Dionysus: Wikis


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2nd century Roman statue of Dionysus leaning on a herme, after a Hellenistic model (ex-coll. Cardinal Richelieu, Louvre[1])
2nd century Roman statue of Dionysus leaning on a herme, after a Hellenistic model (ex-coll. Cardinal Richelieu, Louvre[1])
God of wine, theatre, grapes, ritual madness and ecstasy
Symbol Thyrsus, Grapes, Leopard skin were his main symbols
Consort Ariadne
Parents Zeus and Semele
Mount Chariot pulled by leopards
Roman equivalent Liber, Bacchus

Dionysus or Dionysos (pronounced /ˌdaɪ.ɵˈnaɪsəs/; Greek: Διόνυσος or Διώνυσος) is the ancient Greek god of wine, the inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy, and a major figure of Greek mythology. He is included as one of the twelve Olympians in some lists. Dionysus is typical of the god of the epiphany, "the god that comes". He was also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans[2] and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. In addition to winemaking, he is the patron deity of agriculture and the theater. He was also known as the Liberator (Eleutherios), freeing one from one's normal self, by madness, ecstasy or wine.[3] The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the aulos and to bring an end to care and worry.[4] Scholars have discussed Dionysus' relationship to the "cult of the souls" and his ability to preside over communication between the living and the dead.[5]

In Greek mythology, Dionysus is made out to be a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele; other versions of the myth contend that he is a son of Zeus and Persephone. He is described as being womanly or "man-womanish".[6] The name Dionysos is of uncertain significance; its -nysos element may well be non-Greek in origin, but its dio- element has been associated since antiquity with Zeus (genitive Dios). Nysa, for Greek writers, is either the nymph who nursed him, or the mountain where he was attended by several nymphs (the Nysiads), who fed him and made him immortal as directed by Hermes.[7]

The retinue of Dionysus was called the thiasus and was comprised chiefly of maenads and satyrs.

Dionysian procession on a marble sarcophagus, possibly indicating that the deceased was an initiate into Dionysian mysteries



Dionysus is a god of mystery religious rites, of which the most famous were those practiced in honor of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis near Athens. In the Thracian mysteries, he wears the bassaris or fox-skin, symbolizing new life. His own rites, the Dionysian Mysteries practiced by maenads and others, were the most secret of all. Many scholars believe that Dionysus is a syncretism of a local Greek nature deity and a more powerful god from Thrace or Phrygia such as Sabazios[8] or Zalmoxis.[9]

The name of Dionysus appears, surprisingly, in two tablets at Mycenaean Pylos at the moment of its ruin,[10] and one at Khania (where he is worshipped alongside Zeus), Herodotus, like all classical Greeks and many subsequent scholars until recently, was convinced that the worship of Dionysus arrived later among the Greeks than the Olympian pantheon. He remarks:

As it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt; and as for Pan, the Greeks do not know what became of him after his birth. It is therefore plain to me that the Greeks learned the names of these two gods later than the names of all the others, and trace the birth of both to the time when they gained the knowledge.
—Herodotus, Histories 2.146

Many Greeks were sure that the cult of Dionysus arrived in Greece from Anatolia, but Greek concepts of where Nysa was, whether set in Anatolia, or in Libya ('away in the west beside a great ocean'), Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus), are variable enough to suggest that a magical distant land was intended, perhaps named 'Nysa' to explain the god's unreadable name, as the 'god of Nysa.' Apollodorus seems to be following Pherecydes, who relates how the infant Dionysus, god of the grapevine, was nursed by the rain-nymphs, the Hyades at Nysa. The Anatolian Hittites' name for themselves in their own language ("Nesili") was "Nesi," however. The Hittites' influence on early Greek culture is often unappreciated.

The above contradictions suggest to some that we are dealing not with the historical memory of a cult that is foreign, but with a god in whom foreignness is inherent. And indeed, Dionysus's name, as mentioned above, is found on Mycenean Linear B tablets as "DI-WO-NI-SO-JO",[11] and Karl Kerenyi[12] traces him to Minoan Crete, where his Minoan name is unknown but his characteristic presence is recognizable. Clearly, Dionysus had been with the Greeks and their predecessors a long time, and yet always retained the feel of something alien.

The bull, the serpent, the ivy and the wine are the signs of the characteristic Dionysian atmosphere, and Dionysus is strongly associated with satyrs, centaurs, and sileni. He is often shown riding a leopard, wearing a leopard skin, or in a chariot drawn by panthers, and may also be recognized by the thyrsus he carries. Besides the grapevine and its wild barren alter-ego, the toxic ivy plant, both sacred to him, the fig was also his symbol. The pinecone that tipped his thyrsus linked him to Cybele, and the pomegranate linked him to Demeter. The Dionysia and Lenaia festivals in Athens were dedicated to Dionysus. Initiates worshipped him in the Dionysian Mysteries, which were comparable to and linked with the Orphic Mysteries, and may have influenced Gnosticism[citation needed]. Orpheus was said to have invented the Mysteries of Dionysus.[13]

Dionysus was another god of resurrection who was strongly linked to the bull. In a cult hymn from Olympia, at a festival for Hera, Dionysus is invited to come as a bull; "with bull-foot raging." Walter Burkert relates, "Quite frequently [Dionysus] is portrayed with bull horns, and in Kyzikos he has a tauromorphic image," and refers also to an archaic myth in which Dionysus is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans.[14] (In the Classical period of Greece, the bull and other animals identified with deities were separated from them as their agalma, a kind of heraldic show-piece that concretely signified their numinous presence).[14]



Introduced into Rome (c. 200 BC) from the Greek culture of southern Italy or by way of Greek-influenced Etruria, the bacchanalia were held in secret and attended by women only, in the grove of Simila, near the Aventine Hill, on March 16 and 17. Subsequently, admission to the rites were extended to men and celebrations took place five times a month. The mystery-cult may have been seen as a threat to the political status quo. The notoriety of these festivals, where many kinds of crimes and political conspiracies were supposed to be planned, led to a decree by the Senate in 186 BC — the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Calabria (1640), now in Vienna — by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in special cases that required specific approval by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree, the Bacchanalia were not stamped out, at any rate in the south of Italy, for a very long time.

Dionysus is equated with both Bacchus and Liber (also Liber Pater). Liber ("the free one") was a god of fertility, wine, and growth, married to Libera. His festival was the Liberalia, celebrated on March 17, but in some myths the festival was also held on March 5.


Dionysus sometimes has the epithet Acratophorus, by which he was designated as the giver of unmixed wine, and worshipped at Phigaleia in Arcadia.[15][16] In Sicyon he was worshiped by the name Acroreites.[17] As Bacchus, he carried the Latin epithet Adoneus, "Ruler".[18] Aegobolus, "goat killer", was the name under which he was worshiped at Potniae in Boeotia.[19] As Aesymnetes ("ruler" or "lord") he was worshipped at Aroë and Patrae in Achaea. Another epithet was Bromios, "the thunderer" or "he of the loud shout". As Dendrites, "he of the trees", he is a powerful fertility god. Dithyrambos is sometimes used to refer to him or to solemn songs sung to him at festivals; the name refers to his premature birth. Eleutherios ("the liberator") was an epithet for both Dionysus and Eros. Other forms of the god as that of fertility include the epithet in Samos and Lesbos Enorches ("with balls"[20] or perhaps "in the testicles" in reference to Zeus' sewing the babe Dionysus into his thigh, i.e., his testicles).[21] Evius is an epithet of his used prominently in Euripides' play, The Bacchae. Iacchus, possibly an epithet of Dionysus, is associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries; in Eleusis, he is known as a son of Zeus and Demeter. The name "Iacchus" may come from the Ιακχος (Iakchos), a hymn sung in honor of Dionysus. With the epithet Liknites ("he of the winnowing fan") he is a fertility god connected with the mystery religions. A winnowing fan was similar to a shovel and was used to separate the chaff from the grain. In addition, Dionysus is known as Lyaeus ("he who unties") as a god of relaxation and freedom from worry, and as Oeneus he is the god of the wine press. In Macedonia, he is attested as Pseudanor ("false man"), Agrios ("wild") and Erikryptos ("completely hidden").

In the Greek pantheon, Dionysus (along with Zeus) absorbs the role of Sabazios, a Thracian/Phrygian deity. In the Roman pantheon, Sabazius became an alternate name for Bacchus.[22]


Topics in Greek mythology


The top course of this Roman sarcophagus shows Dionysus's birth. In the top center, the baby god comes out of Zeus's thigh.

Dionysus had a strange birth that evokes the difficulty in fitting him into the Olympian pantheon. His mother was a mortal woman, Semele, the daughter of king Cadmus of Thebes, and his father was Zeus, the king of the gods. Zeus' wife, Hera, a jealous and prudish goddess, discovered the affair while Semele was pregnant. Appearing as an old crone (in other stories a nurse), Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that Zeus was the actual father of the baby in her womb. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele's mind. Curious, Semele demanded of Zeus that he reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he agreed. Therefore he came to her wreathed in bolts of lightning; mortals, however, could not look upon an undisguised god without dying, and she perished in the ensuing blaze. Zeus rescued the foetal Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. A few months later, Dionysus was born on Mount Pramnos in the island of Ikaria, where Zeus went to release the now-fully-grown baby from his thigh. In this version, Dionysus is borne by two "mothers" (Semele and Zeus) before his birth, hence the epithet dimētōr (of two mothers) associated with his being "twice-born".

In the Cretan version of the same story, which Diodorus Siculus follows,[23] Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the Greek underworld. Diodorus' sources equivocally identified the mother as Demeter.[24] A jealous Hera again attempted to kill the child, this time by sending Titans to rip Dionysus to pieces after luring the baby with toys. Zeus drove the Titans away with his thunderbolts, but only after the Titans ate everything but the heart, which was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus used the heart to recreate him in the womb of Semele, hence he was again "the twice-born". Other versions claim that Zeus gave Semele the heart to eat to impregnate her.

The rebirth in both versions of the story is the primary reason why Dionysus was worshipped in mystery religions, as his death and rebirth were events of mystical reverence. This narrative was apparently used in several Greek and Roman cults, and variants of it are found in Callimachus and Nonnus, who refer to this Dionysus with the title Zagreus, and also in several fragmentary poems attributed to Orpheus.[citation needed]


According to the myth Zeus gave the infant Dionysus into the charge of Hermes. One version of the story is that Hermes took the boy to King Athamas and his wife Ino, Dionysus' aunt. Hermes bade the couple raise the boy as a girl, to hide him from Hera's wrath.[25] Another version is that Dionysus was taken to the rain-nymphs of Nysa, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their care Zeus rewarded them by placing them as the Hyades among the stars (see Hyades star cluster). Other versions have Zeus giving him to Rhea, or to Persephone to raise in the Underworld, away from Hera. Alternatively, he was raised by Maro.

When Dionysus grew up, he discovered the culture of the vine and the mode of extracting its precious juice; but Hera struck him with madness, and drove him forth a wanderer through various parts of the earth. In Phrygia the goddess Cybele, better known to the Greeks as Rhea, cured him and taught him her religious rites, and he set out on a progress through Asia teaching the people the cultivation of the vine. The most famous part of his wanderings is his expedition to India, which is said to have lasted several years. Returning in triumph he undertook to introduce his worship into Greece, but was opposed by some princes who dreaded its introduction on account of the disorders and madness it brought with it (e.g. Pentheus or Lycurgus).

As a young man, Dionysus was exceptionally attractive. Once, while disguised as a mortal sitting beside the seashore, a few sailors spotted him, believing he was a prince. They attempted to kidnap him and sail him far away to sell for ransom or into slavery. They tried to bind him with ropes, but no type of rope could hold him. Dionysus turned into a fierce lion and unleashed a bear onboard, killing those he came into contact with. Those who jumped off the ship were mercifully turned into dolphins. The only survivor was the helmsman, Acoetes, who recognized the god and tried to stop his sailors from the start.[26] In a similar story, Dionysus desired to sail from Icaria to Naxos. He then hired a Tyrrhenian pirate ship. But when the god was on board, they sailed not to Naxos but to Asia, intending to sell him as a slave. So Dionysus turned the mast and oars into snakes, and filled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes so that the sailors went mad and, leaping into the sea, were turned into dolphins.

Other stories


Once, Dionysus found his old school master and foster father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and had wandered away drunk, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king, (alternatively, he passed out in Midas' rose garden). Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus entertained Midas and his friends with stories and songs. On the eleventh day, he brought Silenus back to Dionysus. Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wanted. Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Dionysus consented, though was sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched and turned to gold an oak twig and a stone. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Then he found that his bread, meat, daughter and wine turned to gold.

Upset, Midas strove to divest himself of his power (the Midas Touch); he hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus. He did so, and when he touched the waters the power passed into them, and the river sands changed into gold. This was an etiological myth that explained why the sands of the Pactolus were rich in gold.


Kylix (6th century BC) depicting Dionysus among the sailors transformed to dolphins after attempting to kidnap him

Euripides wrote a tale concerning the destructive nature of Dionysus in The Bacchae. Since Euripides wrote this play while in the court of King Archelaus of Macedon, some scholars believe that the cult of Dionysus was malicious in Macedon but benign in Athens.

In the play, Dionysus returns to his birthplace, Thebes, which is ruled by his cousin Pentheus. Dionysus wants to exact revenge on Pentheus and the women of Thebes (his aunts Agave, Ino and Autonoe) for not believing his mother Semele's claims of being impregnated by Zeus, and for denying Dionysus's divinity (and therefore not worshiping him).

Dionysus slowly drives Pentheus mad, lures him to the woods of Mount Cithaeron, and then convinces him to spy/peek on the Maenads (female worshippers of Dionysus, who often experienced divine ecstasy). The Maenads are in an insane frenzy when Pentheus sees them (earlier in the play they had ripped apart a herd of cattle), and they catch him but mistake him for a wild animal. Pentheus is torn to shreds, and his mother (Agave, one of the Maenads), not recognizing her own son because of her madness, brutally tears his limbs off as he begs for his life.

Because of their acts the women are banished from Thebes, ensuring Dionysus's revenge.


When King Lycurgus of Thrace heard that Dionysus was in his kingdom, he imprisoned all the followers of Dionysus; the god fled, taking refuge with Thetis, and sent a drought which stirred the people into revolt. Dionysus then made King Lycurgus insane, having him slice his own son into pieces with an axe, thinking he was a patch of ivy, a plant holy to Dionysus. An oracle then claimed that the land would stay dry and barren as long as Lycurgus was alive, so his people had him drawn and quartered; with Lycurgus dead, Dionysus lifted the curse. This story was told in Homer's epic, Iliad 6.136-7


A better-known story is that of his descent to Hades to rescue his mother Semele, whom he placed among the stars.[27] He made the ascent from a reputedly bottomless pool on the coast of the Argolid near the prehistoric site of Lerna. He was guided by Prosymnus or Polymnus, who requested, as his reward, to be Dionysus' lover. Prosymnus died before Dionysus could honor his pledge, so in order to satisfy Prosymnus' shade, Dionysus fashioned a phallus from an olive branch and sat on it at Prosymnus' tomb.[28] This story is told in full only in Christian sources whose aim was to discredit pagan mythology. It appears to have served as an explanation of the secret objects that were revealed in the Dionysian Mysteries.[29]


Another myth according to Nonnus involves Ampelos, a satyr. Foreseen by Dionysus, the youth was killed in an accident riding a bull maddened by the sting of an Ate's gadfly. The Fates granted Ampelos a second life as a vine, from which Dionysus squeezed the first wine.[30]


Young Dionysus was also said to have been one of the many famous pupils of the centaur Chiron. According to Ptolemy Chennus in the Library of Photius, "Dionysius was loved by Chiron, from whom he learned chants and dances, the bacchic rites and initiations."[31]

Secondary myths

When Hephaestus bound Hera to a magical chair, Dionysus got him drunk and brought her back to Olympus after he passed out.

A third descent by Dionysus to Hades is invented by Aristophanes in his comedy The Frogs. Dionysus, as patron of the Athenian dramatic festival, the Dionysia, wants to bring back to life one of the great tragedians. After a competition Aeschylus is chosen in preference to Euripides.

When Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, Dionysus found and married her. She bore him a son named Oenopion, but he committed suicide or was killed by Perseus. In some variants, he had her crown put into the heavens as the constellation Corona; in others, he descended into Hades to restore her to the gods on Olympus.

Callirrhoe was a Calydonian woman who scorned a priest of Dionysus who threatened to afflict all the women of Calydon with insanity (see Maenad). The priest was ordered to sacrifice Callirhoe but he killed himself instead. Callirhoe threw herself into a well which was later named after her.

Acis, a Sicilian youth, was sometimes said to be Bacchus' son.


Suggested parallels with Christianity

The opening salvo of debates concerning parallels between Dionysus and Christ can be traced to Friedrich Hölderlin, whose identification of Dionysus with Christ is most explicit in Brod und Wein (1800–1801) and Der Einzige (1801–1803).[32] Modern scholars such as Martin Hengel, Barry Powell, and Peter Wick, among others, argue that Dionysian religion and Christianity have notable parallels.[33][34][35] They point to the symbolism of wine and the importance it held in the mythology surrounding both Dionysus and Jesus;[36][37] though, Wick argues that the use of wine symbolism in the Gospel of John, including the story of the Marriage at Cana at which Jesus turns water into wine, was intended to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus.[35] Additionally, some scholars argue that both Dionysus and Jesus represent the dying-god mythological archetype.[14] Other elements, such as the celebration by a ritual meal of bread and wine, also have parallels.[34] Powell, in particular, argues precursors to the Christian notion of transubstantiation can be found in Dionysian religion.[34] However, these theories are not without their detractors, notably from Christian scholars.[38][39] Scholars such as Paul Barnett note that such theories often ignore the historical Jesus, focusing solely on "a mystical mindset and therefore oppose Christianity as grounded in history."[39]

In art

"Bacchus" by Michelangelo (1497)


Naturally, the god appeared on many kraters and other wine vessels from classical Greece. His iconography became more complex in the Hellenistic period, between severe archaising or Neo Attic types such as the Dionysus Sardanapalus and types showing him as an indolent and androgynous young man and often shown nude (see the Dionysus and Eros, Naples Archeological Museum).

Elizabeth Kessler has theorized that a mosaic appearing on the triclinium floor of the House of Aion in Nea Paphos, Cyprus. details a monotheistic worship of Dionysus.[40] In the mosaic, other gods appear but may only be lesser representations of the centrally-imposed Dionysus.

Modern views

Dionysus has remained an inspiration to artists, philosophers and writers into the modern era. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872), the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche contrasted Dionysus with the god Apollo as a symbol of the fundamental, unrestrained aesthetic principle of force, music, and intoxication versus the principle of sight, form, and beauty represented by the latter. Nietzsche continued to contemplate the character of Dionysus, which he revisited in the final pages of his 1886 work Beyond Good and Evil. This reconceived Nietzschean Dionysus was invoked as an embodiment of the central will to power concept in Nietzsche's later works The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist and Ecce Homo.

The Russian poet and philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov elaborated the theory of Dionysianism, which traces the roots of literary art in general and the art of tragedy in particular to ancient Dionysian mysteries. His views were expressed in the treatises The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God (1904), and Dionysus and Early Dionysianism (1921).

Inspired by James Frazer, some have labeled Dionysus a life-death-rebirth deity. The mythographer Karl Kerenyi devoted much energy to Dionysus over his long career; he summed up his thoughts in Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life (Bollingen, Princeton) 1976.

Dionysus is the main character of Aristophanes' play The Frogs, later updated to a modern version by Burt Shevelove (libretto) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) ("The time is the present. The place is ancient Greece. ... "). In the play, Dionysus and his slave Xanthius venture to Hades to bring a famed writer back from the dead, with the hopes that the writer's presence in the world will fix all nature of earthly problems. In Aristophanes' play, Euripides competes against Aeschylus to be recovered from the underworld; In Sondheim and Shevelove's, George Bernard Shaw faces William Shakespeare.

The Romanised equivalent of Dionysus was referenced in the 1852 plantation literature novel Aunt Phillis's Cabin, which featured a character named Uncle Bacchus, who was so-named due to his excessive alcoholism.

Both Eddie Campbell and Grant Morrison have utilised the character. Morrison claims that the myth of Dionysus provides the inspiration for his violent and explicit graphic novel Kill Your Boyfriend, whilst Campbell used the character in his Deadface series to explore both the conventions of super-hero comic books and artistic endeavour.

Walt Disney has depicted the character on a number of occasions. The first such portrayal of Dionysus, as the Roman Bacchus, was in the "Pastoral" segment of Walt Disney's 3rd classic Fantasia. In keeping with the more fun-loving Roman god, he is portrayed as an overweight, happily drunk man wearing a tunic and cloak, grape leaves on his head, carrying a goblet of wine, and riding a drunken donkey named Jacchus ("jackass"). He is friends with the fauns and centaurs, and is shown celebrating a harvest festival. Other portrayals have appeared in both the Disney movie and spin-off TV series of Hercules. He was depicted as an overweight drunkard as opposed to his youthful descriptions in myths. He has bright pink skin and rosy red cheeks hinting at his drunkenness. He always carries either a bottle or glass of wine in his hand, and like in the myths, wears a wreath of grape leaves upon his head. He is known by his Roman name in the series 'Bacchus', and in one episode headlines his own festival known as the 'Bacchanal'.

In music Dionysius (together with Demeter) was used as an archetype for the character Tori by contemporary artist Tori Amos in her 2007 album American Doll Posse, and the Canadian rock band Rush refer to a confrontation and hatred between Dionysus and Apollo in the Cygnus X-1 duology.

In literature, Dionysius has proven equally inspiring. Rick Riordan's series of books Percy Jackson & The Olympians presents Dionysus as an uncaring, childish and spoilt god who as a punishment has to work in Camp Half-Blood. In Fred Saberhagen's 2001 novel, God of the Golden Fleece, a young man in a post-apocalyptic world picks up an ancient piece of technology shaped in the likeness of the Dionysus. Here, Dionysus is depicted as a relatively weak god, albeit a subversive one whose powers are able to undermine the authority of tyrants.

A version of Bacchus also appears in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, part of the Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis depicts him as dangerous-looking, androgynous young boy who helps Aslan awaken the spirits of the Narnian trees and rivers. He does not appear in the 2008 film version.

In 2009 the poet Stephen Howarth and veteran theatre producer Andrew Hobbs collaborated on a play entitled Bacchus in Rehab with Dionysus as the central character. The authors describe the piece as “combining highbrow concept and lowbrow humour”[41].

The second season of True Blood involves a plot line wherein a maenad, Maryann, causes mayhem in the Louisiana town of Bon Temps in attempt to summon Dionysus.

Names originating from Dionysus

  • Deion (also spelled Dion and Dionne)
  • Denise (also spelled Denice, Daniesa, Denese, and Denisse)
  • Dennis, Denis or Denys (including the derivative surnames Denison and Dennison), Denny
  • Denis, Dionis, Dionisie (Romanian)
  • Dénes (Hungarian)
  • Dionisio/Dyonisio (Spanish), Dionigi (Italian)
  • Διονύσιος, Διονύσης, Νιόνιος (Dionysios, Dionysis, Nionios Modern Greek)
  • Deniska (diminutive of Russian Denis, itself a derivative of the Greek)
  • Dionísio (Portuguese)

See also



  1. ^ Another variant, from the Spanish royal colledtion, is at the Museo del Prado, Madrid: illustration.
  2. ^ In Greek "both votary and god are called Bacchus." (Burkert, Greek Religion 1985:162, noting, for the initiate, Euripides, Bacchantes 491, for the god, who alone is Dionysus, Sophocles Oedipus the King 211 and Euripides Hippolytus 560.
  3. ^ Sutton, p.2, mentions Dionysus as The Liberator in relation to the city Dionysia festivals.
  4. ^ Fox, p. 221, "The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the flute and to bring surcease to care"; Fox cites Euripides as a direct source for this statement. Euripides, Bacchae 379-381: "[370] Holiness, queen of the gods, Holiness, who bear your golden wings along the earth, do you hear these words from Pentheus? Do you hear his unholy [375] insolence against Bromius, the child of Semele, the first deity of the gods at the banquets where guests wear beautiful garlands? He holds this office, to join in dances, [380] to laugh with the flute, and to bring an end to cares, whenever the delight of the grape comes at the feasts of the gods, and in ivy-bearing banquets [385] the goblet sheds sleep over men." [1]
  5. ^ Riu, Xavier, Dionysism and Comedy, Chapter 4, Happiness and the Dead, p.105, "Dionysus presides over communications with the Dead".
  6. ^ Otto, Walter F. (1995). Dionysus Myth and Cult. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253208912. 
  7. ^ Fox, p. 217, "The word Dionysos is divisible into two parts, the first originally Διος (cf. Ζευς), while the second is of an unknown signification, although perhaps connected with the name of the Mount Nysa which figures in the story of Lykourgos: (...) when Dionysos had been reborn from the thigh of Zeus, Hermes entrusted him to the nymphs of Mount Nysa, who fed him on the food of the gods, and made him immortal".
  8. ^ Dictionary of Ancient Deities by Patricia Turner and the late Charles Russell Coulter, 2001,page 152
  9. ^ Dictionary of Ancient Deities by Patricia Turner and the late Charles Russell Coulter, 2001,page 520
  10. ^ John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World (Cambridge University Press) 1976:99f: "But Dionysos surprisingly appears twice at Pylos, in the form Diwonusos, both times irritatingly enough on fragments, so that we have no means of verifying his divinity."
  11. ^ Adams, John Paul. Professor of Classics, California State University, Northridge, 2005, Dionysos website. http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/dionysos.html
  12. ^ Kerenyi 1976.
  13. ^ Apollodorus (Pseudo Apollodorus), Library and Epitome, 1.3.2. "Orpheus also invented the mysteries of Dionysus, and having been torn in pieces by the Maenads he is buried in Pieria."
  14. ^ a b c Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, 1985 pp. 64, 132
  15. ^ Pausanias, viii. 39. § 4
  16. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Acratophorus", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston, MA, pp. 14, http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0023.html 
  17. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Ακρωρεία
  18. ^ Ausonius, Epigr. xxix. 6
  19. ^ Pausanias, ix. 8. § 1.
  20. ^ Kerenyi 1976:286.
  21. ^ Jameson 1993, 53. Cf.n16 for suggestions of Devereux on "Enorkhes".
  22. ^ Rosemarie Taylor-Perry, The God Who Comes: Dionysian Mysteries Revisited. Algora Press 2003, p.89, cf. Sabazius.
  23. ^ Diorodus V 75.4, noted by Karl Kerényi, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life (Princeton University Press) 1976, "The Cretan core of the Dionysos myth" p 110 note 213 and pp 110-114.
  24. ^ Diodorus III 64.1, also noted by Kerény (110 note 214.)
  25. ^ Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Includes Frazer's notes. ISBN 0674991354, ISBN 0674991362
  26. ^ WRATH OF DIONYSUS 1 : Greek mythology
  27. ^ Hyginus, Astronomy 2.5.
  28. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos, II-30 3-5
  29. ^ Arnobius, Against the Gentiles 5.28 (Dalby 2005, pp. 108-117)
  30. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca (X.175-430; XI; XII.1-117); (Dalby 2005, pp. 55-62).
  31. ^ Photius, Library; "Ptolemy Chennus, New History"
  32. ^ The mid-19th century debates are traced in G.S. Williamson, The Longing for Myth in Germany, 2004.
  33. ^ Studies in Early Christology, by Martin Hengel, 2005, p.331 (ISBN 0567042804)
  34. ^ a b c Powell, Barry B., Classical Myth Second ed. With new translations of ancient texts by Herbert M. Howe. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.
  35. ^ a b Wick, Peter (2004). "Jesus gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag zur Kontextualisierung des Johannesevangeliums". Biblica (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute) 85 (2): 179–198. http://www.bsw.org/?l=71851&a=Comm06.html. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  36. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 26. 1 - 2
  37. ^ Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2. 34a
  38. ^ Biblical Studies on the Web
  39. ^ a b The Jesus Mysteries - a critique
  40. ^ Kessler, E., Dionysian Monotheism in Nea Paphos, Cyprus, (Abstract)
  41. ^ http://www.facsimileproductions.co.uk/page_1193321376829.html


  • Dalby, Andrew (2005), The Story of Bacchus, London: British Museum Press, ISBN 0714122556  (US ISBN 0-89236-742-3)
  • Farnell, Lewis Richard, The Cults of the Greek States, 1896. Volume V, cf. Chapter IV, Cults of Dionysos; Chapter V, Dionysiac Ritual; Chapter VI, Cult-Monuments of Dionysos; Chapter VII, Ideal Dionysiac Types.
  • Fox, William Sherwood, The Mythology of All Races, v.1, Greek and Roman, 1916, General editor, Louis Herbert Gray.
  • Jameson, Michael. "The Asexuality of Dionysus." Masks of Dionysus. Ed. Thomas H. Carpenter and Christopher A. Faraone. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993. ISBN 0-8014-8062-0. 44-64.
  • Kerényi, Karl, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, (Princeton: Bollingen) 1976.
  • Pickard-Cambridge, Arthur, The Theatre of Dionysus at Athens, 1946.
  • Powell, Barry B., "Classical Myth," 5th edition, 2007. ISBN
  • Ridgeway, William, Origin of Tragedy, 1910. Kessinger Publishing (June 2003). ISBN 0-7661-6221-4.
  • Ridgeway, William, The Dramas and Dramatic Dances of non-European Races in special reference to the origin of Greek Tragedy, with an appendix on the origin of Greek Comedy, 1915.
  • Riu, Xavier, Dionysism and Comedy, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers (1999). ISBN 0-8476-9442-9. [2]
  • Seaford, Richard. "Dionysos", Routledge (2006). ISBN 0-415-32488-2.
  • Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, article on Dionysus, [3]
  • Sutton, Dana F., Ancient Comedy, Twayne Publishers (August 1993). ISBN 0-8057-0957-6.


External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DIONYSUS (probably = " son of Zeus," from Otos and vvvos, a Thracian word for " son "), in Greek mythology, originally a nature god of fruitfulness and vegetation, especially of the vine; hence, distinctively, the god of wine. The names Bacchus (Bdi os, in use among the Greeks from the 5th 2 See the studies by Siegfried and Gelzer, Eusebii canonum epitome ex Dionysii Telmaharensis chronico petita (Leipzig, 1884), and von Gutschmid, Untersuchungen fiber die syrische Epitome der Eusebischen Canones (Stuttgart, 1886).

Text and translation by J.-B. Chabot (Paris, 1895).

century), Sabazius, and Bassareus, are also Thracian names of the god. The two first (like Iacchus, Bromius and Euios) have been connected with the loud " shout " (0-a06 ctv = A"ECV = Euaq"Et y) of his worshippers, Bassareus with OacQapac, the fox-skin garments of the Thracian Bacchanals. It has been suggested (J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to Greek Religion) that Sabazius and Bromius= " beer-god," " god of a cereal intoxicant " (cf. Illyrian sabaia and modern Greek (pCopt, " oats "), while W. Ridgeway (Classical Review, January 1896), comparing Apollo Smintheus, interprets Bassareus as " he who keeps away the foxes from the vineyards " (for various interpretations of these and other cult-titles, see O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. pp. 1408, 1532, especially the notes).

In Homer, notwithstanding the frequent mention of the use of wine, Dionysus is never mentioned as its inventor or introducer, nor does he appear in Olympus; Hesiod is the first who calls wine the gift of Dionysus. On the other hand, he is spoken of in the Iliad (vi. 130 f oll., a passage belonging to the latest period of epic), as " raging," an epithet that indicates that in those comparatively early times the orgiastic character of his worship was recognized. In fact, Dionysus may be regarded under two distinct aspects: that of a popular national Greek god of wine and cheerfulness, and that of a foreign deity, worshipped with ecstatic and mysterious rites introduced from Thrace. According to the usual tradition, he was born at Thebes - originally the local centre of his worship in Greece - and was the son of Zeus, the fertilizing rain god, and Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, a personification of earth. Before the child was mature, Zeus appeared to Semele at her request in his majesty as god of lightning, by which she was killed, but the infant was saved from the flames by Zeus (or Hermes). The epithet irEputcovcos, originally referring to an ivy-crowned, pillar-shaped fetish of the god, afterwards gave rise to the legend of a miraculous growth of ivy " round the pillars " of the royal palace, whereby the infant Dionysus was preserved from the flames. Zeus took him up, enclosed him within his own thigh till he came to maturity, and then brought him to the light, so that he was twice born; it was to celebrate this double birth that the dithyrambus (also used as an epithet of the god) was sung (see Etym. Mag. s.v.). It has been suggested that this is an allusion to the couvade of certain barbarous tribes, amongst whom it is customary, when a child is born, for the husband to take to his bed and receive medical treatment, as if he shared the pains of maternity (see Couvade, and references there). Dionysus was then conveyed by Hermes to be brought up by the nymphs of Nysa, a purely imaginary spot, afterwards localized in different parts of the world, which claimed the honour of having been the birthplace of the god. As soon as Dionysus was grown up, he started on a journey through the world, to teach the cultivation of the vine and spread his worship among men. While so engaged he met with opposition, even in his own country, as in the case of Pentheus, king of Thebes, who opposed the orgiastic rites introduced by Dionysus among the women of Thebes, and, having been discovered watching one of these ceremonies, was mistaken for some animal of the chase, and slain by his own mother (see A. G. Bather, Journ. Hell. Studies, xiv. 1894). A similar instance is that of Lycurgus, a Thracian king, from whose attack Dionysus saved himself by leaping into the sea, where he was kindly received by Thetis. Lycurgus was blinded by Zeus and soon died, or became frantic and hewed down his own son, mistaking him for a vine. At Orchomenus, the three daughters of Minyas refused to join the other women in their nocturnal orgies, and for this were transformed into birds (see Agr10nia). These and similar stories point to the vigorous resistance offered to the introduction of the mystic rites of Dionysus, in places where an established religion already existed. On the other hand, when the god was received hospitably he repaid the kindness by the gift of the vine, as in the case of Icarius of Attica (see Erigone).

The worship of Dionysus was actively conducted in Asia Minor, particularly in Phrygia and Lydia. Here, as Sabazius, he was associated with the:Phrygian goddess Cybele, and was followed in his expeditions by a thiasos (retinue) of centaurs and satyrs, with Pan and Silenus. In Lydia his triumphant return from India was celebrated by an annual festival on Mount Tmolus; in Lydia he assumed the long beard and long robe which were of terwards given him in his character of the " Indian Bacchus," the conqueror of the East, who, after the campaigns of Alexander, was reported to have advanced as far as the Ganges. The other incidents in which he appears in a purely triumphal character are his transforming into dolphins the Tyrrhene pirates who attacked him, as told in the Homeric hymn to Dionysus and represented on the monument of Lysicrates at Athens, and his part in the war of the gods against the giants. The former story has been connected with the sailors' custom of hanging vine leaves, ivy and bunches of grapes round the masts of vessels in honour of vintage festivals. The adventure with the pirates occurred on his voyage to Naxos, where he found Ariadne abandoned by Theseus. At Naxos Ariadne (probably a Cretan goddess akin to Aphrodite) was associated with Dionysus as his wife, by whom he was the father of Oenopion (wine-drinker), Staphylus (grape), and Euanthes (blooming), and their marriage was annually celebrated by a festival. Having compelled all the world to recognize his divinity, he descended to the underworld to bring up his mother, who was afterwards worshipped with him under the name of Thyone (" the raging "), he himself being called after her Thyoneus.

Another phase in the myth of Dionysus originated in observing the decay of vegetation in winter, to suit which he was supposed to be slain and to join the deities of the lower world. This phase of his character was developed by the Orphic poets, he having here the name of Zagreus (" torn in pieces "), and being no longer the Theban god, but a son of Zeus and Persephone. The child was brought up secretly, watched over by Curetes; but the jealous Hera discovered where he was, and sent Titans to the spot, who, finding him at play, tore him to pieces, and cooked and ate his limbs, while Hera gave his heart to Zeus. The tearing in pieces is referred by some to the torture experienced by the grape (Naturschmerz) when crushed for making into wine (cf. Burns's John Barleycorn); but it is better to refer it to the tearing of the flesh of the victim at sacrifices at which the deity or the sacred animal was slain, and sacramentally eaten raw (cf. the title c.µno-Tns given to Dionysus in certain places, probably pointing to human sacrifice.) To connect this with the myth of the Theban birth of Dionysus, it is said that Zeus gave the child's heart to Semele, or himself swallowed it and gave birth to the new Dionysus (called Iacchus from his worshippers' cry of rejoicing), who was cradled and swung in a winnowing fan (Xikvos; see J. E. Harrison, Journ. Hellenic Studies, xxiii.), the swinging being supposed to act as a charm in awakening vegetation from its winter sleep. The conception of Zagreus, or the winter Dionysus, appears to have originated in Crete, but it was accepted also in Delphi, where his grave was shown, and sacrifice was secretly offered at it annually on the shortest day. The story is in many respects similar to that of Osiris. According to others, Zagreus was originally a god of the chase, who became a hunter of men and a god of the underworld, more akin to Hades than to Dionysus (see also Titans).

Dionysus further possessed the prophetic gift, and his oracle at Delphi was as important as that of Apollo. Like Hermes, Dionysus was a god of the productiveness of nature, and hence Priapus was one of his regular companions, while not only in the mysteries but in the rural festivals his symbol, the phallus, was carried about ostentatiously. His symbols from the animal kingdom were the bull (perhaps a totemistic attribute and identified with him), the panther, the lion, the tiger, the ass, the goat, and sometimes also the dolphin and the snake. His personal attributes are an ivy wreath, the thyrsus (a staff with pine cone at the end), the laurel, the pine, a drinking cup, and sometimes the horn of a bull on his forehead. Artistically he was represented mostly either as a youth of soft, nearly feminine form, or as a bearded and draped man, but frequently also as an infant, with reference to his birth or to his bringing up in "Nysa." His earliest images were of wood with the branches still attached in parts, whence he was called Dionysus Dendrites, an allusion to his protection of trees generally (according to Pherecydes in C. W. Muller, Frag. Hist. Graec. iv. p. 637, the word viio-a signified " tree "). It is suggested that the cult of Dionysus absorbed that of an old tree-spirit. He was figured also, like Hermes, in the form of a pillar or term surmounted by his head. For the connexion of Dionysus with Greek tragedy see Drama.

See Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, v. (1910); also O. Rapp, Beziehungen des Dionysuskultus zu Thrakien (1882); O. Ribbeck, Anfdnge and Entwickelung des Dionysuskultes in Attica (1869); A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, ii. p. 241; L. Dyer, The Gods in Greece (1891); J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903); J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, ii (1900), pp. 160, 291, who regards the bull and goat form of Dionysus as expressions of his proper character as a deity of vegetation; F. A. Voigt in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie; L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie (4th ed. by C. Robert); F. Lenormant (s.v. " Bacchus ") in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites; O. Kern in PaulyWissowa's Realencyclopadie (with list of cult titles); W. Pater, Greek Studies (1895); E. Rohde, Psyche, ii., who finds the origin of the Hellenic belief in the immortality of the soul in the " enthusiastic " rites of the Thracian Dionysus, which lifted persons out of themselves, and exalted them to a fancied equality with the gods; O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie and Religionsgeschichte, ii. (1907), who considers Boeotia, not Thrace, to have been the original home of Dionysus; P. Foucart, " Le Culte de Dionysos en Attique " in Memoires de l'Institut national de France, xxxvii. (1906), who finds the prototype of Dionysus in Egypt. The Great Dionysiak Myth (1877-1878) by R. Brown contains a wealth of material, but is weak in scholarship. For a striking survival of Dionysiac rites in Thrace (Bizye), see Dawkins, in J.H.S. (1906), p. 191.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Alternative spellings


Via Latin Dionysus from Ancient Greek Διόνυσος (Dionusos).

Proper noun




  1. (Greek mythology) The god of wine, specifically its intoxication and social influence, but also the patron of agriculture and the theater. Also related to the mystery of religion, as in "spiritual intoxication".

See also


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