A-Z: General definitions: Pentheus

Definition

Son of Agave, torn to pieces by his mother and other Maenads after Dionysus drove them mad. Dionysus returned to Thebes to establish his own worship there and to punish the sisters of his mother, Semele, for telling people Zeus was not really his father. They said Zeus killed Semele deliberately to punish her for lying. These sisters, with the other Theban women, were sent mad by Dionysius, and were worshipping him as maenads on Mount Cithaeron. Pentheus, the new king, returned to find the women missing from the city. He was determined to stamp out the new worship, despite warnings from Teiresias. Dionysius sent Pentheus mad and tricked him into going on the mountain, dressed as a maenad himself, to spy on the women from the top of a tree. The women, including his own mother Agave found him there, and pulled down the tree. They then tore him into pieces. In the play The Bacchae by Euripides, Agave takes her son's head back to Thebes, believing it is a mountain lion's head. It is left to her father Cadmus to reveal the truth to her.

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