A Communion Rite

In 1973, Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist Akínwándé Olúwo̩lé Babátúndé S̩óyíinká – better known in the West as Wole Soyinka – adapted Euripides’ Bakchai to explore contemporary African themes, both political and cultural. As part of these changes he introduced a second chorus of slaves and a blend of Yoruba and Christian elements, which made the play more ceremonial – and closer to how ancient Greek theater was done. If you get the chance, definitely check out a live production. It’s quite the experience. 

In the meantime, here’s a selection from the play:

CHORUS: Come, come Dionysos …
LEADER: Oh Thebes, Thebes, flatten your walls.
Raise your puny sights
To where the heights of Kithairon await you.
CHORUS: Yes, yes …
LEADER: On the slopes where Dionysos will come
Run free with you in your labour of song
Your dancing drudgery, your chores of dreaming —
In the truth of night descends his secret —
Hold, embrace it.
CHORUS: Yes, yes … set me free … set me free.
LEADER: The sun touches the vines on the slopes
And that is godhead. Dew falls on the grass
And that is godhead. The sap awakens —
A birth
A dawn
A spring
Pure dewdrops down the mountain
That is godhead. And you
Nestled in earth’s womb are
Green leaves in winter, woodsap in snow
You are the eternal ivy on the wand of life
Emerald pines that defy the winter
Dates of the oases in drought of deserts.
BACCHANTES: Bromius … Bromius …
LEADER: Seek him in your breasts with love, within
Your hidden veins, in the quiet murmur of your blood
Seek him in the marrow, in the wombstone, he is fount
Of Life. He makes an anvil of the mountain-peaks
Hammers forth a thunderous will, he farms the slopes
And the vine tempers his will. In plains and valleys
Nest his joyful Bacchae, his mesh of elements
Reconciles a warring universe.
BACCHANTES: Come Bromius, come …
LEADER: He is the new life, the new breath, creative flint
Flood earth with his blood, let your shabby streets
Flow with his life, his light, drum him into the heart
Like thunder. He is the storehouse of life
His bull horns empower him
A bud on the autumn bough, he blossoms in you
His green essence fills your womb of earth …
BACCHANTES: Bromius … Bromius …
LEADER: There is power in his thyrsus, feel!
It pulses. Feel! It quivers and races with sap.
Throat, tongue, breast, calling forth the powers of life
Hold him, embrace him. His dance covers you
His drums envelop you, your skin os one with his drum
Tuning and straining tight. Spindle and shuttle
In your hand — behold — the wand of god
The hearthstone his thyrsus, thrusting from earth
The fire is tamed in new greenery of life,
In fawn-skin and ivy, and the thorn of life comes
Piercing your blood …!

4 thoughts on “A Communion Rite

  1. I would LOVE to see Soyinka’s production. I’ve seen very brief excerpts on YouTube years ago and it looked absolutely amazing.


    1. It really is. I love how these plays, composed over two thousand five hundred years ago still maintain their relevancy, especially in versions that update or recontextualize them so they speak to changed or altogether different cultural, religious, or political experiences.

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