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Lines 1115-1154

The Fifth Stasimon:

The Chorus “O God of many a name”

Summary

The Chorus now sings a dithyramb (a short poem), praising the god, Dionysus (or Bacchus). As the Chorus informs the spectators, Dionysus was born of the union of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Dionysus is thus the son of Zeus, who “wields the withering flame.” The Chorus asserts that Dionysus/Bacchus protects the Greek settlers staying in southern Italy. The Chorus refers to the legend of the women of Thebes, who refused to worship Bacchus and were punished with madness.

The Chorus now describes the haunts of Bacchus (the places he frequents). The worshippers of Bacchus include the nymphs of the Corycian grove, close to Delphi. The Chorus describes Bacchus as he moves beneath the mountain of Nysa where the nymphs sing his praises.

The Chorus thanks Bacchus for maintaining Thebes’ prosperity among cities. They ask Bacchus to bring “healing” to Thebes once again. Bacchus is described as the leader of a heavenly choir, and the child of him “who dwells in light” (Zeus). The Chorus requests him to bring joy back to the city.

Notes

In this interlude, the Chorus sings a dithyramb in praise of the god Dionysus. The dithyramb was developed into a literary genre by the poet, Arion. The dithyramb became popular among the Greek playwrights in 509 B.C. The dithyrambic Chorus did not wear masks.


Sophocles introduces the dithyramb not merely as a matter of literary tradition, but because Dionysus was the son of Semele, a princess of Thebes. Therefore, Dionysus is identified as a Theban deity, who protects the interests of Thebes. It is only natural, therefore, that the Theban Chorus should pray to him for help and ask him to heal their “violent woe.” Like the ordinary citizens of Thebes, the Chorus hopes for peace and security.

Dionysus is described as a god who brings joy and soothes cares. His followers, the nymphs, were female personifications of natural objects, such as trees, rivers and mountains. The nymphs of the Corycian grove looked after Dionysus when he was young. Thus, Dionysus lived amidst nature’s beauties. The Chorus describes how on the heights of Mount Nysa, praises are sung to Dionysus by his followers, who include Satyr, Sileni Maenads and Bassarids, all of whom were collectively known as the “Bacchi.”

In the last stanza the Chorus requests Dionysus to bring back prosperity and security to Thebes. Thus the Chorus demonstrates the belief that the lives of men are determined by the gods, or by Fate. The Chorus laments that Thebes is full of “violent woe.” It paints a Bacchic (or Dionysian) scene which reveals Dionysus surrounded by a choir comprising his followers, who sing and dance in ecstasy.

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