Well done if you've successfully negotiated the Bacchae interaction! There are several things you might like to keep in mind as you ponder the meaning of this potent, and always controversial, tragedy.

Dionysus gives the prologue, appears throughout (played by the main actor, the protagonist), and appears as the "deus ex machina" (epilogue) at the end! No other Greek tragedy is so dominated by a god: usually it's a prologue or an epilogue.

He is in disguise until the end: the god of tragedy appears as an actor in a play within a play of his own devising! He is Pentheus' cousin.

The masks would have been an important feature: the long hair of Dionysus' mortal persona is symbolically transferred, along with his self-imposed effeminacy, to the disguised Pentheus: Dionysus' haircut precedes Pentheus' new hairstyle! And Pentheus' mask is brought back by Agauë: how much more dramatic than the dummy heads beloved of amateur productions of the play! In few tragedies are the essential props used to such dazzling effect.

The chorus of followers of Dionysus, for all their exoticism, react conventionally at the end, to Pentheus' murder. Are they really much different from the chorus of, say, Medea, written nearly 30 years earlier? They start being enthusiastic supporters of the protagonist, but end up revolted by his actions.

Euripides had not read Freud (ie interpretations of Pentheus' character which talk about "repression" are likely to be wide of the mark). Pentheus' mistake (hamartia) was to deny the divinity of Dionysus. The hamartia in tragedy is never a character flaw, contrary to popular notions (still alarmingly prevalent): the realisation by Gerald Else that Aristotle intends the term to mean "a mistake in failing to recognise a blood relationship" actually fits the Bacchae well. Pentheus fails to recognise his cousin Dionysus for who he is.

Pentheus believes the Bacchae to be obsessed with drink and sex: is this a pointer to his "puritanical" character, or is he just a typical Greek male with typical Greek prejudices? (Like Aristophanes, whose women in Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae show similar proclivities!)

Shakespeare's plays with all their variety have a constant theme: kings are appointed by God, and to kill them, however good the reason, upsets the balance of nature (Henry IV, Hamlet, Julius Caesar ...) . Similarly, Euripides has a consistent theme: if violence seems to be called for, and even justified at the start of a tragedy, the play will end in horror and revulsion. This is the double bind: the violence is necessary, but cannot be justified. In Electra, Castor says to the murderers of Clytemnestra, their mother, "her fate was just; your action was not". This is the philosophy of a poet hardened by an adult life dominated by total war.

FallujahWe are familiar with the problem: to unseat Saddam was right; for the British and Americans to do it in the way they did was not. In the modern world, what's left is a nasty mess. In the ancient world, Euripides had an explanation - but not a solution. It's still a mess - but there is an explanation. The intervention of gods is Euripides' rational way of explaining how a solution is impossible. There are no answers, because that's the way the gods, for reasons we can't properly fathom, want it. Dionysus destroys a family, because like a mafioso, or a gangsta, he was not shown "respect". Pentheus and Cadmus' daughters disrespected him, and his mum. That's all we are told. There is no more we can know. It's no coincidence that the tender moments in Euripides happen when the gods have left the stage - the final scene in Hippolytus, where father and son can still talk; the end of Bacchae with father and daughter saying their touching last farewells.

It is the last surviving complete tragedy of the last of the great tragedians. Euripides, like Cadmus and Agauë in his play, had left his home city for ever.