This paper examines the treatment of violence in Euripides’ Bacchae, particularly in spoken narrative. Bacchae is essentially a drama about violence, and the messenger-speeches establish a dialectic between spectacle and suffering as different conceptions of, and reactions to, violence. The ironic deployment of imagery and allusion, particularly concerning Pentheus’ body and head, presents violence as ambiguous. The exodos then provides a model of compassion, in which knowledge of guilt does not preclude sympathy, nor does ambivalence towards violence. Finally, it is concluded that the paradoxical humanitas of this Dionysiac tragedy is grounded in its presentation of violence as a source first of pleasure, then of pain, allowing spectators to be both entertained and shocked.