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Bacchanalia came up in the reading of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Greco-Roman god Bacchus (or Dionysus), the wine god. The term has since come to describe any form of drunken revelry. This really transports me back to my undergraduate days in which I minored in classics. The bacchanalia were rites originally held in ancient Greece as the Dionysia. The derogatory and potentially fallacious descriptions of the Bacchanalia that abound in classical materials (such as the writings of Livy) have caused the term to become synonymous with heedless corporeal excess—a connotation that may or may not be true to the original religious context. The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry. In John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, the atmosphere of Jenny’s whorehouse is described as “tavern bacchanalianism”. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the words: “the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities.”


One Response

  1. A heady mix of information on Mythology and Etymology! I find this post very interesting, particularly because I’m doing a survey course in Mythology this semester. “Bacchanalia” would certainly be a useful term to use in a research paper on Greek/Roman Mythology. However, my paper is on a German folk tale – “Faithful John” – but I might be able to fit it in there somewhere =D

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