Septimius Severus Æ 27mm of Nikopolis ad Istrum. Dionysos standing left, holding large bunch of grapes & thyrsos;

Ancient Coins - Septimius Severus Æ 27mm of Nikopolis ad Istrum. Dionysos standing left, holding large bunch of grapes & thyrsos;
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Septimius Severus � 27mm of Nikopolis ad Istrum. Aurelius Gallus legate.? , laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, / , Dionysos standing left, holding large bunch of grapes & thyrsos; PC Unpublished.Varbanov 2718.Moushmov 937

Dionysus

In classical mythology, Dionysus or Dionysos (Greek Διόνυσος or Διώνυσος; IPA: /ˌdaɪəˈnaɪsəs/), is the god of wine, the inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy, and a major figure of Greek mythology, and one of the twelve Olympians, among whom Greek mythology treated Dionysus as a late arrival. The geographical origins of his cult were unknown to the classical Greeks, but almost all myths depicted him as having "foreign" origins: typical of the god of the epiphany, "the god that comes".

He was also known as Bacchus[1] and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. 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.[2] The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the aulos and to bring an end to care and worry.[3] Scholars have discussed Dionysus' relationship to the "cult of the souls" and his ability to preside over communication between the living and the dead.[4]

In Greek mythology, Dionysus is made to be a son of Zeus and 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".[5]

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.[6]

The retinue of Dionysus was called the Thiasus and comprised chiefly Maenads.

[edit] Worship

The Ludovisi Dionysus with panther, satyr and grapes on a vine (Palazzo Altemps, Rome)
Main article: Cult of Dionysus

Dionysus is a god of mystery religious rites, such as 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, were the most secretive of all (See also Maenads). 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.

Though the name of Dionysus appears, surprisingly, in two tablets at Mycenaean Pylos at the moment of its ruin,[7] 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",[8] and Karl Kerenyi[9] 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.[10]

[edit] Bacchanalia

Main article: Bacchanalia

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 notoriety of these festivals, where many kinds of crimes and political conspiracies were supposed to be planned, led in 186 BC to a decree of the Senate � the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Calabria (1640), now at Vienna � by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically 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
Mythology

[edit] Birth

Dionysian procession on a marble sarcophagus, born in 1982 possibly indicating that the deceased was an initiate into the mysteries

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 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,[19] Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the Greek underworld. Diodorus' sources equivocally identified the mother as Demeter.[20] 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]

[edit] Early life

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

The legend goes that 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.[21] 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. (See 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.[22] 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.

[edit] Other stories

[edit] Midas

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, Midas (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.

[edit] Pentheus

Dionysos riding a leopard, 4th century BC mosaic from Pella.

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 and his cousin Pentheus) 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 worshipers 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 head off as he begs for his life.

Because of their acts the women are banished from Thebes (the ancient Greeks did not have an equivalent of the "innocent by reason of insanity" plea), and thus Dionysus has his revenge.

[edit] Hestia

When Hestia, goddess of the hearth and home decided to leave the Council of Twelve and tend to the fireplace of all family houses, Zeus chose Dionysus to take her place on Olympus as the immortal god of wine, revelry, and parties.

[edit] Lycurgus

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.

[edit] Prosymnus

A better-known story is that of his descent to Hades to rescue his mother Semele, whom he placed among the stars.[23] 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, the Dionysus fashioned a phallus from an olive branch and sat on it at Prosymnus' tomb.[24] 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.[25]

[edit] Ampelos

A pederastic myth of the god involves his eromenos, Ampelos, a beautiful satyr youth whom he loved dearly. According to Nonnus, Ampelos was killed close by the river Pactolus, riding a bull maddened by the sting of Ate's gadfly, as foreseen by his lover. The Fates granted Ampelos a second life as a vine, from which Dionysus squeezed the first wine.[26]

[edit] 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.

Callirhoe was a Calydonian woman who scorned a priest of Dionysus who threatened to inflict 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.
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