One woman struck her thyrsus on a rock
and a spring of water shot out, bubbling.
Another drove her fennel wand into the ground
and the god released a jet of wine.
Those who wanted milk
simply tapped the earth
with their fingers and a fountain started.
Pure honey spurted and streamed
from the tips of their wands.
If you had been there, sire,
you would have gone down on your knees and prayed
to the very god you deny.
In Euripides’ play, The Bacchae, the thyrsus turns tragic at the end of the play, as Agave parades through Thebes with the impaled head of her son, Pentheus, perched atop the rod. The thyrsus thus comes to represent the “height” of her tragedy—that is, the immense sorrow that comes with her realization that she has brutally killed her own son. However, it also emphasizes her excessive pride in mistakenly bragging that what’s on top of the thyrsus is some kind of hunting trophy. Ultimately, then, the thyrsus sheds its previous meanings for its ultimate definition—it shows Dionysus’ complete control over the tragedy and horrors that have just unfolded in Thebes.