"poetic, prophetic, and, finally, Dionsysian."


 The following passage is central to The Secret History. The class discusses the idea of Dionysian madness, one of the four discussed earlier (see above, bookmark to Page 38: "about loss of self, about Plato's four divine madnesses") and Richard remembers reading Euripides' play The Bacchae.

Of all the classical literature mentioned in The Secret History, The Bacchae is the most useful aid to understanding Tartt's novel. Euripides (c. 480-406 B.C.) was one of the three great tragedians of Athens, alongside Sophocles and Aeschylus. The Bacchae was the last extant play he wrote; it was composed in Macedonia after Euripides' voluntary exile from Athens. In the play, Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, is punished for failing to recognise the god Dionysus. The god lures away Pentheus's mother Agave and the rest of the women of Thebes, bringing them to the mountains where they perform wild Dionysian rituals. In the end Pentheus, tempted by Dionysus to spy on these rituals, is killed by his own mother while she is in the grip of a Dionysian frenzy.

In the play, a herdsman describes the bloody and ecstatic rituals of the Bacchae; his speech can be found here. During their rituals, the women (called the Maenads) lose all sense of themselves, to the extent that Agave fails to recognise her own son; as Julian says, Dionysus offers his followers an escape from their own consciousness.