God Dionysus – Birth

Zeus the Thunderer loved the beautiful Semela, the daughter of the Theban king Cadmus. He once promised to grant her every request, whatever it was, and swore to her with the inviolable oath of the gods in the sacred waters of the underground Styx. But the great goddess Hera hated Semela and wished to destroy her. She told Semela:

“Ask Zeus to appear before you in all his majesty as a thunder god, king of Olympus. If he really loves you, he will not refuse to comply with your request.”

Hera persuaded Semela, and she asked Zeus to comply with her request. And Zeus could not deny Semela anything, he had sworn in the waters of the Styx. The Thunderer appeared before her in all his majesty as king of gods and men, with all the splendor of his glory. Dazzling lightning flashed in the hands of Zeus, thunder shook the Palace of Cadmus. Everything around was ignited by the lightning of Zeus. The palace was engulfed in fire, everything around it was shaking and crumbling. Terrified, Semela fell to the ground, and the flames engulfed her. She saw that there was no salvation for her, that her plea, suggested by Hera, had ruined her.

And the dying Semela gave birth to a son, Dionysus, a weak, unviable child. One would say that it too was doomed to perish in the fire. But could the son of the great Zeus die? From the ground, on all sides, as if waving a magic wand, grew thick green ivy. He protected the unfortunate child from the fire with his leaves and saved him from death.

Mosaic of god Dionysus

Zeus took his saved son and, as he was still so small and weak that he could not live, sewed him in his thigh. In the body of his father, Zeus, Dionysus became stronger and, having become strong enough, was born a second time from the thigh of the thunderer Zeus. Then the king of the gods and men summoned his son Hermes, the fast messenger of the gods, and ordered him to take little Dionysus to Semela’s sister Ino and her husband Atamant, king of Orchomenus, to raise him.

The goddess Hera became angry with Ino and Atamant for adopting the son of her hated Semela and decided to punish them. It took away Atamant’s mind. In a fit of madness, Atamant killed his son Learch. Eno and her other son, Melikert, barely escaped death. Her husband chased her and was about to catch a cold. She finds herself in front of a steep, rocky beach, the sea roars below, and her mad husband runs after her – there is no salvation for Ino. In desperation, she throws herself with her son from the coastal rocks into the sea. There, Eno and Melikert were picked up by the Nereids. The educator of Dionysus Ino and her son were turned into sea deities and have lived in the depths of the sea ever since.

Dionysus saved Hermes from the mad Atamant. He immediately took him to the Nise Valley and gave him there to raise the nymphs. Dionysus grew up as a beautiful, powerful God of Wine, as a god who gives people strength and joy, a god who gives fertility. The nymphs that raised it were taken as a reward by Zeus in the sky, and they glow in the dark starry night under the name Hyadi among the other constellations.

Dionysus and his Entourage

The merry Dionysus walks all over the world, from one side to the other, accompanied by a noisy crowd of menades and satyrs decorated with wreaths. He walks in front with a wreath of vine sticks on his head and a sawdust decorated with ivy in his hands. The young menadas revolve around him in a lively dance, singing and shouting, and the clumsy satyrs with tails and goat’s feet, intoxicated by wine, jump. After the procession, the old man Silen, the wise teacher of Dionysus, rides a donkey. He is very drunk, barely sitting on the donkey leaning on the bag of wine thrown in front of him. The ivy wreath fell to the side on his bald head. Shaking, he rode, smiling good-naturedly. Young satyrs run parallel to the cautiously stepping donkey and carefully support the old man so that he does not fall. Under the sounds of flutes, syringes and timpani, the noisy procession merrily advances through the mountains among shady forests and green meadows. Dionysus-Bacchus walks happily on earth, subduing everything to his power. He teaches people to grow the vine and make wine from its heavy, ripe bunches.

Dionysus and Lycurgus

Not everywhere do they recognize the authority of Dionysus. He often encounters resistance; he often has to conquer countries and cities by force. But who can fight the great god, the son of Zeus? He severely punishes those who oppose him, who do not want to acknowledge him and worship him as a god. Dionysus was first persecuted in Thrace when, in a shady valley in the company of his menads, he feasted merrily and danced, intoxicated by wine, to the sounds of music and singing; then he was attacked by the cruel king of the Edonians, Lycurgus. The menads scattered in terror, throwing the sacred vessels of Dionysus on the ground; even Dionysus himself ran away. To escape the persecution of Lycurgus, he threw himself into the sea. There he was hidden by the goddess Thetis. Dionysus’ father, Zeus, punished Lycurgus, who dared to offend the young god: Zeus blinded Lycurgus and shortened his life.

From the anthology of A. Kun

Epiphany of Dionysus mosaic, from the Villa of Dionysus (second century AD)