This was the first play of the tetralogy known as the Lycurgeia (Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria 135) and probably, except for the satyr-drama Lycurgus, the only one in which Lycurgus, king of the Edonians (a Thracian people living near the river Strymon), actually appeared. It told the story of his attempt to suppress the worship of Dionysus in his kingdom, along more or less the same lines as [Apollodorus,] Library 3.5.1. At the start of the play Dionysus had just arrived in Thrace with his male and female followers. Lycurgus had both him and the women bacchants arrested, but they miraculously escaped, and Dionysus then drove Lycurgus mad, so that he killed his own son Dryas with an axe, believing that he was cutting a vine-branch. Lycurgus may well in the end, as in [Apollodorus] and as in Sophocles, Antigone 955–965, have been imprisoned perpetually in a rocky chamber on Mount Pangaeum. It has been attractively conjectured that Orpheus, who was the central figure of The following play (Bassarids, q.v.), also figured in this one, before his apostasy, as a devotee (maybe a priest) of
Dionysus, imprisoned with his master by Lycurgus (cf. fr. 60); West, Studies 29–30, has suggested that Orpheus “warned Lycurgus of the unwisdom of theomachy”, but that his warnings were ignored. This play was extensively imitated by Euripides when he wrote about the fate of another enemy of Dionysus in The Bacchae, and the Roman poet Naevius in his Lucurgos seems to have followed it closely.
The apparent presence of a stage-building (fr. 58) suggests that this was a late play of Aeschylus, and West, Studies 48–50, has argued that there is other evidence corroborating this. If so, Aeschylus will have been following in the footsteps of Polyphrasmon, son of his old rival Phrynichus, who produced a Lycurgeia in 467.
Recent studies: West, Studies 26–32, 48–50; F. Jouan, “Dionysos chez Eschyle”, Kernos 5 (1992) 71–86, esp. 73–74; M. Di Marco, “Dioniso ed Orfeo nelle Bassaridi di Eschilo”, in A. Masaracchia ed. Orfeo e l’orfismo (Rome, 1993) 101–153; P. Mureddu, “Le ‘lunghe gambe’ di Dioniso (Aesch. fr. 62 R.)”, Eikasmos 5 (1994) 81–88; ead., “Note dionisiache: osservazioni sulle ‘Baccanti’ di Euripide e sugli ‘Edoni’ di Eschilo”, Lexis 18 (2000) 117–125.