Campaign of the Month: February 2017
The Theoi god of wine and debauchery
Dionysus is an enigmatic and deeply secretive god, one whose secret cults and mysteries are said to persist even to this day. He is the god of wildness and abandon, madness and lack of inhibitions, and to that end he is also the god of wine and the patron of sexual freedom. The wild, ecstatic orgies of his followers, the Maenads, are legendary, and he may owe much of his closeness to such primal urges to the fact that, of all the Olympians, he is the only one to be born half-human; he made his way from Scion to godhood and took his place on Olympus among the long-established children of the titans. As the god of sexual freedom, he is also a fertility god, representative not only of the act of procreation in humans and animals but also of the renewal and bounty of the earth. He is the bringer of divine insanity, who grants to his followers not only reckless madness but also the secret, half-glimpsed wisdom that only madness can bestow.
Zeus carried on an affair with Semele, a mortal princess; while she was pregnant with Dionysus, Hera discovered his unfaithfulness and sought to punish him. She disguised herself and whispered to Semele that Zeus, who had also been visiting the woman in disguise, was actually the king of the gods, and suggested that Semele ask to see him in all his glory so that she would know the truth. Zeus, who was pleased with Semele, offered her any one boon of her choosing; consumed with curiosity, she asked that he reveal himself to her. He was bound by his word to do so, but the overwhelming splendor of his godly visage was too much for her to withstand and she died upon beholding him. Zeus quickly cut the fetal Dionysus from her womb and sewed him into his own thigh, from whence he was born some time months later. It is because of his double birth, once from his mother and once from his father, that he is the most androgynous and mysterious of the Dodekathon.
Dionysus and the Invention of Wine
After his birth, Zeus gave Dionysus to his mother Rhea to raise in order to keep him safe from Hera. Despite his efforts, Hera discovered that he lived and struck him with madness, cursing him to wander the earth for years. Rhea, still trying to protect him, found him after some time and cured him of Hera’s madness, teaching him many rites and powers before releasing him again. Undaunted by Hera’s enmity, Dionysus discovered the grapevine and plumbed its secrets, inventing wine; he embarked upon a second journey shortly thereafter, and traveled to every part of the world, teaching all of humanity the wonders of wine, allowing every culture to make it in some form.
Dionysus and the Olympians
When he returned from his pilgrimage, Dionysus ascended to Mount Olympus and presented himself before the Olympians, declaring himself to be Zeus’ son and demanding a place among them. There were already a full complement of gods on Olympus, and none wished to step down; many, chiefest among them Hera, disbelieved the god’s claim or bore enmity toward him and did not wish to give him a place. There was a great squabble and Dionysus refused to leave until he was given his birthright, but the goddess Hestia finally ended the argument, stepping down and cedeing her seat among the gods to him.
Dionysus and Pentheus
When Semele was pregnant with Dionysus, king Pentheus of Thebes and the women of his court did not believe her claims and banished her from the area, ridiculing her for her delusions. When Dionysus learned of this as an adult, he journeyed to Thebes and struck Pentheus and all the women of his court with divine madness, turning the women into the Maenads, the wild, drunken cannibal women who worship him most faithfully, and slowly driving Pentheus out of his mind. When he judged that the time was right, he convinced Pentheus to sneak into the woods and spy on the Maenads in their revels; they caught him and tore him limb from limb, even his mother, now a Maenad loyal only to Dionysus. His vengeance would have been sated, but the Thebans retaliated by driving the Maenads from the city, earning his eternal enmity.
Dionysus and Semele
When as an adult Dionysus learned what had happened to his mother, he descended to Hades to rescue her. The stern god of the dead did not relinquish her easily, but Dionysus finally struck a mysterious deal with him, the details of which are known only to those who were present. Dionysus took Semele out of the underworld with him and brought her to live on Mount Olympus, where she became Thyone, the goddess of bacchanal frenzy and the leader of his Maenads.
Dionysus and Midas
King Midas of Phrygia found the satyr Silenus drunk from worshiping Dionysus, and took care of him with hospitality and graciousness until Dionysus, who had been Silenus’ student long ago, found him. In gratitude for having taken care of his old master, Dionysus offered Midas one boon; Midas asked that everything he touched turned should turn to gold, making him the richest king ever to live. Dionysus warned him against this course of action, but granted his wish; Midas was overjoyed until he found that he could neither eat nor drink as the sustenance turned to gold at his touch, and he accidentally turned his beloved daughter Zoe into a lifeless statue. Appalled, he begged Dionysus to reclaim his gift, which he did.
Dionysus and Lycurgus
King Lycurgus of Thrace, concerned by the unchecked revels in his kingdom and the sloth and bloodshed they were causing, banned the worship of Dionysus and put all followers of the god in jail. Angered by his presumtion, Dionysus struck the land with a horrible drought, causing the people to slowly starve to death. Lycurgus, in retaliation, began to cut down all of the ivy in the kingdom, knowing that it was sacred to Dionysus; enraged, Dionysus struck the king with madness and caused him to believe that his own son was made of ivy, causing him to kill the boy. As the drought in the kingdom worsened, Dionysus gave an oracle a prophecy stating that the kingdom would never be able to support life again while Lycurgus lived; this caused the people to storm the palace and draw and quarter their king, and Dionysus, finally appeased, lifted the drought and allowed Thrace to thrive once again.
Dionysus and Ariadne
Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of Minos, aided the hero Theseus in defeating the Minotaur and escaping from the deadly labyrinth; after she had done so, however, he tired of her and abandoned her, marooning her on the island of Naxos. Dionysus, as he was returning from the underworld with his mother, saw her sleeping there; he had seen her before in Crete and was much taken with her beauty, so he carried her off to Olympus as well, making her his bride and a goddess in her own right.