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Chapter 13: Dionysus, Pan, Echo, and Narcissus


Read the Commentary for Chapter 13, and note especially its discussion of Harry Partch’s Revelation in the Courthouse Park.


Investigate the images of Dionysus and the Satyrs and Maenads in his entourage from the Perseus Vase Catalog.

Do a Google Image search of Dionysus. Compare and contrast the different representations of this god. Locate especially Caravaggio’s “Dionysus.”


Read Apollodorus’ account of the birth of Dionysus and the spread of his worship.

How does Euripides, throughout the Bacchae, employ the device of the double vision in terms of both Pentheus and the audience? What interesting similarities do you see between the figure of Dionysus and that of Christ?

Read Strabo 10.3.1-10.3.23, which contains a long discussion of the Curetes and mystery religions.

One of the most important modern Greek poets, Constantine Cavafy, often dipped into his own culture’s ancient tradition for inspiration. Read “The Retinue of Dionysus.”

You may wish to read O’Neill’s play The Great God Brown, which includes a Dionysus-like figure in the character of Dion Anthony.

As a palliative to what he saw as the extreme emphasis on the importance of reason, balance, and harmony in the Greek tradition, the scholar E. R. Dodds mined the field of anthropology to investigate the role of the irrational and the “primitive” in Greek culture in The Greeks and the Irrational.

Compact Discs and Videos

Do not miss Revelation in the Courthouse Park by Harry Partch. The plot of this music-drama, which combines operatic treatment with theatrical presentation, alternates between scenes from Euripides’ Bacchae set in ancient Thebes and parallel scenes in an American drama enacted in the courthouse park of a Midwestern town in the 1950s, where the rock star Dion (a pop idol archetype for Elvis Presley) appears.

Handel’s oratorio/opera Semele, about Jupiter’s wooing of Semele, is one of his most famous works that you may peruse with profit and enjoyment.

You may want to hear what the modern pan flute sounds like. There are several recordings of both classical and popular music played by masters of the instrument (see Pan Flute in the Bibliography).

Claude Debussy’s, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, expresses orchestrally the idyllic sensuality of a world inhabited by satyrs and nymphs.

At this point you may want to become acquainted with the Metamorphoses after Ovid by Benjamin Britten. The six metamorphoses are Pan, Phaëthon, Niobe, Bacchus, Narcissus, and Arethusa.

Two videos are worth investigating: Echo et Narcisse, an opera by Gluck,and themovie-fantasy The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, in which we see Pan (as well as Medusa).


Arcadia is the haunt of Hermes, Pan, and Callisto. Find out how Arcadia and arcadian have come into English. What about Faunus, satyr, and bacchanal? What is a syringe, an echo, panic, narcissism, and enthusiasm?


View the constellation Capricorn.

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the manifold nature of Dionysus and Dionysian worship.

  2. Discuss the character of Pentheus and Dionysus, the two opponents, in Euripides’ Bacchae.

  3. What role do women play in the worship of Dionysus and in the mythology that surrounds this god?

  4. At the end of Euripides’ Bacchae, the royal house of Thebes is devastated. Agave, freshly returned to her senses after a madness that has driven her to take her own son’s life, gropes for a way to come to terms with her situation and the victory of this new god. How does she reconcile herself to what has transpired?

  5. In your reading you have been introduced to two seemingly diametrically opposed deities, Apollo and Dionysus. Compare and contrast the two forces in the world these gods represent, which we may refer to as the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

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