CLA204 Lecture 6: Dionysus and His Retinue
February 14 , 2012
-Roman name: Bacchus (Liber)
-Son of Zeus and Semele (twice born)
-God of wine and ecstasy; god who makes you lose your mind
-Epithet: Bromios (noisy)
-Symbols: thyrsus (wand with ivy wrapped around it), grapevine, ivy, leopard skin, panther, lion
-Patron of drama-Dionysos is closely associated with drama.
How Dionysus was born
-Remember how Zeus had an affair with a mortal woman, Semele. Hera was jealous and tells Semele to
ask Zeus to appear to her in his divine form. He does and Semele burns to death because mortals cant
look at the sight of an undisguised god without dying. Semele was pregnant with Dionysus though.
Hermes takes the fetus and brings him to Zeus. Zeus then sews him into his thigh and gives birth to him.
**Dionysus is a god thats born twice; first through Semele, then once more through Zeus**
Hermes is holding the embryo. (?) You can recognize Hermes by the wings.
Dionysus is a god whos born twice. Theres another version to this myth that tells a similar story.
**In this version, Hera is once again jealous of the offspring that Zeus has with other women so she
convinces the Titans to kill Dionysus. They give him toys to lure and distract him and as hes looking into
a mirror, the Titans grab him and tear him apart limb by limb. Before Dionysus completely dies, Zeus
saves his heart and recreates Dionysus. **
House of Cadmus
-Semele belongs to the house of Cadmus
-Cadmus and Harmonia are the founding members of this family thats centred in Thebes
-Harmonia is the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares (they are two gods but shes a mortal woman)
-Cadmus is the brother of Europa
-Recall that Europa was the girl that Zeus kidnapped in the form of a bull and brought her from Asia to
Europe. Cadmus then goes to look for his sister and travels the world trying to find her, but he doesnt.
Eventually, the oracle in Delphi tells him to give up his search and to look for a cow with a white mark.
Soon he finds the cow and tells his men to go to a cave to get water. But theres a dragon in the cave
and they have to fight it. The dragon kills everyone except for Cadmus. Eventually Cadmus slays the
dragon but he has no men left (problem). So he takes the teeth of the dragon and plants the teeth into
earth as seeds and out of that grow new men. His future people has grown out of the dragons teeth. At
first, they fight each other but then a group of these men remain and thats the start of the Theban
-Thebes is the city that Cadmus founds and is where he encountered the dragon and the cow.
-Cadmus marries Harmonia and he has four daughters (Ino , Autonoe, Semele, Agave) and one son,
-Actaeon is the son of Autonoe.
-Recall that Actaeon sees Artemis naked, is turned into a stag, and is killed by his own hunting dogs.
-Pentheus is the son of Agave. Echion is one of the people who grew from the dragon seed. We will talk
later about Pentheus. -Oedipus is a descendent of Polydorus. Recall how Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.
Lets repeat whats happened again:
Semele is burned to death, Zeus takes the embryo of Dionysus and gives birth to him after her being
pregnant with Dionysus. But Hera might still want to kill Dionysus. So according to one version of the
myth, Zeus gives Dionysus to Semeles sister, Ino and she raises him disguised as a girl. However, Hera
eventually finds out about this and she drives Inos husband, Athamas crazy so that he thinks one of
their children (they have two) is some animal or something so he throws him against the wall. Ino takes
the other child, runs off with him and throws herself into the sea.
In the picture:
Melikertes is the little child holding his mother, Ino. Ino takes Melikertes, they hurl themselves into the
sea, but do not die. Theyre turned into sea deities. Ino is therefore known by the name Leukothea.
Shes a sea deity that saves Odysseus (one of the Trojan heroes). She helps Odysseus when he goes
-Melikertes is turned into the sea god, Palaimom.
-**stories with insanity are very typical of stories about Dionysus i.e. going crazy and mistaking your
dear ones for something else. Also whats really typical is resistance to Dionysus. At first, people dont
want to take him in and to accept this new deity.**
Lykurgos- A opponent of Dionysos
-Dionysus isnt really featured much in the Iliad.
-But in one passage in Book 6, one of the characters recalls what happened to Lykurgos, who opposed
-Here, we have Dionysus being reared by nymphs of Nysa. In other versions, Lykurgos tries to cut down
all these nymphs. Yet another version features Lykurgos mistaking his own son for a vine stalk and he
cuts down the vine, killing his son.
Dionysus and the Tyrrhenian Pirates
How was Dionysus kidnapped by the pirates?
-Dionysus encounters pirates on a ship and they captured him and wanted to sell him
-Dionysos is bound in chains but they get loosened. Hes set free and vines and ivy start growing on
-Then pirates are driven to throw themselves into the sea and theyre turned into dolphins
-Hymn 7: Dionysos is described as very beautiful and young. Dionysos is always on the verge of
manhood; never fully matured. Always preserves that youthful look.
-Whats also interesting about Dionysus is that people thought of Dionysus as a deity that conquers the
east (goes to India and subdues the people there) then returns to Greece; this is significant. Hes
featured as a god coming from the East, although hes Greek in origin.
-Dionysus is really a Greek creature (stems from Semele whos the god of Cadmus), however hes always
perceived as some exotic element, as some stranger, suspicious being. So in order to create the sense of
exotic Dionysus, of the stranger Dionysus, they have to send him away.
-According to some versions, we also hear that Dionysus was inflicted by insanity and cured by Kybele
(goddess of ___). Tympanon (like drums) is the symbol associated with Kybele and is an instrumentalways associated with the east. It brought a lot of noise and ecstasy so you also find the Tympanon in
the context of Dionysus.
-What also connects Dionysus to Kybele is this image of her chariot being drawn by lions.
-Interesting to know about Kybele: The priests that served Kybele castrated themselves. These priests
were known as galli (this is plural); singular would be gallus .
-Kybele drove a young man, Attis, into a frenzy so that he cut off his genitals/emasculated himself; thats
the aition for priest castration.
-Kybele is known as the great mother in rome, magmamater
-Kybele is closely associated with Dionysus; both are cults that involve ecstasy, losing your rationality.
Dionysus Returns from India
- Dionysus is connected with the invention of wine
-He taught a farmer, Ikarios, how to make wine. So Ikarios made wine and gave it to his fellow peasants;
they thought it was poison so they killed him. And they secretly buried him.
-Then his daughter, Erigone and her dog, Maira, tried to find her father and she eventually finds out that
he was killed so she hangs herself and dog drowns itself
-Then Dionysus is very angry so he takes all of them (Erigone, Maira, and Ikarios)and turns them into
constellations in the sky
-Then he takes vengeance on the Athenians by driving their girls c