Myths and Creatures of the Past: Dionysus

23 02 2010

Dionysus – Greek God of Wine

Scholars argue that the myths of Dionysus were the most influential with respect to poetry and religious imagination and creativity. It was Dionysus who taught the art of turning grape juices into wine. The gods jurisdiction did not end with wine, however, his responsibilities encompassed the principle of fertility as well (it might also be pertinent to mention that Zeus was his father).

Dionysus was born out of wedlock, his mother (Semele, princess of the house of Thebes) being a mortal with whom Zeus was infatuated. Hera, Zeus’ wife – as with most of the women whom Zeus had adulterous affairs with – used her cunning to trick Zeus into killing Dionysus’ mother when he showed his true form to her.

Dionysus is often referred to as the twice-born god, the story behind this being that Zeus stitched Dionysus’ fetus into his thigh after Semele was killed. The god of wine was then reborn about three months later. To protect Dionysus from Hera’s jealous ploys, he entrusted Dionysus to the nymphs of Nysa where Dionysus “discovered the vine and the art of making wine” (p. 257,Classical Myth).

Dionysus was followed by male and female followers called maenads and satyrs. He traveled in a chariot drawn by panthers. Another interesting part of Dionysus’ myth was how it was he who was responsible for King Midas’ demise. King Midas was the man who greedily wished that everything he touched be turned to gold. As is standard with Greek myths, the mortal ended up getting screwed after faulting with his foolish nature and even his food and drink turned to gold. All of this took place before Dionysus was immortal or even considered a god.

One of his final journeys involved venturing down into the underworld in an attempt to rescue his mother from Hades’ realm. He did such successfully and even managed to help her transform into a goddess herself as they joined the rest of the Olympians in the sky.

Greek theater and culture was heavily impacted by Dionysus. “Many of the best-known Greek myths are preserved as the plots of tragedies performed in [Dionysus’] honor. Beginning in the sixth century BC, tragedies were performed at spring festivals of Dionysus in Athens…Some elements in Greek drama seem to be traceable to the cult of Dionysus, in whose honor the festivals were held” (p.280-281, Classical Myth). A great majority of the Greek plays we read today were written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus.

I feel like this entry was too dry and informational, maybe I’ll look for some interesting stories on Dionysus and update, because I know they’re out there.


Myths and Creatures of the Past: Minotaurs

1 02 2010


I thought it fitting that I begin with the minotaur, which was one of the first creatures from Greek mythology I was exposed to. Some of you might be familiar with the creatures somewhat disturbing origins. Then again, fewer and fewer things evoke disgust these days, so maybe not.

To be concise, there once was a king by the name of Minos who was contending with his brothers for the rule of Crete. Poseidon sent him a white bull from the sea. Minos had promised the god of the seas (and horses and earthquakes) that he would sacrifice the animal but grew greedy and used a different bull from his herd. Unsurprisingly, Poseidon figured it out and grew angry – as the Greek gods and goddesses were quick to do – and basically cursed Minos’ wife by making her fall  truly, madly, deeply in love with it. Basically, she tricked the bull into mating with her.

Their offspring (science and the restrictions to reproduction can just shut up) was a monstrous beast: THE MINOTAUR!

With the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull, you can imagine the reaction it drew from the people of Crete as it wrought chaos and destruction on the small island.

If you want to read more on the creature and his Greek adversary, Theseus, click on this link.

I remember reading a whole series of fantasy books which took place from a Minotaur’s perspective which I thoroughly enjoyed. The series was called The Minotaur Wars byRichard A. Knaak. I read them awhile ago though, so I couldn’t tell you what age I recommend them for, though I was at least thirteen.

See if this aligns with your view of what these creatures looked like:

Some creative writing (criticism welcome):

It took him no time to crest the hill, his muscular legs pounding away at the ground in complete sync with those of his warrior brothers. Without pause, he pushed forward, unslinging his heavy axe as he ran towards the human ranks ahead. He silently praised the brilliant innovator who had come up with the coverings for their hooves. This invention, tailored specifically to the needs of their current undertaking, would forever change his people’s warring abilities. What he and his unit were doing was in complete breach of the treaty his king had made with the human leaders many moons ago, but Alhmas was simply a soldier and did not concern himself with such matters.

Of his unit, he was the most senior and thus was given command. While he may not have paid much attention to politics and diplomacy, one craft in which he did excel was that of war. As such, it was no great surprise to him that his superiors had chosen this night for their operation. Minotaurs were not much better suited for these winter conditions than their human counterparts, their nighttime sight just as useless. In these conditions, an attack was the last thing the humans could have expected.

Dispatching the sentry posts, few as they were, was simple enough, though he had not seen any action and ached for his opportunity to repay the humans for their ambition and arrogance. Quick to anger, Alhmas snorted but regained control of himself quickly lest his men follow his example and give away their intent.

From his elevated height, Alhmas had a perfect view of the city which lay at the bottom of the valley. A tactical nightmare, he thought pleasantly as his units closed the distance between themselves and the city. It seemed the entire city was sleeping, none privy to the danger that charged upon them from above. They were within the last fifty yard stretch when all hell broke loose around him. Following a volley of arrows from the walls, men camouflaged in white sprung from the ground and delivered death to those in his unit. Their plans of climbing the walls unnoticed and opening the gates from within were now moot. Alhmas grabbed his horn and blew it mightily, sounding a retreat. He cleaved an unwitting human with his axe and made short work of two more before backing off himself.

As far as he could tell, their casualties were still at a minimum as he himself joined his fleeing comrades. He faltered in his step as he saw a horde of enemies rush down at him from the trees. He roared as he charged at them, his body and mind yearning for human blood.

Myths and Creatures of the Past: Intoduction

1 02 2010

Seeing as this would be the first entry to this blog, it would probably be appropriate to include a mission statement of sorts. My goal in creating this is to educate myself (and hopefully the one or two followers I hope to attract) on and further my understanding of different myths and mythical creatures.

I have no formal qualifications except for that I had developed an interest in this sort of thing from a young age. Over the years I’ve read numerous fantasy and science fiction novels either centered around or including these myths and creatures, played video games with these same themes religiously, watched all the typical movies, and am even working on a novel of my own with two of my friends inspired by these stories.

On a side note, I’m currently taking a course on Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern Mythology and took Medieval Culture last quarter.

Some more insight into who I am:

My name is Edris and I’m a first year at UC Davis. Planning to double major in economics with my eye on several other subjects for a double major. Love all sports, especially soccer and football, and I have a passion for reading and writing. And while I’m listing different interests for which I’ll undoubtedly be categorized, I’ll just go ahead and let you know that I’m half Iranian and half Afghan.

Now, on to more important matters! I will try to blog as frequently as possible. The format may not be consistent, sometimes I will include a picture or other media, other times I might just write a paragraph or so including the myth in story form. As I familiarize myself with this whole process and grow comfortable with the available tools, I will try to make my posts more sophisticated and interactive, though I hope these first few “raw” posts still remain of some interest.

Ok, I’m gonna quit while I’m ahead and I still have (?) your attention. Enjoy, and feel free to make requests!