The origins of Dionysos go back to two earlier deities, Zagreus and Sabazios. Zagreus, who originated in Crete, was considered a god of extremely high importance. This “version” of Dionysos, though, is a bit different than the Bromios we know now. Whereas Dionysos is a god of horticulture, Zagreus was a god of the untamed wild, but in the sense that he had control over it, not that he was communing with it.
The Cretan deity Zagreus eventually synchronized with the Thracian deity Sabazios, and later became Dionysos in the Grecian mainland. Both Zagreus and Sabazios were hunter gods, associated with fire, snakes, and bulls—all predators in their own ways. Connection to and control over the wilderness, as we know, would later become an important aspect of Dionysos and his worship.
Sabazios was also connected to alcohol; sabaia was the name for a beer made from barley and water in ancient Illyricum. The connection to the making of fermented beverages is another trait that was either coincidentally shared with or was “passed down” to Dionysos.
Now, to get into Dionysos’ three births. According to some versions of legends about Dionysos’ birth, his first mother was Persephone, who was seduced by Zeus disguised as a serpent. There is a theory, though, that Zeus in this story was actually Zeus Chthonios, meaning “Zeus of the Underworld, which is Haides. The theory proposes that the myth was retconned after its conception.From Kata-Khthonia’s blog:
“Remember that all of these myths are a result of something called syncretism. The Greek pantheon didn’t come about over night fully formed. There were many gods and goddesses that were similar to others and these were combined to make singular gods. For instance, nearly all the chief sky gods of the Greek city states become Zeus before the rise of the polis.
If we think about it this way, and remember that Zeus, Zeus Pater (Jupiter) and Deus all mean the same thing, then it can be inferred that Zeus is a title, much like Caesar or king. Most of Zeus’ epithets are related to the city in which he was worshiped. In the passage above, Kronian means ‘son of Kronos’, which was a title also widely applied to Hades.
The passage above quite possibly came about like this:
In several places like Locri, Eleusis, Corinth and Ephyra, Plouton (Hades) and Persephone were the chief deities, the ones responsible for the fertility of the earth, for the cycle of life and death. As a Father-Mother god pairing much like Zeus and Hera, they had children to rule over other aspects of their dominion.
But during the rise of the polis and the writing down of oral myth, Zeus became the chief dominant god in a fractious region united by a single pantheon ruled over by a single sky god. Chief deities of the sea became Poseidon in much the same way, and Hades was relegated from rulership over the earth with his wife to rulership over only the dead. To make the pantheon make sense and include all gods, there couldn’t be two chief deities of the living world. Those writing down the myths also surmised that Hades, as the ruler of the dead, was infertile and could not have produced children like Melinoe and Zagreus.
Hades, in his aspect of Zeus Katachthonios, the king beneath the earth, lost his role as father to his children because of syncretism.
Zagreus and especially Melinoe remained, and their paternity was quickly attributed to the most common source of paternity in Greek myth: Zeus Olympios.
But I personally think that it is possible to read between the lines in the Orphic hymns. For example, in Zagreus’ conception, the father appears as a snake, a creature who is deeply chthonic in its mythic origins. In this way, I think that the father is written into this myth in code, not outright, as Hades. A few lines are added to reference back to Zeus, but the deeper symbolism points to Hades.
In the conception of Melinoe above, Persephone bears her by the shores of the Cocytus, but strangely at the same time in the bed of Zeus Kronion, which here translates to the king son of Kronos, which could also be Hades. The line describing how Zeus took Hades’ form to conceive Melinoe on Persephone is about as clear an indication as we can have that the original source of the myth was ret-conned to have Zeus be the father.
Melinoe was important enough to enough people as the daughter of Hades and Persephone that the myth had to be written this way in order to say to the people that “we know you worshipped her this way, as the daughter of Hades and Persephone, but here is what actually happened. This is what everyone should believe now, but if you want to keep believing that Hades was her father, here is how you can go right on ahead and do that”.
If it is not meant to be interpreted this way, then why bother going to all the trouble of saying that Zeus had to take Hades’ form to conceive the child? Wouldn’t Melinoe’s birth have been just as equally valid if Zeus had simply done what he did with almost every other one of his bedmates and ravished Persephone unwillingly?
The answer is clearly no, and the fact that the text exists to so elaborately explain Melinoe’s conception is the signifier that her original myth was different.
So to conclude, I do agree with you. The text says otherwise, but if you read into it contextually, then the true meaning becomes clear: the “forms” that Zeus takes in myth are too chthonic in origin or are simply Hades himself. Because of this, the language could be interpreted as code for the original father of Melinoe and Zagreus, which would be Zeus Katachthonios. Hades. Plouton.
Persephone bore Zagreus, who, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to say is essentially Dionysos 1.0. Zagreus was associated more with chthonic aspects of Hellenic culture, but not for long, as he was torn apart by titans when he was a baby, and only his heart remained when they were through with him.”
In the more “modern” version of the myth, Zeus rescued the heart and gave it to Semele, who ate it and was therefore impregnated with Bromios, who is, again, for the sake of simplicity, Dionysos 2.0. Before Bromios could be born, though, Hera appeared before Semele in the form of an old woman and planted the seed of doubt in her mind that the man who impregnated her might not actually have been Zeus. So the next time she saw him, she asked him to grant her one wish, anything she wanted, and he agreed. Semele asked for proof of Zeus’ godhood, and knowing it would kill her, Zeus reluctantly showed her his true form in all of its splendor. Semele was killed instantly. Zeus took the fetus Bromios from the dead Semele’s womb and sewed him into his thigh (which is where Dionysos’ epithet Enorches, literally “The Betesticled,” comes from).
When it was time for Dionysos to be born, Zeus hid in a cave and essentially “gave birth” to him. The baby Dionysos remained Bromios, as it became one of his epithets, and he was entrusted by Zeus to Hermes, who left him in the care of the Nysiades, six okeanid nymphs who lived on the mythical Mount Nysa. Later, as a reward for their service, Zeus set them in the sky as stars.
That is the simplified tale of Dionysos’ births, and should be looked into in greater depth. I recommend reading Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy to learn more.
my shrine to dionysos as it is now
Books of Myths, Poetry, Hymns, and Plays Involving Dionysos:
- The Bacchae
- The Frogs
- D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths
- The Complete World of Greek Mythology
- Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides’ Bacchae
- The Glory of Hera <— take this one with a grain of salt, as it presents Freud’s theories as credible
- The Library
Academic Texts on Dionysos and His Cult:
- Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy <— favorite
- Pagan Regeneration, chapter iii: Dionysian Excesses
- Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life
- Dionysos (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)
- The God Who Comes: Dionysian Mysteries Revisited
- The Glory of Hera
- A Mythological History of Ancient Greece. Volume 1: In the Beginning
- Dionysos in Archaic Greece: An Understanding Through Images (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World)
- Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia
- The God Who Comes: Dionysian Mysteries Revisited
- Gods of the Greeks
- Dionysus: Myth and Cult
- Ancient Mystery Cults
Books on Ancient Greek Culture:
- Religion and Art in Ancient Greece
- Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical (Ancient World) <— favorite
- The Gods of Olympus: A History
- The Glory of Hera
- A Mythological History of Ancient Greece. Volume 1: In the Beginning
- Prayer in Greek Religion
- Ancient Greek Religion (Blackwell Ancient Religions)
- Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
- Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece
- Friendship in the Classical World (Key Themes in Ancient History)
- Aphrodite and Eros: The Development of Greek Erotic Mythology
- Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion
- The Homeric Gods: The Spiritual Significance Of Greek Religion
- On Greek Religion: Cornell Studies in Classical Philology
- “Reading” Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period
- From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity
- Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World
- Citizen Bacchae: Women’s Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece
- The Greek Way of Death
- Athenian Myths and Festivals: Aglauros, Erechtheus, Plynteria, Panathenaia, Dionysia
- The Sacred and the Feminine in Ancient Greece
- Psyche the Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality Among Ancient Greeks
- Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult
- Ritualized Friendship and the Greek City
- Everyday Life In Ancient Greece
- Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece
- Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion
- Myth and Thought Among the Greeks
- Myth and Society in Ancient Greece
- Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece
- Magic in the Ancient Greek World
- Ancient Magic and Ritual Power (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World)
- Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Secret Cults
- Greek Religion: A Sourcebook
- Ancient Greece: Everyday Life in the Birthplace of Western Civilization
- The Greek Way of Death
GREEK MYTHOLOGY » ares and aphrodite (requested by my lovely maddie)
While Ares is the Son of Zeus and Hera, Aphrodite predates all of them, old myth tells us that when Cronos cut of Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the ocean, the sea swelled with foam and gave birth to Aphrodite, Zeus’ half-Sister. BTW, Uranus was his Father, and the Titans and Olympians have a long standing history of Son betraying Father. Very dysfunctional families in that pantheon. In more modern mythology, she is known as a Daughter of Zeus or an adopted Daughter. Either way you slice it, she was related to Ares by Ichor.
All she did was make love, all day, all night, with much wild abandon. So beautiful was she that Ares and Apollo both vied for her hand in marriage causing a rift between the already estranged Brothers that lasted the rest of Time. However, Zeus thought it best if the Goddess of Love and Beauty was humbled a bit. Aphrodite left a wide path of destruction and broken hearts in her lustful wake. Zeus also believed that Love should not be confined only to the Beautiful, Love should be deeper than that. As such, he gave her to his other Son, Hephaestus the blacksmith of the Gods.
By Olympian standards, Hephaestus was ugly. His body and face hideously deformed, he was slow and walked with a pronounced limp. He is a tragic figure who was belittled by the handsome and beautiful inhabitants of Olympus. Ugly from birth, Hephaestus was scarred from the forge, always smelled of smoke, his hands were always rough with burrs. He thought he would never find a woman to love him. He was delighted when he was given Aphrodite, the beautiful and fair maiden, as his Wife.
It wasn’t that Aphrodite didn’t or couldn’t love Hephaestus, indeed, she loved everyone she came in contact with, it was her nature, she couldn’t help herself, but rather that she just couldn’t be tied to down to one person. She didn’t mean to be cruel and break so many hearts leaving rivers of tears in her wake. She simply wasn’t meant to be possessed by one man alone.
It wasn’t long before she was sneaking around with other men while Hephaestus worked his forge making weapons for the Gods late into the night. Chief among her lovers was Hephaestus’ Brother, Ares God of War. It’s no wonder they were so fatefully attracted to each other; he being the embodiment of everything male from his statuesque physique to his badass attitude and she being the essence of everything female from her outward beauty to her carnal desires. They were destined to fall in love. Who else could contend with and quench their fiery passions but each other? Who else could understand their wild ways and not be heartbroken at their inability to be faithful a lover? Who else lived their lives with as much passion and zeal as they?
There is a fine line between Love and Hate after all.
They took to the deep stillness of Ares’ forests for long nights of lovemaking, but one night they became careless when Aphrodite took Ares to her own bed. The one she shared with Hephaestus.
In the deep cover of the forest no one could see them, but as Helios, the Sun, rose the next morning and peered into Aphrodite’s bedroom window, he saw the two lovers and told Hephaestus who was so enraged he set a trap for Wife and his Brother. Knowing he wasn’t strong enough to best his Brother in battle, Hephaestus came up with a clever plan. He worked in his forge day and night until the trap was ready. The next time Aphrodite took Ares to their marriage bed, Hephaestus lay in wait to trap them in an unbreakable net. The heartbroken God of the Forge set his trap around the bed he shared with his Wife, whom he believed loved him, and ensnared Ares and Aphrodite in the act of making love. Hephaestus dragged them naked before off all the Gods who laughed at the adulterous couple, especially Ares, who always considered himself so cunning yet he’d been trapped by his disabled Brother who demanded payment and retribution for the offense. Yet, no amount of payment could ease his broken heart.
Once freed of their chains and shamed before all of the Gods Ares and Aphrodite went their separate ways for a while. Yet, as Love would have it, they found their way back to each other and carried on an affair that lasted long after Hephaestus’ death and that saw fruition in five children the most famous among them (according to more modern mythology) is Eros.
They stayed together, not as Husband and Wife, but as Friends and Lovers, two sides of the same coin, for the rest of Time. (x)
You travel deep into
Gray, withered, dead
With cracked lips
And tired eyes
With hands too numb to feel
You stumble on
A riverbed that quakes
For just beyond
Dancing on heavy feet
And warmest reds
Follow in his wake
And his lips move quicker
As he leans down to whisper
In sleeping ears
Honey flows in streams
From once dead
Twice made lips
And you drink
The sweet nectar
That his voice makes
In your veins
A strong drummer’s beat
Louder with every sip
You feel you have
A ravenous thirst to slake
You strip off your clothes
But why stop there?
Shed your skin
Tear down your flesh
And light your bones
Rise anew from what the fire takes
You look at the Dancer
The Giver of Grace
Trees grow higher
Into the heavens
He touches the ground
And out of brown mud
Green things grow
Leaves from the earth
Grapes from the vine
And a smile is on his face
Bigger than before
For in you he sowed strength
He looks at you
Greek mythological figures
↳ Dionysus (Διόνυσος, Diónysos)
God of wine, parties and festivals, madness, chaos, drunkenness, drugs, and ecstasy. He was depicted in art as either an older bearded god or a pretty effeminate, long-haired youth. His attributes include the thyrsus (a pinecone-tipped staff), drinking cup, grape vine, and a crown of ivy. He is often in the company of his thiasos, a posse of attendants including satyrs, maenads, and his old tutor Silenus. The consort of Dionysus was Ariadne. Animals sacred to him include dolphins, serpents, tigers, and donkeys. A later addition to the Olympians, in some accounts he replaced Hestia. Bacchus was another name for him in Greek, and came into common usage among the Romans.
[Dionysus] himself is unimaginable without his followers but does not resemble them. He is seldom drunk, seldom mad, never sexually aroused. The relationship with Ariadne, often depicted, is dignified and restrained. Even in grim situations he retains a smiling tranquility which comes suddenly to seem sinister. (Was he a model for Plato’s portrayal of Socrates?) The calmness of the god of madness is a characteristic Dionysian paradox. His followers surrender their individuality in the collective excitement. But they do not achieve union with the source of that excitement, however close they may seem to approach. Dionysus eludes them, and retains his enigmatic smile.