Mythman's Major Olympian Gods



Dionysus & his Posse


Dionysus Stamp

continued from page two

Next fool to oppose Dionysus was Pentheus, King of Thebes. He arrested the god of wine and his Maenads, but at once he went mad and shackled a bull rather than Dionysus.

The Maenads escaped and wreaked havoc on the mountains, in their frenzy tearing calves into pieces. When Pentheus attempted to stop them, the Maenads, inflamed by religious ecstasy and wine, tore the King limb from limb, led by his own mother Agave, who herself wrenched off his head.

Dionysus then toured the Aegean Islands, spreading joy and terror wherever he went. Hiring a ship that was bound for Naxos, however, he fell into a pirate trap. The ship's sailors, unaware that Dionysus was a god, steered a course for Asia, planning to sell him there as a slave.

Dionysus made ivy grow and twine around the rigging and vines to sprout from the deck and engulf the mast. The oars turned into serpents and Dionysus himself transformed into a lion, as the sound of flutes filled the ship along with phantom beasts.

The terrified pirates leaped overboard and became dolphins. At Naxos Dionysus met the beautiful Ariadne, who had been abandoned by the hero Theseus. Falling in love with her, they married and she bore him Oenopion, Thoas, Staphylus, Latromis, Euanthes, and Tauropolus.

From Naxos he sailed to Argos and caused the women to go insane until their king, the hero Perseus, acknowledged his divinity and built a temple in honor of Dionysus.

His worship eventually firmly established throughout the world, Dionysus was then free to ascend to Mount Olympus, where he took his seat at the right hand of his father Zeus. Even Hera, his tormentor, finally accepted him.

Some claim that the wise Hestia, goddess of the hearth, gave up her place at Olympus to make room for him, and indeed she was happy to be rid of the petty jealousies that were rampant in the heavens.

Dionysus was also one of the very few that was able to bring a dead person out of the underworld. Even though he had never seen his mother Semele, he was concerned for her.

Eventually he journeyed into the Underworld to find her. He bribed Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, with a gift of myrtle to release his mother, faced down Thanatos (Death) and brought Semele back to Mount Olympus.

Still, just so other ghosts did not become jealous, Dionysus changed his mother's name to Thyone ('raging queen') and that's how he introduced her to the other Olympians.

Zeus provided an apartment for her and Hera wasn't at all happy with this arrangement, but she kept a resigned silence.

Dionysus became one of the most important gods in everyday life. He became associated with several key concepts. One was rebirth after death.

Here his dismemberment by the Titans and return to life is symbolically echoed in tending vines, where the vines must be pruned back sharply, and then become dormant in winter for them to bear fruit.

The other is the idea that under the influence of wine, one could feel possessed by a greater power. Unlike the other gods, Dionysus was not only outside his believers but, also within them. At these times, a man might be greater than himself and do works he otherwise could not.

Dionysus continues on page four!

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