In the Bacchants, the etymological puns and plays on words, which Euripides often uses to illustrate the mysterious relationship between language and reality, are functional for the description of the different ways in which simple people and intellectuals follow the cult of Dionysus. In the first strophe of the second stasimon, the Chorus recalls the sacred story of the little Dionysus, sewn into the thigh of Zeus, thus alluding to the popular etymology of the epithet Dithyramb, and shows its devotion and enthusiasm by celebrating his two births with a daring narrative synthesis (as yet not recognized by critics, who refer all the events narrated to his first birth, from Semele). Teiresias, the seer, on the contrary, rationally offers a personal interpretation of this embarrassing myth, which he attributes to human linguistic misunderstandings. The Derveni papyrus and Plato’s Cratylus follow similar criteria for the linguistic analysis of divine names, thus confirming that etymology was a privileged instrument, in religious and philosophical culture, in order to attempt to understand the gods and the order of the world.
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