The Bacchae: Character Profiles
Agave is the daughter of Cadmus, and the mother of Pentheus. Her sisters are Autonoë and Ino. Agave is a follower of Dionysus and goes up into the mountain with her sisters and the other bacchantes to take part in the rites of the cult. However, she is so fanatical in her worship of the god and what he represents that she becomes an embodiment of the darker, supernatural power of the god and loses her sanity. When some cowherds and shepherds try to capture he she throws them off and leads the women on a rampage in which they tear bulls and heifers to pieces with their bare hands. Later, When Agave spots Pentheus spying on them, she and the other bacchantes tear him apart. She is so demented that she does not recognize that she is killing her own son. When she finally does realize what she has done, she is full or remorse and pain. Dionysus punishes her by sending her into exile from Thebes.
Cadmus, married to Harmonia, is the father of Agave and the grandfather of Pentheus. He was king of Thebes but abdicated in favor of his grandson. Even though he is old he recognizes the power of Dionysus. He and Teiresias dress up like followers of the god and go with Teiresias to the mountain, ready to dance and celebrate the god. He prides himself on knowing his status as a man and does not wish to challenge the gods.
Chorus of Asian Bacchae
The Chorus observes and comments on the action. They present for the most part the ideal aspects of the worship of Dionysus, emphasizing the gentle, life-bringing nature of the god, how he is a benefactor of man. Unlike the crazed Maenads on the mountain, they maintain a more balanced view of the virtues of Dionysus. They are also aware, however, of the severe consequences of disobeying the god.
Coryyphaeus is the Chorus Leader who occasionally speaks as an individual. He talks for example to the messenger who brings news of the death of Pentheus. He rejoices at the news and speaks in praise of Dionysus.
Dionysus is the god of wine and revelry in human form, also referred to in the play as Bromius, Bacchus, and Evius. He presents himself as a young man, a stranger in Thebes, and Pentheus is unaware that the man he is dealing with, whom he refers to as a “charlatan magician,” is in fact an incarnation of the god Dionysus. Dionysus is somewhat feminine in appearance, in contrast to Pentheus. He has long blond curly hair, which makes Pentheus observe that Dionysus is obviously not a wrestler. (Wrestlers had short hair.) Pentheus acknowledges that Dionysus is good-looking and must be attractive to women. Dionysus is shown to be a ruthless and immensely powerful character. He shows that, in keeping with the traditional attributes of the god, he is able to change shape at will, appearing to Pentheus as a bull. He easily escapes from the stable where Pentheus has imprisoned him, and he is not the least intimidated by his confrontation with the king. He soon manipulates Pentheus until the king is completely under his control. He believes that Pentheus deserves the fate that he arranged for him. As a god, Dionysus rewards his followers by easing their care and troubles, but he reacts savagely against his enemies, those who refuse to do him honor.
The First Messenger is a herdsman from Mount Cithaeron, who brings news to Pentheus of the violent activities of the Maenads on the mountain.
The Second Messenger is an attendant of Pentheus who went with him and Dionysus to the mountain and brings news of Pentheus’s death.
Pentheus is the king of Thebes. He is the grandson of Cadmus and the son of Agave. Pentheus is an athletic, masculine young man, in contrast to Dionysus, and he is very conscious of his duty as king of Thebes to preserve civic order. For that reason he opposes the cult of Dionysus, which he sees as a threat not only to order and rationality, but to morality also. He plans to stamp it out by imprisoning the women and capturing and executing Dionysus. Pentheus, although in his own eyes may be well intentioned, is also an arrogant, impatient, and angry man. He has a rigid personality and he hates to be opposed. He denounces his own grandfather and Teiresias for accepting the presence of the Dionysus cult, and he is angered by the evasiveness of Dionysus when he questions him. Pentheus is eventually undone by his own arrogance and the fact that although he denounces what he thinks of as Dionysian orgies, he is curious about them also and quickly seizes the opportunity to observe them. It appears that as a rationalist he has repressed the sensual side of his being, regarding it as leading to immorality, but this has led to a latent prurience in his personality. Dionysus senses this and exploits it, leading Pentheus to his doom.
Teiresias is an old blind man who, along with Cadmus, puts on the uniform of the worshipper of Dionysus and goes to the mountain to take part in the rites. Teiresias, who in Greek mythology is a seer and a prophet, values custom and tradition and is fully prepared to honor Dionysus. He warns Pentheus not to ignore the god, saying that Dionysus will one day be honored throughout Hellas (Greece).