Euripides, Bacchae: Background

There were several versions of the birth of Dionysus, also known as Bacchus.  According to the one presupposed by Euripides' play, his mother was the Theban Semele, who had been seduced by Zeus.  He was in disguise, as always in his encounters with mortal women. Semele rashly asked that Zeus appear to her in his full majesty.  He did so, in the form of a thunderbolt.  She was destroyed.  Zeus snatched the unborn Dionysus from her womb and sewed it up in his thigh.  At the appropriate time, Zeus removed him, and gave him to Hermes.  The early childhood of Dionysus was also variously told.  In one version, Hermes took him to Mt. Nysa, in Thrace, Africa, or Asia, depending on the source.  There he has nymphs for nurses, and these become his followers, called "maenads" or "Bacchants." (The play, "Bacchic Women," is named after them.)  Mt. Nysa is the location of one of the several "resistance myths."  Lycurgus (a Thracian) hunted down  Dionysus and his nurses, drove them into the sea, and was blinded a punishment.  Parallel to the resistance myth dramatized in the Bacchae, there are two other stories of the daughters of a king who refuse to accept the divinity of Dionysus and are driven mad as punishment.