30. Agaue kills her son Pentheus

Once upon a time, Cadmus, after killing Ares’ dragon, had sowed the dragon’s teeth, from which armed men known as Sparti emerged, who began fighting amongst themselves. When only five Sparti remained, they dropped their weapons and stopped fighting. One of the Sparti was Echion, who married Agaue, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. Echion and Agaue had a son known as Pentheus, who after Cadmus retired, ruled Thebes.

Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele, came to Thebes to punish his aunts Agaue, Autonoe and Ino, for spreading slander about his dead mother Semele. He made all the Theban women including Agaue, Autonoe and Ino, to lose their wits in bacchic frenzy. They left their homes and stayed on Mount Kithairon, along with other women followers of Dionysus known as Maenads.

Pentheus decided to fight Dionysus, although Tiresias the blind soothsayer, and old Cadmus, had warned him not to fight. Pentheus ordered his guards to imprison all bacchants, who were identified as wearing garlands around their necks. As a bacchant, Dionysus was also arrested and imprisoned. However, Dionysus easily set himself free, and then he set fire to the palace of Pentheus.

Meanwhile, a messenger reported miraculous events of the Maenads, taking place on Mount Kithairon. Pentheus decided to send his army, but Dionysus disguised as a bacchic priest, convinced Pentheus to dress as a woman and spy on the Maenads, before sending the army.

The disguised Pentheus climbed a pine tree, to spy on the Maenads. But by doing this, he exposed himself and the Maenads dragged him down. Agaue, who in bacchic frenzy, thought she was hunting a lion, tore off the head of her own son Pentheus. Then she placed it on a thyrsus, a pine-cone tipped staff, and carried it all over Mount Kithairon. The Maenads tore Pentheus, limb by limb. Later, when Agaue regained her mind, she grieved bitterly.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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