliation’); Sommerstein, A.H., The Comedies of Aristophanes. Vol. 4: Wasps (Warminster, 1983), 85 and 209 (‘peace agreement’); Biles, Z.P. and Olson, S.D., Aristophanes: Wasps (Oxford, 2015), 343 (‘reconciliation’); see also Henderson, J., Aristophanes II: Clouds, Wasps, Peace (Cambridge, MA and London, 1998), 333 (‘truce’).

20 Cf. PRau, ., Aristophanes, Komödien. Band 2 (Darmstadt, 2016), 75 (‘Zeremonie’); Coulon, V. and van Daele, H., Aristophane. Tome II: Les Guêpes – La Paix (Paris, 1964 5), 54 (‘ces libations’).

21 Two explanations seem equally possible: either σπονδαί is used here as a generic ritual term, regardless of whether the pouring of wine is involved in the religious ceremony or not, or the combined performance of burning incense and pouring a libation is implied. In several literary texts there are, in fact, passages where the burning of incense and the pouring of liquids are combined; cf. Fritze, H. von, Die Rauchopfer bei den Griechen (Berlin, 1894), 3 and 35–7, who discusses Hom. Od. 15.222, Paus. 5.15.10 and Diod. Sic. 13.3; see also Empedocles B 128 DK; Simon, E., ‘Archäologisches zu Spende und Gebet in Griechenland und Rom’, in Graf, F. (ed.), Ansichten griechischer Rituale: Geburtstags-Symposium für Walter Burkert, Castelen bei Basel, 15. bis 18. März 1996 (Stuttgart, 1998), 126–42, especially 127–8.

22 The double meaning of σπονδῶν is also reflected by the compound θεομαχεῖ (45) which unites the notions of divinity and war. θεομαχεῖ also points to an ambiguity concerning the standings of the two opponents. The fact that the god himself makes the complaint seems to imply that he takes Pentheus seriously as an opponent. It fits into this notion that in the play Pentheus is not just described as a human ruler but also compared with a ‘murderous giant’ (543–4); cf. Segal (n. 4), 129–30.

23 Cf. Dodds (n. 4), 103; see also Roth, P., ‘Teiresias as mantis and intellectual in EuripidesBacchae’, TAPhA 114 (1984), 5969, at 60; Seaford (n. 4), 174.

24 Usually, τὰ πρῶτα (275) is explained in the sense of ‘first elements’ (cf. e.g. Dodds [n. 4], 104), but, in view of the formulation (τὰ πρῶτ᾿ ἐν ἀνθρώποισι) and the context, it ‘should perhaps be taken as “the best, most important things”’, as Seidensticker, B., ‘The figure of Teiresias in EuripidesBacchae’, in Kyriakou, P. and Rengakos, A. (edd.), Wisdom and Folly in Euripides (Berlin and Boston, 2016), 275–83, at 280 n. 32 has pointed out.

25 Diggle writes Γῆ in 276 with a capital Γ, but a small γ seems preferable, for the main notion is the rationalization of the personal goddess Demeter as earth.

26 Literally, Tiresias speaks of ‘the moist drink of the vine’ (βότρυος ὑγρὸν πῶμα).

27 Winnington-Ingram, R.P., Euripides and Dionysus: An Interpretation of the Bacchae (Cambridge, 1948), 50.

28 Cf. Segal (n. 4), 292–305, especially 294–5 and 300. Seidensticker, B., Palintonos Harmonia. Studien zu komischen Elementen in der griechischen Tragödie (Göttingen, 1982), 115–23 (cf. Seidensticker [n. 24], 281–2) also understands Tiresias’ speech as a satire, but rightly notes that this does not exclude the possibility that his words also contain ‘deep truths’.

29 Dodds (n. 4), 105 (see also 106). For the comparison with the Vedic concept of Soma, see also Farnell, L.R., The Cults of the Greek States. Volume V (Oxford, 1909), 121; Burkert, W., Homo Necans. Interpretationen altgriechischer Opferriten und Mythen (Berlin, 1972), 248.

30 Burkert (n. 29), 248–50; Gallistl, B., Teiresias in den Bakchen des Euripides (Zürich, 1979), 66–7; Seaford (n. 4), 176 (on Bacch. 283); also Obbink, D., ‘Dionysus poured out: ancient and modern theories of sacrifice and cultural formation’, in Carpenter, T.H. and Faraone, C.A. (edd.), Masks of Dionysus (Ithaca, NY, 1993), 65–86, at 78–9. On the difficulties concerning the whole issue of Dionysiac mysteries, see Henrichs, A., ‘Mystika, Orphika, Dionysiaka. Esoterische Gruppenbildungen, Glaubensinhalte und Verhaltensweisen in der griechischen Religion’, in Bierl, A. and Braungart, W. (edd.), Gewalt und Opfer. Im Dialog mit Walter Burkert (Berlin and New York, 2010), 87114.

31 Sandys, J.E., The Bacchae of Euripides (Cambridge, 1880), 140; see also Paley, F.A., Euripides. Volume 2 (London, 1858), 416; Tyrrell, R.Y., Εὐριπίδου Βάκχαι. The Bacchae of Euripides (London, 1892), 86. Stanford, W.B., Ambiguity in Greek Literature: Studies in Theory and Practice (Oxford, 1939), 175 takes the double sense of σπένδεται as a fact. He simply lists it as an instance of ambiguity in the Bacchae, but does not discuss it.

32 Cf. Dodds (n. 4), 105–6. For Roth, who seems to be the only exception, see n. 36 below. Contrary to the general trend, Kraus, F., Euripides, ein bekehrter Rationalist? (Passau, 1898), 8 took σπένδεται only as middle voice.

33 For the use of the middle voice of σπένδω, see Citron (n. 10), 3–48; Casabona (n. 1), 241–6; see also LSJ s.vv. σπένδω, σπονδή. While agreeing in general on the usage of the middle voice, Citron and Casabona differ in that the former maintains that the middle always has the sense ‘to make a truce’, whereas the latter believes that there are a few cases in which it has the concrete sense of pouring a libation (in the context of a truce). For discussions of historical spondai-treaties, with consideration also of the ritual features, see Baltrusch (n. 10), 92–188, especially 99–104; Sommerstein and Bayliss (n. 15), 241–306. For σπένδομαι as middle voice in Euripides, see Ph. 1240–1, Med. 1140, Or. 1680–1. In the latter two passages the middle refers not to a truce proper but to a settlement in a private quarrel.

34 The only evidence in the archaic and classical times comes from two cult inscriptions; cf. LSS 62 (Paros); LSAM 50.7–8, 50.16–17, a Hellenistic inscription, containing much older regulations of the Molpoi from Miletus. For this inscription, see Herda, A., Der Apollon-Delphinios-Kult in Milet und die Neujahrsprozession nach Didyma: Ein neuer Kommentar der sog. Molpoi-Satzung (Mainz am Rhein, 2006). For post-classical usage of the passive voice, see e.g. Σ Soph. OC 100; Nicomachus, FGrHist 662 F 1. For metaphorical use of the passive, see e.g. Philo, Quaest. in Ex. 2.14 Petit; NT Ep. Phil. 2.17; 2 Ep. Tim. 4.6. The latter two passages have often been cited by commentators of Bacch. 284–5, but Lacroix, M., Les Bacchantes d'Euripide (Paris, 1976), 164 rightly warns of the danger of a Christian interpretation.

35 For the function of the dative in the case of the middle σπένδομαι, see Casabona (n. 1), 242–3. It refers either to the other party of a truce or to the party in whose interest a truce is made. In Bacch. 284–5, the latter is excluded because of ὥστε with infinitive, which identifies humanity as the party of interest.

36 Cf. Roth (n. 23), 62–3, who rightly lists the ambiguity of σπένδεται among the rhetorical features of Tiresias’ speech, but offers no discussion. In general, for ambiguity and double meanings in the Bacchae, see Stanford (n. 31), 174–9; Segal, C., ‘Etymologies and double meanings in Euripides’ Bacchae’, Glotta 60 (1982), 8193.

37 Cf. Leinieks (n. 5), 230; see also Seidensticker (n. 24), 280 n. 32.

38 See Burkert (n. 29), 248–9; Gallistl (n. 30), 66–7.

39 For the complexity of the connection between Dionysus and wine, see Otto, W.F., Dionysos: Mythos und Kultus (Frankfurt am Main, 1933), 130–8.

40 Cf. Bacch. 142–3, where the chorus sing of the earth flowing with milk, wine and honey; Bacch. 704–11, where the messenger describes how the Theban women caused springs of water, milk, wine and honey. For these Dionysiac miracles, see also Dodds (n. 4), 163–4; Seaford (n. 4), 165. In this regard, two points are worth noting. First, the liquids commonly used for libations are the same as the liquids of the miraculous springs; second, libations performed by humans have a counterpart in divine libations. For the much-debated motif of divine libation, see e.g. Patton (n. 1), 27–180; Gaifman (n. 1), 117–49. In a wider sense, the theme of liquids also comprises associations of Dionysus and the maenads with rivers and their water; cf. Bacch. 519–36 (hymn to Dirce); 406–8 and 565–75 (rivers as markers of Dionysus’ journeys and as sources of blessing and fertility); 1051 and 1093 (water forming part of the natural setting of the maenads’ worship of the god and reflecting their moods and actions); see also Segal (n. 4), 150–6. For the mention of blood in the Bacchae, see n. 72 below.

41 Cf. Roux (n. 4), 347.

42 For libation in Mycenaean culture, see Hägg, R., ‘The role of libations in Mycenaean ceremony and cult’, in Hägg, R. and Nordquist, G.C. (edd.), Celebrations of Death and Divinity in the Bronze Age Argolid: Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium at the Swedish Institute at Athens, 11–13 June, 1988 (Stockholm, 1990), 177–84. For the archaic and classical periods, see n. 1 above.

43 This list does not aim at completeness; it excludes, for instance, libations of the χοαί kind which are associated primarily with funerals and the cult of the dead. For situational contexts of σπονδαί, see also Rudhardt (n. 1), 244.

44 These aspects are also a major feature in art; cf. Gaifman (n. 1), 151, who argues that the ‘images draw attention to the performance of the libation and highlight its communicative role in giving physical expression to the affirmation of ties and hierarchies among mortals and immortals’.

45 For wine as the main libation liquid, see e.g. Burkert (n. 1), 114; also Graf (n. 1), 209–21, who proposes a structural explanation according to which libations with mixed wine stand for normality, while libations without wine as well as those with unmixed wine represent marginality.

46 The whole first argument centres on the connection of the god with his gift of wine.

47 For the statement as a paradox and for the notion of Dionysus’ power being present in wine, see also Roux (n. 4), 347.

48 For a different explanation of the mediating function of Dionysus, see Gallistl (n. 30), 66–9.

49 Pentheus’ impiety is highlighted in several passages; cf. Bacch. 263, 476, 490, 502, 1015, 1302. For τιμή with regard to Dionysus, see Bacch. 192, 208, 220, 321, 329, 342; see also Bacch. 1008–10.

50 For further passages where the relationship of Pentheus and Dionysus is described in terms of war and military, see Bacch. 778–86, 789, 798–9, 804, 809, 837, 845; see also Segal (n. 4), 99. For κατάσκοπος, another military term, see n. 69 below.

51 Roth (n. 23), 61.

52 For the function of the dative, see n. 35 above. It should be noted that the meaning of the middle is not that Dionysus ‘makes libations to the gods’.

53 Cf. Kraus (n. 32), 8, who rightly took the middle voice metaphorically (‘gleichsam ein Abkommen’), but failed to acknowledge the ambiguity of σπένδεται. For the notion, in a comic setting, of gods trying to make σπονδαί on behalf of humans, see Ar. Pax 212–13.

54 For the pessimistic view in Tiresias’ speech, see Rohdich, H., Die Euripideische Tragödie. Untersuchungen zu ihrer Tragik (Heidelberg, 1968), 139.

55 As regards Dionysus’ role as a ‘truce-maker’, it is worth mentioning that the god is associated aetiologically with the institution of the truce in a myth told by Diodorus. In 3.71.6 the historian narrates that Dionysus, after defeating the Titans in battle, offered each of his prisoners of war a libation of wine (διδόντα σπονδὴν οἴνου) and made them swear to join his campaign. The aetiological point of the story is stressed, when Diodorus comments that it is because of these past events (and the Titans being the first to be called ὑπόσπονδοι, ‘protected under a truce’) that truces have been given the name σπονδαί. Unfortunately, we do not know whether a version of this story was already current in Euripides’ time. But, in any case, it is remarkable that there is a myth which tells of a war between Dionysus and other divine beings, makes the god himself the first to offer libations for the purpose of a truce, and plays with the double sense of the group σπένδω-σπονδή. For Diodorus’ source of the account of the Libyan Dionysus, see Rusten, J.S., Dionysius Scytobrachion (Opladen, 1982), 102–12. Seaford (n. 4), 224 suggests a link between this story and mystic initiation, but the story's explicit aetiological function speaks against this.

56 For the joy of the grape cluster and relief through wine, see also Bacch. 534–6 and 770–4 respectively. For the intransitive use of θιασεύειν, see Roux (n. 4), 377–8; Seaford (n. 4), 183; see also Schlesier, R., ‘Die Seele im Thiasos. Zu Euripides, Bacchae 75’, in Holzhausen, J. (ed.), ψυχή – Seele – anima. Festschrift für Karin Alt zum 7. Mai 1998 (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1998), 37–72, at 41.

57 Dionysus’ association with civic festivity seems unambiguous. For a suggestion that the first stasimon may also allude to mystery cult, see Seaford (n. 4), 182. For Dionysus as a god of peace, see also Diod. Sic. 3.64.7.

58 Cf. Ar. Ach. 194–279, 961–1234. For Dionysus, festivity and peace in the Acharnians, see also Henrichs, A., ‘Between country and city: cultic dimensions of Dionysus in Athens and Attica’, in Griffith, M. and Mastronarde, D.J. (edd.), Cabinet of the Muses: Essays on Classical and Comparative Literature in Honor of Thomas G. Rosenmeyer (Atlanta, Ga., 1990), 257–77, at 269–71.

59 Tiresias does not name a divine recipient in whose honour Pentheus should pour libations.

60 It is noteworthy that in Thuc. 4.98.8 the active voice is likely used in the technical sense of the middle; cf. Casabona (n. 1), 244–5. The use of σπένδω in Cretan dialect is also interesting in this regard: in SEG 27 (1977), 631 the active voice has the technical sense ‘to solemnly pledge, promise’; cf. Jeffery, L.H. and Morpurgo-Davies, A., ‘Ποινικαστάς and ποινικάζεν: BM 1969, 4–2.1, a new archaic inscription from Crete’, Kadmos 9 (1970), 118–54, at 128. For a similar usage of ἐπισπένδω, both in the active voice and in the middle voice, in the law of Gortyn (IC IV 72 coll. IV and VI), see Casabona (n. 1), 250–1.

61 Cf. Casabona (n. 1), 265–7.

62 Cf. LSJ s.v. ἔνσπονδος; see also Casabona (n. 1), 267; Citron (n. 10), 41–2. The first attestations of ἔνσπονδος are in Euripides—apart from the present passage, see Eur. Ph. 171 (n. 14 above)—and in Thucydides (e.g. 1.31.2).

63 See also e.g. Roux (n. 4), 531; Seaford (n. 4), 117. Segal (n. 4) seems undecided: in the main text he translates ἔνσπονδος twice (at 46 and 300) with ‘reconciled by our libations’ (hinting at a play with the technical sense only in the second instance), whereas in a footnote (at 288 n. 20) he offers as the first sense ‘at truce with us’.

64 The poetic use of ἄσπονδος provides a parallel. In Eur. Alc. 424 scholars take it either in the technical sense ‘without truce’ (cf. Casabona [n. 1], 266–7; Citron [n. 10], 39–43) or in the sense ‘without libation’ (Parker, L.P.E., Euripides: Alcestis [Oxford, 2007], 140–1), but there too the question arises whether it should not be taken in both senses simultaneously. For the possibility of ambiguity in the case of ἄσπονδος in Aesch. Ag. 1235, see Zeitlin, F.I., ‘Postscript to sacrificial imagery in the Oresteia (Ag. 1235–37)’, TAPhA 97 (1966), 645–53. Similarly, but with different emphasis, the compound ὁμόσπονδος refers to the social, political and religious notions associated with the communal pouring of libations and with the drinking of wine at the symposion; cf. e.g. Hdt. 9.16. In view of the passage in Herodotus, Gaifman (n. 1), 51 rightly notes that ‘libation stands alongside communal dining as a social marker of trust and friendship, even among enemies’.

65 Segal (n. 4), 288 n. 20 observes a connection with the ‘martial language of the god from the prologue’ and an echo of the ‘ritual themes of libation (spondē)’. Thus he rightly captures the two aspects of ἔνσπονδος, but overlooks that the double sense of the words of the group σπένδω-σπονδή is there from the first passage in the prologue. Seaford (n. 4), 224 takes ἔνσπονδος in the political sense ‘at peace’ and states that it ‘refers literally to libation’, but it is not quite clear whether he believes that ambiguity is a relevant issue in the context. Surprisingly, Dodds (n. 4), who refutes the middle sense of σπένδεται (284), makes no remarks at all about ἔνσπονδος or, for that matter, about σπονδῶν (45) or σπένδε (313).

66 Cf. Segal (n. 4), 288; Roux (n. 4), 531. Seaford (n. 4), 224 takes no account of the irony.

67 Roux (n. 4), 531 rightly notes tragic irony (Pentheus is clearly unaware of Dionysus’ intention), but her assertion that ἔνσπονδος is also used non-ironically is not convincing. The irony is taken up again in line 965.

68 Pentheus’ vision seems to indicate that he is ἔνθεος, possessed by the god. Does ἔνσπονδος perhaps ironically also allude to this notion? As several commentators have rightly pointed out, there is no reason to assume that Pentheus is drunk with wine. Yet, even if he is not drunk, the fact that he experiences the god in a way that is commonly associated in antiquity with drunkenness seems hardly coincidental; Arist. [Pr.] 3.10; Nic. Alex. 28–35. For discussion, see Dodds (n. 4), 193; see also Seaford (n. 4), 223, who argues that Pentheus sees double, because he looks at a mirror.

69 For κατάσκοπος, see Bacch. 916, 956; see also Bacch. 838 (ἐς κατασκοπήν). For the characterization of the relationship of Pentheus and Dionysus in military terms, see n. 50 above.

70 Cf. Seidensticker, B., ‘Sacrificial ritual in the Bacchae’, in Bowersock, G.W., Burkert, W. and Putnam, M.C.J. (edd.), Arktouros: Hellenic Studies Presented to Bernard M. W. Knox on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (Berlin, 1979), 181–90.

71 For the dressing scene as the analogue of the first step of the sacrificial rite, see Seidensticker (n. 70), 182–3.

72 The mention of blood in the context of Pentheus’ death (cf. Bacch. 1135–6, 1163–4)—foreshadowed by references to blood in the report about the maenads’ sparagmos of the cows (cf. Ba. 741–2, 767–8)—is not expressed in terms of libation; in the framework of the sacrificial pattern, it may be interpreted in the sense that it replaces a ‘normal’ libation with wine.

73 An allusion to Bacchic-Dionysiac mystery cult (cf. Seaford [n. 4], 174–6) seems unlikely for dramatic reasons. It is also noteworthy that libation may not even have had a particular significance in this cult-context; cf. Graf, F. and Johnston, S.I., Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (London, 2007), 149: ‘[…] not everything in the panoply of the mysteries was strange and unusual: sacrifice and libation are, after all, the “staple rituals” of ancient religion’.

74 The argument is further strengthened by the fact that συμμαχία, συντίθεμαι and other terms of agreement are often combined with σπονδαί and σπένδομαι in their political sense; cf. e.g. Thuc. 3.114.3, 4.119.1. For further examples, see Citron (n. 10), 3–35.

75 The prevailing assumption is that maenadism was exclusively female, at least until Hellenistic times; cf. e.g. Henrichs, A., ‘Male intruders among the maenads: the so-called male celebrant’, in Evjen, H.D. (ed.), Mnemai: Classical Studies in Memory of Karl K. Hulley (Chico, CA, 1984), 6991. This position has been challenged by Schlesier, R., ‘Der bakchische Gott’, in ead. (ed.), A Different God? Dionysos and Ancient Polytheism (Berlin and Boston, 2011), 173202.

I am most grateful to Prof. Susanne Gödde, Prof. Renate Schlesier and Prof. Bernd Seidensticker for critical comments and discussions. I would also like to thank Dr. Oliver Wehr for his thorough reading of an earlier version of this article, and the anonymous referee of CQ for very helpful suggestions.


  • Sebastian Zerhoch (a1)


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