In Greek mythology, Dionysus is regarded as the Wine God and the representation of ecstasy, along with many other meanings and symbolism that will be discussed later in this article.
He is one of the unique Gods in Greek mythology. It was always the case where a God gave birth to another God, or a human gave birth to a demi-God. But in the case of Dionysis, it is a Mortal giving birth to a fully-fledged God.
Origin of Dionysus
In one of the most prominently accepted origin stories, he is considered the son of Zeus and Semele, a priestess of Zeus.
One day when Zeus was roaming the skies in the form of an Eagle, he observed that Semele, the priestess slaughtered a bull and entered the river to wash and remove the blood. Zeus was straight away mesmerized and charmed by her, so he visited her multiple times. After that, she then became pregnant with his child. Later, to give a present to the pregnant Semele, Zeus pledged in the River Styx to grant anything the mortal woman wished for.
Hera, the wife of Zeus, was extremely jealous of what had transpired. Hera then visited Semele in the form of an older woman who had been the Nurse of King Cadmus, the father of Semele. Here she provoked Semele by telling her that Zeus gave more attention to his wife Hera than to her. The disguised Hera then told Semele to ask Zeus to appear in his true form as that of a God when they meet next. Semele started to question whether this was Zeus himself or an imposter.
Semele made an appeal to Zeus and pleaded with him to show up or manifest himself. Zeus warned her that he would do so as she desired but that no mortal who had seen him in his form wielding his lightning bolts had ever survived. Finally, Zeus appeared, and Semele turned to ash. But Zeus was successful in saving his infant child by stitching and fastening him tightly to his thigh.
Dionysus was then born after a few months as a boy. He was called the twice-born, which references his first premature birth from his mother’s ashes and then his second true birth from Zeus.
The Early Life of Dionysus
The satyr Silenus and the nymphs of Mount Nysa were primarily responsible for the upbringing of Dionysus. Silenus was a deity who was associated with winemaking and drunkenness. So, it was considered that Dionysis and Silenus became drinking partners, and a lot of personalities that Dionysis would attain will be that he got from the influence of his guardian Satyr Silenus.
Dionysus lived a better part of his life with Silenus, and then his custody was handed over to his aunt Ino. Ino was the sister of Semele. Hera was still searching for Dionysus and found out he was with Ino. Hera was responsible for provoking Ino and her’s husband’s mentally unstable behavior. The frustration triggered them to eventually kill themselves after they murdered their own children.
Zeus turned his son into a ram in order to save him and surrendered him to the Nymphs that belonged to Mount Nysa. Dionysus remained unharmed, but he had to remain with Silenus for a few more years.
Extra Reading – Here are some interesting myths worth reading about Zeus, the God of thunder.
There are various descriptions of how Dionysus was depicted. One was in the form of a young long-haired man with an effeminate look or sometimes as an elder bearded God with a masculine persona.
Sacred Animals of Dionysus – Leopard, Boar, and a Serpent
Legends say that Dionysus rode on the back of a leopard/Panther or was seated on a chariot driven by a pair of them.
Sacred plants of Dionysus – Grapevine, Bindweed, and Ivy
Worship and Festivals Associated with Dionysus
Dionysia – Celebrated as minor and major Dionysia festivals, it is believed that this celebration is in conjunction with vineyard harvests and their cultivation.
Anthesteria – was an Athenian festival celebrated at the start of the spring season. It was a festival in which the dead arose from the underworld. Wine vats were opened as a sign of respect to Dionysus.
Bacchic Mysteries – This was derived from the Bacchic cult. This was a cult devoted to God’s worship, and its form of worship often included the sacrifice of Oxen and other animals to appease God. This cult formed in Athens played a major role in spreading his worship.
Orphism was another aspect associated with Dionysus’s worship. In this, he was more associated as a God of the underworld, where he is identified as the God Zagreus.
Adventures of Dionysus
As Dionysus grew up, he understood the culture of making wine from grapes and vineyards. Though Hera the goddess struck him with a bout of madness, and he wandered the lands. The Greek Goddess Rhea cured him and taught him religion and the cultivation of vineyards, and he spread the knowledge during his travels to Asia and different parts of the world.
One of the famous depictions of Dionysus is his adventures in the far-off Asian region of ancient India. It is said Dionysus and Heracles both went to India and overrun the people there in a war. He then set to conquer it but was said to have been stopped by the powerful Sages who inhabited the mountains of India (Referring to the Himalayas). It is believed that they erected pillars in India. The sage goes as when Alexander the Great reached India; the Indians told the tales of the pillars erected by Dionysus.
Upon his triumph across the world, Dionysus returned to Greece, to his birthplace Thebes. It was ruled by Pentheus, who disbelieved of his divine birth and banished him for supposedly driving the women in the city mad.
Dionysus then used his divine powers to drive Pentheus insane. Pentheus was ripped apart limb by limb by maenads, which included his own mother and wife. This cemented the fact that Dionysus was not a very forgiving God.
Lycurgus, the King of Edonia, found out about how Dionysus was in his territory. So he drove Dionysus and his nurses to flee from their home in Mount Nysa. He was cursed by Dionysus and driven to madness; he ended up hacking his own Child and Wife to death.
The popular tale of King Midas comes from the stories of Dionysus. During his travels, Dionysus found out that his old master and friend Silenus had gone missing. Upon searching for him, he found out that the old man had got drunk and wandered away. The local farmers after coming across Silenus brought him to their King Midas, who took care of the old man.
Dionysus was so pleased with the King that he asked the King to ask him whatever he wanted, and thus the fabled tale of the Midas touch came to fruition. The King asked him that whatever he touched should become gold, and Dionysus gave him his wish.
But Dionysus warned him that he might repent for not making a better choice.
After everything the King touched turned to gold, including his own daughter, the King realized he had made a blunder and asked Dionysus to repel the Midas touch so that he may be saved from starvation. He did so and ended the Boon, which had turned into a curse.
Thesus, in his travels, had abandoned Ariadne on an island. While Dionysus, who was passing through, saw her on the island. He got smitten with her and eventually married her. His wife became a celestial, supreme being and gave birth to sons named Thoas, Oinopion, Peparethos, Eurymedon, Staphylos, Phlias, and Keramos.
Dionysus Legacy and Concepts
Let’s dig in further into the tales of his legacy and the major concepts revolving around him.
Rebirth of Dionysus
Dionysus is one of the few gods who is known to bring back the dead from the underworld. This is evident when he brings his mother back from the underworld and brings her back to Zeus at Mount Olympus.
Overall, Dionysus is regarded as a benevolent God in Greek culture. He is regarded as the patron of Vine and Viticulture, Arts, and the God of fertility. Being a God of Vineyards and wineries and ecstasy, various festivals emerged from these titles.
According to the legends, there existed several private ways of worshipping Dionysus called the Dionysiac mysteries. They were majorly practiced in South Italy and some other places such as Anatolia. Literary proof suggesting private worship has also been found in Northern Greece
There is limited evidence indicating that Dionysiac secret worship performed before the fifth century BCE involved conducting Euripides Bacchae. Some inscriptions have derived meanings telling that women tore apart the raw flesh of animals as part of the cult to consume them.
Historical evidence suggests that women practiced dancing to attain a higher level of consciousness from Dionysus. The Bacchae has references to both kinds of women.
Dionysus also inspired the beginning of Greek theatre. All the plays were acted and performed strictly by all male citizens from the city of Athens, who even disguised themselves as women if the play demanded.