Dionysus

/duy'euh nuy"seuhs/, n. Class. Myth.
the god of fertility, wine, and drama; Bacchus.
Also, Dionysos.

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Greek god of vegetation and fruitfulness, known especially as the god of wine and ecstasy.

His Roman equivalent was Bacchus. His worship was introduced into Greece from Asia Minor, and he became one of the most important of all the Greek gods, while his cult remained associated with that of many Asiatic deities. A son of Zeus and (according to the standard tradition) Semele, he was brought up by the maenads, or bacchantes. The first creator of wine, he traveled widely teaching the winemaking art, with a following of satyrs, sileni (see satyr and silenus), and nymphs. He had the gift of prophecy and was received at Delphi along with Apollo, though his principal oracle was at Thrace. Festivities called Dionysia or (among the Romans) Bacchanalia were held in his honor; in their earlier years they were wild, ecstatic occasions, and they have often been the subject of artistic representation. Dionysus originally appeared as a bearded man, but later more often as a slim youth. His principal attribute was the thyrsus, a wand bound with vine leaves. The dithyramb, a choral hymn in his honor, is often seen as the basis of Western drama.

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also spelled  Dionysos,  also called  Bacchus  or (in Rome)  Liber 
 in Greco-Roman religion, a nature god of fruitfulness and vegetation, especially known as a god of wine and ecstasy. The occurrence of his name on a Linear B (Linear A and Linear B) tablet (13th century BC) shows that he was already worshipped in the Mycenaean period, although it is not known where his cult originated. In all the legends of his cult he is depicted as having foreign origins.

      He was the son of Zeus and Semele, a daughter of Cadmus (king of Thebes). Out of jealousy, Hera, the wife of Zeus, persuaded the pregnant Semele to prove her lover's divinity by requesting that he appear in his real person. Zeus complied, but his power was too great for the mortal Semele, who was blasted with thunderbolts. However, Zeus saved his son by sewing him up in his thigh and keeping him there until he reached maturity, so that he was twice born. Dionysus was then conveyed by the god Hermes to be brought up by the bacchantes (maenads, or thyiads) of Nysa, a purely imaginary spot.

 As Dionysus apparently represented the sap, juice, or lifeblood element in nature, lavish festal orgia (rites) in his honour were widely instituted. These Dionysia ( Bacchanalia) quickly won converts among women. Men, however, met them with hostility. In Thrace Dionysus was opposed by Lycurgus, who ended up blind and mad. In Thebes Dionysus was opposed by Pentheus, his cousin, who was torn to pieces by the bacchantes when he attempted to spy on their activities. The Athenians were punished with impotence for dishonouring the god's cult. Their husbands' resistance notwithstanding, women took to the hills, wearing fawn skins and crowns of ivy and shouting the ritual cry, “Euoi!” Forming thyai (holy bands) and waving thyrsoi (singular: thyrsus; fennel wands bound with grapevine and tipped with ivy), they danced by torchlight to the rhythm of the aulos (double pipe) and the tympanon (handheld drum). While they were under the god's inspiration, the bacchantes were believed to possess occult powers and the ability to charm snakes and suckle animals, as well as preternatural strength that enabled them to tear living victims to pieces before indulging in a ritual feast (ōmophagia). The bacchantes hailed the god by his titles of Bromios (“Thunderer”), Taurokeros (“Bull-Horned”), or Tauroprosopos (“Bull-Faced”), in the belief that he incarnated the sacrificial beast.

      In Orphic legend (i.e., based on the stories of Orpheus) Dionysus—under the name Zagreus—was the son of Zeus by his daughter Persephone. At the direction of Hera, the infant Zagreus/Dionysus was torn to pieces, cooked, and eaten by the evil Titans (Titan). But his heart was saved by Athena, and he (now Dionysus) was resurrected by Zeus through Semele. Zeus struck the Titans with lightning, and they were consumed by fire. From their ashes came the first men, who thus possessed both the evil nature of the Titans and the divine nature of the gods.

      Dionysus had the power to inspire and to create ecstasy, and his cult had special importance for art and literature. Performances of tragedy and comedy in Athens were part of two festivals of Dionysus, the Lenaea and the Great (or City) Dionysia (Great Dionysia). He was also honoured in lyric poems called dithyrambs (dithyramb). In Roman literature his nature is often misunderstood, and he is simplistically portrayed as the jolly Bacchus who is invoked at drinking parties. In 186 BC the celebration of Bacchanalia was prohibited in Italy.

 The followers of Dionysus included spirits of fertility, such as the satyrs and sileni (Satyr and Silenus), and in his rituals the phallus was prominent. He often took on a bestial shape and was associated with various animals. His personal attributes were an ivy wreath, the thyrsus, and the kantharos, a large two-handled goblet. In early art he was represented as a bearded man, but later he was portrayed as youthful and effeminate. Bacchic revels were a favourite subject of vase painters.
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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