by Henrik Ibsen
A Tad Bit of Greek Mythology (This is where we talk about the vine leaves, FYI)
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
There are two allusions to Greek and Roman mythology that crop up in Hedda Gabler. The first is that of Dionysus (also called Bacchus), the god of wine, a.k.a. the craziest party animal ever. Back in the days of Greek mythology, Dionysus was the guy throwing parties your mother warned you about. We’re talking orgies, wild animals, crazed dancing, fire, and of course, lots and lots of alcohol. Orgies…alcohol…does this sound familiar? When the men return from their wild stag party, Tesman and Brack both report on the night’s festivities. Tesman uses the word orgy, and we all remember that Eilert is a raging alcoholic. Hedda must sense this connection, at least on some level, because she always imagines Eilert reading poetry with vine leaves in his hair. This is a romanticized image, but also has its roots in the ancient Greek world, where the god Dionysus was very often depicted wearing a wreath of vine leaves on his head. Hedda is attracted to Eilert’s Bacchic traits: his free spirit, his drinking, and his rebel courage.
Then you’ve got Diana – Mademoiselle Diana, to be more specific. We might write her off as a prostitute at first, but when Brack calls her "a mighty huntress of men," we have an "Aha!" moment. Diana is another Greek divinity, and she was – you guessed it – a huntress. What’s odd is that Diana was a virgin, and in fact a goddess of chastity. It seems a bit weird to name a prostitute after her…right?
The truth is, there’s a lot of really interesting (if dense) critical work on this topic. If this really interests you, we say: great. Go read. For the time being, rather than identify specific characters in Hedda Gabler as corresponding to specific figures in ancient myth, it’s more instructive to think about the tension between these two deities and the way that struggle is manifested in the play. Bacchus is about drunken orgies; Diana is about chastity. Eilert deals with this very sort of struggle himself, as does Hedda (who is afraid of scandal yet discontent with a life of propriety). Which force wins out in Hedda Gabler – Dionysus or Diana?