Dionysus riding panther, Greek mosaic from Pella C4th B.C., Pella Archaeological Museum
DIONYSOS (Dionysus) was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation,
pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. He was depicted as either
an older, bearded god or an effeminate, long-haired youth. His
attributes included the thyrsos (a pine-cone tipped staff), a
drinking cup and a crown of ivy. He was usually accompanied by a troop
of Satyrs and Mainades (wild female devotees).
Dionysos was a son of Zeus and the princess Semele of Thebes. During
the course of her pregnancy, the god's jealous wife Hera tricked Semele
into asking Zeus to appear before her in his full glory. Bound by oath,
the god was forced to comply and she was consumed by the heat of his
lightning-bolts. Zeus recovered their unborn child from her body, sewed
him up in his own thigh, and carried him to term. <<More>>
After his birth from the thigh of Zeus, Dionysos was first entrusted
to the care of Seilenos (Silenus) and the nymphs of Mount Nysa, and
later to his aunt Ino, Semele's sister, and her husband Athamas. Hera
was enraged when she learned of the boy's location and drove the couple
mad, causing them to kill both their children and themselves. <<More>>
The Thrakian king Lykourgos (Lycurgus) attacked Dionysos and his
companions as they were travelling through his land and drove them into
the sea. As punishment, the god inflicted him with madness causing him
to murder his wife and son and mutilate himself with an axe. <<More>>
King Pentheus of Thebes refused to accept the god's divinity and
tried to apprehend him. The god retaliated by driving the king's
daughters into a crazed frenzy and they tore him apart limb from limb.
Dionysos instructed the hero Ikarios (Icarius) of Athens in the art
of winemaking. However, some shepherds, upon drinking the wine, thought
they had been poisoned and killed him. The sorrowful god then set him
amongst the stars as the constellation Bootes. <<More>>
As Dionysos was travelling through the islands of the Aegean Sea he
was captured by a band of Tyrrhenian pirates who thought to sell him
into slavery. The god infested their ship with phantoms of creeping
vines and wild beasts, and in terror the men leapt overboard and were
transformed into dolphins. <<More>>
Dionysos married princess Ariadne of Krete (Crete) whom he discovered abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. <<More>>
The god launched a campaign against the Indian nation in the
farthest reaches of Asia, leading an army composed of Satyrs, Mainades,
and demigods. <<More>>
Dionysos journeyed to the underworld to recover his mother Semele and
brought her to Olympos where Zeus transformed into the goddess Thyone.
Many other myths are detailed over the following pages.
SYMBOLS & ATTRIBUTES
Dionysos' most distinctive attribute was the thyrsos, a pine-cone tipped staff. His other attributes included a drinking-cup (kantharos), fruiting grapevines and a panther.
The god was usually clothed in a long robe (chiton) and cloak (himation) and crowned with a wreath of ivy-leaves.
Below are some examples of his attributes as depicted in ancient Greek art:-
1. Pine-cone staff (thyrsos); 2. Thyrsos-staff head; 3. Grapevines; 4. Drinking-cup; 5. Wreath of ivy-leaves.
SACRED ANIMALS & PLANTS
Dionysos' sacred animals were the panther (leopard), tiger, bull and
serpent. The god rode on the back of a panther or drove a chariot drawn
by a pair of the beasts.
His sacred plants were the grapevine, ivy, bindweed (prickly ivy) and
pine tree. Devotees of the god wore wreaths of ivy and carried pine-cone
Below are examples of the god's animals as depicted in ancient Greek art and photos of his sacred plants:-
1. Panther; 2. Grapevine; 3. Ivy; 4. Bindweed; 5. Pine tree.
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