Dionysus: The Great Twice Born God

By: Noelani Sinclair

Personal Information

Dionysus is what is called

'Twice Born' because he was born not only n his mothers Semele's womb but also in his father Zues's thigh. Dionysus haas many sons and daughters, Hymenaios, Iakkhos, (divine), Priapus, Sabazios, Eurymedon, Keramos, Maron, Narkaios, Oinopion, Peparethos, Phanos, Phliasos, Staphylos,Thoas, Methe, Pasithea, The Kharites, Telete, Thysa, and Deianeira. Dionysus's wife is Ariadne. Some of his friends are Silenus and The Meanads . One of his enemies are Hera. Dionysus was the god of wine, agriculture, and fertility of nature.

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Myth 1

Once he had grown to manhood Dionysus decided to wander far and wide. As he passed through Thrance he was insulted by King Lycurgus, who bitterly opposed his new religion. Initially Dionysus retreated into the sea but, he returned, overpowered Lycurgus and imprisoned him in a rocky cave. Dionysus planned to let him reflect and learn from his mistakes. However, Zeus did not care to have the gods insulted, so he blinded then killed Lycurgus.

He pressed on to Thebes, ruled by his cousin Pentheus. However, Pentheus did not know of Dionysus. Dionysus was with a group of his followers, who were naturally singing and dancing loudly, flushed with wine. Pentheus disliked the loud, strangers, and ordered his guards to imprison them all. He referred to their leader as a cheating sorcerer from Lydia. When he said this the blind old prophet Teiresias, who had already dressed as one of Dionysus's followers gave Pentheus a warning: "The man you reject is a new god. He is Semele's child, whom Zeus rescued. He, along with Demeter, are the greatest upon earth for men." Pentheus, seeing the strange garb Teiresias had on, laughed at him and ordered his guards to continue.

The guards soon found that ropes fell apart, latches fell open, and there they could not imprison Dionysus's followers. The took Dionysus to Pentheus. Dionysus tried to explain at length his worship but, Pentheus listened only to his own anger and insulted Dionysus. Finally, Dionysus gave up and left Pentheus to his doom.

Pentheus pursued Dionysus followers up into the hills where they had gone after walking away from his prison. Many of the local women including Pentheus's mother and sister had joined them there. Then Dionysus appeared to his followers in his most terrible aspect and drove them mad. To them Pentheus appeared to be a mountain lion. In a berserk rage they attacked him. Now Pentheus realized he had fought with a god and would die for it. His mother was the first to reach him, and ripped his head off, while the others tore off his limbs.

Myth 2

One day, when Dionysus was in his favorite shape, a handsome young man, dripping with jewels, he was spotted by some pirates. They thought they had stumbled across a rich prize, someone they could sell for a lot of money as a slave. Laughing cruelly, they grabbed what they thought was a rich young man (who was really the god, Dionysus), and carried him off to their pirate ship. They tied him tightly to the mast.

Dionysus found this all rather amusing. He might have waited a bit longer to see what these stupid mortals would do next, but the rope was rubbing his skin uncomfortably. Dionysus used his magical powers to push the rope away. It landed in a heap at his feet.

One of the pirates noticed the young man was no longer tied to the mast. The pirate gasped in surprise. He strongly suspected that he and his fellow pirates had made a terrible mistake. This was no ordinary mortal. Things would not go well for them if they did not quickly return the lad to shore. He pleaded with the other pirates to turn the ship about. But they retied Dionysus to the mast even more tightly than before. They headed out to sea.

Dionysus waited until the ship had reached very deep water. He pushed the ropes off his body. At the same time, thick vines surged from the sea and entangled the ship. Dionysus shape shifted into a lion. He roared and sprang on the terrified pirates. Some jumped overboard to avoid his claws and teeth. Soon, the only pirate left alive on board was the pirate who had begged for his release. That pirate would have gladly jumped overboard with his mates, only somehow, his feet were stuck firmly in place.

"Is that the island of Naxos?" Dionysus asked casually, peering ahead.

The pirate nodded, too terrified to speak.

"You can drop me off there," Dionysus decided. The vines fell away. With no one at the wheel, the ship moved smoothly forward, sailing calmly towards the island of Naxos.

When they arrived at the island, Dionysus leaped nimbly onto the seawall. He gave the pirate a friendly wave goodbye, and gave the ship a magical shove out to sea. No one knows if the pirate was able to pilot the ship alone, and no one (except the pirate of course) much cared.

It was there, on the island of Naxos, that Dionysus first saw the lovely Ariadne. (Abandoned by Theseus, Ariadne spent her days curled on the seawall, staring out to sea.) That day, she was fast asleep, worn out with weeping. She took his breath away, she was that beautiful. He waited patiently until Ariadne opened her eyes. She saw a handsome young man, gazing admiring at her. Ariadne felt better immediately. She told Dionysus all about her noble efforts to save Theseus and the children of Athens.

"And look where it got me," she sniffed.

"You poor thing," Dionysus said with great sympathy. He immediately asked the lovely young Ariadne to marry him. (As often as the gods did that kind of thing, it's no wonder that so many of their marriages ended in disaster.)

Ariadne, no longer feeling forsaken or friendless, and delighted to be admired by this handsome young man, who was obviously wealthy - only look at his garments! - consented to be his wife.

Believe it or not, Ariadne and Dionysus lived happily ever after! Ariadne and Dionysus were so happy, in fact, that their love story inspired a 20th century opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, written by the famous composer, Richard Strauss.

Myth 3

According to one myth Dionysus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman, Semele (daughter of Cadmus of Thebes). Semele is killed by Zeus' lightning bolts while Dionysus is still in her womb. Dionysus is rescued and undergoes a second birth from Zeus after developing in his thigh. Zeus then gives the infant to some nymphs to be raised. In another version, one with more explicit religious overtones, Dionysus, also referred to as Zagreus in this account, is the son of Zeus and Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Hera gets the Titans to lure the infant with toys, and then they rip him to shreds eating everything but Zagreus' heart, which is saved by either Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus remakes his son from the heart and implants him in Semele who bears a new Dionysus Zagreus. Hence, as in the earlier account, Dionysus is called "twice born." The latter account formed a part of the Orphic religion's religious mythology.

It does seem clear that Dionysus, at least the Phrygian Dionysus, was a late arrival in the Greek world and in Greek mythology. He is hardly mentioned at all in the Homeric epics, and when he is it is with some hostility. A number of his stories are tales of how Dionysus moved into a city, was resisted, and then destroyed those who opposed him. The most famous account of this is that of Euripides in his play the Bacchae. He wrote this play while in the court of King Archelaus of Macedon, and nowhere do we see Dionysus more destructive and his worship more dangerous than in this play. Scholars have speculated not unreasonably that in Macedon Euripides discovered a more extreme form of the religion of Dionysus being practiced than the more civil, quiet forms in Athens.

Briefly, Dionysus returns to Thebes, his putative birthplace, where his cousin Pentheus is king. He has returned to punish the women of Thebes for denying that he was a god and born of a god. Pentheus is enraged at the worship of Dionysus and forbids it, but he cannot stop the women, including his mother Agave, or even the elder statesmen of the kingdom from swarming to the wilds to join theMaenads (a term given to women under the ecstatic spell of Dionysus) in worship. Dionysus lures Pentheus to the wilds where he is killed by the Maenads and then mutilated by Agave.

A song sung in honor of Dionysus is called a dithyramb.

Greek Gods: Dionysus

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