Whoosh! Issue 27 - December 1998


IAXS project #371
By Laura Hannum
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1910 words

Introduction (01)
The Bacchae (02-04)
Depiction of Bacchus (08-11)
Seduction, Eroticism, and Feminine Sexuality (12-16)
Conclusion (17)

Euripides' The Bacchae and GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN:
The Socio-Cultural Role of Women

Or, if writing a term paper, see the movie.

The classics are still available. This edition can be seen on Amazon.com.


[1] Reading classical literature can give a reader insight into a different culture and allow her to step into the past and see how others lived. This allows her to look at the mores of others and acquire a broader view on the ethics of her own culture. Ancient Greece is a model for many aspects of American culture, from the ideals of democracy, to architecture and art, to great legends and stories. By comparing the ancient Euripidean tragedy, The Bacchae, to the episode GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204), from the popular television show Xena: Warrior Princess, one may see into both cultures, and specifically, the different cultural views each holds about women. Euripides portrays his female characters as the victims of a male world. The women of Xena: Warrior Princess are a powerful force in their own right.

The Bacchae

Gabrielle is suddenly over-dressed.

Gabrielle is surrounded by a bevy of bacchae.

[2] Euripides, a prominent playwright in the Greek Golden Age, wrote The Bacchae for the stage. It is the story of Bacchus (son of Zeus, the king of the gods), and Semele (daughter of Cadmus, King of Thebes). Semele dies before Bacchus was born, and Zeus saves him from his mother's dying womb. Bacchus grows to be the god of wine, revelry, and the primal forces of nature. His followers are the Bacchae, hordes of women who flock to worship him. They leave their homes, as if enchanted, to seek him out in the woods, and they let themselves go into wild, uninhibited worship of the god:

These sisters, these very same, I've driven from their homes: Out to the mountains and out of their minds. I've dressed them up as bacchanals in my own orgiastic uniform; and all the women of Thebes, every female in the city, I've started a wild stampede from home to join the Cadmus daughters...
--Euripides, The Bacchae [Note 01].

[3] Penthius, King of Thebes and cousin of Bacchus, did not believe in the divinity of Bacchus and mocked and jailed Bacchant followers. Bacchus decided to punish Penthius and the city:

"Like it or not, this city has to learn what it is to go through true conversion to the rites of Bacchus".
--Euripides, The Bacchae [Note 02].

[4] Bacchus drives Penthius quite out of his mind, until he is eventually fallen upon by the Bacchae and killed.


[5] There are some fascinating parallels between Euripides' The Bacchae, and Xena: Warrior Princess, a popular American television show seen all over the world. This action adventure show, set in ancient Greece tells the story of Xena, a former warlord, who is trying to turn her life around. The deadly battle skills she learned while marauding the countryside now serve her to do good.

[6] In the episode GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204), Xena and her trusty sidekick, Gabrielle, encounter a village that rests on the edge of the forest of the Bacchae. They discover that young women have been disappearing from the village. Xena notices that Orpheus is no longer playing his calming music, which used to sedate the Bacchae. Joxer, a friend of Xena and Gabrielle's, shows up with Orpheus' head: an actual living, breathing, and talking head. Orpheus has been cursed by Bacchus to live but never make music again.

[7] The group enters a nearby village to formulate a plan to rescue a missing women and to neutralize Bacchus. Soon, the Bacchae kidnap Gabrielle and bring her before Bacchus. These Bacchae are vampires, and they have bitten Gabrielle. She has begun the change into a Bacchae and is under Bacchus' spell. Xena shows up with Joxer and Orpheus and challenges Bacchus, only to discover that Bacchus can only be killed by a Bacchae . Xena allows Gabrielle to feed off of her, thus transforming Xena into a Bacchae. Xena, as a Bacchae, kills Bacchus. All of the women are snapped out of the Bacchant spell, and Xena saves the day.

Depiction of Bacchus

I want my mummy!!!

Bacchus is shown as quite monstrous in the Xenaverse.

[8] Euripides' Bacchae reflects a reverence for the divine that Xena's GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204) lacks. Euripides treats Bacchus as a terrible force to be reckoned with. While Bacchus may take the form of a pleasing youth early in the play, his true nature comes through when he is close to his goal of destroying Penthius:

"His demeanor has changed. The latent power which underlay his smiling weakness has broken through and shows him in a new and ruthless light"
--Euripides The Bacchae [Note 03].
Bacchus is always in control of the situation and his fate. He escapes from the jail with ease, seduces the townswomen, cracks Penthius' mind, and ultimately has his revenge.

[9] Xena's Bacchus is physically more intimidating and god-like, but he is a weak, ineffectual character. Bacchus is portrayed as nine-foot tall, well-muscled god with blood red skin, horns, and sharp teeth. He just cannot get his plan to go right. He beheads Orpheus, only to lose him to Joxer, who brings the disembodied head to Xena. Bacchus tries to lure Xena into becoming the leader of his Bacchae by kidnaping Gabrielle:

"Don't resist me Xena. With your beauty and fighting skills, you'd be the perfect leader for my growing legion of Bacchae".
--Bacchus, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN [Note 04]

[10] Bacchus makes his fatal mistake when he tells Xena that only a Bacchae can kill him, thereby giving Xena the means to save her sidekick and all of the village women. Xena allows herself to be changed into a Bacchae only to turn around and kill Bacchus, which breaks the spell on all of the women.

[11] Euripides' Bacchus shows that the forces of nature and chaos are out of control of the world of man, and those who try to interfere will be punished. Xena's Bacchus shows that one can take control of her own fate and fight against forces deemed greater than herself. Creativity and faith in one's self are more important than blindly following.

Seduction, Eroticism, and Feminine Sexuality

Her own nails battle worn, Xena takes to nibbling on Gabby's.

What would a vampire episode be without one of those sexy bites?

[12] Both Euripides and Xena use the central themes of seduction and eroticism. In both cases, these are the means of luring women from their villages to serve and worship Bacchus.

[13] Euripides "drives them from their wits" and takes away their power of free will [Note 05]. They are raving, wild, and totally out of control. They "go gadding to the mountains...dancing in honor of this brash new god...sneaking off...to various nooks to lie down - with men" [Note 06]. They also become quite vicious in their madness. "You could see a woman with a bellowing calf actually in her grip, tearing it apart. Others ripped young cows to pieces" [Note 07]. These women are driven to blood lust in a frenzy, without purpose or plan.

[14] Xena's Bacchae are lured to the god through seduction. At the village festival that Xena and Gabrielle attend, Gabrielle is drawn into a seductive and erotic dance with two Bacchae women. Gabrielle is mesmerized by the women, who would have initiated her into the Bacchae cult immediately had Joxer not displayed a rare flash of insight and pulled her out of her daze. The Bacchae are sexy and powerful in their own right. They possess the power to transform themselves into wolves, and, in this form, they keep the Forest of Bacchus free of intruders. These Bacchae are driven and methodical in carrying out the plan to lure Xena into their fold. Xena's Bacchae do not lose their wits when entranced by Bacchus' power, only their free will. They possess an autonomy that the Euripidean women lack.

[15] Feminine power is shown again in Xena's Bacchae when sexuality comes into play, but such power is lacking in the Euripidean tale. In Euripides, when Penthius dresses as a woman to infiltrate the Bacchae rites, he is at his weakest. In the guise of a woman he becomes progressively more addle-brained and pliable. "Show me what you look like dressed as a woman - a mad woman and a maenad," Bacchus tells Penthius, knowing that his spell of madness is already at work [Note 08]. Upon being discovered in his hiding place, he is easily overcome by the Bacchae women, as they have the male power of Bacchus on their side. The enraged women kill Penthius. When Penthius takes on the feminine role, he is destroyed. When the Bacchae take on the masculine power of Bacchus, they kill a king.

[16] Feminine power takes control in Xena's version of the tale. The Bacchae who try to seduce Gabrielle use their sexuality as a power to entice her into a dance. Their sensuality is their lure and their power. Gabrielle bites Xena's neck in an erotic way, turning Xena into a Bacchae, and giving her the power to defeat her enemy. Female sexuality is an advantage in Xena's world in a way it never could be for Euripides.


[17] Over the ages, females have risen from being viewed as weak, impotent creatures to being powerful, resourceful women who can create their own destinies. By reading the stories of other cultures, modern women may begin to understand why it is so important to create strong, positive female role models. The popular culture of ancient Greece hardly gave women a heroine to emulate and be proud of. The modern American media is beginning to reflect the current view that women are a force to be reckoned with in and of themselves. Characters like Xena and Gabrielle give a feminist view to the hero stories, while Euripides shows women as having no control over their fate. Only by exposing one's self to popular culture of other times and places, may one truly understand the mores of her own culture, and therefore understand herself.


Note 01:
Roche, Paul Ed. Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, and The Bacchae. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1974. The Bacchae. Page 80.
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Note 02:
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Note 03:
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Note 04:
Armus, Adam. GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. Renaissance Pictures: Universal City. Reference 6.
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Note 05:
Roche, page 80.
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Note 06:
Roche, page 86.
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Note 07:
Roche, page 107.
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Note 08:
Roche, page 108.
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Armus, Adam. GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. Renaissance Pictures: Universal City

Roche, Paul Ed. Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, and The Bacchae. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1974

Euripides. The Bacchae. Roche 78-126.


Laura Hannum Laura Hannum
I am a 24 year old Art History major from Colorado and a Department Assistant at a graduate school. I enjoy reading fantasy novels (Wheel Of Time and Rift War Saga are my current favorites), learning about art, ancient history, archaeology, and anthropology, and having my husband cooks for me. I'm a Star Trek buff and used to religiously watch Babylon 5, but I don't have cable, so when TNT bought it, I lost out.
Favorite episode: A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214)
Favorite line: Callisto: "Here comes trouble." A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: THE DIRTY HALF-DOZEN (49/303)

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