Mythman's Major Olympian Gods



Dionysus God of Wine

by Janice Duke

Bacchus by Caravaggio

Nymphs & Satyr

continued from page three

There is a reason that donkeys are sacred to Dionysus and he is often portrayed sitting astride an ass. When goddess Hera had thrown him into a state of madness,  he wandered about through many countries of the earth.

Dionysus was made to travel to an oracle at Dodona to receive instructions as to the next step in his journey, but on his way there he came to a lake, so deep and wide that he was prevented from proceeding any further.

One of two asses (donkeys) he met there at the lake were willing to carry the god of wine across the water, and the grateful god placed both animals among the stars. Henceforth donkeys remained sacred to Dionysus.

Similarly, when Dionysus arrived at the Euphrates river, he built a bridge to cross it, but Zeus sent a tiger to instead carry him across the river Tigris.

No matter where Dionysus and the frenzied host of Pans, Satyrs, and Maenads went, they easily conquered any enemies foolish enough to stand up to such a spirited army.

The invaders would teach the natives the cultivation of the vine and of various fruits, and would introduce to them the worship of the Olympian gods.

Dionysus and his army would also establish towns wherever they went, would institute laws, and leave behind a legacy of buildings, temples, pillars and monuments.

Without exception, the conquered land and its people would be happy at this conqueror who had civilized them and brought such a precious gift. Consequently, Dionysus would be worshipped as a major god in these new lands.

The festival for Dionysus was in the spring when the leaves begin to reappear on the vine. It became one of the most important events of the year, with its focus becoming the theater.

Most of the great Greek plays were initially written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus. Those who took part, including writers, actors and spectators, were regarded as sacred servants of Dionysus during the festival.

As far as the nature and origin of the god Dionysus is concerned, he appears in all traditions as the representative of some power of nature, whereas Apollo is mainly an ethical deity.

Dionysus is the productive, overflowing and intoxicating power of nature, which carries an ordinarily serious man away from his usual quiet and sober mode of living and inspires him to do things he wouldn't otherwise consider.

Wine is the most natural and appropriate symbol of that power, and it is therefore called "the fruit of Dionysus." (Dionusou karpos) by the ancient Greeks.

Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, the inventor and teacher of its cultivation, the giver of joy, and the disperser of grief and sorrow all at once.

As the god of wine, he is also both an inspired and an inspiring god, that is, a god who has the power of revealing the future to man by oracles. Thus, it can be said that Dionysus had as great an influence on the Delphic oracle as Apollo, god of prophecy, and he himself had an oracle in Thrace to guide the ancients.

Since prophetic power always goes hand in hand with the healing arts, Dionysus and his oracle of Amphicleia, in the region of Phocis, cured diseases by revealing the remedies to the sufferers in their dreams. Hence Dionysus was considered a savior god against raging diseases.

Since he was the cultivator and protector of the vine, it followed that Dionysus was also the guardian of trees in general, giving him a close connection to Demeter, goddess of the harvest.

His connection to Demeter is further reinforced by the notion of his being the promoter of civilization, a law-giver, and a lover of peace, as Dionysus did throughout his faraway journeys.

It is interesting to note that in the earliest times the Graces, or Charites, were the companions of Dionysus, and at Olympia he and the Charites had an altar in common.

In the course of time a great change took place in the mode of his worship, for afterwards we find him accompanied on his expeditions and travels by Bacchantic women, all of whom are represented in works of art  as raging with madness or enthusiasm.

These frenzied women in the god of wine's entourage were portrayed as being in vehement motions, their heads thrown backwards, with disheveled hair, and carrying in their hands thyrsus-staffs (entwined with ivy, and headed with pine-cones), cymbals, swords, or serpents.

Sileni, Pans, Satyrs, Centaurs, and other fantastical beings were also the constant companions of Dionysus, completing the mad picture.

The Romans called him Bacchus.

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