Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Classics Lecture 20
Dionysus on Stage.
- REVIEW ON DIONYSUS:
• Greek (and Foreigner)
• Boundary dissolver
- Travels out of Greece to grow
- Many texts recognize the
values in being a boundary-
dissolver, there are other
representations that are very rigidly attached to ideals of boundaries: i.e. human
vs. god, male vs female, etc.
Therefore, many acts of resistance against Dionysus due to these issues. He
is threatened many times.
• Many myths of resistance to the god and punishment of theomachoi
- What we should respect, what we should be afraid of
• Speciﬁc rituals
- sparagmos: sacriﬁcing of a live victim and tearing them apart
- omophagia: consuming a
phallophoria: a public
parade through the city
featuring an erect phallus
with an honoured person
granted the opportunity to
ride through the city atop
• Also addressed as Bromius,
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• Thiasos of bacchants or maenads, satyrs
• BROMIUS, BACCHUS = FEMALES | SATYRS = MEN
• Dioysus of Zeus’ thigh vs. Son of Semele (mortal woman).
- Because he is born again through the thigh of Zeus, his mortality is “burned
away” and he is made fully divine.
• Mythic Representations of Dionysus — we know he was actually honoured in a
- Cadmus: The Sown Men — Spartoi
• Finds the land where a cow is laying down, slays a dragon, and plants the dragon’s
teeth in the soil. The teeth grow into an army of “sown men”.
- Long staff with pinecone at end — the fertility of Dionysus and everything he is
- HISTORICAL CONTEXT: ANXIETY ABOUT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND BEHAVIOUR
• Introduction of new religious cults into Athens
- MOTHER GODDESS OF ASIA MINOR, for instance.
• Violation of Eleusinian Mysteries (consisting of impious seeing or performing).
Alcibiades and others 415 BCE.
- Not preserved the secrecy of these mysteries: performed a parody of the
mysteries during a dinner party in a private home.
- Alcibiades was charged, alongside others.
• A serious crime, brings the displeasure of Demeter against the Athenians.
• Also charged with the destruction of the statues of Hermes at the same time.
• Charges against Socrates 399 BCE:
- Not believing in the city’s gods
- Introducing new gods
- Corrupting the youth
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- nostos of Dionysus (in human disguise)
• His intentions:
- Establishment of his cult in Greece
• Foreign qualities of the great mother goddess cult
- Demonstration of his divinity
• Assert within the civilians
- Punishment of Theban royal family, who resist him.
• First line, “I, Dionysus…” open introduction to the audience.
- He talks about how his aunts did not believe that Semele was impregnated by
Zeus and her child was never immortal, this is blasphemy, and he banishes these
- Wants to vindicate his virgin mother, Semele
• At this time, Pentheus is king but is very young — Dionysus presents himself in
disguise as an animal
- Dionysus the Stranger
• Appears in human disguise (as a foreigner)
• Appears in animal form (to Pentheus)
• Appears in divine form (to Bacchants)
• Cannot be conﬁned or contained
Unmoved in the face of threats or violence
• Miracles demonstrate his power
- His divinity is recognized by the common people
- A democratic god
- 2 Groups of Maenads in this Play:
• Chorus: Pious Asian followers of Dionysus
- provide information about cultic details
- choral hymns in honour of the god and his blessings
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- Rites similar to those of Phrygian Great Mother goddess Cybele/Rhea
- Ecstasy of being engaged in this cult
• Liberation and freedom for “a young girl” engaged in the cult of Dionysus
• Impious Theban women, maddened by Dionysus
- Driven mad by Dionysus, typically royals
including Agave and her sisters
- Taken them out into the wilderness, on the mountain with the intention of
- Tiresiasappears on stage
• He is always wise: whatever he says is going to be true, he is a signpost for the
audience of what is proper belief.