Whether Dionysus was an Olympian god or not, has been a subject of debate for a long time, but there is no questioning the fact that he is an immortal character in Greek mythology.
Most people are familiar with the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus on the southern slope of the Acropolis―arguably one of the most popular attributes of Ancient Greece―but did you know that it was widely used to celebrate the Dionysia festival in honor of the Greek god, Dionysus?
Greek mythology―especially their gods and goddesses―has always been a subject of fascination for mankind. Of the many fascinating chapters of Greek mythology, one in particular is about the God of Wine and festivities, Dionysus. Other than being the God of Wine, he was also believed to be the patron deity of agriculture and theater, inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy, the symbol of libido and gratification, and was associated with rebirth and fertility at times.
Facts about Dionysus
Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology) traveled all over the world accompanied by Maenads, his female followers, teaching men the art of wine-making. He makes up one of the most interesting chapters of Greek mythology, and the facts given below will tell you exactly why.
Dionysus was the son of Zeus and the mortal daughter of King Cadmus, Semele. When Hera, the wife of Zeus, learned about this, she sowed the seeds of doubt in Semele’s mind. When Zeus met Semele, she told him to grant her a wish. She asked Zeus to reveal himself in his true form. When he revealed himself, Semele was burnt to ashes by his brightness. Zeus took the womb from her body and sewed it inside his thigh where it gestated until, Dionysus was born, so Dionysus is often called ‘twice born’.
Zeus handed over Dionysus to the nymphs of Nysa, who raised him through his infancy and childhood, in order to save him from Hera’s wrath. In return, Zeus placed the nymphs among the stars. When Hera did find him, she struck him with madness and turned him into a wanderer. Incidentally, Dionysus is the only god who had a mortal parent. He was also the last god to be accepted into Mount Olympus, the abode of gods. As for his own immortality, it was the result of him being born from Zeus alone.
Spouse and Children
Dionysus has been associated with many women in Greek mythology. The prominent among these were Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and raw sexuality, and Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete. He is believed to have three children from Aphrodite: Charites, Hymenaios, and Priapus, and four from Ariadne: Thoas, Oenopion, Staphylos, and Peparethus.
Dionysus has also been associated with Nyx, the Greek goddess of night who gave birth to his son, Phthonus; Althaea, the daughter of King Thestius who gave birth to his daughter, Deianeira; Circe, the goddess of magic who gave birth to his daughter, Comus. Dionysus was also associated with Aura, the daughter of Lelantos and Periboa, from whom he had twins. While Iacchus survived, his twin brother was killed by Aura herself as soon as he was born.
Symbols and Depiction
The symbols of Dionysus are ivy, snake, wine, grapes, and lastly, the thyrsus―a magical staff with vine leaves and pine-coned top. He is most-often depicted as a dark-haired young man sporting a full-grown beard. At times, he is also depicted as being beardless in some works of art. Usually decorated with ivy, he is mostly shown wearing chiton, i.e., woolen tunic, or animal skin. Art works depicting Dionysus also feature thyrsus, wine, ivy, theater―even panthers and leopards at times―in it.
Popular Myths about Dionysus
Once, when Dionysus’ tutor, Silenus wandered off, King Midas took him in as a guest and treated him with hospitality. In return, Dionysus granted King Midas a wish. The king wished that whatever he touched would turn into gold. He was granted this boon, which came to be called the Midas touch. When the king realized that even his food turned into gold, he became weary of his gift and asked Dionysus to revert it.
There is a story of the epic conflict between Dionysus and King Lycurgus of Thrace, wherein the king made Dionysus flee from his kingdom. In retaliation, Dionysus first sent a drought to Thrace and then turned King Lycurgus insane and made him butcher his own son. The drought was only lifted after the people of Thrace killed the king.
According to a myth, Dionysus was killed by the Titans, who shred him into pieces, on orders of Hera. It was because of this incident that he is considered one of the life-death-rebirth deities, meaning a god who is born, dies, passes a phase in the underworld, and is subsequently born again.
Dionysus was a revered figure in regions where agriculture was predominant. People who worshiped him were blessed with good fortune, while his ire would lead to drought and famine. Dionysus was associated with several positives and quite a few negatives, and thus, his personality ensured that he was always in the limelight, either for good or bad reasons.