Myth of Dionysus  



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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 Mediterranean area.

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 of Olympus.
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 fully god.

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 buried.

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 organizer.
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 the night.
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 themselves.
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 wine).

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 represented Dionysus.
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 a bull.

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 rhythms.
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 Pompeii.

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 religion.


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