One of the best parts of the production was how fucking polytheist it was. And I don’t just mean that they kept the hymns to assorted deities in, which not every production does. But the whole thing began with an invocation of the ancestors of the place, going back generation through generation to the Lenape people; Tiresias was dressed as an houngan and at one point Dionysos shouts “àṣẹ!” and instead of setting it beside the streams of Dirke and Ismenos they called on Hudson and the other local Harlem river. I think these flourishes helped bring the audience more fully into the sacred atmosphere of the play; they were also nice parallels to the ceremonies the Athenians conducted during the Dionysia. All it lacked was a parade of war orphans and giant phalloi, culminating in a bull sacrifice and it would have been perfect.
Here I am in the park, waiting for the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of The Bakchai to start. Shortly after I slipped into a state of entheos that did not lift until well after we got home.
No matter how familiar you are with this play there is nothing quite like seeing it performed live. The leads were phenomenal, especially the aftermath of the interrogation scene where a tarted up Pentheus, with breaking voice, begs Dionysos to make him beautiful; they touch foreheads for a pregnant moment and the God responds, “You are.” Fuck, man. I’m tearing up just typing this, many hours later – that’s how good it was.
But don’t take my word for it – here’s my wife’s account, from a letter she wrote to the company. Our household made a sizable donation to these sacred artisans of Dionysos and will definitely be attending future productions, though I think it’ll be tough for them to top this one.
The God will lead us there without ordeal.
Are we the only ones in the polis who will join the choros in Dionysos’ honor?
We alone are sensible, all the others foolish. Here, take hold, and join your hand with mine.
Having been born mortal, I do not scorn the Gods.
In the eyes of the daimones we mortals do not act with wisdom [sophiā]. Our ancestral traditions, which we have held throughout our lives, no argument will overturn, not even if something sophon should be discovered by the depths of our phrenes. Will anyone say that I, who am about to join the choros with my head covered in ivy, do not respect old age? For the God has made no distinction as to whether it is right for men young or old to join the choros, but wishes to have tīmai and be extolled equally by all, setting no one apart.
Since you do not see the light of the sun here, Teiresias, I will be for you a spokesman [prophētēs] about what is happening. Pentheus, child of Echion, to whom I have given control [kratos] of this land, is coming here to the house now in all haste. How he quivers with excitement! What new matter will he tell us?
I was away from this land when I heard of the new evils throughout this polis, that our women have left our homes in contrived Bacchic rites, and rush about in the shadowy mountains, honoring with choroi this new daimōn Dionysos, whoever he is. I hear that mixing-bowls stand full in the midst of their assemblies, and that each woman, flying to secrecy in different directions, yields to the embraces of men, on the pretext that they are Maenads worshipping. They consider Aphrodite of greater priority than Dionysos.
Library of Insanity will explore Dionysos and his Retinue through the lens of several divination systems rendered poetically.
It begins as a kind of Bacchic Fasti, showing us Dionysos through the:
- Days of Our Heroes & Heroines
Then moves on to cover:
- Dionysos shows Freyja the Toys
- The Paths of Ecstasy
- The Crown of Ariadne
- The Leaves of Dionysos
- Bacchic Retinue Tarot
- Our Starry Symbols
- The Net of Arachne
- The Labors of Herakles
And closes with Freyja teaching Dionysos the Runes.
As much fun as writing the final volume will be I’m going to do the responsible thing and finish the Retinue book first. They deserve their chance to shine (especially considering how helpful they’ve been lately) and I’m curious to see if I can pull off what I have in mind for them. Think Mark Z. Danielewski meets Dante Alighieri, but with a Bacchic twist.
But I thought tradition – or rather tradition! – was a good thing.