Abstract – Nothing in Excess: Religious Moderation in Euripides’ Bacchae

In the Bacchae, Euripides uses the chorus to highlight the importance of religious moderation by providing the audience with distinct examples of ritual worship. At one end of the spectrum, Pentheus restricts the proper worship of Dionysus within Thebes and lashes out against the cult with violence. On the other end, the actions of the Theban women showcase an extravagant worship of Dionysus through their impious ritual practices. Although Dionysus did drive the Theban women mad, it is their actions that illustrate their impiety, not the madness itself. Bridging the gap is the chorus, whose σωφροσύνη gained from proper ritual practice allows them to remain religiously moderate with respect to the Bacchic rites. This range of rigid denouncement to extravagant worship, with the chorus serving as the middle ground, allows the audience to recognize that moderation is the ideal form of religious worship. Additionally, the choral odes and the god’s agon with Pentheus emphasize the difficulties in understanding the dual nature inherent in Dionysian ritual. Ultimately, Euripides demonstrates how σωφροσύνη allows mankind a glimpse of the god’s mastery of the polarized qualities present in Dionysian ritual practice.

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