Many festivals of Dionysus were held in ancient Greece; this article concerns the major Dionysian festival known as Great Dionysia or City Dionysia. This festival is highly significant as the origin of dramatic tragedy and comedy. The Great Dionysia was founded, or at least revived, by the tyrant Pisistratus (c. 530 BCE). It was held in Athens at the end of March, when the city was once again full of visitors after the winter. The festival honored Dionysus Eleuthereus, who was said to have been introduced into Athens from the village of Eleuterae, a town on the border between Attica and Boeotia, had chosen to become part of Attica. The Eleuthereans brought a statue of Dionysus to Athens, which was initially rejected by the Athenians. Dionysus then punished the Athenians with a plague affecting the male genitalia, which was cured when the Athenians accepted the cult of Dionysus. This was recalled each year by a procession of citizens carrying phalloi.
The theatrical contents took place from the 11th to the 14th of Elaphebolion. At some point before the performance of the tragedies, the sons of citizens killed in battle were paraded around the theater, as was the tribute brought by Athens' allies. Three tragic poets then presented three tragedies on a single theme plus one satyr play (a burlesque comedy serving as comic relief). Judges, who were chosen by lot, would then award a prize to the best poet. Lets meet the God.
Dionysus was the son of the beautiful and gentle mortal Semele, who was a Theban princess, and the mighty Zeus, Ruler of the Olympian. Zeus and Semele had been having a love affair for quite awhile only Semele had no idea who her lover really was since Zeus always came to her in another form, refusing to disclose his identity. But Hera, the wife of Zeus and Queen of Mount Olympus, are after awhile didn't have any trouble figuring out what her husband was up to and decided to put an end to it.
Hera, disguised as Semele's nurse, convinced her to make Zeus take an oath that he would grant her a single wish. And he did. Semele then asked him to reveal his identity, his true self. Zeus knew what would happen should he grant her request and was heartbroken. But Semele refused to change her request, and Zeus had no choice but to submit since he had sworn an oath on the River Styx. So he changed into his true form, and his thunderbolts filled the room. Semele was struck by the lightning and died.
Zeus, with the help of his trusted assistant Hermes, had to rescue Dionysus from Semele's womb as she lay dying. They stitched the premature infant into his thigh, and Zeus carried him there until the baby was ready to be born. (Needless to say, Hera was not amused with this turn of events!)
So Hera had the newborn Dionysus killed by a couple of Titan assassins who tore him to bits, even though he kept trying to escape them by changing forms to hide from them. When he died a pomegranate tree began to grow where his blood had fallen. Disconcerted by this, the Titans decided to be on the safe side and boil the pieces of his body in a great cauldron.
Luckily he was resurrected by his grandmother, Mother Rhea and his half sister, Athena and was entrusted to the goddess Persephone for safekeeping. Persephone, in turn, hid him with a king and his wife, who disguised him in girls’ clothing and hid him in the women's quarters of their palace. Eventually, of course, Hera discovered he was still alive and resumed her campaign of persecution, driving his royal foster parents insane and causing them to kill their own sons when they mistook them for deers.
To protect the infant god, Hermes changed Dionysus into a baby goat and took him to a group of mountain nymphs (the Hyades) to be raised. They care for him, feeding him honey and doing everything they could to help him feel wanted. While living in the mountains with the nymphs, Dionysus invented the process of growing grapes and making wine. (Who wouldn't need a drink after all the hell he'd been through?!!!)
As he grew to manhood, Hera found him again and drove him into a state of madness. Dionysus started to wander mindlessly though the Greek countryside where he became known as "The Wanderer". Dionysus was cure by the Phrygian Mountain Mother Cybele, learned her rites and modified them for his cult. He developed quite a following of men and women who worshipped him in the mountains, drinking, dancing ecstatically to frenzied music, and otherwise behaving like "wild ones".
Their celebrations alternated with periods of deep meditation and extended contemplative silences. (The word "orgy" comes from these gatherings where the celebrants reached an ecstatic state and felt that they were "at one" with the God.) Dionysus was rapidly becoming well-known as a result of his followers and their wild celebrations.
Naturally, Hera soon heard of him. Rather than deal with her next moves, Dionysus did the smart thing and simply "disappear for awhile". Travelling to Egypt, India and the Aegean Islands, Dionysus had many adventures and acquired many friends and worshippers, teaching the locals to grow grapes and make wine wherever he went.
The myths of the Greek god Dionysus, he traveled as a warrior with his troops and became a military hero. During a foray into the Middle East, while warring with the king of Damascus, Dionysus built a bridge from vines and ivy that allowed him to cross safely across the Euphrates River and the river Tigris got its name from one of the myths of Dionysus—Zeus had dispatched a tiger to help him cross the river.
During his travels abroad, Dionysus continued to gather more followers, which was very threatening to the rulers of these countries. Many of them opposed him, and there was often great bloodshed. Frequently Dionysus used the "trick" of turning the ruler, or his family, or the citizens of his country (especially the women) completely mad . . . often with horrific results.
In one of the more dramatic myths, Dionysus and his followers, the Maenads, had been arrested by the king of Thebes, who instantly went mad and mistook a bull for Dionysus and shackled the bull instead. The Maenads escaped and ran throughout the countryside brutally killing all the livestock. Then they returned and tore the king to pieces, with the assistance of his mother who tore off his head, having been driven insane as well.
Dionysus tired of his travels and began to yearn for home. To make the trip, Dionysus boarded a ship scheduled to sail to Greece, not realizing that it was actually a pirate ship. The sailors, unaware that he was a god, turned the ship around to sail for Asia where they planned to sell him into slavery. Realizing their intent, the Greek god Dionysus foiled their plans. Turning their oars into serpents, causing vines and ivy to engulf the mast and rigging, Dionysus turned himself into a ferocious lion. While all of this was happening the air was filled with the eerie sound of flutes and ghost-like beasts floated around the ship. Crazy with fear the pirates jumped into the ocean and quickly turned into harmless dolphins.
Given his spectacular success in foreign lands and with his worship now being established world-wide, his divinity could no longer be ignored on Mount Olympus and Dionysus was asked to come home and take his rightful place among the other Greek gods. Even the vengeful Hera finally accepted him.
A better-known story is that of his descent to Hades to rescue his mother Semele. He made the descent from a reputedly bottomless pool on the coast of the Argolid near the prehistoric site of Lerna. He was guided by Prosymnus or Polymnus, who requested, as his reward, to be Dionysus' lover. Prosymnus died before Dionysus could honor his pledge, so in order to satisfy the shade of his erastes the god fashioned a phallus from an olive branch (the earliest dildo ) and sat on it at Prosymnus' tomb. It was the source of the custom of parading wooden phalli at the god's festivities. (I wonder how get those splinters out of his ass?!!)
Dionysus married Ariadne, a princess who had been a moon goddess during earlier times when the Titans ruled. Ariadne had been engaged to the hero Theseus who had deserted her. Dionysus fell in love with her and together they had several children, none of whom achieved great fame. The Greek god Dionysus was one of the few Greek gods who were faithful to their wives (for awhile).
The recurrent themes of life and death run though the legends of Dionysus. They teach us that the journey from being the Divine Child to a fruitful kingship requires the "giving up" (death) of the old self and rebirth in a more mature form. The myths of the Greek god Dionysus remind us that the possibilities of intense, ecstatic experience (whether through alcohol, other drugs, dancing, or spiritual experience) include both a dark side with the potential for great harm to ourselves and others, as well as a bright potential for communion with others, including a greater power, and for works of healing.
Be Merry and party like hell
The Inventor of Dildo