Study Guide

Dionysus, Pentheus, and Agave Madness

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Dionysus brings a special kind of madness everywhere he goes. It's not just the kind that gets you locked you up in a padded room. (Well it might, but that's not the point.) Dionysus' ritualistic Bacchanals are designed to take his followers into a frenzied state that transports them beyond the normal human world. When the Maenads reach the height of holy madness they become one with him and are capable of awful feats of strength and even magic of a kind. Though it may be horrifying to the law enforcing Pentheus, Dionysus sees his form of madness as a holy rite.

Questions About Madness

  1. Is Agave to blame for murdering Pentheus in her frenzied state? Why, or why not?
  2. What's the difference between madness and religious fervor? Is there one? Explain your answer.
  3. Why are Dionysus' maddening rituals so horrifying to Pentheus?
  4. Is the madness caused by the Bacchanals of Dionysus a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your answer. 
  5. Check the story of Heracles' madness here. Compare and contrast the theme with the way it pops up in this myth.

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