Dionysus was the god of the vine. He invented wine and spread the art of tendinggrapes. He had a dual nature. On one hand, he brought joy and divine ecstasy.
Onthe other hand, he brought brutality, thoughtlessness and rage. This reflectedboth sides of wine’s nature. If he chooses, Dionysus can drive a man mad. Nonormal fetters can hold him or his followers. Dionysus was the son of Zeus andSemele.
He was the only god to have a mortal parent. Zeus came to Semele in thenight, invisible, felt only as a divine presence. Semele was pleased to be alover of a god, even though she did not know which one. Word soon got around andHera quickly realized who was responsible.Order now
Hera went to Semele in disguise andconvinced her she should see her lover as he really was. When Zeus next came toher, she made him promise to grant her one wish. She went so far as to make himswear on the River Styx that he would grant her request. Zeus was madly in loveand agreed. She then asked him to show her his true form.
Zeus, was unhappy, andknew what would happen but, having sworn he had no choice. He appeared in histrue form and Semele was instantly burnt to death by the sight of his glory. Zeus did manage to rescue Dionysus and stitched him into his thigh to hold himuntil he was ready to be born. His birth from Zeus alone conferred immortalityupon him. Dionysus’ problems with Hera were not yet over.
She was still jealousand arranged for the Titans to kill him. The Titans ripped him into pieces. However, Rhea brought him back to life. After this, Zeus arranged for hisprotection and turned him over to the mountain nymphs to be raised. Dionysuswandered the world actively encouraging his cult. He was accompanied by theMaenads, wild women, flush with wine, shoulders draped with a fawn skin,carrying rods tipped with pine cones.
While other gods had temples, thefollowers of Dionysus worshipped him in the woods. Here, they might go into madstates where they would rip apart and eat raw any animal they came upon. Dionysus was also one of the very few that was able to bring a dead person outof the underworld. Even though he had never seen Semele, he was concerned forher. Eventually he journeyed into the underworld to find her. He faced downThanatos (Death) and brought her back to Mount Olympus.
Dionysus became one ofthe most important gods in everyday life. He became associated with several keyconcepts. One was rebirth after death. Here his dismemberment by the Titans andreturn to life is symbolically echoed in tending vines, where the vines must bepruned back sharply, and then become dormant in winter for them to bear fruit.
The other is the idea that under the influence of wine, one could feel possessedby a greater power. Unlike the other gods, Dionysus was not only outside hisbelievers but, also within them. At these times, a man might be greater thenhimself and do works he otherwise could not. The festival for Dionysus is in thespring when the leaves begin to reappear on the vine. It became one of the mostimportant events of the year.
Its focus became the theater. Most of the greatGreek plays were initially written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus. Those who took part, including writers, actors and spectators, were regarded assacred servants of Dionysus during the festival. This is a god who givespleasure to mankind: he discovered honey and the vine and its cultivation.
Butsome say that it was Aristaeus who discovered honey and that he competed withhis honey against the wine of Dionysus but Zeus gave the first prize to thewine. Some say that Oeneus, king of Calydon, was the first to receive avine-plant from Dionysus. Dionysus formed the women (MAENADS) into an army andmade a campaign over all the inhabited world. Dionysus is also known because ofhis Indian campaign. He also instructed all men in the knowledge of his rites,but he punished severely those who opposed him (like Lycurgus and Pentheus). Hewas attended by SATYRS, MAENADS and others.
Semele was a daughter of Cadmus andHarmonia. Zeus fell in love with Semele and consorted with her. But Hera wasjealous, and in order to delude Semele, Hera took the shape of Beroe, Semele’snurse, and told Semele to ask Zeus to come to her as he comes to Hera, so thatshe would know what pleasure it is to sleep with a god. At her suggestion Semelemade this request to Zeus and was smitten by a thunderbolt.
Later Dionysusbrought up his mother from Hades, named her Thyone, ascended with her to heavenand there she was made immortal by Zeus. After Semele’s death Zeus carried theunborn child in his thigh. When the child was born Zeus brought him to Nysa inArabia where the boy was reared by NYMPHS. But it is also said that Hermesentrusted Dionysus to Athamas and Ino, and persuaded them to rear him as a girl. But Hera (or Tisiphone) drove them mad, and Athamas hunted his elder sonLearchus as a deer and killed him.
The CORYBANTES are also named as guardians ofDionysus in his growing days. The HYADES are sometimes said to have been thenurses of Dionysus and to have been put to flight by Lycurgus, king of theEdonians (Thrace) or the Arabians, who was the first to expel Dionysus. Or else,river NYMPHS (NYMPHS LAMUSIDES), took care of the child Dionysus, but they weremaddened by Hera. Hera hated him so much that she promised Artemis to the giantAlcyoneus if he would fight against Dionysus. And to the giant Chthonius shepromised Aphrodite if he would do the same thing. Hera incited also the giantPeloreus against Dionysus and to the giant Porphyrion she promised Hebe as hiswife if he would fight Dionysus.
Hera drove Dionysus mad and when Dionysus wasafflicted with madness he came to a large swamp which he could not cross. He wasthen met by two Asses and one of them carried him across the water so that hecould reach a temple of Zeus. When Dionysus came to the temple he was freed atonce from his madness and, feeling gratitude for the Asses he put them among thestars (Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis in Cancer) and gave human voice tothe Ass which had carried him. This Ass is said to be the saddle-ass of Silenus,a Satyr adviser and instructor of Dionysus. He came to Cybela in Phrygia whereRhea, the mother of the gods, purified him and taught him the rites ofinitiation. He then came to Thrace where Lycurgus was king of the Edonians, wholived beside the river Strymon.
This Lycurgus was the first to insult Dionysusand expel him. Dionysus learned of the plot of Lycurgus against him from Charops,the grandfather of Orpheus, and he conquered the Thracians in a battle andkilled Lycurgus, or else Lycurgus was maddened by the god and killed himself. Thereupon, out of gratitude to Charops for his aid, Dionysus made over to himthe kingdom of the Thracians and instructed him in the secret rites connectedwith the initiations. Later the son of Charops took over both the kingdom andthe initiatory rites. It is also said that when Dionysus was persecuted byLycurgus he took refuge in the sea with Thetis the Nereid, while the MAENADSwere taken prisoners together with the SATYRS that attended him. But when theMAENADS were released, and Dionysus drove Lycurgus mad, the latter struck hisson dead with an axe, imagining that he was lopping a branch of a vine, andhaving cut off his son’s extremities, he recovered his mind.
Others say thatLycurgus was almost killed by the MAENADS but was saved by Hera and madeimmortal, but first he was driven mad by Zeus so that no other man should be asproud as he. It is also told that the Edonians themselves bound him to horseswhich rent him in pieces, because they believed Dionysus who had said that theland would not bear fruit until Lycurgus was put to death. When Dionysus came toThebes, he forced the women to abandon their houses and rave in Bacchic frenzyon Cithaeron. King Pentheus attempted to put a stop to these proceedings, but hewas torn limb from limb by his mother, who believed him to be a wild beast, orby the MAENADS.
After Thebes Dionysus came to Argos, and because they did notwish to honor him, he drove the women mad, and they devoured the infants whomthey carried at their breasts to the mountains. On another occasion Dionysusdesired to sail from Icaria to Naxos. He then hired a Tyrrhenian pirate ship. But when Dionysus was on board, they sailed not to Naxos but to Asia, intendingto sell him as a slave. So Dionysus turned the mast and oars into snakes, andfilled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes so that the SAILORS went mad,and leaping into the sea, were turned into dolphins. Others say Dionysus came onboard when these SAILORS, having leapt ashore, captured him, stripped him of hispossessions and tied him with ropes.
When Theseus came to Crete, Ariadne, beingamorously disposed to him, offered to help him if he would agree to carry heraway to Athens and have her to wife. Theseus having agreed on oath to do so, sheasked Daedalus to disclose the way out of the labyrinth. And at his suggestionshe gave Theseus a clue when he went in. And having found the Minotaur he killedhim; and drawing the clue after him made his way out again. And by night hearrived with Ariadne at Naxos.
There Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne andcarried her off, when deserted by Theseus. He brought her to Lemnos and thereshe had children by him. Some say she had children by Theseus as well. Ariadne’sfinal fate is most uncertain. Some say that she was killed by Artemis, forsomething that Dionysus told the goddess. Others say that she was turned intostone when Perseus shook in front of her the face of Medusa.
Still others saythat she hung herself because she was abandoned by Theseus. It is also told thatTheseus and Ariadne, coming from Crete, were driven out of their course by astorm to Cyprus. Ariadne was big with child and Theseus set her on shore alone,while he was borne out to sea again by the storm. Ariadne was taken into thecare of the Cyprian women, who helped her during the pangs of travail, and gaveher burial when she died before her child was born.
Yet others say that Ariadnewas made immortal by Zeus and that Dionysus set the Crown among the stars as amemorial of the dead Ariadne. Aura, a Phrygian huntress unacquainted with love,daughter of the Titan Lelantus and the Oceanid Periboea, was ravished byDionysus while asleep. She had twins but killed one of the children and indespair she threw herself into the river Sangarius and was transformed into afountain by Zeus. Nicaea was a huntress and nymph of Astacia with whom Hymnusfell in love. She grew angry and killed him as he was declaring his love forher.
However later, having drunk wine, she fell asleep and Dionysus seduced her.