Dionysus, Greek God of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, and madness
Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele, the only Olympian with a mortal parent
During the course of her pregnancy, the god’s jealous wife Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to appear before her in his full glory. Bound by an oath on the River Styx, the god was forced to comply and she was consumed by the heat of his lightning-bolts. Zeus recovered their unborn child from her body, sewed him up in his own thigh, and carried him to term. It was this that conferred immortality to Dionysus.
Hera, still jealous of Zeus’ infidelity and the fact that Dionysus was alive, arranged for the Titans to kill him. The Titans ripped him to pieces, however he was brought him back to life by Rhea.
After this, Zeus arranged for his protection and gave him to the mountain nymphs to be raised. Later he was left with Semele’s sister Ino, who disguised him as a girl to protect him from Hera.
As punishment for helping Dionysus, Hera drove Ino and her husband insane.
Some legends say that Hera also drove Dionysus insane as punishment for his birth. He wandered the world accompanied by his teacher, Silenus; bands of satyrs; and his women followers, who were known as maenads. When Dionysus travelled to Egypt, he introduced the cultivation of grapes and the art of winemaking. When he went to Libya, he established an oracle in the desert. He also journeyed to India, conquering all who opposed him and bringing laws, cities, and wine to the country.
On his way back to Greece, he met his grandmother, the earth goddess Rhea. She cured him of his madness and taught him the mysteries of life and resurrection. Dionysus was also one of the very few able to bring a dead person back from the underworld. Even though he had never seen Semele, he was concerned for her. Eventually, he journeyed into the underworld to find her. He faced down Thanatos and brought her back to Mount Olympus, where she became the goddess Thyone. It was only after retrieving his mother that Dionysus took his place among the Olympians.
Dionysus in the 6th Age
Dionysus was the youngest of Zeus’s channeler-born sons, conceived in a tryst with Semele, a princess of Thebes. Fearing retribution from his wife, Hera, Zeus sequestered Dionysus in Nysa, where he spent most of his youth. Enraged by yet another affair, but unable to find the child, Hera instead banished Semele to Hades in revenge.
In Nysa, Dionysus was raised amongst women, this unusual upbringing forming the backbone of his attitudes as he grew. He was a beautiful if somewhat effeminate child, full of life and generous of spirit. He remained in Nysa until Hera eventually tracked him down. It is unclear exactly what happened during this meeting, but there is a suggestion that Hera finally exacted her revenge. She certainly never liked Dionysus.
For many years he wandered aimlessly throughout Egypt and Syria, and may have had contact with the pantheons there. Upon his return to Greece he met his grandmother, Rhea, who took him under-wing, and he learned much of his affinity with nature.
Dionysus shucked convention, and had unusual attitudes for the time; in particular his acceptance of society’s outcasts. He travelled extensively, and enjoyed the company of non-channelers. Unlike his brethren, Dionysus had no temples and exacted no worship. Instead he spent his time in the woods and mountains and valleys, exploring and honing his affinity with nature. He was a gifted Singer, able to direct and encourage the growth of plants, and eager to share the knowledge and joy of it. Though he never encouraged it, others began to follow in his wake; misfits and women broken free of familial chains.
He never turned them away. It was probably when his troubles began.
By now Dionysus had grown into a charitable and free-spirited man. Wine flowed in the evenings, as well as song and dance and revelry. He was keen to subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful, and saw no reason why channelers should be worshipped, nor why people should not be free to live as they willed, so long as they hurt no other. But though he was well-intentioned, his ideas earned enmity from the conventional spheres of society. To them he embraced the freakish and encouraged women to flee their husbands and familial duties.
Dark rumours began to chase their nighttime gatherings; of blood and sacrifice, of frenzy and wantonness, and of madness. From this Dionysus earned many enemies and, on occasion, fell prey to his ill temper.
Over his lifetime Dionysus enjoyed many lovers, among the most notable the satyr Ampelos. It is said Dionysus’s great grief upon his death turned even Atropos, who memorialised Ampelos as a grapevine.
Dionysos, who never wept, lamented thus in his love, the awful threads of Moira were unloosened and turned back; and Atropos Neverturnback, whose word stands fast, uttered a voice divine to console Dionysos in sorrow : ‘He lives, I declare, Dionysos; your boy lives, and shall not pass the bitter water of Akheron. Your lamentation has found out how to undo the inflexible threads of unturning Moira, it has turned back the irrevocable. Ampelos is not dead, even if he died; for I will change your boy to a lovely drink, a delicious nectar.Nonnus
But he only married one; Ariadne, the woman he remained faithful to until her death. They had a number of sons together.
Eventually he made the decision to return to Olympus, but was desperate to bring his mother with him. Dionysus was one of the very few successful in liberating someone from Hades, and it was upon this accomplishment that he finally returned home and took his place among the Twelve Olympians.
- Thyrsos: a wand or staff of giant fennel covered with ivy vines and leaves, sometimes wound with taeniae and topped with a pine cone or by a bunch of vine-leaves and grapes or ivy-leaves and berries
- Kantharos: a large, two handled banqueting cup used to hold wine, associated with vegetation and fertility. Also used in pagan rituals symbolic of rebirth or resurrection, the immortality offered by wine, “removing in moments of ecstasy the burden of self-consciousness and elevating man to the rank of deity.”
- Crown of Ivy
- Atropos, goddess of Fate
- Ampelos, lover immortalised as a grapevine
- Ariadne, wife and mother of his sons
- Persephone, Spring goddess whom Dionysus was great friends with. They spent time together when she resided in Olympus. They were both Singers.
- Iris, the messenger goddess of rainbows, whom he intervened to save when his followers turned on her.
- Zeus, father
- Semele, mother, born mortal but gifted release from the underworld by Persephone and the Moirai so that she might join Dionysus in Olympus.