The Bacchae of Euripides

Rev. Thomas H. Billings, minister of First Church, Salem, MA

Berry Street Lecture, 1933


Read before the Ministerial Conference

Boston, Massachusetts

May 24, 1933


            Even in these days when the entire race is set upon an adventure that rightly absorbs our thought and activity, we ministers must be concerned primarily with the permanent experiences of mankind, with something that goes onward the same though dynasties pass.  With this in mind, I am venturing to turn your attention to the ‘Bacchae’ of Euripides.

            It is with some diffidence that I do this, but, beyond here confessing this diffidence, I shall make no further apology.  The play is its own defense.  It is a portrayal of a type of religion akin to that in which some of us were brought up.  It presents in haunting lines the beauty of that religion and its power; it shows, too, its peril.  The two sides of the case are presented so that commentators have been puzzled, and books have been written on "The Riddle of the Bacchae.”

            In order to understand the ‘Bacchae’ it is necessary to remind ourselves of previous religious history.  The play is concerned with the worship of Dionysus.  In the beginnings, this god was one of the many youth gods, or koroi, an idealization of the spirit of life.


               "The all-generating power and genial heat

                 Of Nature, when she strikes through the

                                    Thick blood

                 Of cattle, and light is large, and lambs

                                    are glad 

                 Nosing the mother’s udder, and the bird

                 Makes his heart voice amid a blaze of



            Like all such koroi, since they are inevitably connected with vegetation, he died and rose again.  He was incarnate in animals as well as in vegetation.  His worship in its early form illustrates the Urdummheit, the primal stupidity and savagery from which religion has grown.  The ritual centered about the god’s birth and death.  It seems to have included; at certain seasons, wild dances and the use of intoxicants in order to induce a frenzy; and at times the tearing to pieces and devouring of some live animal or person, thought of as incarnating the god.  This revolting practice, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the incarnate god, was thought to make the worshipper one with the god, and sharer of his power.  In its primitive form, the ritual resulted in a supernormal psychical state which might express itself in savage lust and cruelty.

            In some few entire communities and in sections of many more the ritual survived only slightly tamed.  But in other circles, it became subdued and directed to noble ends.  Inspiration and ecstasy can produce, not mere formless emotion, but a heightening of the normal powers that may express itself in poetry, prophecy and moral effort.  It was apparently in the 7th.century that Dionysian societies or churches began to have influence in Greece.  The most noted of their converts was Pythagoras.  In these churches, the worship of Dionysus retained its character as magic and ecstasy but the emphasis was different.  Probably at the same time, the worship of Demeter, the Earth Mother, and her daughter Persephone or Proserpina, acquired the same high ethical and spiritual character.  The transition is probably due (C. Delisle Burns, "Greek Ideals,” 47 ff) to the emphasis in the ritual on the death of the divinity.  As men reflected, the fact of death loomed more and more.


" Thou art more than the gods who number the

days of our temporal breath;

For these give labor and slumber; thou,

Proserpina, death.

Therefore now at thy feet I abide for a

season in silence, I know

I shall die as my fathers died, and sleep

as they sleep; even so.

For the glass of the years is brittle where-

in we gaze for a span.

 A little soul for a little bears up this

corpse, which is ,man.

So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not

again, neither weep.

For there is no god found stronger than

death; and death is sleep.”


            They became preoccupied with death, this sternest of all stern facts.  The eternal question haunted their minds, "If a man die, shall he live again?”  Now in the story of the god death is not the end.  He rises triumphant. If his life flows into ours, and we become one with him, it must be that we too shall rise again.  His spirit brings life, abundant and eternal.


            The mythology of the later cult as it developed in 7th.century Greece was an effort to account for the fact that in each of us is something akin to the god, capable of experiencing his life. The contrast of flesh and spirit came vividly into men’s consciousness.  This divinity that is within is, in this world, is in prison.  The body is a tomb.  "A little soul for a little bears up this corpse which is man.” Since this is so, the chief end of man ought to be the development and release of the divine that is within him.  Asceticism, especially chastity, was emphasized and, along with it, sacraments and magic ceremonies that were supposed to purify and strengthen the soul.  The doctrine of purgatory came to be taught and indulgences were granted for those who wished to shorten their period of purification.  Monastic orders sprung up, especially among the rich, luxurious cities of Magna Graecia in Southern Italy.  The influence of Pythagoras was especially great.  The purity and fervent piety of his life, the greatness of his intellect, drew to this Orphic church and to the monastic orders great many of the wealthy for whom an idle, self-indulgent, corrupt life had lost its savor.  Later, after Pythagoras’ death, the monastic orders degenerated, began to interfere in politics and were violently suppressed.  Orphism, as the religion is known, continued, however, and its influence over great minds, like Pindar and Plato, can be traced.  I repeat that the great mysteries at Eleusis were parallel developments and that the same ideas were in them.  Euripides groups together the worship of Dionysus, certain cults of Zeus and the cult of the Great Mother.  At Eleusis, Demeter is a tamed Earth Mother.  Orphism was the cult of a tamed Dionysus.  Dionysus had also been tamed along rather different lines.  The festival of time corresponds with the time of our Easter and, in its origin, it celebrated the triumph of life over the forces of winter.  At this festival the ritual drama of Dionysus’ life was performed.  It was from this ritual that Greek drama developed.  It was at a festival of the Greater Dionysia that the ‘Bacchae’ was presented.


            The play was produced at Athens soon after the poet’s death.  He died in Macedonia the previous year, in 406 or 407 B.C.  The ‘Bacchae’ is the work of his old age.  It follows rigidly the ritual of the old Dionysiac festivals and the traditional mythology.  But Euripides, working within these rigid bounds, produced something new.  The plot can be briefly summarized.  The god Dionysus, accompanied by the Maenads, women who have become his disciples and followers, comes to Thebes, disguised as a priest of the new cult.  The Queen Mother, Agave, with her attendants, is driven to the mountain under the influence of the god.  Teiresias, the prophet of Thebes, and Cadmus, the founder king, come to welcome Dionysus.  They are old men, but, touched by the power of the god, they feel their years drop from them and are eager to join the mystic dance.  Then Pentheus, the king, the grandson of Cadmus, comes.  He has hurried home from an expedition at the news of the coming of Dionysus so that he may drive out what he believes to be a foul worship.  He sends out guards to seize the pretended priest.  In the next scene, Dionysus is brought a captive before Pentheus, and is sent to prison.  Then comes the awakening of the god.  An earthquake shatters the prison. Pentheus is enraged but impotent.  The god is free.  In the next scene, a messenger brings word of the mad attack of the Queen Mother and her followers on a bull which they have torn to pieces.  Then the king begins to feel the divine influence and agrees to disguise himself as a Maenad and spy upon the followers of the god.  In the next scene, another messenger comes and reports the terrible death of Pentheus in the mountain.  The Queen and her maids, in the madness of ecstasy, have mistaken the king for a lion and have torn him limb from limb. Agave comes on the stage carrying in her hands the blood-stained head of her son, exulting still in her madness.  Slowly, she comes to sanity and to despair. She is filled with horror and loathing and hopeless misery.  There is the conventional appearance of the god who pronounces doom on his unfortunate victims, then, in Gilbert Murray’s words, "the ghastly and triumphant god ascends into heaven.”


            There is a startling inconsistency in the play.  In the action, Dionysus is mercilessly exposed.  He is revengeful, cruel and petty.  He drives Agave to utter misery and Pentheus to his death so that he may vindicate his virgin birth.  Men said that he was not the Son of God, but the offspring of illicit passion.  He will show them.  So long as his power is displayed, he is indifferent to the misery he causes.  Agave, heart-broken, destroys any last vestige we may have of adoration for him.  "It is not meet that gods be ruled by anger like mere men.”  To get a parallel, we might imagine drama of Jehovah written from the point of view of Uzzah’s wife. "And when they came to Nachon’s threshing of it: for the oxen shook it.  And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Uzzah: and God smote him there for his error: and there he died by the ark of Jehovah.”  When men recognize that their god behaves like a charge of dynamite or, as in Euripides’ play, like a peevish tyrant, religion has changed.  Men may fear but they no longer adore.  It is sheer speculation that finds Euripides emphasizing through his treatment of the legend, the cruelty of nature, but it is a suggestive speculation.  The Greeks of the classical period were afraid of romantic love.  Sophocles in the ‘Antigone’ makes his chorus sing of "Love, our conqueror, matchless in might.”  "Thou prevailest, O Love, thou dividest the prey, in damask cheeks of a maiden thy watch through the night is set.  Thou roamest over the sea; on the hills, in the shepherd’s huts thou art; nor of deathless gods nor of men that live for a day, doth any escape from thy madness.  Thou for their ruin dost make even the righteous to be unrighteous.  Thou hast stirred up strife of kindred; and desire, shining in the eyes of beauty, wins the victory, desire that takes its seat a fellow ruler with the mighty laws; we are but toys to Aphrodite, goddess invincible.” (11/781-799.)  And in the eyes of these Greeks, the freedom of life, insistently driving men to its will, was dangerous, not only in its manifestation as love, but in any expression it might seek, in anger for example, though it ‘spreads like sweetness in the breast.’


            But there is another side to the question.  The experience of a great tide of life and enthusiasm flowing into these little lives of ours and lifting them to power, is real and noble.


            Euripides finds in the choruses the right phrase for the haunting beauty of the religion of emotion.  He recognizes its greatness and gives approving expression to its dread of arid intellectualism, its awareness of the physical universe as the bodying forth of a life that we can love and share, the sense of human brotherhood that it quickens and inspires.  He gives no solution of the contradiction between this conception and the other.  He has looked at the facts, and stated them the paradox unresolved.


            The dread of arid intellectualism is a characteristic of religion of this sort.  Euripides shares this dread.  I quote Gilbert Murray’s translation of one the choruses –


"Knowledge we are not foes,

 I seek thee diligently.

But a wind from the great world blows

Shining and not from thee;

Blowing to beautiful things

On, amid dark and light,

Till life, through the trammelings

Of Laws that are not the Right,

Breaks, clean and pure, and sings,

Glorying to God in the height.”


1005 – 1011

You will recall Santayana’s –


                        "O world, thou choosest not the better part!

                           It is not wisdom to be only wise.

                           And on the inward vision close the eyes.

                           But it is wisdom to believe the heart.”


            Whitehead and Eddington have helped us recently to see some elements of the truth that lies back of statements like these.  Any scientific approach to reality involves abstraction.  We attend only to those aspects that are relevant to our purpose.  The manifold richness of its concrete reality escapes us.  At times, as in Euripides’ chorus and in Santayana’s sonnet, this richness and fullness is perceived, together with the inner meaning and individuality of the object.  When this happens, men become poets and artists.  Often this experience brings sense of immediacy and oneness.  There   is emotion in it.  We both know and feel that which we see.  Masefield speaks of Drake, -- "so with the unfettered sea he mixed his soul in great rejoicing union.”  An ancient Hebrew looks up to the starry heavens at night.  The richness of what he sees comes to him with meaning.  It speaks.  "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.  Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth knowledge.”


            Religion is some such response of the whole of a man to some other reality.  Its distinctive mark is that its object is felt to be one that transcends, yet includes the self.  In its most complete form, the response is not merely aesthetic, but moral and intellectual as well.


            To a person who has had such an experience of reality, the world of science seems colorless and lifeless.  The richness of the concrete has gone and we are in a world of abstractions.  It forces itself into our experience that the wind that blows from the great world does not come from mere knowledge.  Euripides sympathizes with this sense of immediacy, this awareness of life that escapes our little systems.  The attempt to force reality into an intellectual system leads to the omission of much and the explaining away of more.  As Dr. Sullivan has said, (Easter sermon, 5) "More than once in history the enlightenment that darkens has been the enemy of light that redeems.”  It has forced men into a narrow system of abstraction.  There has been the need for some white magic to crack this rigid mould.  In the period of enlightenment that we know as the classical age, Dionysus’ worship, as Orphism and the mysteries akin to it, furnished this magic.  This religion brought an inspiring, vivifying awareness of the life of the world and of man’s unity with it.


            Besides this dread of arid intellectualism, another characteristic of the religion of Dionysus as Euripides presents it, is its intimacy with the physical universe.  The maenads, as the messenger describes them –


" There beneath the trees

Sleeping lay, like wild things flung at ease

In the forest; one half-sinking on a bed

Of deep pine greenery; one with careless head

Amid the fallen oak leaves.”

  683 – 686


       In their ecstasy –

                                     "All the mountain felt and worshipped with them;

                                       And the wild things knelt and ramped and gloried

                                       And the wilderness was filled with moving voices

                                                And dim stress.”



      One of the most beautiful of the choruses is, perhaps, Euripides’ own wistful looking back to such experiences.


                                    "Will they ever come to me, ever again,

                                                The long, long dances

                                      On through the dark till the dim stars wane?

                                      Shall I feel the dew on my throat, and the stream

                                      Of wind in my hair? Shall our white feet gleam

                                      In the dim expanses?

                                      Oh! Feet of a fawn to the greenwood fled

                                      Alone in the grass and the loveliness;

              Leap of the hunted, no more in dread,

                                      Beyond the snares and the deadly press;

                                      O wildly laboring, fiercely fleet

                                      Onward yet by river and glen - -

                                      Is it joy or terror, ye storm-swift feet? –

                                     To the dear lone lands untroubled of men,

                                     Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green

                                     The little things of the woodland live unseen.”

                                                                                                Gilbert Murray’s trans. Of

                                                                                                        11. 862 – 876


            The worship of Dionysus, as these words show, was not only in temples made with hands but on some Cithaeron or Parnassus.  It is an abandonment of the individual life to the greater life that makes all things live and grow.  It was, in its beginning at any rate, a nature mysticism.  Even when, later on, under the name of Orphism, it became a supernatural religion, with a strong drive toward asceticism, the tendency  toward the discovery of Dionysus in the life of nature was still present.  So in Christianity it is difficult to tell whether Easter is a celebration of the spirit that Lucretius called Venus, whose glory is made to fly along the Italian plain in the prelude to his De Rerum Nature;   or of the triumph of spirit over flesh that Paul calls a resurrection from the dead and an experience of the power of Christ’s resurrection; or of the blessed immortality that comes to those who share in the life and power of Christ.  As a matter of fact, it is all three, in both Orphism and Christianity.  From the point of view of Greek religion, Christianity is a new Orphism, with Christ as the cult Lord instead of Dionysus.  I hasten to say that this is not the only point of view from which Christianity should be regarded and that the substitution of Jesus for Dionysus is a momentous change.  Yet it still remains true that Orphism and Christianity are alike.  My point here, however, is that the orphic religion retained elements of nature mysticism.  Sometimes  this element came to the fore and broke all bounds.  In fifth century Athens women would at times be seized by the god, the contagion would spread and whole group of bacchantes would rust off to Parnassus in wild abandonment to the spirit of life.  Edna St. Vincent Millay is a modern Bacchante.  She expresses the very spirit of the worshipper of Dionysus.


"And all at once the heavy night

Fell from my eyes and I could see –

A drenched and dripping apple tree,

A last long line of silver rain,

A sky grown clear and blue again.

And as I looked a quickening gust

Of wind blew up to me and thrust

Into my face a miracle

Or orchard-breath, and with the smell, -

I know not how such things can be! –

I breathed my soul back into me.

Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I

And hailed the earth with such a cry

As is not heard save from a man

Who has been dead and lives again.

About the trees my arms I wound;

Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;

I raised my quivering arms on high;

I laughed and laughed into the sky,

Till at my throat a strangling sob

Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb

Sent instant tears into my eyes;

O God, I cried, no dark disguise

Can e’er hereafter hide from me

Thy radiant identity.”


                                (Renascence –am-Myst. Verse 213f)


           More restrained but with as strong a passion is Francis of Assisi, in the Hymn of the Creatures.  He praises God for "our Brother the Sun”, for "our Sister Water, who is humble and precious and clean”, and, with a fearless realism that Matthew Arnold finds morbid, for "our Sister the death of the body.”  It is at least open to question whether Arnold is not the morbid soul rather that St.Francis.  The mediaeval saint has not merely accepted life; he has become blood brother to all reality and even to death.  Wordsworth must be mentioned here.  He is a nature mystic, great in his sensitiveness to the ‘something far more deeply interfused’, his awareness of vivid life in flowers and birds and even in what we call inanimate.  These modern instances help us to understand the appeal of Dionysus worship.  Euripides understands it and puts it into words and pictures that we do not forget.


            We have noticed, so far, as characteristic of the religion of which Dionysus is the cult Lord in Euripides’ play, its dread of arid intellectualism and its awareness of the physical universe as the bodying forth of a life that we can love and share.  A third characteristic remains to be noticed, the sense of human brotherhood that this religion quickens and inspires within the circle of its devotees.  This is connected with the rejection of intellectualism.


"Love thou the Day and the Night;

Be glad of the Dark and the Light;

And avert thine eyes from the lore of The wise

That have honour in proud men’s sight.

The simple, nameless herd of Humanity

Hath deeds and faith that are truth enough

                         to me.”

                                                424 – 431


    It is one of the attractive features of Euripides that throughout his work he forces his audiences to consider slaves, captives, and women, as persons, and to share their experiences.  He writes of the glorious capture of Troy from the point of view of the Trojan women.  The lovely story of Alcestis, who died that her husband might live and then miraculously, as a reward, is restored to life by Heracles, is written from the point of view of one who says "yes but- ", Alcestis was noble, but what sort of man was Admentus to accept such sacrifice?  The woman’s case is presented again.


            Greek peasants, the unknown men and women and women who made up the great majority of the population in Attica in Euripides’ day also win his tribute.  He probable idealizes the peasant farmer in the "Electra,” over-emphasizing his sympathy, and his courtesy.  Many have maintained, however, that the Scotch Highland peasant is a gentleman by instinct.  Perhaps the Greek peasant was also. But whether there is idealization here or not, this appreciation of disregarded people is characteristic of Euripides. It was in part to this tendency in him that Dionysus worship appealed.  It is not a mere coincidence that the spread of Dionysus worship in its purified form in 7th. Century Greece is coincident with the rise of democracy and the age of the so-called tyrants.  Ancient Mussolinis and Hitlers, whose appearance is one of the striking phenomena of the period, came into power at the head of  popular democratic movements.  They overthrew the hereditary kings and their bungling, short-sighted satellites and established governments of efficiency.  They came, often from the common people and owed their power to the common people.  It may begging the question to say that back of the political movement was the religious, but, at any rate, the tow came hand in hand.  Dionysus, like all the gods who are directly experienced, was no respecter of persons.  It happened with him as it happened with Christ.  He concealed his truth from the wise and prudent and revealed it unto babes.  He scattered the proud; he pulled down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree.  He filled the hungry with good things and the rich he sent empty away.  The Spirit, whether of Christ or of Dionysus, is like the wind that bloweth where it listeth.  It is not the rich or the learning may, in fact, stand in their way.  The pearl of price is not wisdom or learning or wealth or power but the coming of God to the soul.


"Blessed is he in all wise

Who hath drunk the Living Fountain, (not in the Greek)

Whose life no folly staineth

And his soul is near to God;

Whose sins are lifted pall wise

As he worships on the mountain.

                                                11.72 – 77

                                             G. Murray’s translation.


More literally the passage reads: 


"Blessed is he who knows the mystic rites

                                    of the gods,

Who is stainless in life and has God in

                                     his soul,

Keeping Bacchic rites upon the mountains

                                    with holy purifyings.”


Brotherhood, the sense of a common life, could even make a man spare his enemies.


"What is wisdom?  Or what fairer grace from

God is there among mortals than, when one’s

Hand has prevailed over the head of his

Enemies, to hold himself from vengeance?

Nobility always wins love.”

                                                                                     876 – 881


            The democracy of Puritanism has this same source.  The earliest Puritan communities in America were dicatatorships of the elect.  Only he who had drunk the Living Fountain was regarded in the Bible Commonwealth as fit for the responsibilities of citizenship.  The effect of such an idea on political institutions is often like that of dynamite.  In Greece it was a contributing factor in the popular uprisings that were marked at first by dictatorships, these dictatorships, in the most progressive states, giving way to democracy.  Euripides has loved the democratic Athenian way of estimating men, a method that formed the constitution of Athens.  Old hereditary kingships had to go.  Life burst through laws that were not the right and men became free.


           These , then are the features of nature-mysticism that attract Euripides.  He writes with sympathy when he describes the revolt against arid intellectualism, the awareness of the physical universe as the bodying forth of a life that we can love and share, the sympathy with humanity.  But there is a dark side of the picture.  Dionysus worship if it means a blind surrender to passionate life may lead to a frenzy of destruction.  Agave and her maidens are seized upon by the god and, in their frenzy, tear the king to pieces.  In this way the god takes vengeance on men who resist him.  He shows his power, turns before our eyes from god to fiend, and the human beings are left to deal as they may with the misery that he has caused.  It is dangerous to say what Euripides meant by it.  He tells the story, entering into the experiences of his characters at each stage.  He finds horror and disillusion and he presents them, with no comment.  He has not left any prefaces to point the moral and adorn the tale.  We have to make our own explanation, draw our own conclusions.


           The play leaves us afraid and suspicious of the religion of the heart.  Perhaps it is not wisdom to be only wise but it certainly is not wisdom to be unwise.  There is no force so destructive, so cruel as unintelligent religion.  Lucretius tells the story of Iphigenia, deceived and murdered by the religious leaders of Greece.  This, he says, is what religion does to men.  The Christian Church to many a Jew remains a blood-stained horror.  The son of God goes forth to war and is not too scrupulous about releasing savage lust and cruelty.  Gilbert Murray points out that the Greeks of the classical period were near to the swamp of Urdummheit, the primal stupidity from which all races had risen, where religion is an intensification and release of savage emotion.  They were so near that they still feared it.  It is this which led them to emphasize as they did the virtue of Sophrosyne – sane- mindedness.  I suppose that the reason that their ethical teachers talked of this a great deal was because such talk was needed.  Primitive emotions are not far below the surface in any civilized society.  They need the leash of a quiet mind.


            This quiet mind was symbolized by the god Apollo, the patron god of sanity and enlightenment.  Following the Dionysian revival, there came to Greece another religious movement connected with Apollo’s name.  the same emotions and ideals clustered in Athens about Athene who is just Athens herself, the spirit of the polis or city, with its ordered life, its temper that makes its citizens boast that they know not only how to rule but how to be ruled.  Nietzsche in a brilliant essay shows that the very spirit of Greek classical art and literature is derived from the union of Apollo and Dionysus.  Life is necessary, the driving power of passion and enthusiasm.  Equally necessary is a dominant and intelligent ideal.  Plato’s Republic is an argument for such an ideal in the individual and in society, some clearly formulated intellectual or scientific conception of our goal.  The question was a live one in Athens at the close of the fifth century.  Nature,fusid, was contrasted withnomod , convention, and men were exhorted to live "in accordance with nature.” What this could lead to in political life is revealed in the terrible Melian dialogue in Thucydides. Everyone who writes on this period is forced to consider Melos. Melos, a small island, with few people, no commerce to speak of, living its own free life, was regarded by the militarists of Athens as a potential menace. Thucydides gives many chapters to a description of what followed. The Athenians sent envoys to tell the Melian senate their decree. The Melians, they say, must submit and become a part of the Athenian empire. If they do not submit, it is regrettable, for the Athenians will be compelled to massacre them all. They would, they say, be sorry to do this for the Melians have never done them any harm and, of course, Athens has no legal claim on Melos. They will not attempt to dictate what the Melians will do. They are free to make their choice. The choice is between life and death. The Melians point out the ghastly injustice of this course, the righteous indignation of gods and men that is sure to follow. The Athenians reply that they are willing to face this risk. Hoping for help from Sparta, the Melians decided to attempt resistance and all of them were hideously butchered. This is living kata fusin, this is what the desire for life -- more life and richer – can bring a nation to. The men who so callously murdered their fellow Greeks were, most of them, followers of the mysteries. The final result was the downfall of Athens, such an undercutting of loyalty in her citizens, such an abhorrence by civilization, that she could not survive. She cast off Apollo and followed Dionysus to her doom.


            The religion of Apollo is set forth in a chorus included by Sophocles in his "Oedipus the King.” One word in it is so difficult to translate that I paraphrase it here. It is the wordmoira . The word implies a whole philosophy. Each creature in the cosmos has its own field of activity. It is meant to stay in that field and to accept its own limitations. Man has his own goal of ordinance. Under the influence of the urges that are in him, he may seek to pass beyond the goal of ordinance. If he does, he is destroyed. There are certain laws of life that man must obey or perish. Moira is the spirit that leads a man to accept and obey. Matthew Arnold includes a translation of the chorus in his essay on ‘Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment,’ but I use another, and, I believe, a better rendering adapted from that of Sir Richard Jebb.


           "May Moira dwell with me, in lowly reverence of word and deed, leading me in the path which holy laws ordain, laws brought forth in the high clear ether; God alone is their maker and man had naught to do with their begetting, nor shall forgetfulness ever lull them to sleep. A great god is in them and they grow not old.”


            Here is the chastened mood of these who have tried life that breaks through laws and have found that it is not life. There is, so Sophocles believed, a law whose service is perfect freedom. Man-made laws may not be the right, but that does not mean that there is no right. Life can come to fruitfulness only in obedience to an adequate ideal. Nature is not what we grow from, but what we grow toward. It is revealed not in the mud and slime of things but in the visions of the prophets of our race. Not emotion but intelligence must govern. Plato would have men set apart to give their lives to the discovery and the clear formulation of this ideal. Euripides’ play shows from the myth itself that religious emotion can be no substitute for intelligence.


            It is perhaps unnecessary to point out the moral. Our own day is witnessing a revival of religion that is as irrational as Orphism. As aesthetic Catholicism, whether Anglican or Roman, or as Buchmanite revivalism, it is a refuge, as it has always been, not for the simple, nameless her alone, but for tired intellectuals and disillusioned wordlings. It holds within it much that is fine. It breaks through the arid intellectualism of those who, insisting on the scientific approach, shut out life and color from their world. It inculcates a freshness of sympathy with all that lives. It creates within itself a fellowship of kindred minds, the communion of saints of the New Testament, that is a veritable heaven to imprisoned souls. It can inspire a noble consecration to human need. These things it does and it ought to influence in this way our noblest minds. But it must be thought out or it is dangerous. Unless the intellect has its rights, the devotees can readily be roused to a hatred of all who, without the fold, seem to threaten it. Its certainty hardens into dogma blindly received and blindly defended. It easily tolerates superstitious folly. Tolerance and even insistence on impossible creeds, on the abdication of the intellect, has driven vast members into irreligion. But, when religion unites Dionysus and Apollo, its beneficient power is unbounded. Dionysus is needed, the rich, even sensuous, experience of reality, not only as something grasped by the intellect but exulted in and loved. Parallel with this experience, however, there must always go the scientific study and interpretation of the whole field of our experience. What men have felt about such a religion of guided power is expressed in an inscription of the second century B. C. set up in honor of Athens. "The people of Athens,” it says, "the recognized leaders in all human good, were the first to lead men across from the jungle life to gentleness, by introducing the Mysteries they proclaimed to the world that the greatest good for mankind is a spirit of help and trust toward one another. So they have been part maker of the cooperation of men with men, of the laws given by God for the treatment of men, and of instruction generally.”


            It is such a religion that liberals are commissioned to proclaim.