EURIPIDES’ BACCHAE IN ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
AbstractThe Bacchae, as we know it, was first produced in Athens under the direction of Euripides’ son, also called Euripides, in perhaps 405 BC,2 a year or two after his father’s death, but when the tragedian first presented the play he was in Macedonia at the court of Archelaus. So I want to take you on a journey from Athens, north towards Macedon. This means travelling over Cithaeron, and past the site of ancient Thebes; then through the pass at Thermopylae. The fall of Thermopylae to Xerxes in 480 signalled the invasion of Greece by the Persians, and when Philip of Macedon marched towards Thermopylae in 346, the liberty of Greece was threatened. North of Thermopylae the next major barrier was the Vale of Tempe: in 480 the Greeks had thoughts of holding Tempe against the invading army of Xerxes and the Persians, but were forced to make a tactical withdrawal to Thermopylae. Beyond Tempe one passes from Thessaly into Macedonian territory and arrives in the coastal plan of Pieria, about which the Chorus waxes lyrical in Bacchae 409-410 (“Pieria the incomparably beautiful”) and 565- 575. Along the main road north through Pieria, Mt Olympus can be seen to the west, and at about 50 km from Tempe are found the remains of ancient Dion. King Archelaus (413-399) built a temple to Zeus at Dion and a theatre, and we can imagine that Euripides was commissioned to present tragedies here, perhaps even the Bacchae, as Seaford (1996:184) suggests.
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