A play by Euripides
that tells the story of how Dionysus
(also known as Bacchus
, and Evius
) was born of Semele
and how he proved to the people of Thebes
that he was indeed a true god.
According to Greek legend, Dionysus mother, Semele, was one of the mortal women that Zeus loved. He promised her a boon, and through a bit of mental trickery by Hera, Semele decided she wanted to see exactly what Zeus looked like in his full godly aspect. Despite Zeus' urgings to the contrary, Semele insisted. Silly woman. Naturally, when she looked at Zeus is all his godly splendor, she died in a huge column of lightening.
Zeus decided to save his unborn son and reached into the flames and pulls the infant Dionysus out and sewes the baby into his own thigh. (This protects baby Dionysus from the wrath of step-mom Hera.)
Once Dionysus is grown, he returns to Thebes to find his cousin Pentheus on the throne and his aunts (his mother's sisters) slandering the memory of Semele by saying that she was sleeping around and the story of her being pregnant by Zeus was all a lie. (Consequently, that is why she died in lightening - she angered Zeus with her lie, so goes the story of her sisters.)
As a way to get back at his aunts and his cousin, Dionysus casts something of a spell over all the women of Thebes (including the aunts) that causes them to take part in orgiastic hunting rites where they rip apart live animals with their bare hands.
Ultimately, while in a state of orgiastic ecstasy, Dionysus aunt, Agave rips apart her son Pentheus, the king of Thebes, believing at the time that she was ripping apart the body of a lion.