Syropoulos, Spyros. 2023. “Confinement and Release in the Bacchae.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103900186.
ὕβρισμα βακχῶν, ψόγος ἐς Ἕλληνας μέγας.
1. Liberation from the form and the norm
Διόνυσος, ὃν τίκτει ποθ᾽ ἡ Κάδμου κόρη
Σεμέλη λοχευθεῖσ᾽ ἀστραπηφόρῳ πυρί·
μορφὴν δ᾽ ἀμείψας ἐκ θεοῦ βροτησίαν
τέλεσαν, ταυρόκερων θεὸν
στεφάνωσέν τε δρακόντων
Finally, the freedom with which Dionysus moves between forms is epitomized in his transgendered appearance, which perplexes Pentheus right from the beginning,  while also seeming to have an almost erotic effect on him. 
1.2 Cadmus and Teiresias
1.3 The women
ἱερὸν Τμῶλον ἀμείψασα θοάζω
Βρομίῳ πόνον ἡδὺν
κάματόν τʼ εὐκάματον, Βάκ-
⏑ ⏑ – | ⏑ ⏑ –
⏑ ⏑ – – | ⏑ ⏑ – – | ⏑ ⏑ – –
⏑ ⏑ – | ⏑ ⏑ – –
⏑ ⏑ – – | ⏑ ⏑ – –
⏑ ⏑ – – | ⏑ ⏑ –
This collective flight is not only a matter of the foreign ensemble of the god. The women of Thebes have also abandoned the city and this might be interpreted as an act of freedom, yet what kind of freedom is imposed? Dionysus admits that he has forced all the women out of their homes inflicting madness upon them (καὶ πᾶν τὸ θῆλυ σπέρμα Καδμείων, ὅσαι / γυναῖκες ἦσαν, ἐξέμηνα δωμάτων, 35–36). Although this sounds like the most paradoxical case of liberation at first, one might interpret irrationality as the necessary means to free oneself from the shackles of conventional thinking, the very one that defines the social roles of women by including them in the clearly socially defined context of the city.
ἵππων τ᾽ ἀπαντᾶν ταχυπόδων ἐπεμβάτας
πέλτας θ᾽ ὅσοι πάλλουσι καὶ τόξων χερὶ
ψάλλουσι νευράς, ὡς ἐπιστρατεύσομεν
Agaue finally enters the realm of male supremacy in the civic environment: leadership. When the messenger describes the women on the mountain, he describes not merely a θίασος, but three orderly groups of women, ὧν ἦρχ᾽ ἑνὸς μὲν Αὐτονόη, τοῦ δευτέρου / μήτηρ Ἀγαυὴ σή, τρίτου δ᾽ Ἰνὼ χοροῦ (681–682). Even if one sees in Semele’s three sisters the ritualistic role of chorus-leaders, the verb ἦρχον has undisputed political connotations, and any doubt about this collapses when these women give battle orders  and lead an army of women armed (with very effective thyrsoi) to fight armed men and defeat them (763–764). 
2. The failure of confinement and a delimited god
σῴζουσι πανδήμοισι πρόσπολοι στέγαις·
ὅσαι δ᾽ ἄπεισιν, ἐξ ὄρους θηράσομαι,
[Ἰνώ τ᾽ Ἀγαυήν θ᾽, ἥ μ᾽ ἔτικτ᾽ Ἐχίονι
230 Ἀκταίονός τε μητέρ᾽, Αὐτονόην λέγω,]
καί σφας σιδηραῖς ἁρμόσας ἐν ἄρκυσιν
παύσω κακούργου τῆσδε βακχείας τάχα.
The picturesque language of the women’s release from the norms and bonds of civic life is characterized by freedom of movement. When located away from the city, women act like animals that broke free from their harness. When the Θεράπων comes on stage he reports that Dionysus willingly let him and the others chain him and did not even change his appearance (meaning his complexion’s color) out of fear. However, the Bacchae who were forcibly brought back to the city (and domesticity) and thrown in bonds at the beginning of the play, are now automatically released from the bonds and returned to the place of freedom in exuberance, the mountain, “frisking” (σκιρτῶσι, 446), and calling on Bromios.
435 ἐφ᾽ ἣν ἔπεμψας, οὐδ᾽ ἄκρανθ᾽ ὡρμήσαμεν.
ὁ θὴρ δ᾽ ὅδ᾽ ἡμῖν πρᾶος οὐδ᾽ ὑπέσπασεν
φυγῇ πόδ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἔδωκεν οὐκ ἄκων χέρας,
οὐκ ὠχρός, οὐδ᾽ ἤλλαξεν οἰνωπὸν γένυν,
γελῶν δὲ καὶ δεῖν κἀπάγειν ἐφίετο
440 ἔμενέ τε, τοὐμὸν εὐτρεπὲς ποιούμενος.
κἀγὼ δι᾽ αἰδοῦς εἶπον· Ὦ ξέν᾽, οὐχ ἑκὼν
ἄγω σε, Πενθέως δ᾽ ὅς μ᾽ ἔπεμψ᾽ ἐπιστολαῖς.
ἃς δ᾽ αὖ σὺ βάκχας εἷρξας, ἃς συνήρπασας
κἄδησας ἐν δεσμοῖσι πανδήμου στέγης,
445 φροῦδαί γ᾽ ἐκεῖναι λελυμέναι πρὸς ὀργάδας
σκιρτῶσι Βρόμιον ἀνακαλούμεναι θεόν·
αὐτόματα δ᾽ αὐταῖς δεσμὰ διελύθη ποδῶν
κλῇδές τ᾽ ἀνῆκαν θύρετρ᾽ ἄνευ θνητῆς χερός.
πολλῶν δ᾽ ὅδ᾽ ἁνὴρ θαυμάτων ἥκει πλέως
450 ἐς τάσδε Θήβας. σοὶ δὲ τἄλλα χρὴ μέλειν.
Τhe imminent meeting of the king and the god abounds with lectical references to bonds and constraint. In vain Dionysus attempts to share the secular given of god’s impossibility to be restrained. “Do not tie me up, say I, the wise one to you who are unwise,” he shouts at Pentheus, who responds in a hubristic vociferation of his superior strength.
ΠΕ. ἐγὼ δὲ δεῖν γε, κυριώτερος σέθεν.
Of course, it is not possible to apprehend the divine. Pentheus thinks that he has chained Dionysus (ὅτι με δεσμεύειν δοκῶν, 616), but he has never touched or caught him. Instead, in the words of Dionysus and just like the σφάγιον, the sacrificial animal that Pentheus will become, he “grazed upon hopes” (οὔτ᾽ ἔθιγεν οὔθ᾽ ἥψαθ᾽ ἡμῶν, ἐλπίσιν δ᾽ ἐβόσκετο, 617). When Pentheus sets his eye on the released prisoner, he is still unable to fathom the magnitude of the miracle.
ΔΙ. οὐκ εἶπον, ἢ οὐκ ἤκουσας, ὅτι λύσει μέ τις;
And when the king expresses all the physicality of his mundane power, by ordering the closing of the gates, the god responds with the revelation of the transcendental power of the divine:
ΔΙ. τί δ᾽; οὐχ ὑπερβαίνουσι καὶ τείχη θεοί;
Τhe most impressive image of release in the play is yet physical, albeit not immediately perceived and it has to do with the space of the self. In 1988, Sara Lee Bartky of the University of Illinois at Chicago, studied the way that women comprehend their gender, internalize it, and attempt to literally embody it by constraining the movements of their body.  Marion Young gave the title “Throwing like a girl” in another article about the (self)limitation of the physical space a woman occupies with her movements. Tracing the complexities of embodied experience, Young examines the differences in feminine and masculine movement norms within a gendered and embodied phenomenological perspective and locates three traditional modes of women’s bodily existence in the world: ambiguous transcendence, inhibitory intent, and discontinuous unity. All of these are just an elaborate way of “throwing like a girl,” i.e. not using your whole body (using only the forearm instead of the whole torso, shoulder and arm), not believing you can do it and not following (abandoned halfway through the throw).  The perception of the social convention of the restriction of movements but also of the individual physical space occupied by the woman as approached by Young and Bartky can contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of the women of Thebes in the work of Euripides. The woman in the Bacchae occupies space by transcending space. She transcends the boundaries of the oikos and the polis and occupies not just the physical space of the non-city, that is, Cithaeron, but also the individual space of her physical self, defining it outside the limitations of the movements and appropriating dances of the Thesmophoria or any other female dances depicted on vases. She is depicted on vases reveling in dances where there is no coordination of movements, where the heads are thrown back in manic ecstasy and an absolute sense of liberation from all kinds of conventionality:  from the loose hair and the liberation from conventional clothing, to the free movement and liberation from the confines of the home, the woman of the Dionysian cult exudes this male privilege of freedom from social stereotypes—something that the man can enjoy by transcending the home and loosening social conventions at the (all-male) συμπόσιον every day. 
3. Beyond logic
καὶ σῷ κέρατα κρατὶ προσπεφυκέναι.
ἀλλ᾽ ἦ ποτ᾽ ἦσθα θήρ; τεταύρωσαι γὰρ οὖν.
The power of control over mental functions is also evident in the case of control over men and women. As easily as he convinces the women that they see a lion on the fir tree, he toys with the sanity of Pentheus. And before that he has exchanged his imprisoned self with a bull, whom Pentheus regards as Dionysus and tries in vain to chain him, but he ends up spearing an effigy of the god which simply does not exist (629–631).
οὔτ᾽ ἔθιγεν οὔθ᾽ ἥψαθ᾽ ἡμῶν, ἐλπίσιν δ᾽ ἐβόσκετο.
πρὸς φάτναις δὲ ταῦρον εὑρών, οὗ καθεῖρξ᾽ ἡμᾶς ἄγων,
τῷδε περὶ βρόχους ἔβαλλε γόνασι καὶ χηλαῖς ποδῶν,
620 θυμὸν ἐκπνέων, ἱδρῶτα σώματος στάζων ἄπο,
χείλεσιν διδοὺς ὀδόντας· πλησίον δ᾽ ἐγὼ παρὼν
ἥσυχος θάσσων ἔλευσσον. ἐν δὲ τῷδε τῷ χρόνῳ
ἀνετίναξ᾽ ἐλθὼν ὁ Βάκχος δῶμα καὶ μητρὸς τάφῳ
πῦρ ἀνῆψ᾽· ὁ δ᾽ ὡς ἐσεῖδε, δώματ᾽ αἴθεσθαι δοκῶν,
625 ᾖσσ᾽ ἐκεῖσε κᾆτ᾽ ἐκεῖσε, δμωσὶν Ἀχελῷον φέρειν
ἐννέπων, ἅπας δ᾽ ἐν ἔργῳ δοῦλος ἦν, μάτην πονῶν.
διαμεθεὶς δὲ τόνδε μόχθον, ὡς ἐμοῦ πεφευγότος
ἵεται ξίφος κελαινὸν ἁρπάσας δόμων ἔσω.
κᾆθ᾽ ὁ Βρόμιος, ὡς ἔμοιγε φαίνεται, δόξαν λέγω,
630 φάσμ᾽ ἐποίησεν κατ᾽ αὐλήν· ὁ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῦθ᾽ ὡρμημένος
ᾖσσε κἀκέντει φαεννὸν <αἰθέρ᾽>, ὡς σφάζων ἐμέ.
Illusions constitute a motif of Dionysian exertion of power over matter. I suggest that we should also interpret the earthquake described by the chorus in lines 585–603 as an illusion.
ΧΟ. ἆ ἆ,
τάχα τὰ Πενθέως μέλαθρα διατι-
ὁ Διόνυσος ἀνὰ μέλαθρα·
590 σέβετέ νιν. ―σέβομεν ὤ.
—ἴδετε λάιν᾿ <ὦ> ἔμβολα κίοσιν
τάδε διάδρομα· Βρόμιος ἀλαλάζεται
στέγας <τᾶσδ᾿> ἔσω.
ΔΙ. ἅπτε κεραύνιον αἴθοπα λαμπάδα,
595 σύμφλεγε σύμφλεγε δώματα Πενθέος.
ΧΟ. ἆ ἆ,
πῦρ οὐ λεύσσεις, οὐδ᾽ αὐγάζῃ
Σεμέλας ἱερὸν <τόνδ᾿> ἀμφὶ τάφον
ἅν ποτε κεραυνοβόλος ἔλιπε φλόγα
600 δίκετε πεδόσε δίκετε τρομερὰ
ὁ γὰρ ἄναξ ἄνω κάτω τιθεὶς ἔπεισι
μέλαθρα τάδε Διὸς γόνος.
Despite the description of the earthquake breaking down Pentheus’ μέλαθρα and fire consuming the tomb of Semele and the palace, nothing seems to indicate that desolation when Agaue returns to the palace with the gory trophy (aristeia, 1249) of a son’s head in her bloodied hands. She does not seem to observe anything wrong in the μέλαθρα that she mentions in line 1170 or the τρίγλυφα of the roof (1214). Of course, this could be another illusion, a different reality seen by the disorientated Agaue. But no other description of desolated palace is given to us by Cadmus or the chorus until the end of the play, so we might assume that the earthquake and fire of lines 585–603 was yet another instance of Dionysus’ capacity to bring everything ἄνω κάτω (602) both in the order of the society and with regard to the minds of people.