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.

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