Four Choral Odes from The Bacchae

Ode: “That man is blest. . .”

Strophe 1
That man is blest who, happy in his heart,
has passed through the initiation rite,
kept his life pure and made his soul a part
of Bacchic ecstasy with dancing feet
upon the mountainside. Blest is the man
who piously respects the secrets of
Great Mother Cybele and, with a crown
of ivy and a brandished sacred staff,
serves Dionysus. Come, you Bacchae, come
guide the divinely fathered Roaring God
down from the Phrygian ridges, lead him home
to Greece’s spacious thoroughfares, streets wide
enough to give us room to dance for him.

Antistrophe 1
Struck by Zeus’ lightning, Semele
cast Bacchus from her womb before his time
and perished in the fire. Instantly
the son of Cronos, Zeus, accepted him,
sheltered him in a chamber of his thigh,
a manly cavity, and stitched him in
with golden pins so that the child would stay
unknown to Zeus’ consort Hera. Soon
the Fates brought round the necessary season,
and Zeus produced a bull-horned deity
and crowned his head with serpents. That’s the reason
why Maenads now weave snakes, their mountain prey,
into their hair, a wild accessory.

Strophe 2
Thebes, nurse of Semele, be garlanded
with ivy, dress yourself in bright
yew-leaves and their attractive fruit,
luxuriate in oak and fir-tree boughs
and decorate your dappled fawnskin clothes
with white sheep shearings. Hallow to the god
your proud, aggressive staffs of fennel wood.
When everywhere starts dancing all at once,
whoever leads the sacred Bacchant choir
becomes the Roaring God, and people dance
up to the mountain, to the mountain where
the women Bacchus goaded from the loom
and shuttle are expecting him.

Antistrophe 2
O secret chamber of the Couretes
and holy Crete, home of the lair
where Zeus was born, the cavern where
the triple-crested Corybantes made
this frame and covered it with tightened hide.
Using it for their Bacchic revelries
in concert with the Phrygian pipe’s sweet voice,
they passed it on to Rhea—an instrument
that emanates the Bacchants’ festive pulse.
Later, the raving Satyrs underwent
Rhea’s initiatory rituals
and added to their own biennial rites
the songs in which our god delights.

Ecstasy is in the mountains when,
clad in the sacred garment, the fawnskin,
the god is running with his sacred band
and then just up and tumbles to the ground
while in pursuit of raw-flesh joy, a slain
goat’s blood. He dashes through the Phrygian
and Lydian mountains. Yes, the Roaring One
is leader of the dance! A-ha! Milk flows
among the grasses, red wine flows, the bees’
sweet nectar flows. Waving a torch of pine
that breathes the scent of Syrian frankincense,
the Bacchic God keeps urging idlers on
with his speed, foot-work and seductive chants,
all the while tossing to the upper air
his superabundant head of hair.

Over the Maenad’s joyous cries
his deep voice thunders words like this:

“Come join us, Bacchae; Bacchae, join the dance,
while all around us the luxuriance
of Tmolus shines. Gold courses through the streams.
Come sing for Dionysus; be guided by
the thundering rhythm of the kettle-drums.
Celebrate joyously the god of joy
with Phrygian shouts and noise. The sacred pipe
is playing sweet songs, sacred melodies,
as spurs to stimulate the stragglers up
the mountainside.
******************Enthusiastic as
a foal beside her grazing mother mare,
a foal who stirs her swift-hooved legs to leap
and leap, the Bacchant relishes her sacred choir.

Ode: “Sanctity, you queen. . .”

Strophe 1
Sanctity, you queen of gods, as you
go flying over earth on golden wings,
do you take in the sacrilegious things
Pentheus has been promulgating, how
he scorns the Roaring God, Semele’s son,
who, during banquets decked in bright bouquets,
is first among the blest divinities?
He has the power to bring outsiders in,
to laugh when pipes play and to deaden care
when grape-joy visits sacred feasts
and the abounding wine-bowl casts
sleep over men with ivy in their hair.

Antistrophe 1
An unchecked mouth and rash stupidity
mean ruin, but a peaceful, prudent life
remains untossed by storms and keeps homes safe.
Although the gods live far away on high,
they watch the deeds of mortals all the same.
Smart talk is hardly wisdom; it’s unwise
for men to think big and forget their place.
Our lives are short. Given our dearth of time,
who, in pursuing all-too-distant goals,
would lose out on what lies at hand?
That way of living, to my mind,
is for misguided men and crazy fools.

Strophe 2
I want to go to Cyprus, island of
the foam-born goddess, where the gods of love
reside, the sweet bewitchers of our wits;
to Paphos, where a hundred rivulets
water the plain and there are no rain showers.
Bull-Roarer, Keeper of Ecstatic Powers
and Leader of Bacchants, take me to sublime
Pieria where the Muses spend their time,
to a divine Olympian mountain slope.
There, there at last we Bacchant girls have scope
to hold, among the Graces and Desire,
the secret rites whose celebrants we are.

Antistrophe 2
Our son of Zeus delights in feasts, and Peace,
the youth-nurse, the purveyor of success,
is precious to him. He distributes wine,
the grief-cure, both to blest and unblest men.
Oh, but he bears a grudge against all those
who scorn the following activities:
living one’s whole existence, every day
and every sweet night, in a state of joy;
keeping the inmost thoughts that make one wise
safe from the prying of excessive eyes.
What simple people practice and believe—
that’s what I welcome, that’s the way I live.

Ode: “Queen Dirce, virgin daughter. . .”

Queen Dirce, virgin daughter of Achelous,
your waters bathed a newborn once, when Zeus,
his father, snatched him from the deathless flame,
sealed him inside his thigh and thundered thus:
“Come, Twice-Born God, into my manly womb.
‘Bacchus,’ yes, ‘Bacchus,’ you will be renowned—
all Thebes will one day call you by this name.”

But, blessed Dirce, you refuse me, though
I revel on your banks in ivy-crowned
choirs of women. Tell me: why do you
reject our rites? Why do you run away?
I promise, by the grape-vine-garnished joy
of liquid Dionysus, you will come
to hold the Roaring God in high esteem.

There’s so much anger in the earth-born race,
the serpent race that nurtured Pentheus
the son of Echion. No mortal man,
he is a monster mad for blood, he is
a deity-detesting giant. He soon
will lock me up, although I serve the god.
One of our number is already gone—

a dear believer, gone inside the house,
hidden away in some obscure stockade.
Tell me, Dionysus son of Zeus,
do you perceive your advocates, how we
are in the crucible of necessity?
Descend Olympus, heft your golden rod
and stop his blood-lust and outrageous pride.

Where, Dionysus, with your sacred wand
are you now running with your worshippers?
On Mt. Corycia’s slopes? On Nysa nurse
of beasts? Through dense Olympian tracts of land
where Orpheus once, by plucking at his lyre,
made beasts and trees move to the melody?
Blessed Pieria, the God of Joy
thinks highly of you and will come to spur
dancing in you and Bacchic revelry.
Yes, he will lead the whirling Maenad band
once he has crossed the rapid Axios river
and crossed the roiling of the Lydias, giver
of wealth and happiness to humankind,
the gorgeous Lydias which, I hear tell, nurses
a nation famous for its gorgeous horses.

Ode: “Swift dogs of Madness. . .”

Swift dogs of Madness, seek the mountain slope
where Cadmus’ daughters worship. Stir them up
against the madman dressed in women’s attire,
the Maenad spy. Perched on a sharp outcrop,
his mother will be first to notice where
he waits in ambush, and she will harangue
the Bacchant throng:

“What seeker after Cadmus’ mountain clan
do we have here? Yes, Bacchae, who is this?
What mother could have whelped out such a son?
Surely no product of a woman,
he only can be the inhuman
spawn of a Gorgon or a lioness.”

Let Justice now be known.
Let her appear with sword in hand
and slit the throat
of the impious, unrestrained
and reprobate
offspring of Echion,
the Sown Man’s son.

Bacchus, when someone comes with wicked thoughts
to wrong your and your mother’s holy rites,
when someone in contempt and frenzy tries
to vanquish the invincible, he gets
death as his punishment. There’s no excuse
in matters that concern the sacredness
of deities.

Live like a mortal—that’s the pain-free way.
No foe to wisdom, I love hunting it,
but other things are greater: night and day
we all must live for goodness, be
observant, praise divinity,
and banish customs that oppose what’s right.

Let Justice now be known.
Let her appear with sword in hand
and slit the throat
of the impious, unrestrained
and reprobate
offspring of Echion,
the Sown Man’s son.

Reveal yourself, now, Bacchus, as a bull,
a many-headed dragon or a wild
fire-breathing lion, frightening to behold.
Go, Bacchus, as an animal
and with a laughing face
hurl destruction’s noose
around the Bacchant-hunter. Let him fall
into the Maenads’ crush and press.



Euripides (485—406 BC) was a tragic poet in Athens, Greece. His works, along with those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, define what we know of Classical tragedy. His tragedy The Bacchae presents the homecoming of the god Dionysus to the ancient city of Thebes.

Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His first book of poetry, The Cosmic Purr (Able Muse Press), was published in 2012 and his second book Manhattanite, which won the 2016 Able Muse Poetry Prizecame out in December of 2017. His thriller in verse, Mr. Either/Or, was released by Etruscan Press in the fall of 2017. His work has appeared in such venues as Best American Poetry, POETRY, and The Times Literary Supplement. See

English translation copyright (c) Aaron Poochigian, 2018.