Sec. II-III d.C.

FILOSTRATO, Imagines, I, 18

Testo tratto da: Philostratus, Imagines, traduzione di Fairbanks A., Londra 1931


Here are also painted, my boy, scenes from Mount Cithareon- choruses of Bacchantes, and rocks flowing with wine, and nectar dripping from clusters of grapes, and the earth enriching the broken soil with milk. Lo! Ivy creeps over the ground, serpents stand erect, and thyrsus trees are dripping, I think, with honey. This fir you see lying on the ground is a great deed of women inspired by Dionysus; it fell as it shook off Pentheus in the form of a lion into the hands of the Bacchantes. They rend in pieces their prey- that mother of his and his mother’s sisters, they tearing off his arms while she is dragging her son by tha hair. You would even say they were raising the shout of victory, so like the Bacchic cry is their painting. Dionysus himself stands where he can watch them, puffing out his cheek with passion and applying the Bacchic goad to the women. At any rate they do not see what they are doing, and in the supplication of Pentheus they say they hear a lion’s toaring.

That is what is taking place on the mountain; but here in the foreground we now see Thebes and the palace of Cadmus and lamentation over the prey, while the relatives try to fit the corpse together that it may perhaps be rescued for burial. There lies the head of Pentheus, no longer a dubious thing, but such as to excite the pity even of Dionysus- very youthful, with delicate chin and locks of reddish hue, not wreathed with ivy or bryonyor sprays of vine, nor are they tossed in wild disorder by flute or Bacchic frenty. From those locks he derived his vigour, and he imparted vigour to them; but this itself was his madness, that he would not join Dionysus in madness.

Pitiful also we must consider the state of the women. For of what things were they unaware on Cithareon, and of what things do they here have knowledge! Not only has their madness left them, but also the strength they possessed in the Bacchic revel. On Cithareon you see how, inspired by the conflict, they rush headlong, rousing the echoes on the mountain side, but here they are still and have come to a realization of what they did in their revels; sinking to the ground one rests her head on her knees, another on her shouldder, while Agave is eager to embrace her son but shrinks from touching him. Her son’s blood is smeared on her hands and on her cheek and on her naked breast.

Harmonia and Cadmus are there, but not as they were before; for already they have become serpents from the thighs down and already scales are forming on them. Their feet are gone, their hips are gone, and the change of form is creeping upward. In astonishment they embrace each other as though holding on to what is left of the body, that this at least may not escape them.