Plays on Dionysus: Euripides, Aristophanes, and Me (Discussion)

At the beginning of December, Jean Bookishthoughts on Youtube, held a Classical Literature Readathon and the two books chosen were Euripides’ The Bacchae and Aristophanes’ The Frogs. Two entirely different Greek plays, the former a tragedy and the latter a comedy, yet both revolving around the Greek god Dionysus. Reading these two stories got me thinking about his appearances in literature and differing preferences on theme so I thought a little discussion was in order.

Dionysus is known as the god of wine and fertility, even as a patron of the arts. In most mythology his parents are Zeus and the human Semele, and Hera in a jealous rage had him torn apart by Titans. He was  brought back to life by Rhea though and is often related to rebirth. His personality traits were often described like a dual personality. On the one hand bringing ecstasy and joy, the other brutality and horrible rage.

Euripides’ The Bacchae speaks to the Greek god’s dual sides. When he is spoken of in the play, the focus is on vivacious life and spontaneity. The character of Dionysus though is spiteful and seeks vengeance for the slanderous claims in regards to his birth. In The Frogs, Aristophanes’ portrayal of Dionysus is of someone constantly making errors in judgment and never learning from his mistakes. He is a joke until the end of the narrative.

If you’re looking for a YA depiction, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will have you covered. There Dionysus is portrayed as disinterested, selfish, and spoiled rotten. In DC’s New 52 Wonder Woman, Dio is a punk rock teen who can inspire madness but is also indulgent of the finer things. Personally I like when Dionysus is created with both of his sides in mind, the joy and the madness. I find him more interesting that way, a more complete character.

The Bacchae and The Frogs are very typical of their respective genres. As a tragedy, Euripides’ work drips of suffering, wronged parties, and emotional upheaval. There is no questioning the disaster that will surely unfold. Aristophanes fills his tale with stupid humor, a comedy of errors and bathroom jokes. It also pokes fun at Euripides, who turns up as a character in the story, allowing Aristophanes to critique the other playwright.

I’ve always been one drawn to stories that will take my heart for an emotional ride and most likely leave me a complete mess. Whether it’s novels, television shows, movies, etc., I go for the drama. It’s not that I don’t like comedies, just that I have a hard time relating to them. The same goes for my taste in plays. I much prefer The Bacchae over The Frogs. For me, it was more compelling and intense. Aristophanes’ work just did not resonate with me.

All in all, reading these books helped me to realize that I want to continue getting into classical literature. Most of what I read was back in college for my degree and I want to get back to it. I enjoyed looking at Dionysus in different ways and talking about how my tastes in genre tend to fall on one side. Now it’s time for you to join in!

Here are some questions we can discuss further in comments:

  • What is your favorite depiction of Dionysus?
  • When it comes to plays, do you prefer tragedies or comedies?
  • What is your favorite play of all time?
  • Are any of you interested in Classical literature? If so, do you have a favorite?


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