Essay Preview: Bakkhai Essay
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Ignorance is a common element in The Bakkhai, as many characters in it have paid for it by being killed, turned into different beings, or just humiliated by the extremely powerful god, Dionysos. Many fall victim to his various acts of power and end up with a tragic flaw, one being the main antagonist of the play, Pentheus. For Pentheus, the tragic flaw is his ignorance, as he simply does not know who he is dealing with and that he has very strong and corrupt desires.
Pentheus disbelief of Dionysos being a god makes him ignorant. He doesnt know that when he taunts Dionysos, he is insulting the son of Zeus. Pentheus says that “This stranger tells us Dionysos is a “god” that Zeus carried in his thigh. Heres the truth: Hes a “god” lightning burned up with his mother as a punishment for her great lie- that she slept with Zeus. No matter who this stranger is, we should hang him for blasphemy.” (379/380) In the quote, Pentheus not only believes and calls Dionysos to not be a god; he also insults him for being a punishment for his mothers sleeping with the great god Zeus, as this is true. Pentheus later says to his soldiers to “chain him! You have no power, youre not in command here. I am.” (390) Declaring he has the most power makes Pentheus seem like he is arrogant in thinking that he has the most power out of everyone, including a fully divine god. Pentheus doesnt know this though, which leads him to believe that he is superior to Dionysos, which is ignorant of him and is his overall tragic flaw.
The other reasoning of Pentheus ignorance is the part that actually leads to his demise and humiliation. His sexual desires to see the Maenads tearing cows apart naked eventually allow Pentheus to trust Dionysos. Dionysos, however after having been insulted by Pentheus multiple times, decides to trick Pentheus and leads him to the canyon to be killed by the Maenads. The sexual desires to see many naked women including Pentheus own mother, Agave, lead him to be killed, as Dionysos believes that Pentheus is not moral in wanting to see his own mother naked and that he insulted a god and the son of a god. The worst is when Pentheus says “Then Ill have what I deserve!”(402), while talking about the Maenads. His ignorance leads him to believe that he deserves to give himself pleasure by seeing naked women, including his own mother, to rip apart cows.
Nonbelief and desire are deeds that Pentheus acts upon. When he ridicules Dionysos, Pentheus is acting out of pride and later is punished by Dionysos for being immoral. The moral of Pentheus story is that one should not question a god, as they are overly powerful and tend to become angry when are bothered. If they do, they can be easily humiliated, or in Pentheus case, humiliated and killed.