DIONYSUS (dye-oh-NYE-sus; Roman name Bacchus) is the god of transformation, wine and theater. Dionysus is the son of Zeus and the mortal heroine Semele.

Dionysus (Roman name: Bacchus) is the god of wine, theater, mystic ecstasy, and essentially the god of transformation. Dionysus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal heroine Semele. His birth is quite remarkable; Dionysus was rescued from Semele's womb when she was killed by the jealous goddess Hera, Zeus' wife. Zeus implanted Dionysus into his thigh from where he was eventually born. Dionysus fell in love with and married Ariadne, a princess who had been a moon goddess, and they had several children. Dionysus is one of the few Greek gods who remained faithful to their wives. It was Dionysus who granted Midas the power to turn whatever he touched into gold, and then was kind enough to take the power back when it proved inconvenient.


DIONYSUS AND DRAMA: An orchestra, or a dancing ground, of Dionysus with an arrangement for spectators ( theatron ) was built in Athens in the early sixth century. It became the great center for drama where plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were first performed. Drama is produced at festivals honoring Dionysus, in his theatre, under the presidency of his priest, by performers wearing masks and special dress. That is how tragedy (which originally meant goat song for Dionysus) began and quickly reached heights never surpassed. Any formal tragedy involves disaster: physical, moral, or spiritual. The hero is doomed. Tragedy deals with human suf fering and the courage of a hero who resists the inevitable. Pathos or melodrama is acceptance submissively or without comprehension of misfortune. These ideas are found in Aristotle's Poetics, the work from which our appraisal of tragedy is found. Aristotle also notes the "tragic flaw" in the hero. This defect of character, or inability to understand a situation makes his destruction inevitable. At some point in the drama the hero should see the truth of his situation, cease resistance, and accept his fate. The audience identifies with the hero, and feels pity or fear, but the catharsis of these feelings leaves the audience exalted or in tears.


Concerning Dionysos the son of renowned Semele shall I sing; how once he appeared upon the shore of the sea unharvested, on a jutting headland, in form like a man in the bloom of youth, with his beautiful dark hair waving around him, and on his strong shoulders a purple robe. Anon came in sight certain men that were pirates; in a well-wrought ship sailing swiftly on the dark seas: Tyrsenians were they, and Ill Fate was their leader, for they beholding him nodded to each other, and swiftly leaped forth, and hastily seized him, and set him aboard their ship rejoicing in heart, for they deemed that he was the son of kings, the fosterlings of Zeus, and they were minded to bind him with grievous bonds. But him the fetters held not, and the withes fell far from his hands and feet. There sat he smiling with his dark eyes, but the steersman saw it, and spake aloud to his companions: "Fools, what God have ye taken and bound? A strong God is he, our trim ship may not contain him. Surely this is Zeus, or Apollo of the Silver Bow, or Poseidon; for he is nowise like mortal man, but like the Gods who have mansions in Olympus. Nay, come let us instantly release him upon the dark mainland, nor lay ye your hands upon him, lest, being wroth, he rouse against us masterful winds and rushing storm." So spake he, but their captain rebuked him with a hateful word: "Fool, look thou to the wind, and haul up the sail, and grip to all the gear, but this fellow will be for men to meddle with. Methinks he will come to Egypt, or to Cyprus, or to the Hyperboreans, or further far; and at the last he will tell us who his friends are, and concerning his wealth, and his brethren, for the God has delivered him into our hands." So spake he, and let raise the mast and hoist the mainsail, and the wind filled the sail, and they made taut the ropes all round. But anon strange matters appeared to them: first there flowed through all the swift black ship a sweet and fragrant wine, and the ambrosial fragrance arose, and fear fell upon all the mariners that beheld it. And straightaway a vine stretched hither and thither along the sail, hanging with many a cluster, and dark ivy twined round the mast blossoming with flowers, and gracious fruit and garlands grew on all the thole-pins; and they that saw it bade the steersman drive straight to land. Meanwhile within the ship the God changed into the shape of a lion at the bow; and loudly he roared, and in midship he made a shaggy bear: such marvels he showed forth: there stood it raging, and on the deck glared the lion terribly. Then the men fled in terror to the stern, and there stood in fear round the honest pilot. But suddenly sprang forth the lion and seized the captain, and the men all at once leaped overboard into the strong sea, shunning dread doom, and there were changed into dolphins. But the God took pity upon the steersman, and kept him, and gave him all good fortune, and spake, saying, "Be of good courage, Sir, dear art thou to me, and I am Dionysos of the noisy rites whom Cadmeian Semele bare to the love of Zeus." Hail, thou child of beautiful Semele, none that is mindless of thee can fashion sweet minstrelsy. - from The Homeric Hymns, trans. Andrew Lang (London, 1899)

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