There are several episodes of the myth that have several
variants. This consideration suggests to focus only on
the essential things, that is on the Dionysian
experience and on the name Iacchos given to Dionysios,
meaning "twice born". Zeus, husband of Hera, queen of
the twelve Olympian gods, fell in love with Semele,
daughter of the king of Thebes and the goddess Harmony,
and had amorous encounters with her. Zeus appeared to
Semele in the guise of a mere mortal. Hera became
acquainted of this and wanted to avenge herself on
Semele, already six months pregnant by Zeus. Hera
appeared to Semele with the appearance of her nurse and
insinuated the suspicion that perhaps her lover was not
Zeus, as she believed. Hera suggested her to ask the
lover to occur really like Zeus, that is, in all its
divine glory. Zeus, to remove the doubt, manifested
himself in his divine guise, but Semele fell to the
ground burnt by his splendour.
Semele died, Zeus tried to save the child with the help
of Hephaestus, god of fire, which had already
endeavoured to the strange birth of Athena from Zeus. He
made himself sew the baby in a leg and so he brought to
completion the gestation. So Dionysus was born. His
nature was the divine and human, and humanity was, for
the graft in the leg of Zeus, in the process of
purification in order to access the immortality of the
gods, that is, to have being in itself, without
depending on anyone to exist. The graft in the leg of
Zeus already foreshadowed his many travels in the
The baby faced several ups and downs and was made insane
by Hera, enraged by the betrayal of her husband Zeus,
and the defence of the baby completing his gestation at
the death of Semele. The madness is not intended as
pathological madness, but as disorientation of the
subject, such as intimidation, as alienation through the
trauma of contempt.
Dionysus began to wander along the Mediterranean coast
arriving in Phrygia where the goddess Cybele released
him from his alienation. It is said that Dionysius was
initiated into the mysteries of the goddess Cybele, but
this is not credible since the Dionysian mystery appears
original. The goddess Cybele coincides with Rhea, the
Great Mother, daughter of Uranus and Gaia and wife of
Cronus, with whom she had six of the twelve Olympian
gods: Hades, Demeter, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon, Zeus, king
Hera continued to fight Dionysus and instructed the
Titans to kill him. Everything was done. The Titans
coloured themselves in white to avoid being recognized
and approached the boy with "crepundia" toys, a
mirror, a play aliossi, a ball, a spinner, a rhomb.
The mirror was to see himself in its reality of not
The game of aliossi (five stones were used. One was
thrown into the air and then quickly they had to take
one of four on the ground and at the same time take the
one that fell. This was planned for all four stones on
the ground. The skill could mark the victory over rival,
and also was a sign of good omen or not), putted its
future in front of Dionysus.
The ball was an invitation to the movement, but
conditioned by the ball.
The spinner was the invitation to dull his senses
through the dance.
The rhomb (an instrument consisting of a small wooden
rectangle (rhombus) with a central hole where
passed a cord. Using the cord the little wood stick was
made to rotate and in this way it uttered a sound), was
an invitation to use the music.
The Titans plaid the killing in terms of a ritual.
Dionysus was massacred, chopped, cooked in a cauldron
and then roasted on the fire (fire as a source of
purification) and then eaten. It had been saved only the
head that was taken by Rhea (Cybele), or by Apollo,
depending on the version, and taken to Delphi to be
Rituals of death implemented by the Titans created the
key event, namely that in this way Dionysus is freed
from the human part received from Semele. Dionysius
becomes immortal, that exists by itself without any
relation of dependence on anything but itself.
Henceforth Dionysus can change his appearance at will,
appear as a bull or like a deer, be present suddenly
and leave just as suddenly, without being visible.
The Titans were affected by the action carried out by
Zeus, but the suppression has led Dionysus to the
liberation of the divine in him.
Here begins the mission of Dionysus.
The mirror made him see that he had been generated by a
transgression of the king of Olympus, thus proving that
also gods have moments of transgression. The civil
order, founded on discipline, the ultimate expression of
which is the military, may be violated in moments of
unbridled excitement, of which Dionysus is the
Stoicism presented ataraxia as the liberation from the
passions through the subtraction of oneself to the
struggle to assert itself; imperturbability was given by
the adapting oneself to the universal order, fatal,
which governs the world. Dionysus argues instead that
the passions have to be expressed, have to be freed to
be able to be freed of them.
Olympus is Olympus because the passions of the gods are
expressed, and everything falls within the supreme good
of Olympic peace.
Here then the Bacchantes or menhaden ( "angry")
follow the god invoked in the fields in the middle of
In the fields, i.e., away from civil order, which must
be safeguarded, but that can not stop, in the certainty
that in the end it does not compromise the existence,
moments of wild madness, an orgiastic exit from
Dionysus, extending his rites, stood in front of the
opponents, who saw him as the subversive of the values
on which held the civil society. Against him appeared
the Thracian hero Lycurgus, who chased the nurses of
Dionysus, who fled while Dionysus dived into the sea and
hid trembling beside Thetis, the most beautiful of the
Nereids of the sea. Lycurgus, because of this, had
incurred the wrath of the gods and Zeus made him blind.
Perseus also fought against Dionysus throwing him into
the lake of Lerna (Plutarco. De Iside, 35), but this did
not stop the god.
During the night life the adepts (Bacchantes) dressed
with skins of animals, crowned with vine-leaves, took in
their hands the thyrsus, a stick culminating with a pine
and wrapped in ivy and vine-leaves (pine, because it
blossoms in winter, and the resin is useful for storing
wine. Ivy as a sign of adhesion to the god. The
vine-leaves, i.e. leaves of the vine, celebrating the
Dionysus wherever he appeared in his travels, he
introduced the bacchanals, unleashing women in orgiastic
rites and using wine, dithyramb, which was a hymn to
Dionysus, where poetry, music from cymbals, timbals,
flutes and castanets, and dance formed a whole. They
were performed in a circle of fifty people. The soloist
The menhaden were running in the dance keeping kids or
fawns on their breasts, which identified with Dionysus.
At some point the animals were dismembered in memory of
what Dionysus had suffered, and to the break-up ("sparagmos")
followed the “omophagia", that is eating the meat
raw, thinking to absorb the force of the god identified
with the animal. Sometimes the animal torn to pieces was
They were processions pervaded by licentiousness, under
the pressure of an ecstatic state to which was added the
attendance of satyrs, desirous of menhaden. Groups
illuminated by torches were throwing a savage cry: "eueu”.
The menhaden were half-naked, her hair loose, girdling
his waist dresses of the skins with vine branches or ivy
branches, often wearing snakes, and ended by indulging
with the Bacchantes in immoral excess.
The group was chaired by a priest, the
phallus-bearing, carrying a large wooden phallus.
The menhaden were divided into three classes: the
Gerontius (matrons), the Thyiads (priestesses), the
Choirs (women without any degree of distinction).
The god was invoked to be present and the state of
inebriation reached by dances, recited poetry, the music
of cymbals and flutes, the wildness, the wine, was
conceived as a result of the presence of the god, as the
magic moment of liberation, a step beyond human
limitations. But there was also at times something more,
namely, the possession by an entity (demon), who
attacked someone of those present. Thus Dionysus was
present and absent, without any rule that established
the moments, that could lead to predictability. Bearer
of enthusiasm, was also the bearer of silence, terror,
state of guilt, distress. His sudden presence and his
sudden absence pointed him out as the god of vegetation
that is activated in the spring and then goes out in
winter, but Dionysius did not follow the seasonal
In the feasts dedicated to him there was the sacrifice
of a goat (tragos), and this is the origin of the
word tragedy. The theatre of Athens was not a case was
called the theatre of Dionysus.
The myth tells the nuptials of Dionysus and Ariadne, the
daughter of the Cretan king Minos, who escaped from
Crete with Theseus, was then abandoned by him on the
island of Naxos. The god married her and obtains for her
immortality. The theme of the wedding of Dionysus and
Ariadne is central in the Villa of the Mysteries in
Another legend says that Dionysius travelling on a ship
was seized by the crew to be sold as a slave. The god
then turned their oars into snakes, covered the ship
with ivy and vine wreaths, playing invisible flutes. The
sailors went mad and threw themselves into the water
where they turned into dolphins.
Then Dionysius was admitted to Olympus, taking the place
of Hestia, who preferred to leave the Olympus to be
among the mortals. Dionysus finally descended into the
underworld and brought her mother Semele to Olympus,
where immortal (no resurrection was had of Semele’s
body), she took the name of Thyone ("possessed
queen"), and by that name was called by the
Orphists. This power to make immortal Ariadne and Semele
was not without consequences in the Dionysian cult
feeding the hope to enter through the god to a
post-mortem condition of the heavenly nature, even
though without reaching the divine immortality
understood as to exist itself, without reference to
something else. The son of two gods does not depend on
them in his being god, as he has being a god in itself,
with a different and independent nature than the one of
"father and mother”.
Of course, to be admitted to that mystery cult one had
to face a period of initiation.
Such an orgiastic cult could only find it difficult to
extend. In Rome in the republican age was prohibited.
Was allowed in the imperial age ranging from 27 B.C. to
380 A.D., edict of Theodosius.
Iacchos, the twice-born, had acknowledged this to
be escaped death from Semele's womb and was born as a
first time and then emerged from the thigh of Zeus, so
being born a second time. But it was also spoken of the
born thrice. The born thrice was reported
three times by Philodemus of Gadara (Gadara, Syria 110
approx. - Herculaneum 35 ca. B.C.). He had converted to
Epicureanism Calpurnius Pisin, consul and father-in-law
of Caesar in 58 B.C. Calpurnius gave him a villa in
Herculaneum in use, now called Villa of the Papyri. In a
text it is said that Dionysius after being dismembered
by the Titans was reassembled by the goddess Rhea coming
back to life: the third birth. But Philodemus followed
the error of Herodotus (Halicarnassus 484 B.C. Thurii
425 B.C.), which confused Dionysus with Osiris, and also
confused Isis with Demeter. To Philodemus was so easy to
confuse Rhea with Demeter, in her turn confused with
Isis, sister-wife of Osiris.
But in all this there is also the influence of this
orphism, which adopted the metempsychosis developed in
India and gave to Dionysus the name of Zagreus (Zagreus
means "great hunter", referring to the wildness
of the god). Clearly the orphic variation of the myth of
Dionysus presents the metempsychosis, seen in the world
of the gods. The variation says that after the Titans
had devoured the body of Dionysus turned into a bull to
escape them, it remained the heart, which was given by
Athena to Zeus, who ate it and joining with Persephone,
daughter of Demeter, gave back origin (according to the
Orphic myth) to Dionysus-Zagreus, that would be the
third birth. Said this in no way can one speak of
resurrection for Dionysus, but just of third birth.
The cult of Dionysus tried to escape the man from the
monotony of daily life, from compression of the
situations of social life, but did not produce any
release, only a deepening of loneliness, that the cult,
with its reflections of the silence of the god which
were completely unforeseeable, fed. With Dionysus it was
not possible to form a stable alliance, he was the
unexpected present and the unexpected absent.
After the Dionysian ritual, the return to civil society
did not mark any improvement in human relations, leaving
only the desire for new excesses, under the illusion
that they were protected by the god and therefore valid.
The ataraxia produced after the debauchery was rather
stunning. Something temporary, then a growing of
rebellion against the everyday life.
It is the opposite of Christianity in which the release
is that of selfishness, of sin that defiles the image of
God in man, refusing a love alliance signed in the
blood of Christ.
The limits of the man are many, but the man has a way in
which he reaches the unlimited, and it is that of love
which can not know limits, because love calls to grow
continuously towards the Beloved. No illusion in
Christianity, evil does not liberate the man, but makes
him a slave, clipping his wings. Infinity can not be
reached through the immoral excesses, but through the
love to God without measure and in God all brothers.
Christianity does not favour the instinct, but overlooks
it. Christianity is far from ataraxia, too. It does not
consider passions negatively, but sees that they need to
be purified. It is not an invitation to escape the
present for an inert and necessary sequence of
circumstances, as stated Stoicism, but invitation to be
present for a change of history for good. Fate does not
exist. Everyone creates his destiny with correspondence
or less to the infinite generosity of God, manifested in
his Son. The persecution suffered by Christ was not
faced by a trembling flight, but with the courageous
presence. And we in him we are freed from sin, which has
its deep roots in disaffection to God and to the
brothers, in disengagement and indifference. Escapes in
the tragic havens of vice are just diving in Evil. It is
a dark illusion to think that one can get good, when
one has done and promoted evil. Dionysus wants to be
adored in his fidelity-infidelity. God is faithful,
always, and has testified it in the blood of the Son.
Then, between the omophagia ritual and the celebration
of Eucharist, combination promoted by the
mythideologists, there is an unbridgeable gulf. In the
Eucharist, the priest does not kill anything, he makes
present on the altar, with the consecration
(transubstantiation of bread and wine - by the power of
the Holy Spirit - into the Body and Blood of risen
Christ), the one sacrifice of Christ consummated on the
cross. The priest does not kill anything, and his
action, instituted by Christ, is a memorial of Christ's
sacrifice, which is the current reality on the altar, as
Christ renews the internal states that he took on the
cross, which for the infinite love of God has become the
source of liberation from sin and death, and of the
elevation of the man (Jn 1,12) to the adopted son of the
Father, in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The death of
Christ is centred about the Atonement of sins, for the
remission of sins, and this has no comparison with any
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