CLA204H5 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: Pentheus, Pactolus, Pangaion Hills

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30 Jul 2016
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Chapter 11: Myths of Fertility II Dionysus
Dionysus is the god of wine, the life force, and the instinctive side of personality
He was admitted to Olympus later than the others according to some writers and displaced Hestia
To the ancient Greeks Dionysus (aka Bacchus) was the god who taught the art of turning grape
juice into wine
At center of his mythic character was his identity as a male principle of fertility, complementary to
the female principle embodied by Demeter
As a fertility god he encouraged the burgeoning of everything alive: plants, animals, humans
Thick luscious ivy was a sign of his presence
Wore leopard skin, and panthers pulled his chariot
Phallus and horns of a bull were his emblems
He also came to stand for a distinctive form of human experience, a divinely inspired madness in
which one’s ordinary sense of self is lost and with it the accepted norms of decent and rational
conduct
Best source is the Bacchae a play by Euripides, only 2 Homeric hymns survive
The Birth and early youth of Dionysus
Zeus fell in love with Semele (princess of house of Thebes and daughter of Phoenician immigrant
King Cadmus)
Zeus went to her disguised as a mortal man and she got pregnant
Hera, furious, went to Semele, Hera filled her head with doubts about Zeus being an actual god
maybe he’s just mortal looking to bed her
On Zeus’s next visit she asked him for him to appear to her as he appears to Hera, so he did and
she burned to a crisp
Hermes saved her fetus and carried it to Zeus who promptly sewed it to his thigh, and 3 month
later he took of the stiches and Dionysus was born again, hence “the twice born god”
Hermes carred the child to Ino, queen of Orchomenus, Semele’s sister and wife to King Athamas
On Hermes’ instruction Ino disguised the child in girls clothing to protect him from Hera
Here not deceived drove Ino and Athamas mad, father shot one son think he was a fawn mother
boiled the other alive in a pot, she then ran down to the sea with the pot and was transformed into
sea-deities saviors of distressed mariners
To save the kid Zeus turned Dionysus into a goat, and Hermes delivered him to the nymphs of
Nysa a mountain no one knew
The wandering of Dionysus
In Nysa he discovered the vine and wine making
Hera stuck him with madness, in delirium he wandered to Egypt, Syria, and Phrygia where he met
the goddess Cybele Great Mother or for Greeks Rhea
Cybele’s followers cured Dionysus of his madness and she revealed him her secret rites
From Cybele he acquired his long robes an effeminate style of dress that offended Greek men
After Phrygia he head east followed by Bacchae (“women possessed by Bacchus”) and Bacchantes,
applied to men and women
Bacchae also called thyiades “frenzied ones” often maenads “the raging women”
oCarried thyrsus usually a staff crowned with a pinecone/bunch of ivy leaves
Male followers were satyrs, half human creatures with erect phalli and tails and ears of horses
oLater the acquired goat like legs
oSilenus is either a general term for any old satyr or name of one satyr in particular: a ugly
drunken fat one given to the telling of tall-tales
oShown in art with thick lips, pug nose and riding a donkey so drunk barely stays on
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Dionysus crossed the Euphrates River on a bridge made of grapevines and ivy, then swept east as
far as India overcoming all their opposers
Returning to Phrygia, he rewarded to local king Midas, son of Gordias and Cybele for his generous
hospitality by granting his wish of everything he touched turn to gold, even food and drink
oIn desperation Midas begged to have his gift taken back, Dionysus told him to bathe in the
headwaters of Pactolus River, near the capital of Lydia, the river bathed away the curse and
the gold settled in the sand, became richest kingdom in ancient world
Dionysus and the Pirates
Told in Homeric Hymm to Dionysus
He was standing on a promontory beside the sea when a ship of Etruscan pirates passed below
him
The pirates kidnapped him thinking he was a lords son, but then they couldn’t tie him up and
thought he was a god
Then wine filled the ship then a vine grew around the mast , Dionysus changed into a lion and
raised a bear to growl at the sailors, the lion pounced on the master and the rest jumped to the sea
for safety and turned into dolphins
Dionysus and Ariadne
Dionysus married Ariadn, daughter of King Minos
He found her on the island of Naxos where Theseus her of Athens had abandoned her
As she watched Theseus ship disappear into the distance, Dionysus came up behind her through te
wilderness accompanied by his maenads and satyrs
Resistance to the God
Many myths tell about the resistance he met when he returned from his travels in the East,
bringing his new religion
Oldest story from Homer’s Iliad, Dionysus and his followers crossed the Hellespont into Thrace
where Lycurgus king of the tribe in Thrace persecuted them
oDionysus retreated in fear to Thetis cowering in fear of the ox-goad wielding Lycurgus
oThe gods their after detested Lycurgus, Zeus struck him blind and he soon died
oOther reports saw Lycurgus went mad and tried to rape his mother, he pruned off the legs
of his son thinking he was an ivy plant
oThese acts made the land sterile, an oracle announced the king must die
oThe Thracans carried Lycurgus to a nearby Mount Pangaeum and let wild horses eat him
Dionysus headed south, in Orchomenus he encountered further resistance, although the city
inhabitants quickly accepted the god the 3 daughters of King Minyas, Minyads refused to join the
new religion
oThe girls staying in their chambers to work on their looms, Dionysus appeared to them in
the form of a young girl but they refused his warnings
oHe then took the form of a lion, a bull and a panther
oThe threads of the loom turned into vines, nectar and milk dripped from the furniture as
darkness filled the room
oThe Minyads suddenly craved human flesh and ate one child, they danced and joined the
other Bacchae
oDionysis later turned them into bats, love darkness hate light
Dionysus in Thebes
Best know resistance of his cult
In the Bacchae Euripides tells how he returned to Thebes not only to spread his cult but to avenge
his mother’s death, Agave, Autonoe and Ino
oThe sisters had denied Semele’s claim that she slept with Zeus alleging that her lover was a
mortal which destroyed Semele for telling a lie
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