A Bad End

Euripides. Bacchae. 1114-1136

His priestess-mother got the killing going,
attacking him. He tore off his headdress
so she would know him and not kill him,
poor Agave. Touching her face, he said:
“It’s me, mother. Your son, Pentheus.
You bore me in Echion’s house.
O mother, have mercy on me.
Don’t kill your son over his mistake.”

Foaming at the mouth and wild eyes whirling,
she did not think as thinking requires:
in thrall to Bacchus, she was unmoved.
She gripped his left arm below the elbow,
jammed her foot against the poor man’s ribs,
then ripped arm from shoulder with strength not her own.
The god had made it easy for her hands.

Ino all the while worked his other arm,
ripping flesh. Autone and the Bacchic pack
grabbed at him too, screaming in unison.
While he groaned (all that his breathing allowed)
theirs were shouts of joy. One left with his arm;
one his foot, the shoe still on. The mauling
exposed his ribs. And then, with hands blood stained,
as they would a ball, they tossed around his flesh.

πρώτη δὲ μήτηρ ἦρξεν ἱερέα φόνου
καὶ προσπίτνει νιν: ὃ δὲ μίτραν κόμης ἄπο
ἔρριψεν, ὥς νιν γνωρίσασα μὴ κτάνοι
τλήμων Ἀγαύη, καὶ λέγει, παρηίδος
ψαύων: Ἐγώ τοι, μῆτερ, εἰμί, παῖς σέθεν
Πενθεύς, ὃν ἔτεκες ἐν δόμοις Ἐχίονος:
οἴκτιρε δ᾽ ὦ μῆτέρ με, μηδὲ ταῖς ἐμαῖς
ἁμαρτίαισι παῖδα σὸν κατακτάνῃς.
ἣ δ᾽ ἀφρὸν ἐξιεῖσα καὶ διαστρόφους
κόρας ἑλίσσουσ᾽, οὐ φρονοῦσ᾽ ἃ χρὴ φρονεῖν,
ἐκ Βακχίου κατείχετ᾽, οὐδ᾽ ἔπειθέ νιν.
λαβοῦσα δ᾽ ὠλένης ἀριστερὰν χέρα,
πλευραῖσιν ἀντιβᾶσα τοῦ δυσδαίμονος
ἀπεσπάραξεν ὦμον, οὐχ ὑπὸ σθένους,
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ θεὸς εὐμάρειαν ἐπεδίδου χεροῖν:
Ἰνὼ δὲ τἀπὶ θάτερ᾽ ἐξειργάζετο,
ῥηγνῦσα σάρκας, Αὐτονόη τ᾽ ὄχλος τε πᾶς
ἐπεῖχε βακχῶν: ἦν δὲ πᾶσ᾽ ὁμοῦ βοή,
ὃ μὲν στενάζων ὅσον ἐτύγχαν᾽ ἐμπνέων,
αἳ δ᾽ ἠλάλαζον. ἔφερε δ᾽ ἣ μὲν ὠλένην,
ἣ δ᾽ ἴχνος αὐταῖς ἀρβύλαις: γυμνοῦντο δὲ
πλευραὶ σπαραγμοῖς: πᾶσα δ᾽ ᾑματωμένη
χεῖρας διεσφαίριζε σάρκα Πενθέως.

Hans Bellmer. La Poupee. c.1938

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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