Sec. IV- V d.C.

NONNO DI PANOPOLI, Dionisiaca, XLIV, 1-140, 258-281; XLV, 1-8, 225-286; XLVI, 106-220,  265-282, 353-355

Testo tratto da: Nonnos, Dionysiaca, traduzione di Rouse W. H. D., III vol., Londra 1942

XLIV, 1-140

The forty- fourth web I have woven, where you may see maddened women and the heavy threat of Pentheus.

Already he had passed the Daulantian tribe of Illyrian soil, and the plain of Haimonia and Pelion peak, and was nearing Hellas; there he established dances on the Aonian plain. The shepherd hearing the tune of the drooning pipes formed congregations for Pan at Tanagra. A fountain bubbled on the spot where the horse’s wet hoof scratched the surface of the ground and made a hollow for the water which took its name from him. Asopos danced breathing fiery streams, as he swept his floods along and twirled his waters. Dirce danced, spouting her whirling waters along with her father Ismenos. At time a Hamadryad shot out of her clustering foliage and half showed herself high in a tree, and praised the name of Dionysos cluster-laden; and the unshod nymph of the spring sang in tune with her. The noise of the raw cowhide resounded over the mountains, and reached the ears of irreconcilable Pentheus. The impious king was angry with winegod Bacchos, and he armed a hostile host, calling to the people to bar the portals of the sevenways city. One by one they were shut, but the locks of the gates suddenly opened of themselves: in vain the servants resisted the winds of heaven and set the long bars at each gate. Then no gatewarden could check a Bacchant if he saw her; but shielded spearmen trembled before old Seilenoi unarmed- disregarding often the threats of their clamouring king, they danced with singlethroated acclaim; with their wellmade oxhides they danced the round in shieldshaking leaps, the very picture of the noisy Corybants. Terrible bears growled madly in the hills, the panther gnashed her teeth and leapt high in the air, the lion in playful sport gave a gentle roar to his comrade lioness. Already the palace of Pentheus began of itself to tremble and quake, and started from its immovable foundations all about; the gatehouse quivered and sprang up with earthshaking throbs, foretelling the trouble to come. The stone altar of Oncaian Athena tottered of itself, that which Cadmos had build, when with slow-convincing movement the heifer’s hoof sank, to bid him build a wale and found a city; over the divine image of the cityholding goddess, godsent sweat beaded in drops of itself, bringing fear to the peaple- from head to foot the statue of Ares ran with gore, telling of things to come. The inhabitants also were shaken. The mother of boastful Pentheus quivered with fear, mad with anxiety, remembering that bloody dream of old with its prophecy of bitterness; how once, after Pentheus had seized his father’s sovereignty, Agauë slumbering on her bed had been terrified all night in her sleep, when the unreal phantom of a dream head leapt through the Gate of Horn which never deceives, and whispered in her sleepy ear. For she tought she saw Pentheus a dainty dancer on the road, his manly form dressed up in a woman’s robe, throwing to the ground the purple robe of kings, bearing the sceptre no longer but holding a thyrsus. Again, Cadmeian Agauë thought she saw him perched high up in a shady tree; round the lofty trunk where sat bold Pentheus was a circle of wild beasts, furiously pushing to root up the tree with the dangerous teeth of their hard jaws. The tree shook, and Pentheus came tumbling over and over of himself, and when he dumped down, mad she-  bears tore him; a wild lioness leapt in his face and tore out an arm fron the joint- then the mad raging monster set one paw on the throat of Pentheus cut in two, and tore through his gullet with her sharp claws, and lifted the bloody head in her ferocious paw piteously lacerated, and showed it to Cadmos, who saw it all, swinging it about as she spoke in human voice these wicked words: “I am your daughter, the slayer of wild beasts! I am the mother of Pentheus, happiest of men, your Agauë, the loving mother! See what a beast I have killed! Accept this head, the firstfruits of my valour, after victorious slaughter of the lion. Such a beast Ino my sister never slew, Autonoë never slew. Hang up before your hall this keepsake from Agauë your doughty daughter”. Such was the horrible vision that pale Agauë saw. Then after she had shaken off sleep’s wing, trembling with terror, in the morning she called in the seer, Chariclo’s son, and revealed to him her dream, the bloody prophecy of things to come. Teireisias the diviner bade her sacrifice a male bull to help against the bloody dream, at the altar where men call upon Zeus the Protector, beside the trunk of a tall pinetree where Cithairon spreads his lofty head; he told her to offer a female sheep to the Hamadryad Nymphs in the thicket. He knew the beast as human, he knew  Agauë hunting the fruit of her own womb, the struggle that killed her son, the head of Pentheus; but he concealed in wordless silence the deceptive vision of victory in the dream, that he might not provoke the heavy wrath of Pentheus his king. Agauë the tender mother obeyed the wise old man, and went to the lofty hill together with Cadmos while Pentheus followed.  [...] Already Rumour was flying about the sevengated city proclaiming the rites of danceweaving Dionysos. No one there was throughout the city who would not dance. The streets were garlanded with spring leafage by the country people. The chamber of Semele, still breathing sparks of the marriage thunders, was shaded by selfgrowing bunches of green leaves which intoxicated the place with sweet odours. Kiing Pentheus swelled with arrogance and jealousy to see the terrible wonders of Bacchos in so many shapes. Then Pentheus uttered proud boasts and empty threats to his servants in these insulting words: “ Bring here my Lydian slave, that womanish vagabond, to serve the table of Pentheus at his dinner; let him fill his winebeaker with some other drink, milk or some sweet liquor; I will flog my mother’s sister Autonoë with retributive strokes of my hands, and we will crop the uncropt locks of Dionysos”.


vv. 258-281

Then at the grim hod of Underworld Zeus, the Furies assailed the palace of Pentheus. One leapt out of the gloomy pit swinging her Tartarean whip of vipers; she drew a stream from Cocytos and water from Stix, and drenched Agauë’s rooms with the infernal drops as if with a prophecy of tears and groanings for Thebes; and the deity brought that Attic knife from Attica, which long before murdered Itylos, when his mother Procne with heart like a lioness, helped by murderous Philomele, cut with steel the throat of the beloved child of her womb, and served up his own son for cannibal Tereus to eat. This knife, the channel of bloodshed, the Fury held, and scratching up the dust with her pernicious fingernails she buried the Attic blade among the hillgrown roots of a tall fir, among the Mainads, where Pentheus was to die headless. She brought the blood of Gorgon Medusa, scraped off into a shell fresh when she was newly slain, and smeared the tree with the crimson Libyan drops. This is what the mad Fury did in the mountains. Now with darkling steps night-illuminating Dionysos entered the palace of Cadmos, wearing the head of a bull, cracking Pan’s Cronian whip of madness, and put madness into the unbridled wife of Aristaios.


XLV, 1-8

When Bromios had spoken, the nymph rushed from the house possessed by joyous madness, that she might see Actaion as bridegroom seated beside the Archeress; along with her as she hastened swift as the wind sped Agauë to the mountain, with staggering steps, unveiled, frenzied, the sting of the Cronian whip flogging her wits, while she poured out these heedless words from her maddened lips: “I rebel against that ridiculous Pentheus, to teach him what a bold Amazon is Agauë the daughter of Cadmos”.


vv. 225-286

[Pentehus] “Bring back also out of the hills my fond mother Agauë now goone mad, separate her the sleepless wandering dance- drag her by the hair now snoodless in her frenzy”. At this command, Pentheus’ s men with swift foot ran to the rugged ridge of leafy woodland seeking the tracks of hillranging Dionysos. With difficulty the soldiers found the thyrsus-maddened god near a lonely rock; they rushed upon him and wound  straps about  Bromios’s hands, binding him fast- that his how they meant to imprison invincible Dionysos! But he disappeared- gone in a flash, untraceable, on his winged shoes. The men stood silent- speechless, cowed by divine compulsion, shrinking before the wrath of Lyaios unseen, terrified. And Bacchos in the likeness of a soldier with shield in hand, seized a wild bull by the horn, making as if he were one of the servants of Pentheus, crying out upon this false horned Dionysos. He put on a look of rage and came near to mad Pentheus where he sat, and mocked at the proud boasts of the frenzied king as he spoke unsmiling these deceitful threatening words: “This is the man, your Majesty, who was sent your Agauë mad! This is the man who covets the royal throne of Pentheus! Take this horned vagabond Bacchos full of tricks- bind in galling fetters the pretender to your throne- and beware of the bull’s horn of Dionysos’s head, or he may catch you and pierce you with the long point of his horn!”. When Bromios had finished, god-defiant Pentheus uttered reckless words, his mind being possessed by the delirium of Bromios: “Bind him, bind him, the robber of my throne! This is the enemy of my sceptre, this is he that comes coveting the royal seat of Semele and her father! A fine thing for me to share my honour with Dionysos, the son of an illicit bed, a bull in human form, with a shape of borrowed glory upon his oxhorned face, whom Semele perhaps mothered for a bull, like another Pasiphäe, mated with a grazing horned bedfellow!”. He spoke, and bound fast the legs of the wild bull in galling shackles. Taking him for Lyaios he hed him shackled near the horse’s manger, thinking his captive Semele’s bold son and no bull. He tied together with ropes the hands of all the ranks of Bassarids, sealed them up in a mouldy dungeon, a vaulted cavern, a house of joyless constraint, whence none could escape, dark as the Cimmerians, far from the light of day, these followers of Bromios in the revels; their arms were bound in a claps of galling straps, chains of bronze were sealed on their legs. But when the time came for the quickturning dance, then danced the Mainads. The Bacchantes like a storm shook loose the wrappings of their straps unbroken and circled quickly in tripping step, rattling a free of their feet broke the thick heavy fetters of bronze round their legs. A heavensent radiance filled the dark  dungeon of the Bassarids, diffused over the gloomy roof; the doors of the darksome den opened of the ferocious foaming teeth of the Bassarids, and their leaping feet, and fled in terror. So they escaped and turned their way back to the forest in the lonely hills.



vv. 106-220

Pentheus entered the house goaded to madness with a desire to see the secrets of Bacchos’s congregation. He opened the scented coffers, where lay the women’s garments dyed in purple of the Sidonian sea. He donned the embroidered robe of Agaüe, bound Autonoë’s veil over his locks, laced his royal breast in a rounded handwork, passed his feet into women’s shoes; he took a thyrsus in hand, and as he walked after the Bacchants a broidered smock trailed behind his hunting heel. With mimicking feet Pentheus twirled in the dance, full of sweet madness; he rattled the ground with sidelong boot, darting one foot away from another. Unmanning his two hands, he shook them in alternate beats, like a dancing woman at play; as drumming a double tune on the two plates of the cymbals, he loosed his long hair to float on the breezes of heaven and struck up a Euian melody of Lydia. You might fairly say you saw a wild Bacchant woman madly rollicking. Yes, and he saw two suns and two cities of Thebes; he thought he could hold a gatehouse of sevengate Thebes, hoisting it upon his untiring shoulders. Round  him the people assembled in a ring, climbing one on a round tump of earth, one conspicuous high of rock, while a third rested an arm over the shoulder of a neighbour and raised his foot on tiptoe above the ground: here one made for some lump sticking out of the earth, another was on projecting bastion, another watched with slanting eye from the towering ramparts; another hugging a round pillar swarmed up with the flat of his feet, and watched Pentheus waving his thyrsus and fluttering his veil and leaping in the throes of madness. Already he had gone round the walls of Thebes while the portals of the seven gates opened on selfmoving pivots, already he had passed the soft waters of dragonfeeding Dirce before the city, with his hair blowing on the wind; and beating mad feet in the circling dance he followed his course behind the vinegod. But when he came to the place where the trees were, and the dances and rites of congregation of Bromios, where also was the hunting of their prickets by the unshod Bassarids, the vinegod Bacchos was glad, and espied in the mountain forest an ancient firtree tall as the neighbouring rock, which cast a shade with its bushy leaves over the cloudhigh hills. With unflinching hand he seized the top of the tree and dragged it down, down to the ground. Pentheus lay along the ground [and Bacchos let go] the soaring spire, Pentheus clung to the tree that carried him on high, grasped the branches with his hands as they were borne aloft, and whirling his legs about  this way and that way restlessly, moved lightly like a dancer. Then came the dancing-hours for the Bassarids. They called to one another and tucked up their robes and threw on the fawskins. Hillranging Agaüe shouted aloud with foam on her lips. “Autonoë, let us make haste to the dance of Lyaios, where the hillranging voice of the familiar pipe is heard, that I may recite the song the Euios loves, that I may learn who first will lead the dance for Dionysos, who will beat whom in doing worship to Lyaios! You’re late, you slack dancer, Ino has got there before us! She is no longer an exile in the sea, but here she too comes running from the brine with Melicertes the seafarer, she has come to defend hunted Dionysos, lest impious Pentheus overwhelm Lyaios. Mystics, to the mountains! Ismenian Bacchants, here! Let us celebrate our rites, and match the Lydian Bassarids with rival dances, that some one may say- Mainad Agaüe has beaten Mygdonian Mimallon!”. As the words were spoken, she saw sitting high in a tree, like a savage lion- the mother saw her impious son. She pointed him out the frenzied Bacchants gathering there, and in the voice of a maniac called her own human son a wild beast. The women thronged round him girdlewise as he sat  amid the leaves; they embraced the trunk  with a ring of skilful hands and tried to throw down the tree with Pentheus in it- but Agaüe threw her two arms about the trunk, and with earthshaking heave pulled the tree up from its base, roots and all. The tree fell to the ground, and Cithairon was bare. Pentheus the audacious king shot through the air of himself with a dancing leap, rolling and tumbling like a diver. At that moment the madness left him which Dionysos had sent to confuse his mind, and he recovered his senses again. He saw fate near him on the earth, and cried in lamentable tone: “Cover me, Hamadryad Nymph! Let not Agaüe my loving mother destroy her son with her own hands! O my mother, cruel mother, cease from this heartless frenzy? How can you call me your son a wild beast? Where is my shaggy chest? Where is my roaring voice? Do you not know me any longer whom you nursed, do not you see any longer? Who was robbed you of sense and sight? Farewell, Cithairon, farewell these mountains and trees! Be happy, Thebes, be happy you too, Agaüe my dear mother and my murderer! See this chin with its young beard, see the shape of a man- I am no lion; no wild beast is what you see. Spare the fruit of your womb, pitiless one, spare your breasts. Pentheus is before you, your nursling-silence, my voice, keep your tale to yourself, Agaüe will not hear! But if you kill me to please Dionysos, let no other destroy your son, unhappy one, let not your son be destroyed by the alien hands of Bassarids”. Such was his prayer, and Agaüe herad him not; but the terrible women attacked him one accord; as he rolled in the dust, one pulled on  his legs, one seized his right arm and wrenched it out at the joint, Autonoë dragged opposite at the left; his deluded mother set her foot on his chest, and cut through that daring neck as he lay with sharp thyrsus- then ran nimbleknee with frenzied joy in his murder, and displayed the bloody head to unwelcoming Cadmos.


vv. 265-282

When Cadmos had ended, ancient Cithairon groaned from his spring and poured forth tears in fountains; the trees lamented, the Naiad Nymphs chanted dirges. Dionysos was abashed before the hoary nead of Cadmos and his lamentations; mingling a tear with a smile on that untroubled countenance, he gave reason back to Agaüe and made her sane once more, that she might mourn for Pentheus. The mother, herself again with eyes that she could trust, stood awhile rigid and voiceless. Then seeing the head of Pentheus dead she threw herself down and rolled in helpless misery on the ground smearing the dust on her hair. She tore the shaggy skins from her breast and threw down the globets of Bromio’s company, scoring her chest and the cleft between her bare breasts witih red scratches. She kissed her son’s eyes and his pallid cheeks, and the charming locks of his bloodstained hair.


vv. 353-355

The loving mother entombed the dead son whom she had slain, pouring a fountain af tears over her face, and the people built a goodly sepulchre.