Otherness in Euripides'Bacchae and Soyinka's The Bacchae of Euripides
Both Euripides and Wole Soyinka are focused on a fundamental ethical imperative in their plays: welcome the stranger into your midst. Acceptance of Dionysus as a god, as "an essence that will not exclude or be excluded", is stressed (Soyinka 1). Pentheus is punished severely for excluding, for refusing to acknowledge or submit to, Dionysus' divine authority. In order to carve out a place for himself (in the pantheon, in the minds of the people), Dionysus' divinity manifests itself in an overtly political manner: its effect on those who worship him. This struggle for acceptance is first given voice in the confrontation between Pentheus and Teiresias in each play. While Euripedes is required to answer specific challenges made by Dionysus to Greek society, Soyinka attempts to trace Dionysian influences into the future, beyond the existence of an historically bound god or culture. Soyinka is more attentive to the transcendent qualities which separate Dionysus from all others. By examining this first conflict in each play, it may be possible to determine how (if at all) Soyinka expands the ethical dilemma first created by Euripedes.
In Euripedes' play, Pentheus perceives Dionysus as a challenge to the status quo. Dionysus is a threat politically, morally, and spiritually to Thebes. Pentheus uses images of corruption and defilement, anarchy and unmitigated evil to characterize Dionysus. Pentheus is empowered as a defender of traditional notions of justice and truth. Similarly, Soyinka's Pentheus is driven by an overwhelming sense of order. This order must be enforced even at the cost of individual freedoms. "I shall have order! Let the city know at once Pentheus is here to give back order and sanity" (Soyinka 27). To his mind, embracing Dionysus is embracing chaos. Dionysus' mother being a mortal woman, both Pentheuses also question Dionysus' ascension to the divine. Ironically, Dionysus' lineage is also intimately connected to Pentheus; they are, in fact, cousins. Nevertheless, Pentheus invokes images of bastardy and usurpation to undercut any legitimate divine authority claimed by Dionysus.
It is Teiresias, along with Cadmus, Pentheus' father, who first stands as an emissary of Dionysus to refute Pentheus' claims and to warn him of the dangers that await him. Both Teiresiases understand that Dionysus' divinity is not derived from simple genealogy. Divine authority cannot be described in solely rational, orderly terms. Dionysus represents the ascendance of "another sound, a new order"...