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DIONYSUS’ JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE DEAD. Having introduced cult to Greece & the East as far as India, Dionysus prepared to ascend to Olympus. Did not want to leave mother Semele in underworld. Decided to go down and bring her back. Did not know the way.

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    1. DIONYSUS’ JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE DEAD • Having introduced cult to Greece & the East as far as India, Dionysus prepared to ascend to Olympus. Did not want to leave mother Semele in underworld. • Decided to go down and bring her back. Did not know the way. • In Argos encountered POLYMNUS who led him to the gloomy and bottomless ALCYONEAN lake near the SWAMP OF LERNA • Plunged into its depths and emerged in the Lower World. • Persuaded Hades to restore his mother. • When she came to Olympus, Dionysus changed his mother’s name to THYONÊ “she who receives the sacrifice” and she became a god like her son.

    2. Name of Dionysus • ‘dio’ • ‘nysos’ • Nymphs of NYSA • Semele • Semelô • Thyrsus • tuwarsa

    3. Thrace, coastal region between Macedonia and the Hellespont • Phyrgia • Lydia • Anatolia • Asia Minor

    4. Name in 2 frag. Linear B tablets • Important myths about him are localized in Orchomenus, Thebes and the Argive Plain – all Important Bronze Age strongholds. • Homer familiar with cult.

    5. General Character of his Myths.

    6. Many elements familiar from folktalkes • “short sighted wish” (Semele, Minos) • “vengeful stepmother” • “A Portion of the kingdom as reward”, – Proteus and Melampus • “The short-sighted fool” – Proteus and Melampus.

    7. Deeper Interpretation

    8. FERTILITY • FERTILITY. In religion, Dionysus is first a god of fertility closely associated with certain plants and animals. • Many of his epithets refer to power over fruitfulness in plant life and over the moisture that makes plant life possible.

    9. A Sampling of Epithets • Dendritês: he of the tree • Anthios: ‘god of the blossoms’ • Melanaigis: “he of the black goat skin” • Bull • Boukoloi.

    10. AS MALE GOD OF FERTILITY • In his role as fertility god Dionysus can be compared to Demeter. • Demeter gives grain – precious, but dry and inert. • Dionysus represents a wet and active substance – the juice that gives life to things.

    11. Water • The natural element closest to Dionysus • Many stories tell of Dionysus returning to water. • Lycurgus and ocean, ocean goddess Thetis. • Swamp of Lerna • Encounters with pirates • Ino (as nurse) becomes sea goddess

    12. Wet Parts of Living Things • Watery god associated with the wet components of living things. • Semen • Blood • Milk • Sap

    13. Associations with both the life force AND death. • Displays portions of type: DYING GOD.

    14. Unique Aspects • Tales of resistance to his cult and his vengeance • Dionysus as God who can bring madness and death even to his followers and supporters • BUT who also brings rebirth and new life – • Parallel to nature

    15. "the destroyer of men”, • “he who eats raw flesh”, • he is also • “the god of many joys”, • “the giver of riches”, • “the benefactor”.

    16. Like living nature itself • Master of both life AND death. • Carries his creatures to an inevitable destruction and then beings them new life.

    17. Madness • Not only a punishment • It is also the god’s gift to those who follow him. • Allows the loss of the “burdensome sense of self”.

    18. Greek attitudes • Not surprising that Dionysus is represented as foreign. • Is foreign to the rational , conscious mind which values order and balance above passion and spontaneity. (Powell) • Must have appeared the antithesis of all that was good and right. Reluctance to accept the power of unreason and emotion. (Powell). • BUT there must have been a realization that these things were necessary, or else this figure would not have existed as a god.


    20. Other Olympian gods, separated from mankind by great gulf, rarely directly manifest • Dionysus different • Could be felt directly • Cultivation of this experience is a central focus of his religion • He was the “god who comes” • Myths tell of his sudden and violent arrival in Greek cities

    21. God’s presence called: • ENTHOUSIASMOS: “being filled with the God” • His followers experienced: • EKSTASIS “Standing outside oneself”

    22. When Dionysus was present his devotees lost their sense of personal identification and became one with the god. • Sense of oneness so strong that follower could be called Bacchus too. • With loss of identity came willingness to transcend ordinary standards of decent and rational conduct. • Appropriately Dionysus was known as LYSIOS ‘deliverer’: • through enthusiastic and ecstatic communion with the god, his devotees were temporarily released from everyday life and united with a cosmic force.

    23. The presence of a crowd of witnesses strengthened the experience of Dionysian ecstasy as suggested in myth by the band of followers that always surrounded the god.

    24. Continuous dancing to the beat of drums and playing of flutes (Lovecraft reference to negative Dionysian concept?) and the consumption of wine led devotees to direct experience of the god.

    25. So did the communal tearing apart of an animal (SPARAGMOS) and the eating of its raw flesh (ÔMPHAGIA). • Theory (Powell): In prehistoric times this may have taken a cannibal form with a human as the victim. • In the myths Pentheus is torn limb from limb (though not actually eaten) by the crazed followers of the god, Ino boils her son in a pot, and the Minyads eat their own children. • No doubt exaggerate the most sensationalistic forms of the cult – cannibalism and human sacrifice were abhorrent by the Archaic and Classical periods.

    26. Still there was evidence that the followers really did practice the eating of raw flesh even into the Hellenistic period.

    27. Theories of particular appeal of cult to women • Theory of women as more emotional • Theory of women as oppresed subclass

    28. Dionysus came to be viewed as an evil demon in the Christian period • From his religion and that of Pan, the goatish qualities of popular representation of the devil are derived.

    29. Dionysian Ideas as Expressed in Christianity • But the Dionysian idea of the identification of God and the worshipper became central in the Christian doctrine and is sometimes expressed in terms similar to those of Dionysian cult. • For example: (Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, used in churches of the Anglican Communion): • Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood….that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. • Served as one model for the early Christians in their attempts to understand their relationship to their own ‘dying god’. • Sarcophagi with scenes from the stories of Dionysus were reused for Christian burials.


    31. Played another important role in Greek culture, through association with the theater. • Many of best-known Greek myths are preserved as the plots of tragedies performed in his honor. • LENEA “festival of the MAENADS” – beginning 6th c.BC, spring festival of Dionysus in Athens, tragedies were performed. • Others performed at the more important CITY DIONYSIA. Held on consecutive days in the THEATER OF DIONYSUS on the South slopes of the Acropolis, each of three tragedians presented a group of three tragedies and one satyr play. • Satyr play: burlesque of a mythic theme, had a chorus of satyrs. • On the fourth day comedies were performed, a genre noted for ribaldry, obscenity and verbal license. • The costs of the productions were paid for by a wealthy citizen as a public service.