Roman copy of a Greek relief attributed to Kallimachos, ca. 425–400 b.c.
H. 56 5/16 in. (143.03 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1935 (35.11.3)
As female votaries of Dionysos, maenads abandoned themselves to orgiastic festivities. They celebrated the rites of the god with song, dance, and music in the mountains, often clothed in animal skins. This dancing maenad, clothed in a diaphanous chiton, carries an object characteristic of Dionysos' retinue, the thyrsos, which consists of a fennel stalk crowned with a pinecone and ivy berries. The voluminous garment swirls about her in fanciful, highly expressive folds that evoke her dance. Her introspective expression, so typical of art of the Classical period, contrasts most effectively with the exuberance of her drapery.
In his tragedy, the Bacchae, Euripides describes how women under the spell of Dionysos sing and dance in a state of ecstatic frenzy: "When the ebony flute, melodious/ and sacred, plays the holy song/ and thunderously incites the rush of women/ to mountain,/ then, in delight, like a colt with its mother/ at pasture, she frolics, a light-footed Bacchant."