I've been reading The Bacchae by Euripedes. It is the only extant play based on the rituals of Dionysus in which women went in groups into the hills and engaged in orgiastic activities under the influence of wine. The theme of the play is the punishment of the family of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, by the god Dionysus, for the hubris and disrespect to the god shown by Pentheus, Cadmus' grandson. Pentheus does not believe in the gods and takes the influence of Dionysus upon the women of the city to be a crime. When Dionysus appears in human form, Pentheus has him locked up. However, one cannot keep a god in prison for long. Dionysus, escaped, offers Pentheus the opportunity to go into the hills to spy on the women and see what they are doing. Pentheus agrees and Dionysus dresses Pentheus as a woman and takes him to the wild place where the women are having their ritual. However, he is spotted by the women (as Dionysus intends) and they, led by Pentheus' mother Agave, out of their minds in the divine trance, rip him to pieces with their bare hands. She, Agave, then brings Pentheus' head back to Thebes as a trophy, believing it to be the head of a lion that she has killed. Only as Cadmus talks her down from her trance does she realise with horror what she has done. The parts of Pentheus' body are gathered up and reunited and he is buried in Thebes. Cadmus and the rest of the family go into exile.

The moral of the story is: don't insult the gods. There is also an important sub-theme about not denying human nature and human limitations. Humans are not clever enough to do without "traditions as old as time itself". Dionysus is the god who brought humans the solace of wine to enable them respite from their worries and anxiety-free sleep. The sage Tiresias appears in the play. He tries, at an early stage, to counsel Pentheus to moderate his arrogance. He says that there are two modes - work and pleasure - the former is presided over by Demeter (the Earth Mother who feeds us) and the latter by Dionysus and Aphrodite. To try to be too rational or clever and thereby do without the gods is bound to bring disaster. 

Th play conveys the very different sense of religion that prevailed in the classical world. In modern times we are concerned with "goodness" in a rather purified, rational sense of doing the least harm. Then, however, there was a much greater sense of fate, of divine intervention, and of the power of irrational forces. Those forces have not gone away and we can learn something important from these texts that describe a world alien to many of our modern assumptions.

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  • yes. along the centuries the most basic foundation of Power has been the one of keeping separated good and evil, right and wrong, positive deeds and crime. Very often (always) singling out the the sexual side of evil. The "uneasiness in civilization" according to Freud is specifically due to this sexual side. But there is much more than sex as such: besides deregulated sex there is the horrible side of humanity, the drive towards destruction (and self-destruction) which is inseparable from human nature, a sort a fate that is probably intrinsic in the matter as such and becomes "tragic" when the matter encounters the logos. Is this the kernel foundation of dukkha?  ("dukkha in civilization"?).

    In a recent radio conversation the philosopher Guido Ceronetti said that archaeologists discovered the word "hamas" inscribed in a cave in the Ande, remounting to millennia ago.  Hamas is not only a well-known Arab word  but also an Hebrew word, meaning "violence".  I'll try to deep this issue, astonishing to me.  

    Pentheus is doubly a victim: of violence and of his hubris. Is "moha", an ignorance close to this hubris?  In that case pretending to ignore the strength of the god.  Very "modern" one might say, accurately blinded by Power (not only the State and the Church but also micro-powers, habits, daily routines, common regulations ) which help us in living more comfortably and forgetting what is there,"choses cacheés depuis la foundation du monde".. 

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