Essay Sample on Death of Pentheus and the Role of Women Figures

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1168 Words
Date:  2022-12-12


The painting that displays the gruesome death of a mythical king of Thebes, Pentheus' is among the finest surviving classical period arts. It was painted by Douris on the exterior of an ancient Greek Vase that still survives. In the scene, the vengeful god who is shown in the painting seated with a wine cup in his hands and listening to the piping satyr led to the attack of the wretched Pentheus by a group of the Theban women who had been subjected into a delighted frenzy by the gods. The arrival of Pentheus in the woods made the prompted the women to mistook him for a wild beast and because the god had willed, decided to tear him limb from limb. In the painting, King Pentheus is shown in a frontal pose and falling onto his knee. A close look on the painting would further reveal that his right leg and arm are outstretched, palm open may be to seek mercy. Ideally, he decides to turn his head towards a woman on the left of his body, but it is evident that another woman is about to strike him from the behind using a large stone. The two women are further placed at either corner of the painting are both shown behind the rocks. An obscure woman behind the rock carries a huge stone and is just about to crash a huge boulder on Pentheus head. In the picture, she is placed behind and just slightly to the Pentheus position. The woman is observed stretching the King's arm to the extent that it is bent. This signifies the severity of the actions. In the same way, the leaning body gives an impression of more force.

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The painting, in this case, offers a great interpretation of the role of women in the classical Greek sculpture. The painter has succeeded in portraying the women as the objects used to fight women's suppression by men. Fundamentally, women and young girls were treated as people who held no power or positions in society. Their roles ranged from being the objects for use in specific religious festivals and sex instruments in society. As "little bears", women acted out the roles of the untamed animals that would ultimately be domesticated through marriage. Many different interpretations can be derived from the theme and actions displayed in the painting. Mostly, these interpretations would assume that to punish the Theban women for their prudence, the god of Dionysus drives them mad. However, the actions of the women pictured in the painting provide another crucial evidence to believe that other critical factor contributed to this kind of confrontation. Based on the trend of male dominance within the Greek society, women greatly suffered in oppression and gave rise to the social stigma, which led to their vulnerability of becoming the target of Dionysus. Essentially, the Theban women practically established a platform through which Dionysian could practice or exercise his insanity.

The historical evidences reveal that the roles of women in the classical Greece were extremely limited. There are things women loved to do but could not be allowed to do them. Men and women were separated all over the Greek society. In fact, women were secluded within their residential places to the point of being unable to leave their own quarters except on given religious occasions or as the necessity would dictated. Women were therefore tightly controlled and confined to ensure that men obtained or gained the legitimate authority of being heirs. Thus, the male domination portrayed a tremendous instance of enslavement to women. As such, the painting in this case implies a female rebellion that dismays in the society and therefore portray a certain degree of pollution. In as much as they are considered sacred in their religious devotion, they ate considered sacred in their religious devotion and have become the carriers of pollution. This is because are infected with a strange disease caused by Dionysus as per Pentheus' belief. In reality, this categorization tremendously responds to the idea that powers women have in the society originates from the societal tendency to condemn the women's banishment. The torture and murder of king Pentheus of Thebes illustrates the effect that a displacement can have as when accompanied by murder and the consumption of the own kin.

It can be further interpreted from the illustrations of the painting that sexuality was a primary tool or factor that was sued to determine the social statuses of the Theban people. In fact, it was the aspect that kept the social order in its right place. As such, men are portrayed as the excellent manipulators because Dionysus has managed to manipulate the mind of the female characters in the society as well as the entire people of Thebe kingdom. In fact, Dionysus portrayed himself as a woman with an aim of manipulating women and to entice them ultimately to rebel against. In Bacchae, Dionysus states that, "Every female in this city, I have begun a wild stampede from home". This statement implies that the female in the society were identified by their sexualities or gender roles and therefore were expected to stay in their homes. However, they go ahead to strongly disregard this social expectations and initiate a rebellion on their king. A huge irony however exists in relation to this rebellion in that they were not revolting because of justice, but because they were influenced by a male god. Eventually, they became maenads. In addition to subjecting women into a serious state of confusion and manipulation, Dionysus goes ahead to manipulate Pentheus, who represented the ideal male. In fact, he succeeds in enticing Pentheus to go into the dressing room and when he comes back dressed as a woman. Whereas his motive was mainly to spy on the maenads, the women mistakenly took him for a wild beast and start stoning and beating him to death using dangerous weapon.


In conclusion, it is evident that the Greeks painting on the various artworks and sculpture provided insights regarding various thematic issues faced by the people of the ancient Greece. The torture and murder that Pentheus was subjected to greatly revealed the theme of female rebellion and the rise against the male dominance in the society. While women agree that their social statuses are determined by their sexuality and gender roles, they rise up together, under the influence of the male god, to attack and kill Pentheus. It also shows that through their sexuality, they were able to be manipulated as they practically established a platform through which Dionysian could practice or exercise his insanity.


Cover, M.B., 2018. The Death of Tragedy: The Form of God in Euripides's Bacchae and Paul's Carmen Christi. Harvard Theological Review, 111(1), pp.66-89.

Kalke, Christine M. "The making of a thyrsus: the transformation of Pentheus in Euripides' Bacchae." The American Journal of Philology 106, no. 4 (1985): 409-426.

Kunze, Donald, David Bertolini, and Simone Brott, eds. Architecture post mortem: the diastolic architecture of decline, dystopia, and death. Routledge, 2016.

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