Compare and Contrast Pentheus and Dionysus

The essay is a critical analysis of two main characters in the play “The Bacchae” which is an ancient Greek tragedy written by an Athenian playwright Euripides. The play won a prize in City of Dionysus festival competition. The play is based on the legendary tale of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agavë. Pentheus’ cousin Dionysus a god later punishes him and his kingdom for not being worshiped.

Character Profile

According to Ren, 2006 Dionysus had a strange birth, Semele her mother was mortal and a daughter of King Cadmus. His father, Zeus was the king of the gods. Zeus impregnated Semele and upon realization his wife got furious, he was later forced to destroy Semele via a thunder. Dionysus was saved and sewed in Zeus’ thigh. Almost all Semele’s relatives refused to accept that Dionysus was a son of Zeus, thus he was denied a place of honor as a deity. He then traveled across Asia to recruit a number of women to join his cult. His attempt to reintroduce Dionysian is thwarted by his cousin although he seemed to admire it. Later he came back and revenged against his cousin and mother.

Pentheus was a king of Thebes and was a grandson of Cadmus. His mother and Dionysus were sisters. He came to power after his grandfather resigns in favor of him. Upon seizing power, he banned worship of the god Dionysus, his cousin. This caused his cousin to leave who later come and brought havoc in his kingdom (Pippin, 1970).

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Similarities and differences between Pentheus and Dionysus

It is worth noting that both Pentheus and Dionysus shared ancestry, Cadmus was their grandfather thus they were cousins. In addition, both have powers to lead. In the case of Pentheus, he rules the entire kingdom once ruled by his grandfather Cadmus. For Dionysus, he is capable of leadership as he has traveled across Asia converting women into his cult; he later tried that in Athens. In addition, both hold the god dear (Pippin, 1970). Despite the fact that Pentheus is in constant refusal that his subjects should not adopt and worship Dionysus, he still acknowledges him.

It is also worth mentioning that both Pentheus and Dionysus are proud and arrogant. In his speech, Dionysus is full of self-reference, “[so that] I might be revealed on earth for what I am: / a god, and when he says, Pentheus / who now revolts against divinity, in me; thrusts me from his offerings; forgets my name / in his prayers’ Pentheus arrogance and pride is also depicted when he refused to acknowledge his cousin as being a god just because he is the King in Thebes. He refuses to worship him and even told his grandfather that Dionysus divinity is a noble fiction that will tarnish their family name. Both search for glory (Ren, 2006).

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In addition, both men can take very serious action when confronted with issues. We see Pentheus putting his cousin in jail. Similarly, Dionysus resorted to another cruel method of doing things in his quest to convince the Thebans. He employed divinely inspired madness that weakened his enemy.

Although they had similarities, these two characters depicted some contrasting characteristics. It is evident that Dionysus knew himself and his purpose; although he was forced to get out of his country, he was determined to come back and show his worth to Thebans. On the other hand, Pentheus, in my opinion, seems to be the kind of person who does not know himself. He constantly denies his subjects plus his family members worshiping Dionysus although it is apparent to him that the god is one of them. This is living in constant denial.

It is also shown that Pentheus is judgmental. He openly condemned his mother as well as accusing his aunt Semele of being a liar and unfaithful. He further announced judgment upon his cousin and his way of worship, he also accused his grandfather of idiocy (Ren, 2006). All his actions although he is portrayed as being human, do not have a human face. On the other hand, it is evident that Dionysus is not non-judgmental but full of sympathy to human beings. His quest of trying to convince his relatives that his father was Zeus although fell on deaf years, was meant to portray his mother as being faithful.

In addition, Dionysus represents the primal human instincts that are not full of materialism. His subjects are always in jovial moods, especially during the festive season. On the other hand, Pentheus is a ruler who has central power and has intimidated everybody even the founder of Thebes, his grandfather (Pippin, 1970). No one can question what he does hence people are living in misery.

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Similarly, Dionysus is portrayed as being respectful and obedient, although his cousin ordered for his arrest, he obliged and did not resist. He also did not accuse his mother of what happened to her. On the other hand, Pentheus as a character comes out as being very disrespectful and arrogant as previously mentioned. He even goes to the point of scolding his own grandfather, “I shrink to see your old age / so foolish”.

It is worth mentioning that Dionysus is very courageous. After being rejected by his close relative, he still had the guts to come back and reclaim his position in this society that has been ruled by one person whose actions are unquestionable (Ren, 2006).


From the character review in the tragedy “The Bacchae” it is apparent that both Pentheus and Dionysus have something income for instance they are cousin. On the other hand, a lot of differences are clearly depicted in what they do and say.

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