October 28, 2004

1. Consider the depictions of mythological scenes:

i What are the main similarities and main differences between the way in which the death of Pentheus is depicted in this fresco and in Euripides' Bakkhai?

In Euripide's text Agave describes "slaughtering" her son, helped by Kadmos' daughters on the hill, "killed in a stunning way".

With her bare limbs she "tore his limbs off", leaving Pentheus "insanely butchered". It paints a picture of a vicious and horrid "hunt", carried out mainly by Agave, aided by the women also on the hill.

I think that the fresco manages to get across some of the ruthlessness and violence within the women, with Pentheus looking helpless in the middle of the painting. It is also obvious that there is a leader in the pack of women. However, the depiction of the women killing Pentheus with arrows and rocks is incongruous with Agave's statement that "clanging weapons are for cowards". It also fails to convey the sense of 'posession' or delirium in Agave.

*Another detail missed is the disguise that Pentheus was wearing in the scene; a disguise he rips off in an attempt to reveal his identity to his mother.*

Of course the violence in the play happens off-stage, and is in fact described by the chorus, and characters around...therefore we only have accounts of other people as to what actually happened.

ii. Compare and contrast the way in which the death of Iphigenia is depicted in this fresco with how it is recounted in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and/or in Euripdes' play Iphigenia at Aulis.

This Fresco manages to convey the sense of despair that was felt at this sacrifice with the sadness shown on the men on the outshirts, as well as accurately following the details of Agamemnon (ie the two men lifting up Iphigenia, her robe falling to the floor). However, the picture doesnt appear to show an altar or gag, which are notable in the play, as well as Clytemnestra making libations. We also get a sense of divinity and an ordained act with the God-like figures appearing in the background of the picture.

iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?

The differences in the two artistic forms could be there for several reasons. The artists in the Roman Frescos appear to be going for a romanticised view of these events (ie vulnerable, helpless death for Pentheus, rahter than a gory one/spiritual sacrifice, rather than Iphigenia being roughly handled)

The artists themselves may also be working off the myths of these events, rather than the exact text itself, and are likely to be projecting their own interpretation and imagination in their pictures.

iv. On reviewing your responses to the above questions, how useful do you find these Roman frescos to be as evidence for traditions of tragic performance in 5th-century Athens?

I think these Frescos are very useful tools, both as a way fo bringing the myths and text to life, giving us a reference point as to how staging or clothing may have looked at the the time, and also as evidence of the importance and popularity of the myths at the time, both in Greece, and later in Rome. It enables us to see how the Romans would have interpreted and enjoyed the Greek tragedies.


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  1. KT

    The painting of Pentheus is very erotic, he is a beautiful young man with a fine body. Naked Pentheus.

    19 Nov 2004, 23:38

  2. who are you kt….?reveal your secret identity…no reveal your true identity (take off your glasses, get the gel out of your hair…etc)

    20 Nov 2004, 00:36

  3. what ya gonna do KT?

    20 Nov 2004, 02:14

  4. Jules

    ….your a sweet sweet girl…..and it's a cruel cruel world…..

    20 Nov 2004, 18:09

  5. Jules- spelling error

    of course i mean 'you're' not 'your'.........ooops

    20 Nov 2004, 18:10

  6. JJ

    I think the painting of Pentheus is very hot as well as it shows the subtext of Pentheus's homoerotic attraction for Dionysus, which is partly why he was slain.

    Can't anyone see the beauty of this painting, of the naked Pentheus?

    21 Nov 2004, 21:06

  7. Catherine Knox

    I love this painting….

    21 Nov 2004, 22:01

  8. Franklin

    The painting would be more realistic if the Maenads were all nude, as he was going to spy on their orgies. Or even better if the Maenads were all nude boys Pentheus's age, 18–20, and ripped him apart.

    Pentheus sure has a hot naked body for a painting.

    21 Nov 2004, 22:03

  9. Anise

    This painting of naked Pentheus torn apart by the Maenads is maybe the best looking young man I've seen in Greek and Roman painting. He is very handsome, looking terrified, and his body is beautiful, making the painting very artistic.

    23 Nov 2004, 17:53

  10. a

    Wow Pentheus sure is hot for a painting, love that nude body.

    03 Mar 2005, 21:31

  11. a

    King Pentheus, naked and defenseless.

    09 Sep 2005, 20:38

  12. GETHIN???????

    10 Sep 2005, 22:38


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