The City vs. the Wild
Euripides contrasts images of the natural world with the world of man throughout The Bacchae. All through the text, the playwright compares the walled city of Thebes with the wild landscapes that surround it. These two differing locations seem to be symbolic of the central conflict of the play. On the one side we have nature, which could represent untamed irrationality. On the other side we have the human-built city of Thebes, which could be seen as symbolic of ordered rationality.
We should also note that both Dionysus and Pentheus become symbolic of the environment they prefer. The god calls his followers out into the woods and mountains to engage in his wild rituals, while the King struggles to maintain order behind the walls of his solid stone city. Some scholars say that one of the main points of The Bacchae is to show the danger of man attempting to totally suppress natural forces. When Pentheus tries to imprison Dionysus, nature goes berserk. Lightning and earthquakes shake and ravage the King's carefully ordered city.