& Jesus Christ As Mythic Characters Essay, Research Paper
“He rises from the ruins of the once mighty house, that he himself has laid to dust. Here he comes, the son of God” (Euripides 34). Jesus, right? Although this would probably be the answer of almost any American (or Christian), this passage describes not Jesus Christ, but Dionysus, the son of Zeus. Although the figures are separated by hundreds of years and represent the faiths of vastly different cultures, the two are remarkably similar. Both were born out of unions between God and a virgin and come down to earth in human form to save the people. Perhaps the most notable comparison is the strong relationship between wine and each of these gods. Wine is at the center of both the Christian and Bacchian experiences.
The Epiphany is a Christian feast celebrated on January 6. Even the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek (“manifestation,” “appearance,” or “revelation”). This festival focuses on two events of Jesus’ ministry: his baptism (Mark 1:9-11) and the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12). But not only the word came from the Greek: the festival of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, was kept on this same day (Grolier). Both festivals deal with a similar theme: the revelation of divine power through the creation of wine. The popular Christian story describes Jesus turning barrels of water into the finest wine. In The Bacchae, followers of Dionysus were said to drive sticks “into the ground and at the bidding of the God, wine came bubbling up” (40).
In each myth, wine is taken literally as the blood of the God. Describing Dionysus, the Bacchae state: “though himself a God, it [wine] is his blood we pour out” (Euripides 18). Christians believe that, through Eucharist, bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus.
It is through drinking this wine, or blood, that the followers of each God achieve eternal life. Euripides writes that “His [Dionysus’] blood, the blood of the grape, lightens the burden of our mortal misery…through him, we are blessed” (18). In John 6:53, Jesus states that “Whoso eateath my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
What does the continuation of this theme tell us about ourselves as humans? Perhaps it is our fondness of wine. It is more likely, however, that we have recycled this myth to deal with the human fear of dying. Strong Christian believers take comfort in their faith in heaven; and it was said that, following initiation, Bacchians no longer feared death. Another interesting point is that both Gods walked the earth as men, suggesting a human need to make their God “like them”—perhaps in an effort to understand divinity?
Jesus and Dionysus, while outwardly very different, are remarkably similar figures. Their connection with wine, and the connection of wine to each God’s respective religion is also remarkably similar, and worth some contemplation.