Dionysus and the Frenzied MaenadsThe stories connected with Dionysus include a repeated theme of dismemberment (sparagmos). First Dionysus himself is dismembered; then Dionysus uses dismemberment as a tool of punishment.
In Euripides' well-known version of the story of Dionysus' appearance in his ancestral land, Thebes, close relatives challenge Dionysus' claim to be the son of a god. In retaliation, Dionysus drives the Theban women mad. They become "maenads". In their bacchic frenzy, wearing snake-belted fawn skins, with loose, ivy-twined hair, and carrying Dionysus' emblematic thyrsus, they tear apart the cousin of Dionysus, King Pentheus.
In Euripides' Bacchae, the frenzied women are identified as the late Semele's sister Agave (mother of Pentheus) and her sisters.
"So them [the sisters of Semele] I stung in madness from their homes and they dwell on the mountain stricken in their wits; I compelled them to wear the apparel proper to my rites, and all the female seed of the Cadmeians, all of the women,I maddened from their homes; together with the children of Cadmus, mingled with them, under the green firs they sit on rocks, with no roof above. For this land must learn to the full, even against its will, that it is uninitiated in my bacchic rites." (Eur. Bacchae 31-40).