In Greek mythology, Pentheus was a king of Thebes, son of the strongest of the Spartes, Echion, and of Agave, daughter of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, and the goddess Harmonia.
Much of what is known about the character comes from Euripides' tragic play, The Bacchae.
The king of Thebes, Cadmus, abdicated in favor of his grandson, Pentheus, due to his old age. Pentheus soon banned the worship of the god Dionysus, who was the son of his aunt Semele, and did not allow the women of Cadmeia to join in his rites.
An angered Dionysus caused Pentheus' mother and his aunts, Ino and Autonoë, along with all the other women of Thebes, to rush to Mount Cithaeron in a bacchic frenzy. Because of this, Pentheus imprisoned Dionysus, but his chains fell off and the jail doors opened for him.
Dionysus then lured Pentheus out to spy on the bacchic rites. The daughters of Cadmus saw him in a tree and thought him to be a wild animal. Pentheus was pulled down and torn limb from limb by them (as part of a ritual known as the sparagmos), causing them to be exiled from Thebes. Some say that his own mother tore his head off.
The name 'Pentheus', as Dionysus and Tiresias both point out, means "'Man of Sorrows" and derives from πένθος, pénthos, sorrow or grief, especially the grief caused by the death of a loved one; even his name destines him for tragedy. Pentheus was succeeded by his uncle Polydorus.
Pentheus is also discussed by Ovid in his Metamorphoses(3. 511-581).
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