Dionysus (/daɪ.əˈnaɪsəs/; Greek: Διόνυσος Dionysos) is the god of the grape-harvest, winemaking and wine, of fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. Wine played an important role in Greek culture, and the cult of Dionysus was the main religious focus for its unrestrained consumption. His worship became firmly established in the seventh century BC. He may have been worshipped as early as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenaean Greeks; traces of Dionysian-type cult have also been found in ancient Minoan Crete. His origins are uncertain, and his cults took many forms; some are described by ancient sources as Thracian, others as Greek. In some cults, he arrives from the east, as an Asiatic foreigner; in others, from Ethiopia in the South. Some scholars believe that Dionysus is a syncretism of a local Greek nature deity and a more powerful god from Thrace or Phrygia such as Sabazios or Zalmoxis. He is a god of epiphany, "the god that comes", and his "foreignness" as an arriving outsider-god may be inherent and essential to his cults. He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, becoming increasingly important over time, and included in some lists of the twelve Olympians, as the last of their number, and the only god born from a mortal mother. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre.
He is also known as Bacchus (/ˈbækəs/ or /ˈbɑːkəs/; Greek: Βάκχος, Bakkhos), the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces is bakkheia. His thyrsus, sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey, is both a beneficent wand and a weapon used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. As Eleutherios ("the liberator"), his wine, music and ecstatic dance free his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself.
The cult of Dionysus is also a "cult of the souls"; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead. He is sometimes categorised as a dying-and-rising god.
Dionysus is generally depicted in myth as the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, although in the Orphic tradition, he was identified as the son of Zeus and Persephone. In the Eleusinian Mysteries he was identified with Iacchus, the son (or, alternately, husband) of Demeter.
God of the vine, grape-harvest, wine-making, wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, theatre
|Symbol||Thyrsus, grapevine, bull, panthers and other big cats|
|Children||Priapus, Hymen, Thoas, Staphylus, Oenopion, Comus, Phthonus, the Graces, Deianira|
|Parents||Zeus and Semele|
Zeus and Persephone (Orphic)
Ammon and Amaltheia
|Siblings||Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, the Moirai|
|Greek equivalent||Iacchus, Zagreus|
|Roman equivalent||Bacchus, Liber|
The dio- element has been associated since antiquity with Zeus (genitive Dios). The earliest attested form of the name is Mycenaean Greek 𐀇𐀺𐀝𐀰, di-wo-nu-so, written in Linear B syllabic script, presumably for /Diwo(h)nūsoio/. This is attested on two tablets that had been found at Mycenaean Pylos and dated to the 12th or 13th century BC, but at the time, there could be no certainty on whether this was indeed a theonym. But the 1989–90 Greek-Swedish Excavations at Kastelli Hill, Chania, unearthed, inter alia, four artefacts bearing Linear B inscriptions; among them, the inscription on item KH Gq 5 is thought to confirm Dionysus's early worship.
Later variants include Dionūsos and Diōnūsos in Boeotia; Dien(n)ūsos in Thessaly; Deonūsos and Deunūsos in Ionia; and Dinnūsos in Aeolia, besides other variants. A Dio- prefix is found in other names, such as that of the Dioscures, and may derive from Dios, the genitive of the name of Zeus. The second element -nūsos is associated with Mount Nysa, the birthplace of the god in Greek mythology, where he was nursed by nymphs (the Nysiads), but according to Pherecydes of Syros, nũsa was an archaic word for "tree".
Nonnus, in his Dionysiaca, writes that the name Dionysus means "Zeus-limp" and that Hermes named the new born Dionysus this, "because Zeus while he carried his burden lifted one foot with a limp from the weight of his thigh, and nysos in Syracusan language means limping". In his note to these lines, W. H. D. Rouse writes "It need hardly be said that these etymologies are wrong". The Suda, a Byzantine encyclopedia based on classical sources, states that Dionysus was so named "from accomplishing [διανύειν ] for each of those who live the wild life. Or from providing [διανοεῖν ] everything for those who live the wild life."
The cult of Dionysus was closely associated with trees, specifically the fig tree, and some of his bynames exhibit this, such as Endendros "he in the tree" or Dendritēs, "he of the tree". Peters suggests the original meaning as "he who runs among the trees", or that of a "runner in the woods". Janda (2010) accepts the etymology but proposes the more cosmological interpretation of "he who impels the (world-)tree". This interpretation explains how Nysa could have been re-interpreted from a meaning of "tree" to the name of a mountain: the axis mundi of Indo-European mythology is represented both as a world-tree and as a world-mountain.
The earliest cult images of Dionysus show a mature male, bearded and robed. He holds a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus. Later images show him as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half-naked androgynous youth: the literature describes him as womanly or "man-womanish". In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized. His procession (thiasus) is made up of wild female followers (maenads) and bearded satyrs with erect penises; some are armed with the thyrsus, some dance or play music. The god himself is drawn in a chariot, usually by exotic beasts such as lions or tigers, and is sometimes attended by a bearded, drunken Silenus. This procession is presumed to be the cult model for the followers of his Dionysian Mysteries. Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and he thus symbolizes the chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.
The bull, serpent, tiger, ivy, and wine are characteristic of Dionysian iconography. Dionysus is also strongly associated with satyrs, centaurs, and sileni. He is often shown riding a leopard, wearing a leopard skin, or in a chariot drawn by panthers, and may also be recognized by the thyrsus he carries. Besides the grapevine and its wild barren alter-ego, the toxic ivy plant, both sacred to him, the fig was also his symbol. The pinecone that tipped his thyrsus linked him to Cybele.
The Dionysia and Lenaia festivals in Athens were dedicated to Dionysus. On numerous vases (referred to as Lenaia vases), the god is shown participating in the ritual sacrifice as a masked and clothed pillar (sometimes a pole, or tree is used), while his worshipers eat bread and drink wine. Initiates worshipped him in the Dionysian Mysteries, which were comparable to and linked with the Orphic Mysteries, and may have influenced Gnosticism. Orpheus was said to have invented the Mysteries of Dionysus.
Dionysus was a god of resurrection and he was strongly linked to the bull. In a cult hymn from Olympia, at a festival for Hera, Dionysus is invited to come as a bull; "with bull-foot raging". Walter Burkert relates, "Quite frequently [Dionysus] is portrayed with bull horns, and in Kyzikos he has a tauromorphic image", and refers also to an archaic myth in which Dionysus is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans.
The snake and phallus were symbols of Dionysus in ancient Greece, and of Bacchus in Greece and Rome. He typically wears a panther or leopard skin and carries a Thyrsus – a long stick or wand topped with a pine cone. His iconography sometimes include maenads, who wear wreaths of ivy and serpents around their hair or neck.
A mystery cult to Bacchus was brought to Rome from the Greek culture of southern Italy or by way of Greek-influenced Etruria. It was established around 200 BC in the Aventine grove of Stimula by a priestess from Campania, near the temple where Liber Pater ("The Free Father") had a State-sanctioned, popular cult. Liber was a native Roman god of wine, fertility, and prophecy, patron of Rome's plebeians (citizen-commoners) and a close equivalent to Bacchus-Dionysus Eleutherios.
The Bacchic rituals contained omophagic practices such as pulling live animals apart and eating the whole of them raw. This practice served not only as a reenactment of the infant death and rebirth of Bacchus, but also as a means by which Bacchic practitioners produced "enthusiasm": etymologically, to let a god enter the practitioner's body or to have her become one with Bacchus.
In Livy's account, the Bacchic mysteries were a novelty at Rome; originally restricted to women and held only three times a year, they were corrupted by an Etruscan-Greek version, and thereafter drunken, disinhibited men and women of all ages and social classes cavorted in a sexual free-for-all five times a month. Livy relates their various outrages against Rome's civil and religious laws and traditional morality (mos maiorum); a secretive, subversive and potentially revolutionary counter-culture. Livy's sources, and his own account of the cult, probably drew heavily on the Roman dramatic genre known as "Satyr plays", based on Greek originals. The cult was suppressed by the State with great ferocity; of the 7,000 arrested, most were executed. Modern scholarship treats much of Livy's account with skepticism; more certainly, a Senatorial edict, the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus was distributed throughout Roman and allied Italy. It banned the former Bacchic cult organisations. Each meeting must seek prior senatorial approval through a praetor. No more than three women and two men were allowed at any one meeting, Those who defied the edict risked the death penalty.
Bacchus was conscripted into the official Roman pantheon as an aspect of Liber, and his festival was inserted into the Liberalia. In Roman culture, Liber, Bacchus and Dionysus became virtually interchangeable equivalents. Bacchus was euhemerised as a wandering hero, conqueror and founder of cities. He was a patron deity and founding hero at Leptis Magna, birthplace of the emperor Septimius Severus, who promoted his cult. In some Roman sources, the ritual procession of Bacchus in a tiger-drawn chariot, surrounded by maenads, satyrs and drunks, commemorates the god's triumphant return from the conquest of India. Pliny believed this to be the historical prototype for the Roman Triumph.
As early as the 5th century BC, Dionysus became identified with Iacchus, a minor deity from the tradition of the Eleusinian mysteries. This association may have arisen because of the homophony of the names Iacchus and Bacchus. Two black-figure lekythoi (c. 500 BC), possibly represent the earliest evidence for such an association. The nearly-identical vases, one in Berlin, the other in Rome, depict Dionysus, along with the inscription IAKXNE, a possible miswriting of IAKXE. More early evidence can be found in the works of the 5th-century BC Athenian tragedians Sophocles and Euripides. In Sophocles' Antigone (c. 441 BC), an ode to Dionysus begins by addressing Dionysus as the "God of many names" (πολυώνυμε), who rules over the glens of Demeter's Eleusis, and ends by identifying him with "Iacchus the Giver", who leads "the chorus of the stars whose breath is fire" and whose "attendant Thyiads" dance in "night-long frenzy". And in a fragment from a lost play, Sophocles describes Nysa, Dionysus' traditional place of nurture: "From here I caught sight of Nysa, haunt of Bacchus, famed among mortals, which Iacchus of the bull's horns counts as his beloved nurse". In Euripides' Bacchae (c. 405 BC), a messenger, describing the Bacchic revelries on mount Cithaeron, associates Iacchus with Bromius, another of the names of Dionysus, saying, they "began to wave the thyrsos ... calling on Iacchus, the son of Zeus, Bromius, with united voice."
An inscription found on a stone stele (c. 340 BC), found at Delphi, contains a paean to Dionysus, which describes the travels of Dionysus to various locations in Greece where he was honored. From Thebes, where he was born, he first went to Delphi where he displayed his "starry body", and with "Delphian girls" took his "place on the folds of Parnassus", then next to Eleusis, where he is called "Iacchus":
Strabo, says that Greeks "give the name 'Iacchus' not only to Dionysus but also to the leader-in-chief of the mysteries". In particular, Iacchus was identified with the Orphic Dionysus, who was a son of Persephone. Sophocles mentions "Iacchus of the bull's horns", and according to the 1st-century BC historian Diodorus Siculus, it was this older Dionysus who was represented in paintings and sculptures with horns, because he "excelled in sagacity and was the first to attempt the yoking of oxen and by their aid to effect the sowing of the seed". Arrian, the 2nd-century CE Greek historian, wrote that it was to this Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Persephone, "not the Theban Dionysus, that the mystic chant 'Iacchus' is sung". The 2nd-century poet Lucian also referred to the "dismemberment of Iacchus".
The 4th- or 5th-century poet Nonnus associated the name Iacchus with the "third" Dionysus. He described the Athenian celebrations given to the first Dionysus Zagreus, son of Persephone, the second Dionysus Bromios, son of Semele, and the third Dionysus Iacchus:
By some accounts, Iacchus was the husband of Demeter. Several other sources identify Iacchus as Demeter's son. The earliest such source, a 4th-century BC vase fragment at Oxford, shows Demeter holding the child Dionysus on her lap. By the 1st-century BC, Demeter suckling Iacchus had become such a common motif, that the Latin poet Lucretius could use it as an apparently recognizable example of a lover's euphemism. A scholiast on the 2nd-century AD Aristides, explicitly names Demeter as Iacchus' mother.
In the Greek interpretation of the Egyptian pantheon, Dionysus was often identified with Osiris. Stories of the dismemberment of Osiris and the re-assembly and resurrection by Isis closely parallel those of the Orphic Dionysus and Demeter. According to Diodorus Siculus, as early as the 5th century BC, the two gods had been syncretized as a single deity known as Dionysus-Osiris. The most notable record of this belief is found in Herodotus' 'Histories'. Other syncretic Greco-Egyptian deities arose out of this conflation, including with the gods Serapis and Hermanubis. Dionysus-Osiris was particularly popular in Ptolemaic Egypt, as the Ptolemies claimed descent from Dionysus, and as Pharaoes they had claim to the lineage of Osiris. This association was most notable during a deification ceremony where Mark Antony became Dionysus-Osiris, alongside Cleopatra as Isis-Aphrodite.
Egyptian myths about Priapus said that the Titans conspired against Osiris, killed him, divided his body into equal parts, and "slipped them secretly out of the house". All but Osiris' penis, which since none of them "was willing to take it with him", they threw into the river. Isis, Osiris' wife, hunted down and killed the Titans, reassembled Osiris' body parts "into the shape of a human figure", and gave them "to the priests with orders that they pay Osiris the honours of a god". But since she was unable to recover the penis she ordered the priests "to pay to it the honours of a god and to set it up in their temples in an erect position."
The 5th–4th century BC philosopher Heraclitus, unifying opposites, declared that Hades and Dionysus, the very essence of indestructible life (zoë), are the same god. Among other evidence, Karl Kerényi notes in his book that the Homeric Hymn "To Demeter", votive marble images and epithets all link Hades to being Dionysus. He also notes that the grieving goddess Demeter refused to drink wine, as she states that it would be against themis for her to drink wine, which is the gift of Dionysus, after Persephone's abduction, because of this association; indicating that Hades may in fact have been a "cover name" for the underworld Dionysus. He suggests that this dual identity may have been familiar to those who came into contact with the Mysteries. One of the epithets of Dionysus was "Chthonios", meaning "the subterranean".
Evidence for a cult connection is quite extensive, particularly in southern Italy, especially when considering the heavy involvement of death symbolism included in Dionysian worship; statues of Dionysus found in the Ploutonion at Eleusis gives further evidence as the statues found bear a striking resemblance to the statue of Eubouleus, also called Aides Kyanochaites (Hades of the flowing dark hair), known as the youthful depiction of the Lord of the Underworld. The statue of Eubouleus is described as being radiant but disclosing a strange inner darkness Ancient portrayals show Dionysus holding in his hand the kantharos, a wine-jar with large handles, and occupying the place where one would expect to see Hades. Archaic artist Xenocles portrayed on one side of a vase, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, each with his emblems of power; with Hades' head turned back to front and, on the other side, Dionysus striding forward to meet his bride Persephone, with the kantharos in his hand, against a background of grapes. Dionysus also shared several epithets with Hades such as Chthonios, Eubouleus and Euclius.
Both Hades and Dionysus were associated with a divine tripartite deity with Zeus. The role of unifying Hades, Zeus and Dionysus as a single tripartite god was used to represent the birth, death and resurrection of a deity and to unify the 'shining' realm of Zeus and the dark underworld realm of Hades.
In some sources, the minor underworld god Zagreus (Greek: Ζαγρεύς) was often conflated with the Orphic “first Dionysus”, the son of Zeus and Persephone, who was dismembered by the Titans and reborn. Dionysus was the patron god of the Orphic tradition, which they connected to death and immortality, and he symbolized the one who guides the process of reincarnation. The earliest mentions of Zagreus in literature describe him as a partner of Gaia and call him the highest god. Aeschylus linked Zagreus with Hades, as either Hades' son or Hades himself. Noting "Hades' identity as Zeus' katachthonios alter ego", Timothy Gantz thought it likely that Zagreus, originally, perhaps, the son of Hades and Persephone, later merged with the Orphic Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Persephone.
No known Orphic sources use the name "Zagreus" to refer to the Orphic Dionysus. It is possible that the association between the two was known by the 3rd century BC, when the poet Callimachus may have written about it in a now-lost source. Callimachus, as well as his contemporary Euphorion, told the story of the dismembered of the infant Dionysus, and Byzantine sources quote Callimachus as referring to the birth of a "Dionysos Zagreus", explaining that Zagreus was the poets' name for the chthonic aspect of Dionysus. The earliest definitive reference to the belief that Zagreus is another name for the Orphic Dionysus is found in the late 1st century writings of Plutarch. The 5th century Greek poet Nonnus' Dionysiaca tells the story of this Orphic Dionysus, in which Nonnus calls him the "older Dionysos ... illfated Zagreus", "Zagreus the horned baby", "Zagreus, the first Dionysos", "Zagreus the ancient Dionysos", and "Dionysos Zagreus".
The Roman god Liber was one of the members of the Aventine Triad, along with his mother Ceres and sister or consort Libera. A temple to the Triad was erected on the Aventine Hill in 493 BC, along with the institution of celebrating the festival of Liberalia. The worship of the Triad gradually took on more and more Greek influence, and by 205 BC, Liber and Libera had been formally identified with Bacchus and Proserpina. Liber was often interchangeably identified with Dionysus and his mythology, though in the late Republican era, Cicero insisted on the "non-identity of Liber and Dionysus" and described Liber and Libera as children of Ceres. Liber, like his Aventine companions, carried various aspects of his older cults into official Roman religion. He protected various aspects of agriculture and fertility, including the vine and the "soft seed" of its grapes, wine and wine vessels, and male fertility and virility.
Pliny called him "the first to establish the practice of buying and selling; he also invented the diadem, the emblem of royalty, and the triumphal procession." Roman mosaics and sarcophagi attest to various representations of a Dionysus-like exotic triumphal procession. In Roman and Greek literary sources from the late Republic and Imperial era, several notable triumphs feature similar, distinctively "Bacchic" processional elements, recalling the supposedly historic "Triumph of Liber".
Sabazios ... is the same as Dionysos. He acquired this form of address from the rite pertaining to him; for the barbarians call the bacchic cry "sabazein". Hence some of the Greeks too follow suit and call the cry "sabasmos"; thereby Dionysos [becomes] Sabazios. They also used to call "saboi" those places that had been dedicated to him and his Bacchantes ... Demosthenes [in the speech] "On Behalf of Ktesiphon" [mentions them]. Some say that Saboi is the term for those who are dedicated to Sabazios, that is to Dionysos, just as those [dedicated] to Bakkhos [are] Bakkhoi. They say that Sabazios and Dionysos are the same. Thus some also say that the Greeks call the Bakkhoi Saboi.
Strabo, in the 1st century, linked Sabazios with Zagreus among Phrygian ministers and attendants of the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos. Strabo's Sicilian contemporary, Diodorus Siculus, conflated Sabazios with the secret 'second' Dionysus, born of Zeus and Persephone, However, this connection is not supported by any surviving inscriptions, which are entirely to Zeus Sabazios.
Several ancient sources record an apparently widespread belief in the classical world that the god worshiped by the Jewish people, Yahweh, was identifiable as Dionysus or Liber via his identification with Sabazios. Tacitus, Lydus, Cornelius Labeo, and Plutarch all either made this association, or discussed it as an extant belief (though some, like Tacitus, specifically brought it up in order to reject it). According to Plutarch, one of the reasons for the identification is that Jews were reported to hail their god with the words "Euoe" and "Sabi", a cry typically associated with the worship of Sabazius. According to scholar Sean McDonough, it is possible that Plutarch's sources had confused the cry of "Iao Sabaoth" (typically used by Greek speakers in reference to Yahweh) with the Sabazian cry of "Euoe Saboe", originating the confusion and conflation of the two deities. The cry of "Sabi" could also have been conflated with the Jewish term "sabbath", adding to the evidence the ancients saw that Yahweh and Dionysus/Sabazius were the same deity. Further bolstering this connection would have been coins used by the Maccabees that included imagery linked to the worship of Dionysus such as grapes, vine leaves, and cups. However the belief that the Jewish god was identical with Dionysus/Sabazius was widespread enough that a coin dated to 55 BC depicting a kneeling king was labelled "Bacchus Judaeus" (BACCHIVS IVDAEVS), and in 139 BC praetor Cornelius Scipio Hispalus deported Jewish people for attempting to "infect the Roman customs with the cult of Jupiter Sabazius".
Though the last known worshippers of the Greek and Roman gods were converted before 1000 CE, there were several isolated instances of revived worship of Dionysus during the Medieval and early modern periods. With the rise of modern neopaganism, worship of the god has once again been revived.
During Easter in 1282 in Scotland, the parish priest of Inverkeithing led young women in a dance in honor of Dionysus. He danced and sang at the front, carrying a representation of the phallus on a pole. He was killed by a Christian mob later that year. The late medieval Byzantine scholar Gemistus Pletho secretly advocated in favor of a return to paganism in medieval Greece.
In the 18th century, Hellfire Clubs sprung up in Britain and Ireland. Though activities varied between the clubs, some of them were very pagan, and included shrines and sacrifices. Dionysus was one of the most popular deities, alongside deities like Venus and Flora. Today one can still see the statue of Dionysus left behind in the Hellfire Caves.
In 1820, Ephraim Lyon founded the Church of Bacchus in Eastford, Connecticut. He declared himself High Priest, and added local drunks to the list of membership. He maintained that those who died as members would go to a Bacchanalia for their afterlife.
Modern pagan and polytheist groups often include worship of Dionysus in their traditions and practices, most prominently groups which have sought to revive Hellenic polytheism, such as the Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE). In addition to libations of wine, modern worshipers of Dionysus offer the god grape vine, ivy, and various forms of incense, particularly styrax. They may also celebrate Roman festivals such as the Liberalia (March 17, close to the Spring Equinox) or Bacchanalia (Various dates), and various Greek festivals such as the Anthesteria, Lenaia, and the Greater and Lesser Dionysias, the dates of which are calculated by the lunar calendar.
Dionysus was variably known with the following epithets:
Agrios ("wild"), in Macedonia.
Bassareus, a Thracian name for Dionysus, which derives from bassaris or "fox-skin", which item was worn by his cultists in their mysteries.
Bromios ("Roaring" as of the wind, primarily relating to the central death/resurrection element of the myth, but also the god's transformations into lion and bull, and the boisterousness of those who drink alcohol. Also cognate with the "roar of thunder", which refers to Dionysus' father, Zeus "the thunderer".)
Chthonios ("the subterranean")
Dendrites ("he of the trees"), as a fertility god.
Dithyrambos, used at his festivals, referring to his premature birth.
Eleutherios ("the liberator"), an epithet shared with Eros.
Endendros ("he in the tree").
Enorches ("with balls," with reference to his fertility, or "in the testicles" in reference to Zeus' sewing the baby Dionysus "into his thigh", understood to mean his testicles). used in Samos and Lesbos.
Erikryptos ("completely hidden"), in Macedonia.
Iacchus, a possible epithet of Dionysus, associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Eleusis, he is known as a son of Zeus and Demeter. The name "Iacchus" may come from the Ιακχος (Iakchos), a hymn sung in honor of Dionysus.
Liknites ("he of the winnowing fan"), as a fertility god connected with mystery religions. A winnowing fan was used to separate the chaff from the grain.
Lyaeus, or Lyaios (Λυαῖος, "deliverer", literally "loosener"), one who releases from care and anxiety.
Melanaigis ("of the black goatskin") at the Apaturia festival.
Oeneus, as god of the wine press.
Various different accounts and traditions existed in the ancient world regarding the parentage of Dionysus, complicated by his one or several rebirths, often said to involve different parents. By the 1st century BC, some mythographers had attempted to harmonize the various accounts of Dionysus' birth into a single narrative involving not only multiple births, but two or three distinct manifestations of the god on earth throughout history in different lifetimes. The historian Diodorus Siculus said that according to "some writers of myths" there were two gods named Dionysus, an older one, who was the son of Zeus and Persephone, but that the "younger one also inherited the deeds of the older, and so the men of later times, being unaware of the truth and being deceived because of the identity of their names thought there had been but one Dionysus." He also said that Dionysus "was thought to have two forms...the ancient one having a long beard, because all men in early times wore long beards, the younger one being youthful and effeminate and young."
The first Dionysus, according to this scheme, was born in India to Ammon and Amaltheia, and depicted with a long beard in the Indian fashion of the time. It was there that he first taught mortals how to cultivate fruit crops and make wine. He later traveled the world with his retinue spreading this knowledge. The second Dionysus said to have been born to Zeus and Persephone (or, alternately, to Demeter), as in the Orphic tradition. It was this Dionysus who was said to have taught mortals how use use oxen to plow the fields, rather than doing so by hand. His worshipers were said to have honored him for this by depicting him with horns. The third Dionysus was said to have been born of Zeus and Semele in Thebes, in the manner described by Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns. It was said that this third Dionysus was the one portrayed in the majority of classical literature.
According to Diodorus, the "first" Dionysus was the son of Ammon, who Diodorus regarded both as the creator god and a quasi-historical king of Libya. In Diodorus' account, Ammon had married the goddess Rhea, but he had an affair with Amaltheia, who bore Dionysus. Ammon feared Rhea's wrath if she were to discover the child, so he took the infant Dionysus to Nysa (Dionysus' traditional childhood home). Ammon brought Dionysus into a cave where he was to be cared for by Nysa, a daughter of the hero Aristaeus.
Dionysus grew famous due to his skill in the arts, his beauty, and his strength. It was said that he discovered the art of winemaking during his boyhood. His fame brought him to the attention of Rhea, who was furious with Ammon for his deception. She attempted to bring Dionysus under her own power but, unable to do so, she left Ammon and married Cronus.
In the Orphic tradition, Dionysus was, in part, a god associated with the underworld. As a result, the Orphics considered him the son of Persephone and Zeus, and believed that he had been dismembered by the Titans and then reborn. The myth of the dismemberment of Dionysus was alluded to as early as the 4th century BC by Plato in his Phaedo, in which Socrates claims that the initiations of the Dionysian Mysteries are similar to those of the philosophic path. Late Neoplatonists such as Damascius explored the implications of this at length. The dismemberment of Dionysus (the sparagmos) is often considered to be the most important myth of Orphism.
Many modern sources identify this "Orphic Dionysus" with the god Zagreus, though this name does not seem to have been used by any of the ancient Orphics, who simply called him Dionysus. As pieced together from various ancient sources, the reconstructed story, usually given by modern scholars, goes as follows. Zeus had intercourse with Persephone in the form of a serpent, producing Dionysus. The infant was taken to Mount Ida, where, like the infant Zeus, he was guarded by the dancing Curetes. Zeus intended Dionysus to be his successor as ruler of the cosmos, but a jealous Hera incited the Titans to kill the child. It is said that he was mocked by the Titans who gave him a thyrsus (a fennel stalk) in place of his rightful scepter. Distracting the infant Dionysus with various toys, including a mirror, the Titans seized Dionysus and tore or cut him to pieces. The pieces were then boiled, roasted, and partially eaten by the Titans. But Athena managed to save Dionysus' heart, by which Zeus was able to contrive his rebirth from Semele.
In some traditions reported by the historian Diodorus Siculus, this "second Dionysus" was the son of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, rather than Persephone. According to Diodorus, when the "Sons of Gaia" (i.e. the Titans) boiled Dionysus following his birth, Demeter gathered together his remains, allowing his second birth. Diodorus noted the symbolism this myth held for its adherents. Dionysus, god of the vine, was born from the gods of the rain and the earth. He was torn apart and boiled by the sons of Gaia, or "earth born", symbolizing the harvesting and wine-making process. Just as the remains of the bare vines are returned to the earth to restore its fruitfulness, the remains of the young Dionysus were returned to Demeter allowing him to be born again.
The oldest sources, including Hesiod's Theogony and the Homeric Hymns (both written c. the 6th century BC), state that Dionysus was born to Zeus, the king of the gods, and the mortal woman Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, king and founder of Thebes. In these accounts, Zeus' wife, Hera, discovered his affair while Semele was pregnant. Appearing as an old crone (or, in some versions, a nurse), Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that Zeus was the father of the baby in her womb. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele's mind. Curious, Semele demanded of Zeus that he reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted, and he agreed. He came to her wreathed in bolts of lightning; mortals, however, could not look upon an undisguised god without dying, and she perished in the ensuing blaze. Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus, however, and after he sewed the infant into his thigh, Dionysus emerged fully-grown a few months later. In this version, Dionysus is borne by two "mothers" (Semele and Zeus) before his birth, hence the epithet dimētōr ("of two mothers") associated with his being "twice-born".
Other versions claim that Zeus recreated him in Semele's womb or that he impregnated Semele by giving her the heart to eat.
According to the myth, Zeus gave the infant Dionysus to the care of Hermes. One version of the story is that Hermes took the boy to King Athamas and his wife Ino, Dionysus' aunt. Hermes bade the couple to raise the boy as a girl, to hide him from Hera's wrath. Another version is that Dionysus was taken to the rain-nymphs of Nysa, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their care Zeus rewarded them by placing them as the Hyades among the stars (see Hyades star cluster). Other versions have Zeus giving him to Rhea, or to Persephone to raise in the Underworld, away from Hera. Alternatively, he was raised by Maro. In yet another version of the myth, he is raised by his cousin Macris on the island of Euboea.
Dionysus in Greek mythology is a god of foreign origin, and while Mount Nysa is a mythological location, it is invariably set far away to the east or to the south. The Homeric Hymn 1 to Dionysus places it "far from Phoenicia, near to the Egyptian stream". Others placed it in Anatolia, or in Libya ("away in the west beside a great ocean"), in Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus).
According to Herodotus:
As it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt; and as for Pan, the Greeks do not know what became of him after his birth. It is therefore plain to me that the Greeks learned the names of these two gods later than the names of all the others, and trace the birth of both to the time when they gained the knowledge.— Herodotus, Histories 2.146.2
When Dionysus grew up, he discovered the culture of the vine and the mode of extracting its precious juice, being the first to do so; but Hera struck him with madness, and drove him forth a wanderer through various parts of the earth. In Phrygia the goddess Cybele, better known to the Greeks as Rhea, cured him and taught him her religious rites, and he set out on a progress through Asia teaching the people the cultivation of the vine. The most famous part of his wanderings is his expedition to India, which is said to have lasted several years. According to a legend, when Alexander the Great reached a city called Nysa near the Indus river, the locals said that their city was founded by Dionysus in the distant past and their city was dedicated to the god Dionysus. These travels took something of the form of military conquests; according to Diodorus Siculus he conquered the whole world except for Britain and Ethiopia. Returning in triumph (he was considered the founder of the triumphal procession) he undertook to introduce his worship into Greece, but was opposed by some princes who dreaded its introduction on account of the disorders and madness it brought with it (e.g. Pentheus or Lycurgus).
Dionysus was exceptionally attractive. The Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysus recounts how, while disguised as a mortal sitting beside the seashore, a few sailors spotted him, believing he was a prince. They attempted to kidnap him and sail him far away to sell for ransom or into slavery. They tried to bind him with ropes, but no type of rope could hold him. Dionysus turned into a fierce lion and unleashed a bear on board, killing those he came into contact with. Those who jumped off the ship were mercifully turned into dolphins. The only survivor was the helmsman, Acoetes, who recognized the god and tried to stop his sailors from the start.
In a similar story, Dionysus desired to sail from Icaria to Naxos. He then hired a Tyrrhenian pirate ship. However, when the god was on board, they sailed not to Naxos but to Asia, intending to sell him as a slave. So Dionysus turned the mast and oars into snakes, and filled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes so that the sailors went mad and, leaping into the sea, were turned into dolphins. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Bacchus begins this story as a young child, found by the pirates, but transforms to a divine adult when on board. Malcolm Bull notes that "It is a measure of Bacchus's ambiguous position in classical mythology that he, unlike the other Olympians, had to use a boat to travel to and from the islands with which he is associated".
Dionysus discovered that his old school master and foster father, Silenus, had gone missing. The old man had been drinking, and had wandered away drunk, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king (alternatively, he passed out in Midas' rose garden). Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus entertained Midas and his friends with stories and songs. On the eleventh day, he brought Silenus back to Dionysus. Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wanted.
Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Dionysus consented, though was sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched and turned to gold an oak twig and a stone. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Then he found that his bread, meat, and wine turned to gold. Later, when his daughter embraced him, she too turned to gold.
Upset, Midas strove to divest himself of his power (the Midas Touch); he hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus. He did so, and when he touched the waters the power passed into them, and the river sands changed into gold. This was an etiological myth that explained why the sands of the Pactolus were rich in gold.
In the play The Bacchae by Euripides, Dionysus returns to his birthplace, Thebes, which is ruled by his cousin Pentheus. Pentheus, his mother Agave, and his aunts Ino and Autonoe do not believe that Dionysus is a son of Zeus. Despite the warnings of the blind prophet Tiresias, they deny him worship; instead, they arraign him for causing madness among the women of Thebes.
Dionysus uses his divine powers to drive Pentheus insane, then invites him to spy on the ecstatic rituals of the Maenads, in the woods of Mount Cithaeron. Pentheus, hoping to witness a sexual orgy, hides himself in a tree. The Maenads spot him; maddened by Dionysus, they take him to be a mountain-dwelling lion, and attack him with their bare hands. Pentheus' aunts, and his mother, Agave, are among them; they rip him limb from limb. Agave mounts his head on a pike, and takes the trophy to her father, Cadmus. The madness passes. Dionysus arrives in his true, divine form, banishes Agave and her sisters, and transforms Cadmus and his wife Harmonia into serpents. Only Tiresias is spared.
When King Lycurgus of Thrace heard that Dionysus was in his kingdom, he imprisoned Dionysus' followers, the Maenads. Dionysus fled and took refuge with Thetis, and sent a drought which stirred the people into revolt. Dionysus then drove King Lycurgus insane and had him slice his own son into pieces with an axe in the belief that he was a patch of ivy, a plant holy to Dionysus. An oracle then claimed that the land would stay dry and barren as long as Lycurgus was alive. His people had him drawn and quartered. Following the death of the king, Dionysus lifted the curse. This story is told in Homer's epic, Iliad 6.136-7. In an alternative version, sometimes shown in art, Lycurgus tries to kill Ambrosia, a follower of Dionysus, who was transformed into a vine that twined around the enraged king and restrained him, eventually killing him.
Dionysus descended to the underworld (Hades) to rescue his mother Semele, whom he had not seen since his birth, making the descent by way of a reputedly bottomless pool on the coast of the Argolid near the prehistoric site of Lerna, and bypassing Thanatos, the god of death. According to Clement of Alexandria, Dionysus was guided by Prosymnus or Polymnus, who requested, as his reward, to be Dionysus' lover. Dionysus returned Semele to Mount Olympus; but Prosymnus died before Dionysus could honor his pledge, so in order to satisfy Prosymnus' shade, Dionysus fashioned a phallus from an olive branch and sat on it at Prosymnus' tomb. This story survives in full only in Christian sources whose aim was to discredit pagan mythology. It appears to have served to explain the secret objects of the Dionysian Mysteries.
...not so will the Grape-gatherer escape thee. The origin of that constellation also can be briefly told. 'Tis said that the unshorn Ampelus, son of a nymph and a satyr, was loved by Bacchus on the Ismarian hills. Upon him the god bestowed a vine that trailed from an elm's leafy boughs, and still the vine takes from the boy its name. While he rashly culled the gaudy grapes upon a branch, he tumbled down; Liber bore the lost youth to the stars."
Another story of Ampelus was related by Nonnus: in an accident foreseen by Dionysus, the youth was killed while riding a bull maddened by the sting of a gadfly sent by Atë, the Goddess of Folly. The Fates granted Ampelus a second life as a vine, from which Dionysus squeezed the first wine.
Young Dionysus was also said to have been one of the many famous pupils of the centaur Chiron. According to Ptolemy Chennus in the Library of Photius, "Dionysus was loved by Chiron, from whom he learned chants and dances, the bacchic rites and initiations."
When Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, Dionysus found and married her. She bore him a son named Oenopion, but he committed suicide or was killed by Perseus. In some variants, he had her crown put into the heavens as the constellation Corona; in others, he descended into Hades to restore her to the gods on Olympus. Another different account claims Dionysus ordered Theseus to abandon Ariadne on the island of Naxos for he had seen her as Theseus carried her onto the ship and had decided to marry her.
A third descent by Dionysus to Hades is invented by Aristophanes in his comedy The Frogs. Dionysus, as patron of the Athenian dramatic festival, the Dionysia, wants to bring back to life one of the great tragedians. After a competition Aeschylus is chosen in preference to Euripides.
Psalacantha, a nymph, failed at winning the love of Dionysus as his main love interest at the moment was Ariadne, and ended up being changed into a plant.
Callirrhoe was a Calydonian woman who scorned Coresus, a priest of Dionysus, who threatened to afflict all the women of Calydon with insanity (see Maenad). The priest was ordered to sacrifice Callirhoe but he killed himself instead. Callirhoe threw herself into a well which was later named after her.
|Aphrodite||• Hymenaios||Alexirrhoe||• Carmanor|
|• Iacchus||Alphesiboea||• Medus|
|• Priapus||• Phthonus|
|• Charites (Graces)||Althaea||• Deianira|
|1. Euphrosyne||Araethyrea||• Phlias|
|3. Thalia||Carya||no known offspring|
|Ariadne||• Ceramus||Chione||• Priapus (possibly)|
|• Enyeus||Circe||• Comus|
|• Euanthes||Cronois||• Charites (Graces)|
|• Eurymedon||1. Euphrosyne|
|• Latramys||2. Pasithea|
|• Maron||3. Thalia|
|• Oenopion||Nicaea||• Telete|
|• Phanus||Pallene||no known offspring|
|• Peparethus||Percote||• Priapus (possibly)|
|• Phlias||Physcoa||• Narcaeus|
|• Staphylus||Unnamed woman||• Methe|
|• Tauropolis||Unnamed woman||• Sabazios|
|• Thoas||Unnamed woman||• Thysa|
|• twin of Iacchus|
The god, and still more often his followers, were commonly depicted in the painted pottery of Ancient Greece, much of which was vessels for wine. But, apart from some reliefs of maenads, Dionysian subjects rarely appeared in large sculpture before the Hellenistic period, when they became common. In these, the treatment of the god himself ranged from severe archaising or Neo Attic types such as the Dionysus Sardanapalus to types showing him as an indolent and androgynous young man, often nude. Hermes and the Infant Dionysus is probably a Greek original in marble, and the Ludovisi Dionysus group is probably a Roman original of the 2nd century AD. Well-known Hellenistic sculptures of Dionysian subjects, surviving in Roman copies, include the Barberini Faun, the Belvedere Torso, the Resting Satyr. The Furietti Centaurs and Sleeping Hermaphroditus reflect related subjects, which had by this time become drawn into the Dionysian orbit. The marble Dancer of Pergamon is an original, as is the bronze Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo, a recent recovery from the sea.
The Dionysian world by the Hellenistic period is a hedonistic but safe pastoral into which other semi-divine creatures of the countryside such as centaurs, nymphs, and the god Pan and Hermaphrodite have been co-opted. Nymphs by this stage "means simply an ideal female of the Dionysian outdoors, a non-wild bacchant". Hellenistic sculpture also includes for the first time large genre subjects of children and peasant, many of whom carry Dionysian attributes such as ivy wreaths, and "most should be seen as part of his realm. They have in common with satyrs and nymphs that they are creatures of the outdoors and are without true personal identity." The 4th-century BC Derveni Krater, the unique survival of a very large scale Classical or Hellenistic metal vessel of top quality, depicts Dionysus and his followers.
Dionysus appealed to the Hellenistic monarchies for a number of reasons, apart from merely being a god of pleasure: He was a human who became divine, he came from, and had conquered, the East, exemplified a lifestyle of display and magnificence with his mortal followers, and was often regarded as an ancestor. He continued to appeal to the rich of Imperial Rome, who populated their gardens with Dionysian sculpture, and by the 2nd century AD were often buried in sarcophagi carved with crowded scenes of Bacchus and his entourage.
The 4th-century AD Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum is a spectacular cage cup which changes colour when light comes through the glass; it shows the bound King Lycurgus being taunted by the god and attacked by a satyr; this may have been used for celebration of Dionysian mysteries. Elizabeth Kessler has theorized that a mosaic appearing on the triclinium floor of the House of Aion in Nea Paphos, Cyprus, details a monotheistic worship of Dionysus. In the mosaic, other gods appear but may only be lesser representations of the centrally imposed Dionysus. The mid-Byzantine Veroli Casket shows the tradition lingering in Constantinople around 1000 AD, but probably not very well understood.
Bacchic subjects in art resumed in the Italian Renaissance, and soon became almost as popular as in antiquity, but his "strong association with feminine spirituality and power almost disappeared", as did "the idea that the destructive and creative powers of the god were indissolubly linked". In Michelangelo's statue (1496–97) "madness has become merriment". The statue aspires to suggest both drunken incapacity and an elevated consciousness, but this was perhaps lost on later viewers, and typically the two aspects were thereafter split, with a clearly drunk Silenus representing the former, and a youthful Bacchus often shown with wings, because he carries the mind to higher places.
Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1522–23) and The Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523–26), both painted for the same room, offer an influential heroic pastoral, while Diego Velázquez in The Triumph of Bacchus (or Los borrachos – "the drinkers", c. 1629) and Jusepe de Ribera in his Drunken Silenus choose a genre realism. Flemish Baroque painting frequently painted the Bacchic followers, as in Van Dyck's Drunken Silenus and many works by Rubens; Poussin was another regular painter of Bacchic scenes.
A common theme in art beginning in the 16th century was the depiction of Bacchus and Ceres caring for a representation of love – often Venus, Cupid, or Amore. This tradition derived from a quotation by the Roman comedian Terence (c. 195/185 – c. 159 BC) which became a popular proverb in the Early Modern period: Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus ("without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus freezes"). Its simplest level of meaning is that love needs food and wine to thrive. Artwork based on this saying was popular during the period 1550–1630, especially in Northern Mannerism in Prague and the Low Countries, as well as by Rubens. Because of his association with the vine harvest, Bacchus became the god of autumn, and he and his followers were often shown in sets depicting the seasons.
Dionysus has remained an inspiration to artists, philosophers and writers into the modern era. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872), the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proposed that a tension between Apollonian and Dionysian aesthetic principles underlay the development of Greek tragedy; Dionysus represented what was unrestrained chaotic and irrational, while Apollo represented the rational and ordered. Nietzsche claimed that the oldest forms of Greek Tragedy were entirely based on suffering of Dionysus. In Nietzsche's 1886 work Beyond Good and Evil, and later works The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist and Ecce Homo, Dionysus is conceived as the embodiment of the unrestrained will to power.
In The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God (1904), and Dionysus and Early Dionysianism (1921), the poet Vyacheslav Ivanov elaborates the theory of Dionysianism, tracing the origins of literature, and tragedy in particular, to ancient Dionysian mysteries. Karl Kerényi characterizes Dionysus as representative of the psychological life force (Greek Zoê). Other psychological interpretations place Dionysus' emotionality in the foreground, focusing on the joy, terror or hysteria associated with the god. Sigmund Freud specified that his ashes should be kept in an Ancient Greek vase painted with Dionysian scenes from his collection, which remains on display at Golders Green Crematorium in London.
In CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (part of The Chronicles of Narnia), Bacchus is a dangerous-looking, androgynous young boy who helps Aslan awaken the spirits of the Narnian trees and rivers. Rick Riordan's series of books Percy Jackson & The Olympians presents Dionysus as an uncaring, childish and spoiled god. In the novel Household Gods by Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr, Nicole Gunther-Perrin is a lawyer in the 20th century. She makes a libation to Liber and Libera, Roman equivalents of Dionysus and Persephone, and is transported back in time to ancient Rome. In The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a group of classics students reflect on reviving the worship of Dionysus during their time in college.
Walt Disney depicted Bacchus in the "Pastoral" segment of the animated film Fantasia, as a Silenus-like character. In 1969, an adaption of The Bacchae was performed, called Dionysus in '69. A film was made of the same performance. The production was notable for involving audience participation, nudity, and theatrical innovations. In 1974, Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove adapted Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs into a modern musical, which hit broadway in 2004 and was revived in London in 2017. The musical keeps the descent of Dionysus into Hades to bring back a playwright; however, the playwrights are updated to modern times, and Dionysus is forced to choose between George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare.
In 2018, the Australian musical project Dead Can Dance released an album entitled Dionysus. Musician Brendan Perry described the inspiration for the album as a trance-like, "Dionysian" experience he had at a festival during a trip to rural Spain. "It's the spring festivals like that one where you see the real remnants of Dionysian festivals. They're all over the Mediterranean in remote places where Christian influence hasn't been as great. ... People wear masks and dance in circles almost like time has stood still in their celebrations." Perry chose to employ Mediterranean folk instruments that mimic natural sounds in addition to a vocal chorus, in order to evoke the atmosphere of an ancient festival.
Numerous scholars have compared narratives surrounding the Christian figure of Jesus with those associated with Dionysus.
Some scholars of comparative mythology identify both Dionysus and Jesus with the dying-and-returning god mythological archetype. On the other hand, it has been noted that the details of Dionysus' death and rebirth are starkly different both in content and symbolism from Jesus. The two stories take place in very different historical and geographic contexts. Also, the manner of death is different; in the most common myth, Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by the titans, but "eventually restored to a new life" from the heart that was left over.
Another parallel can be seen in The Bacchae where Dionysus appears before King Pentheus on charges of claiming divinity, which is compared to the New Testament scene of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate. However, a number of scholars dispute this parallel, since the confrontation between Dionysus and Pentheus ends with Pentheus dying, torn into pieces by the mad women, whereas the trial of Jesus ends with him being sentenced to death. The discrepancies between the two stories, including their resolutions, have led many scholars to regard the Dionysus story as radically different from the one about Jesus, except for the parallel of the arrest, which is a detail that appears in many biographies as well.
Other elements, such as the celebration by a ritual meal of bread and wine, also have parallels. The omophagia was the Dionysian act of eating raw flesh and drinking wine to consume the god. Within Orphism, it was believed that consuming the meat and wine was symbolic of the Titans eating the flesh (meat) and blood (wine) of Dionysus and that, by participating in the omophagia, Dionysus' followers could achieve communion with the god. Powell, in particular, argues that precursors to the Catholic notion of transubstantiation can be found in Dionysian religion.
E. Kessler has argued that the Dionysian cult developed into strict monotheism by the 4th century AD; together with Mithraism and other sects, the cult formed an instance of "pagan monotheism" in direct competition with Early Christianity during Late Antiquity. Scholars from the 16th century onwards, especially Gerard Vossius, also discussed the parallels between the biographies of Dionysus/Bacchus and Moses (Vossius named his sons Dionysius and Isaac). Such comparisons surface in details of paintings by Poussin.
Tacitus, John the Lydian, and Cornelius Labeo all identify Yahweh with the Greek god Dionysus. Jews themselves frequently used symbols that were also associated with Dionysus such as kylixes, amphorae, leaves of ivy, and clusters of grapes. In his Quaestiones Convivales, the Greek writer Plutarch of Chaeronea writes that the Jews hail their god with cries of "Euoi" and "Sabi", phrases associated with the worship of Dionysus. According to Sean M. McDonough, Greek-speakers may have confused Aramaic words such as Sabbath, Alleluia, or even possibly some variant of the name Yahweh itself for more familiar terms associated with Dionysus.
The identification of Hades and Dionysus does not seem to be a particular doctrine of Herakleitos, nor does it commit him to monotheism. The evidence for a cult connection between the two is quite extensive, particularly in Southern Italy, and the Dionysiac mysteries are associated with death rituals.
Antiochus VI Dionysus (c. 148–142/1 BC), king of the Hellenistic Seleucid kingdom, was the son of Alexander Balas and Cleopatra Thea, daughter of Ptolemy VI of Egypt.Apollonian and Dionysian
The Apollonian and Dionysian is a philosophical and literary concept and dichotomy/dialectic, based on Apollo and Dionysus in Greek mythology. Some Western philosophical and literary figures have invoked this dichotomy in critical and creative works, most notably Friedrich Nietzsche and later followers.
In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of the sun, of rational thinking and order, and appeals to logic, prudence and purity. Dionysus is the god of wine and dance, of irrationality and chaos, and appeals to emotions and instincts. The Ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods to be opposites or rivals, although often the 2 deities were entwined by nature.Ariadne
Ariadne (; Greek: Ἀριάδνη; Latin: Ariadne), in Greek mythology, was a Cretan princess. She is mostly associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus.Dionysia
The Dionysia () was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia. The Dionysia actually consisted of two related festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the City Dionysia, which took place in different parts of the year. They were also an essential part of the Dionysian Mysteries.Dionysiaca
The Dionysiaca (Greek: Διονυσιακά, Dionysiaká) is an ancient Greek epic poem and the principal work of Nonnus. It is an epic in 48 books, the longest surviving poem from antiquity at 20,426 lines, composed in Homeric dialect and dactylic hexameters, the main subject of which is the life of Dionysus, his expedition to India, and his triumphant return to the west.Dionysian Mysteries
The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which sometimes used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state. It also provided some liberation for those marginalized by Greek society: women, slaves, outlaws, and non-citizens. In their final phase the Mysteries shifted their emphasis from a chthonic, underworld orientation to a transcendental, mystical one, with Dionysus changing his nature accordingly. By its nature as a mystery religion reserved for the initiated, many aspects of the Dionysian cult remain unknown and were lost with the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism; modern knowledge is derived from descriptions, imagery and cross-cultural studies.Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Greek: Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνασσεύς, Dionúsios Alexándrou Halikarnasseús, "Dionysios son of Alexandros of Halikarnassos"; c. 60 BC – after 7 BC) was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Atticistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.
Dionysius' opinion of the necessity of a promotion of paideia within education, from true knowledge of Classical sources, endured for centuries in a form integral to the identity of the Greek elite.Dying-and-rising deity
A dying-and-rising, death-rebirth, or resurrection deity is a religious motif in which a god or goddess dies and is resurrected.
"Death or departure of the gods" is motif A192 in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1932), while "resurrection of gods" is motif A193.Examples of gods who die and later return to life are most often cited from the religions of the Ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them include Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and by extension Christianity.
The concept of a dying-and-rising god was first proposed in comparative mythology by James Frazer's seminal The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer associated the motif with fertility rites surrounding the yearly cycle of vegetation. Frazer cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and Jesus Christ.Frazer's interpretation of the category has been critically discussed in 20th-century scholarship, to the conclusion that many examples from the world's mythologies included under "dying and rising" should only be considered "dying" but not "rising", and that the genuine dying-and-rising god is a characteristic feature of Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and the derived mystery cults of Late Antiquity.Hades
Hades (; Greek: ᾍδης Hádēs; Ἅιδης Háidēs), in the ancient Greek religion and myth, is the god of the dead and the king of the underworld, with which his name became synonymous. Hades was the eldest son of Cronus and Rhea, although the last son regurgitated by his father. He and his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, defeated their father's generation of gods, the Titans, and claimed rulership over the cosmos. Hades received the underworld, Zeus the sky, and Poseidon the sea, with the solid earth, long the province of Gaia, available to all three concurrently. Hades was often portrayed with his three-headed guard dog Cerberus.
The Etruscan god Aita and the Roman gods Dis Pater and Orcus were eventually taken as equivalent to Hades and merged into Pluto, a Latinization of Plouton (Greek: Πλούτων, Ploútōn), itself a euphemistic title often given to Hades.Homeric Hymns
The Homeric Hymns (Greek: Ομηρικοί Ύμνοι, Homērikoi Hymnoi) are a collection of thirty-three anonymous ancient Greek hymns celebrating individual gods. The hymns are "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter—dactylic hexameter—as the Iliad and Odyssey, use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect. They were uncritically attributed to Homer himself in antiquity—from the earliest written reference to them, Thucydides (iii.104)—and the label has stuck. "The whole collection, as a collection, is Homeric in the only useful sense that can be put upon the word," A. W. Verrall noted in 1894, "that is to say, it has come down labeled as 'Homer' from the earliest times of Greek book-literature."Lenaia
The Lenaia (Ancient Greek: Λήναια) was an annual Athenian festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysus Lenaios."Lenaia" probably comes from "lenos" 'wine-press' or from "lenai", another name for the Maenads (the female worshippers of Dionysus).Maenad
In Greek mythology, maenads (; Ancient Greek: μαϊνάδες [maiˈnades]) were the female followers of Dionysus and the most significant members of the Thiasus, the god's retinue. Their name literally translates as "raving ones". Maenads were known as Bassarids, Bacchae , or Bacchantes in Roman mythology after the penchant of the equivalent Roman god, Bacchus, to wear a bassaris or fox skin.
Often the maenads were portrayed as inspired by Dionysus into a state of ecstatic frenzy through a combination of dancing and intoxication. During these rites, the maenads would dress in fawn skins and carry a thyrsus, a long stick wrapped in ivy or vine leaves and tipped with a pine cone. They would weave ivy-wreaths around their heads or wear a bull helmet in honor of their god, and often handle or wear snakes.These women were mythologized as the "mad women" who were nurses of Dionysus in Nysa. Lycurgus "chased the Nurses of the frenzied Dionysus through the holy hills of Nysa, and the sacred implements dropped to the ground from the hands of one and all, as the murderous Lycurgus struck them down with his ox-goad". They went into the mountains at night and practiced strange rites.According to Plutarch's Life of Alexander, maenads were called Mimallones and Klodones in Macedon, epithets derived from the feminine art of spinning wool. Nevertheless, these warlike parthenoi ("virgins") from the hills, associated with a Dionysios pseudanor "fake male Dionysus", routed an invading enemy. In southern Greece they were described with Bacchae, Bassarides, Thyiades, Potniades, and other epithets.The term maenad has come to be associated with a wide variety of women, supernatural, mythological, and historical, associated with the god Dionysus and his worship.
In Euripides' play The Bacchae, maenads of Thebes murder King Pentheus after he bans the worship of Dionysus. Dionysus, Pentheus' cousin, himself lures Pentheus to the woods, where the maenads tear him apart. His corpse is mutilated by his own mother, Agave, who tears off his head, believing it to be that of a lion. A group of maenads also kill Orpheus.In ceramic art, the frolicking of Maenads and Dionysus is often a theme depicted on kraters, used to mix water and wine. These scenes show the maenads in their frenzy running in the forests, often tearing to pieces any animal they happen to come across.
German philologist Walter Friedrich Otto writes:
The Bacchae of Euripides gives us the most vital picture of the wonderful circumstance in which, as Plato says in the Ion, the god-intoxicated celebrants draw milk and honey from the streams. They strike rocks with the thyrsus, and water gushes forth. They lower the thyrsus to the earth, and a spring of wine bubbles up. If they want milk, they scratch up the ground with their fingers and draw up the milky fluid. Honey trickles down from the thyrsus made of the wood of the ivy, they gird themselves with snakes and give suck to fawns and wolf cubs as if they were infants at the breast. Fire does not burn them. No weapon of iron can wound them, and the snakes harmlessly lick up the sweat from their heated cheeks. Fierce bulls fall to the ground, victims to numberless, tearing female hands, and sturdy trees are torn up by the roots with their combined efforts.Olympians (Marvel Comics)
The Olympians are a fictional species appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. These characters are based loosely on the Twelve Olympians and other deities of Greek mythology. During the beginning of the 1960s, the exploits of the Asgardians Thor and his evil brother Loki demonstrated that an updating of ancient myths could again win readers. In 1965, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the Olympians in Journey into Mystery Annual #1.Orphism (religion)
Orphism (more rarely Orphicism; Ancient Greek: Ὀρφικά) is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices originating in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic world, as well as from the Thracians, associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into the Greek underworld and returned. Orphics also revered Persephone (who annually descended into the Underworld for a season and then returned) and Dionysus or Bacchus (who also descended into the Underworld and returned). Orpheus was said to have invented the Mysteries of Dionysus. Poetry containing distinctly Orphic beliefs has been traced back to the 6th century BC or at least 5th century BC, and graffiti of the 5th century BC apparently refers to "Orphics".Classical sources, such as Plato, refer to "Orpheus-initiators" (Ὀρφεοτελεσταί), and associated rites, although how far "Orphic" literature in general related to these rites is not certain. As in the Eleusinian mysteries, initiation into Orphic mysteries promised advantages in the afterlife.Semele
Semele (; Greek: Σεμέλη Semelē), in Greek mythology, was the youngest daughter of the Boeotian hero Cadmus and Harmonia, and the mother of Dionysus by Zeus in one of his many origin myths.
Certain elements of the cult of Dionysus and Semele came from the Phrygians. These were modified, expanded and elaborated by the Ionian Greek invaders and colonists. Herodotus, who gives the account of Cadmus, estimates that Semele lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BCE. In Rome, the goddess Stimula was identified as Semele.Teos
Teos (Ancient Greek: Τέως) or Teo was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, on a peninsula between Chytrium and Myonnesus. It was founded by Minyans from Orchomenus, Ionians and Boeotians, but the date of its foundation is unknown. Teos was one of the twelve cities which formed the Ionian League. The city was situated on a low hilly isthmus. Its ruins are located to the south of the modern town Sığacık in the Seferihisar district of Izmir Province, Turkey.The Bacchae
The Bacchae (; Greek: Βάκχαι, Bakchai; also known as The Bacchantes ) is an ancient Greek tragedy, written by the Athenian playwright Euripides during his final years in Macedonia, at the court of Archelaus I of Macedon. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC as part of a tetralogy that also included Iphigeneia at Aulis and Alcmaeon in Corinth, and which Euripides' son or nephew is assumed to have directed. It won first prize in the City Dionysia festival competition.
The tragedy is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus (who is Pentheus's cousin). The god Dionysus appears at the beginning of the play and proclaims that he has arrived in Thebes to avenge the slander, which has been repeated by his aunts, that he is not the son of Zeus. In response, he intends to introduce Dionysian rites into the city, and he intends to demonstrate to the king, Pentheus, and to Thebes that he was indeed born a god. At the end of the play, Pentheus is torn apart by the women of Thebes and his mother Agave bears his head on a pike to her father Cadmus.The Bacchae is considered to be not only one of Euripides's greatest tragedies, but also one of the greatest ever written, modern or ancient. The Bacchae is distinctive for the facts that the chorus is integrated into the plot and the god is not a distant presence, but a character in the play, indeed, the protagonist.Theatre of Dionysus
The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is a major theatre in Athens, considered to be the world's first theatre, built at the foot of the Athenian Acropolis. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine (among other things), the theatre could seat as many as 17,000 people with excellent acoustics, making it an ideal location for ancient Athens' biggest theatrical celebration, the Dionysia. It was the first theatre ever built, cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, and supposedly the birthplace of Greek tragedy. The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen at the site today. It is sometimes confused with the later, smaller, and better-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, located nearby on the southwest slope of the Acropolis.
The site has been used as a theatre since the sixth century BC. The existing structure dates back to the fourth century BC but it has had many other later remodellings.
On November 24, 2009 the Greek government announced that they would partially restore the Theatre of Dionysus.
|Dionysus' family tree|
Greek deities series
|Classical religious forms|
and sacred mysteries
|Rites and practices|
|Modern offshoot religions|
|Modern popular culture|
Wars with the