PENTHEUS, in Greek legend, successor of Cadmus as king of Thebes. When Dionysus, with his band of frenzied women (Maenads) arrived at Thebes (his native place and the first city visited by him in Greece), Pentheus denied his divinity and violently opposed the introduction of his rites. His mother Agave having joined the revellers on Mount Cithaeron, Pentheus followed and climbed a lofty pine to watch the proceedings. Being discovered he was torn to pieces by Agave and others, who mistook him for some wild beast. His head was carried back to Thebes in triumph by his mother. Labdacus and Lycurgus, who offered a similar resistance, met with a like fearful end. Some identify Pentheus with Dionysus himself in his character as the god of the vine, torn to pieces by the violence of winter. The fate of Pentheus was the subject of lost tragedies by Thespis and Pacuvius.
See Euripides, Bacchae, passim; Ovid, Metam. iii. 511; Theocritus xxvi; Apollodorus iii. 5, 2; Nonnus, Dionysiaca, xliv-xlvi; on representations in art see O. Jahn, Pentheus und die Mainaden (1841).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)