Art and culture from Ancient Persia, £20.00
Explore / Articles
The Greek god Dionysos (Bacchus)
Dionysos, also called Bacchus, was the Greek god of wine and mystical ecstasy. Dionysos was the son of Zeus and Semele. Hera, jealous of the liaison, tricked Semele into asking to see Zeus as he appeared on Mount Olympus. Mortal Semele was consumed by the thunder and lightening of his divine presence. Zeus rescued her unborn child and sewed it into his thigh, from which Dionysos was later born. He was raised by the messenger god Hermes, who left him with various foster-parents and nurses, always hiding from Hera's wrath.
Dionysos' wanderings were said to have taken him as far afield as India, and certainly there were many eastern elements in his cult. He travelled with a band of satyrs (wild men, often with horses' ears and tails), seileni (older satyrs) and maenads, female followers habitually shown draped in animal skins and carrying a thyrsos. The intoxicated and ecstatic orgiastic rites of this band included rioting in the countryside, sexual licence and dismembering wild animals. Many tales were told of the madness inflicted by Dionysos on those who were resistant to his cult.
Dionysos had love affairs with mortals, notably with Ariadne, whom he found abandoned by Theseus on Naxos, and was father to mortal children. He himself was always a god, however, and eventually took his place amongst the Olympians, apparently after a reconciliation with Hera.
In art Dionysos is usually a youthful god, identified by such attributes as his thyrsos and the presence of his companions, though an older, bearded sculptural type was also known.