Essay on Dionysus

This essay has a total of 3041 words and 14 pages.


Dionysus





Dionysus

Winter squalls are drained out of the sky. The violet season
of flowering spring smiles. The black earth glitters under
green lawns. Swelling plants pop open with tiny petals.
Meadows laugh and suck the morning dew, while the rose
unfolds.
The shepherd in the hills happily blows the top notes of his
pipe. The gathered gloats over his white kids. Sailors race
across the thrashing waves. Their canvas full of the harmless breeze. Drinkers acclaim the grape-giver
Dionysus, capping their hair with flowering ivy. (Bernard).


Dionysus, in Greek mythology is a god of wine and vegetation, who showed mortals how to
cultivate grapevines and make wine. “He was good and gentle to those who honored
him, but he brought madness and destruction upon those who spurned him or the orgiastic
rituals of his cult” (Wendell 23)

The yearly rites in honor of the resurrection of Dionysus gradually evolved into the
structured form of the Greek drama, and important festivals were held in honor of the god,
during which great dramatic competitions were conducted. The most important festival, the
Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring. It was for this
celebration that the Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote their
great tragedies. Also, after the 5th century BC, Dionysus was known to the Greeks as
Bacchus.

Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Semele. He is the only god to have a mortal parent. The
birth of Dionysus began when Zeus came to Semele in the night, invisible, felt only as a
divine presence. Semele was pleased to be a lover of a god, even though she did not know
which one. Word soon got around and Hera quickly assumed who was responsible. Hera went to
Semele in disguise and convinced her that she should see her lover as he really was. When
Zeus visited her again, she made him promise to grant her one wish. She went so far as to
make him swear on the River Syx that he would grant her request. Zeus, was madly in love
and agreed. She then asked him to show her his true form. Zeus, was unhappy, and knew what
would happen, but having sworn he had no choice. He appeared in his true form and Semel
was instantly burn to a crisp by the sight of his glory. Zeus did manage to rescue
Dionysus, and stitched him into his thigh to hold him until he was ready to be born.
Dionysus’ birth from Zeus alone conferred immortality upon him. But Dionysus’
problem with Hera were not yet over. She was still jealous, and arranged for the Titans to
kill him. The Titans ripped him into a pieces. But luckily, Rhea brought him back to life.
After this, Zeus arranged for his protection and turned him over the mountain nymphs to be
raised.

Once Dionysus had grown to a manhood he decided to wander far and wide, including areas
outside of Greece. He raveled everywhere to preach the culture of the vine. It was
accepted most everywhere but his own country. He wandered around Asia, accompanied by a
wild group of Satyrs and Maenads, involving himself in bizarre events. For example, he
flayed alive the king of Damascus, and chased the Amazons to Ephesus where some of them
took refuge in the Temple of Artemis. Next, Dionysus returned to Europe, and his
grandmother Rhea purified him of the murders he had committed during his madness and
initiated him in her Mysteries. He then visited Thebes, and there invited women to join
his revels. Pentheus, king of Thebes, arrested him and all his Maenads, but went mad and
locked up a bull instead of the god. The Maenads escaped and went raging up in the
mountains. Pentheus tried to stop the frenzy, but wild with religious ecstasy and wine
they tore Pentheus limb from limb. Finally, having established his worship, Dionysus
ascended to heaven and joined Zeus and the other Olympians.

“Dionysus is also one of the very few that was able to bring a dead person out of
the underworld. Even though he had never seen Semele he was concerned for her”
(Bremmer 15). Eventually, he journeyed into the underworld to find her. He faced down
Thanatos and brought her back to Mount Olympus.

In Greeks world, Dionysus appeared almost everywhere. You could see him in the art, drama
and comedy. Greeks even build a theater after him. “Honor was paid to Dionysus, the
peasant god of Eleftheres, with a circular religious dithyrambic dance performed by
dancers dressed in billy – goats (tragos) (Frazer 20). Thus, tragedy was born at
first in the Orchestra of the Agora (ancient market place), and on the northern slope of
Acropolis, in an area of 25 m. diameter, near the god’s sanctuary which was
flattened for this purpose.

When tragedy was separated from religion, wooden and later stone scaffoldings were placed
for the spectators in 330 BC. The auditorium developed to have two landings which
separated the 88 rows of seats into the three sections and 65 tiers with a seating
capacity of 15000-16000 spectators. The ancient circular orchestra was paved with marble,
while marble thrones and honorary seats were installed in the 1st century AC. After that
time, theater was used as an arena. The simple construction of the stage in the 5th
century BC changed into a rectangular building with wings and proscenia in the 4th century
BC. Also, all profiles of Dionysus’ life done in bas – relief have survived.

Dionysus also appeared in drama. An orchestra, or a dancing ground of Dionysus with an
arrangement for spectators (theatron) was built in Athens, in the early sixth century. It
became the great center for drama where plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were
performed. Drama was produced at festivals, honoring Dionysus in his theater under the
presidency of his priest, by performers wearing masks and special dress. That is how
tragedy (which originally meant “goat song for Dionysus”) began and quickly
reached heights never surpassed. Any formal tragedy involves disaster: physical, mortal,
or spiritual. The hero is doomed. Tragedy deals with human suffering and the courage of a
hero who resists the inevitable. Pathos, or melodrama, is acceptance submissively or
without comprehension of misfortune. “These ideas were found in
“Aristotle’s Poetics,” the work from which our appraisal of tragedy was
found. Aristotle, also notes the “tragic flaw” in the hero (Patai 5). This
defect of character and inability to understand a situation creates his resistance, and
makes him to accept his fate. The audience identifies with the hero and feels pity or
fear, but the catharsis of these feelings leaves the audience exalted.

Greeks included Dionysus in art form too. He usually depicted as a bearded youth, wearing
a crown of vines with grapes. Often he holds the thyrsus (a wand – fertility symbol)
and a cup of wine. He is accompanied by Maenads. These female devotees, pictured with
tambourines and swirling drapery, express physical abandonment. He is also associated with
a goat – like deities (Satyrs, Silenus, Pan) who play pipes for the Bacchic rituals.

Dionysus became one of the most important gods in everyday life. He became associated with
several key concepts. One was rebirth after death. Here his dismemberment by the Tirant
and return to life is symbolically echoed in tending vines, where the vines must be pruned
back sharply, and then become dormant in winter for them to bear fruit. The other is the
idea that under the influence of wine, one could feel possessed by a greater power. Unlike
the other gods, “Dionysus was not only outside his believers, but also within them.
At these times a man might be greater then himself and do works he otherwise could
not” (Bonnefoy 31).

We can compare the festivals that was made in honor of Dionysus to our Easter.
“The festival for Dionysus is in the Spring, when the leaves begin to reappear on
the vine. It become one of the most important events of the year. It is focus became the
theater” (Jung 30). Most of the great Greek plays were initially written to be
performed at the feast of Dionysus. All who took part – writers, actors, spectators
– were regarded as scared servants of Dionysus, during the festival.

And as a conclusion I want to add that Dionysus died a horrible death among the cold
monoliths, devilishly torn to pieces. He rose from the dead again and again, providing to
his believers that the soul lives on forever after the body dies.


Works Cited
Bremmer, Jan. Interpretations of Greek Mythology.
Totowa, NJ: Harper, 1976.
Bonnefoy, Yves. Greek and Egyptian Mythologies.
Chicago: Univercity of Chicago, 1992.
Bernard, Suzane. “Plato and His Dialogues.”
http://eawc.evansville.edu/essays/suzanne.htm (2 Feb. 1996).
Frazer, James. The Golden Bough.
New York: Macmillan, 1950.
Patai, Raphael. Myths and Modern Man.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prenice, 1972.
Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols.
New York: Dell, 1968.
Wendell, Bane, and William Doty. Myths, Rites, and Symbols.
New York: Harper, 1976.

Dionysus

Winter squalls are drained out of the sky. The violet season
of flowering spring smiles. The black earth glitters under
green lawns. Swelling plants pop open with tiny petals.
Meadows laugh and suck the morning dew, while the rose
unfolds.
The shepherd in the hills happily blows the top notes of his
pipe. The gathered gloats over his white kids. Sailors race
across the thrashing waves. Their canvas full of the harmless breeze. Drinkers acclaim the grape-giver
Continues for 7 more pages >>