Dionysus, is also referred to as Bacchus, a Roman god, and was widely celebrated in theaters depicting Greek culture. He is one of the most celebrated deities of Greek mythology, and has many names like ‘The Resurrection God’, ‘The Wild Man’ or the ‘Liberator’, freeing one from the routine lifestyle. Dionysus’s story brings forth the pros and cons of revelry and ecstasy through drugs, spiritual experiences or alcohol.
Dionysus – The Greek God of Wine
Dionysus was born to the mighty Greek God Zeus and the beautiful moon goddess Semele, during the reign of the Titans. But Zeus had not disclosed his identity to Hera. The legend says that Hera, the wife of Zeus, knew that he was ‘seeing’ Semele and wanted to do something about it. She disguised herself as a nurse of Semele and somehow forced her to ask a wish from Zeus. The wish was to reveal his true identity to Semele and unwillingly he consented. The true form of Zeus, the god of lightning, filled the room with thunder and Semele was killed by one of the thunderbolts. But Zeus rescued their baby Dionysus, who was in her womb. With the help of his assistant Hermes, Zeus stitched the premature baby, into his thigh and carried it there until it was big enough to be born.
A disturbed Hera made a number of attempts to kill the baby, but Zeus was successful in hiding him from his wife’s wrath. In order to protect the baby god, he disguised Dionysus in the form of a baby goat and took him to the Hyades, a group of mountain nymphs. Baby Dionysus was raised exceptionally well by the nymphs and while growing in the mountains, he learned the process of growing grapes and making wine. Another story says that he was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the underworld. The followers of Dionysus were called the Thiasus, a group of revelers mainly comprised the Maenads. These Maenads were women who indulged in heavy drinking and dancing, were deeply influenced by Dionysus.
Once Dionysus gained mass following, his popularity surged to a new height. He and his band of followers became known for their wild celebrations. But his fame reached Hera, who again started planning her next move, in order to eliminate him. Instead of confronting her, Dionysus simply ‘moved away’ to distant lands. He went as far as the Aegean Islands, ancient Egypt and even ancient India. Throughout his journey, he encountered many adventures, gained a lot of followers and friends and taught the art of wine making.
His association with several concepts in Greek mythology, is related to the events that took place in his life. Vines are sharply pruned back one season and left dormant in winter for them to bear fruit. This practice is said to be symbolic of Dionysus being ‘taken apart’ by the Titans and his subsequent return to life.
The reappearance of leaves on the vines in spring season was celebrated as the festival of Dionysus, the most important event of the Greek year. Various Greek plays were written and enacted as a part of the feast of Dionysus, and all those associated with these functions were considered his sacred servants. He is said to have married Ariadne, a princess who was also the moon goddess. Together, they had several children, who were not as popular as Dionysus. Their relationship was an epitome of faith and commitment, a rarity among the Greek gods and goddesses.
Dionysus symbolized, both the good and bad aspects of human nature, and has been a subject of many stories, epics, books and movies around the world.