In Miscellaneous Myths: Dionysus, by Overly sarcastic productions, Red, the narrator, quintessentially gives an analysis into who Dionysus is. Red keeps the story of Dionysus quick and witty while giving insight into the re-occurring theme of life and death that follows Dionysus. Dionysus was known as a vegetative god, which also meant he was a god of fertility, ecstasy, madness, liberation, revelation, poetry, and of course wine. He was associated with the grape vine/cluster and was usually accompanied by a satyr. “Dionysus is a god of contradiction. He’s capable of collapsing opposites into a unified whole in a way that might otherwise be impossible.” (La Fond, Video 2, 2:00-2:07) Dionysus is an enigma because of how he was born and raised. There are a few different narratives but the most recognized one when Zeus impregnates Semele (a human) who is tricked by Hera into making Zeus promise her she can see his true form. When Semele sees his form, she is obliterated, but Dionysus still lived. Zeus sew him into his thigh until he was ready to truly be born. This explains the theme of rebirth because it happened to him early on in his life and shaped him into a god of contradiction.
Throughout the video Red mentions quite a bit of how mysterious and “weird” he is. That is what caught my attention. Dionysus had the ability to attract marginalized groups like women, slaves and people who weren’t citizens which explains his cult followers. They were people who wanted liberation and freedom from the life they had. Dionysus himself fought to be part of the Hellenistic Pantheon, he is seen as different by the Gods and humans alike. Oddly enough he was known as an import god, before linear B was deciphered. “After finding his name in Mycenaean Greek inscriptions, that theory went out the window and a replacement was proposed: that Dionysian worship predated ancient Greece and was deliberately suppressed for several hundred years before undergoing modification and being allowed into the Hellenistic pantheon.” (Red 5:22-44) During the 8th Century B.C. Dionysus was left out of the Iliad and the odyssey, he wasn’t integrated into society until the reign of Pisistratus. It was Pisistratus first brought the Dionysia to Athens,” which was essentially celebrating Dionysus and wine it grew to incorporate theatre and acting. Ancient Greece was not well known for integrating equality for all it’s citizens at the time which could explain why he had such a late introduction into society.
Dionysus opened a way for humans to let go of their identities through acting, wine, and cult worship. Dionysus could also be brutal. In Euripides’ Bacchae, “Dionysus lures Pentheus to the mountain to spy on the maenads; they find Pentheus and kill him by tearing him apart.” (video 3 lesson 5 1:37) Pentheus was upset Dionysus escaped being a prisoner and wouldn’t believe Dionysus (pretending to be a man) that Dionysus had set him free from the shackles given to him. Dionysus was a man of his word and in order mend things he told Pentheus that he could show him the maenads while warning, “They would discover you though you came unseen.” (Euripides p. 105) Dionysus goes on to convince him to dress like a woman or get caught and killed by them, then goes on to out Pentheus to the maenads. Pentheus’s mother and aunts kill him while under the influence of Dionysus. “Instead of becoming blessed with the knowledge of the divine mysteries Pentheus’s initiation is a horrific perversion of a normal Dionysiac worship. Instead of undergoing a symbolic death of his identity or status and being reborn into a new identity or status, Pentheus is literally killed.” (La Fond 7:43-51) “Transgression against a god leads to transgression against your humanity.” (La Fond 2:30) Dionysus was a force to be reckoned with. He was simultaneously beautiful and fearful. He was a God and a human, someone who could bring ecstasy or brutality. Dionysus was a “Collapsing of opposites,” (3:11). In the words of the Shepard who warned Pentheus about Dionysus being real in The Bacchae, “if the god of wine does not exist, then neither does the goddess of love: no pleasure left for man.” (Euripides p. 103) Dionysus was a contradiction and enigma.
Dionysus known as the god of wine, winemaking, grape harvest, theater, fertility, and religious ecstasy. He is the nature god of vegetation and fruitfulness. He had been worshipped as early as 1500 – 11000 BCE which is Mycenae period, although it is unknown where his worship originated. In all his legends he worships, he is described as an alien descent. Dionysus is an important and popular figure in the Greek mythology. The article from Britannica demonstrates many facts of Dionysus.
Dionysus had an unusual birth, which made it difficult for him to be included in the Olympian pantheon, because his mother was Semele, a mortal. His father was Zeus, the king of gods. Due to jealousy, Zeus’ wife Hera convinced the pregnant Semele to prove the divinity of her lover by asking him to appear as a real person. Zeus agreed, but his power was too much for Semele, who was a mortal bombarded by thunder. However, Zeus saved his son and sewed him to his thigh. Therefore, his son had twice born, because of the saving from Zeus. Dionysus was then conveyed by the god Hermes and raised by the bacchantes of Nysa, a place of pure fiction. The article from Britannica also contains the picture of the statue which portrays Hermes carrying the infant Dionysus. It is obvious to see the warm and sweet relationship between Hermes and infant Dionysus.
Since Dionysus obviously represented the sap, juice, or lifeblood element in nature, so luxurious festivals in his name have been widely established. In Thrace, Dionysus was opposed by Lycurgus, who eventually went blind and went mad. In Thebes Dionysus was opposed by his cousin, Pentheus and when he tried to monitor their activities, he was was torn to pieces by the bacchantes. Athenians were punished with impotence for insulting the worship of gods. Despite the opposition of their husbands, the women walked up the hills, wearing fawn skins and ivy crowns. They were chanting the ceremonial shout: “Euoi!” They formed thyai which is a holy band and wielded thyrsoi, they danced to the rhythm of the aulos and the tympanon. Although they were inspired by the gods, people believe that bacchantes have mysterious powers and the ability to charm snakes and mammals. The supernatural powers give them the chance to tear away the living victims before indulging in a ritual feast. The bacchantes parsed the god with the titles of Thunderer, Bull-Horned, or Bull-Faced, because he believed that he was the incarnation of the sacrificial beast.
One of my groupmates found a marvelous You-Tube video featuring Dionysus that we unanimously decided must be included in the museum. This video, entitled “Miscellaneous Myths: Dionysus” by Overly Sarcastic Productions is a 17 minute 48 second irreverent romp through the life and death(s) of the Party God. The narrator (who goes by the moniker “Red”) is a friendly fast-talking femme who uses modern slang and verbiage to tell the various mythos of Dionysus, “who spends most of the day draped in grapes and turning dudes into dolphins”. It has rudimentary cartoons (also drawn by Red) and uses snippets of modern-day recognizable pop songs to emphasize certain points of the video, i.e. She does a decent job keeping the audience entertained by keeping it short and snappy, and only telling the most interesting stories in the grand chain of events of the life of Dionysus, but she does fail to mention “other” beings associated with Dionysus like Pan, the satyrs, or the seleni. (Morford, p 321, 324)
The video begins by describing the kooky birth of Dionysus- the tale of Hera/Semele/Zeus (or “God of One-Night Stands”, as he is humorously referred to in the video) and the first “death” of our titular demigod. We are told of the creation of wine myth, the Hera-making-him-cray-cray myth, the abduction by and subsequent turning sailors into dolphins myth, and Midas’s golden touch—then she says, nah—Dionysus is much, much, much older than this and delves back into Mycenaean mythos (pre- Bronze age). His name is definitely there in the Linear B translations, but then he goes “missing” in Hellenic texts and shows up later as an import god from elsewhere, she theorizes he was “there” and known but suppressed for political reasons which is why we don’t see him in writings of the time that have survived history. We also learned this from our lecture “International God of Mystery: Dionysus” when Professor La Fond said she didn’t have any Homeric epithets for Dionysus because there simply weren’t any. Red delved into the different tale of Orphic Dionysus, also related to Zagreus (possibly the son of Persephone and either Zeus or Hades), another possible backstory of Dionysian lore; baby gets shredded and this time his heart is saved by Zeus for the whole re-birth story accepted in “vanilla” Dionysus lore.
She comes next to his “cult”- be it the “wine cult” or “bacchanals”, Dionysus has a cult following him from place to place as he wanders; this history pre-dates Mycenaean Greece, possibly back to 6000 BC when wine was first “invented”. She discusses very briefly the Mysteries, where his ritual’s intent was to get “crazy stupid high”- thinking if you’re intoxicated, you’re tapped into his power. Euripides’ “The Bacchae” tells us the story of world-traveling Dionysus and his band of maenads, denied in Thebes (his patron and birth city, we learned in our video lecture from Professor La Fond) as a god and so he drives the citizens of Thebes crazy and makes them part of his retinue. This includes King Pentheus’s (note: in the Euripides lecture he is tricked into the woods by the demigod in disguise) sanity as well, and he feels he has been turned into a stag and runs into the forest, where Pentheus is ripped apart (“sparagmos” as we learned in our lecture) by the maenads- including his own female family.
Alexander the Great changes the field in Greece, making kings focus on Power and Parties- and this brings our boy Dionysus out as favorite God to invoke blessings. This transformation sends his renderings into the “Party God” as we know him today, forgetting some of the former “death god traits” altogether.
Euripides, and Paul Roche. Three plays of Euripides. Norton, 1947.
La Ford, Marie. Lectures: Video #2: International God of Mystery: Dionysus and Video #3: Spotlight on Euripides’ Bacchae. Summer 2021, CLAS 430A, University of Washington.
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Overly Sarcastic Production, Red. “Miscellaneous Myths: Dionysus.” Youtube, 15 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5brAr51ip_k.