Dionysus Essay, Research Paper
Winter squalls are drained out of the sky. The violet season
of flowering spring smiles. The black earth glitters under
green lawns. Swelling plants pop open with tiny petals.
Meadows laugh and suck the morning dew, while the rose
The shepherd in the hills happily blows the top notes of his
pipe. The gathered gloats over his white kids. Sailors race
across the thrashing waves. Their canvas full of the harmless breeze. Drinkers acclaim the grape-giver
Dionysus, capping their hair with flowering ivy. (Bernard).
Dionysus, in Greek mythology is a god of wine and vegetation, who showed mortals how to cultivate grapevines and make wine. ?He was good and gentle to those who honored him, but he brought madness and destruction upon those who spurned him or the orgiastic rituals of his cult? (Wendell 23)
The yearly rites in honor of the resurrection of Dionysus gradually evolved into the structured form of the Greek drama, and important festivals were held in honor of the god, during which great dramatic competitions were conducted. The most important festival, the Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring. It was for this celebration that the Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote their great tragedies. Also, after the 5th century BC, Dionysus was known to the Greeks as Bacchus.
Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Semele. He is the only god to have a mortal parent. The birth of Dionysus began when Zeus came to Semele in the night, invisible, felt only as a divine presence. Semele was pleased to be a lover of a god, even though she did not know which one. Word soon got around and Hera quickly assumed who was responsible. Hera went to Semele in disguise and convinced her that she should see her lover as he really was. When Zeus visited her again, she made him promise to grant her one wish. She went so far as to make him swear on the River Syx that he would grant her request. Zeus, was madly in love and agreed. She then asked him to show her his true form. Zeus, was unhappy, and knew what would happen, but having sworn he had no choice. He appeared in his true form and Semel was instantly burn to a crisp by the sight of his glory. Zeus did manage to rescue Dionysus, and stitched him into his thigh to hold him until he was ready to be born. Dionysus? birth from Zeus alone conferred immortality upon him. But Dionysus? problem with Hera were not yet over. She was still jealous, and arranged for the Titans to kill him. The Titans ripped him into a pieces. But luckily, Rhea brought him back to life. After this, Zeus arranged for his protection and turned him over the mountain nymphs to be raised.
Once Dionysus had grown to a manhood he decided to wander far and wide, including areas outside of Greece. He raveled everywhere to preach the culture of the vine. It was accepted most everywhere but his own country. He wandered around Asia, accompanied by a wild group of Satyrs and Maenads, involving himself in bizarre events. For example, he flayed alive the king of Damascus, and chased the Amazons to Ephesus where some of them took refuge in the Temple of Artemis. Next, Dionysus returned to Europe, and his grandmother Rhea purified him of the murders he had committed during his madness and initiated him in her Mysteries. He then visited Thebes, and there invited women to join his revels. Pentheus, king of Thebes, arrested him and all his Maenads, but went mad and locked up a bull instead of the god. The Maenads escaped and went raging up in the mountains. Pentheus tried to stop the frenzy, but wild with religious ecstasy and wine they tore Pentheus limb from limb. Finally, having established his worship, Dionysus ascended to heaven and joined Zeus and the other Olympians.
?Dionysus is also one of the very few that was able to bring a dead person out of the underworld. Even though he had never seen Semele he was concerned for her? (Bremmer 15). Eventually, he journeyed into the underworld to find her. He faced down Thanatos and brought her back to Mount Olympus.
In Greeks world, Dionysus appeared almost everywhere. You could see him in the art, drama and comedy. Greeks even build a theater after him. ?Honor was paid to Dionysus, the peasant god of Eleftheres, with a circular religious dithyrambic dance performed by dancers dressed in billy ? goats (tragos) (Frazer 20). Thus, tragedy was born at first in the Orchestra of the Agora (ancient market place), and on the northern slope of Acropolis, in an area of 25 m. diameter, near the god?s sanctuary which was flattened for this purpose.
When tragedy was separated from religion, wooden and later stone scaffoldings were placed for the spectators in 330 BC. The auditorium developed to have two landings which separated the 88 rows of seats into the three sections and 65 tiers with a seating capacity of 15000-16000 spectators. The ancient circular orchestra was paved with marble, while marble thrones and honorary seats were installed in the 1st century AC. After that time, theater was used as an arena. The simple construction of the stage in the 5th century BC changed into a rectangular building with wings and proscenia in the 4th century BC. Also, all profiles of Dionysus? life done in bas ? relief have survived.
Dionysus also appeared in drama. An orchestra, or a dancing ground of Dionysus with an arrangement for spectators (theatron) was built in Athens, in the early sixth century. It became the great center for drama where plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were performed. Drama was produced at festivals, honoring Dionysus in his theater under the presidency of his priest, by performers wearing masks and special dress. That is how tragedy (which originally meant ?goat song for Dionysus?) began and quickly reached heights never surpassed. Any formal tragedy involves disaster: physical, mortal, or spiritual. The hero is doomed. Tragedy deals with human suffering and the courage of a hero who resists the inevitable. Pathos, or melodrama, is acceptance submissively or without comprehension of misfortune. ?These ideas were found in ?Aristotle?s Poetics,? the work from which our appraisal of tragedy was found. Aristotle, also notes the ?tragic flaw? in the hero (Patai 5). This defect of character and inability to understand a situation creates his resistance, and makes him to accept his fate. The audience identifies with the hero and feels pity or fear, but the catharsis of these feelings leaves the audience exalted.
Greeks included Dionysus in art form too. He usually depicted as a bearded youth, wearing a crown of vines with grapes. Often he holds the thyrsus (a wand ? fertility symbol) and a cup of wine. He is accompanied by Maenads. These female devotees, pictured with tambourines and swirling drapery, express physical abandonment. He is also associated with a goat ? like deities (Satyrs, Silenus, Pan) who play pipes for the Bacchic rituals.
Dionysus became one of the most important gods in everyday life. He became associated with several key concepts. One was rebirth after death. Here his dismemberment by the Tirant and return to life is symbolically echoed in tending vines, where the vines must be pruned back sharply, and then become dormant in winter for them to bear fruit. The other is the idea that under the influence of wine, one could feel possessed by a greater power. Unlike the other gods, ?Dionysus was not only outside his believers, but also within them. At these times a man might be greater then himself and do works he otherwise could not? (Bonnefoy 31).
We can compare the festivals that was made in honor of Dionysus to our Easter.
?The festival for Dionysus is in the Spring, when the leaves begin to reappear on the vine. It become one of the most important events of the year. It is focus became the theater? (Jung 30). Most of the great Greek plays were initially written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus. All who took part ? writers, actors, spectators ? were regarded as scared servants of Dionysus, during the festival.
And as a conclusion I want to add that Dionysus died a horrible death among the cold monoliths, devilishly torn to pieces. He rose from the dead again and again, providing to his believers that the soul lives on forever after the body dies.
Bremmer, Jan. Interpretations of Greek Mythology.
Totowa, NJ: Harper, 1976.
Bonnefoy, Yves. Greek and Egyptian Mythologies.
Chicago: Univercity of Chicago, 1992.
Bernard, Suzane. ?Plato and His Dialogues.?
http://eawc.evansville.edu/essays/suzanne.htm (2 Feb. 1996).
Frazer, James. The Golden Bough.
New York: Macmillan, 1950.
Patai, Raphael. Myths and Modern Man.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prenice, 1972.
Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols.
New York: Dell, 1968.
Wendell, Bane, and William Doty. Myths, Rites, and Symbols.
New York: Harper, 1976.