The Poets

August 09, 2010

Where Midnight Zagreus Roves, I Rove

I rummaged though books a few mornings ago to find something to take poolside … as I did this I came across a poetic excerpt I printed out years ago from a play written by Euripides (I found it tucked away in the pages of Plato's Republic). Needless to say, I was delighted.

Now the interesting thing about this poem is that I came to know it long before internalizing a passion for poetry itself- in fact, I originally read it in Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy (one of the best books ever written on the historical development of philosophy, by the way).

I think it would be overkill here to elaborate on the details to which this poem refers- i.e. the history and mythology behind Bacchus, the sect that followed him, and how the details of the poem in it relate to these. Suffice it to say, however, that in it a priest of the Bacchae cult speaks in high adoration and fidelity to Bacchus, the deity he worships (the details therein are astonishingly beautiful).

Lord of Europa's Tyrian line,
Zeus-born, who holdest at thy feet
The hundred citadels of Crete,
I seek to thee from that dim shrine,

Roofed by the Quick and Cavern Beam,
By Chalyb steel and wild bull's blood,
In flawless joints of Cypress wood
Made steadfast. There in one pure stream

My days have run. The servant I,
Initiate, of Idaean Jove;
Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove;
I have endured his thunder-cry;

Fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts;
Held the Great Mother's mountain flame;
I am set free and named by name
A Bacchos of the Mailed Priests.

Robed in pure white I have borne me clean
From man's vile birth and coffined clay,
And exiled from my lips alway
Touch of all meat where Life hath been.

Of the Poem (In Brief):

The five quatrains here are written in what we would call Italian verse (abba); it revolves around what I’ll call a loose tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables per line).

My favorite line in this poem, by far, is line the third line of the third stanza: Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove.
The Lord of Europa's Tyrian line, Idaean Jove, and midnight Zagreus all refer to the same deity, Bacchus.

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As of April 9th, 2010