Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, played an important role in the culture of the ancient Greeks. And it wasn’t just about drinking wine. He is also the god of the harvest and viticulture in general.
Many people know Dionysus as the Greek god of wine but many do not realize that he was a pivotal figure not just in wine drinking but early viticulture, fertility and was celebrated by the ancient Greeks with pageantry and revelry. Here are ten facts about Dionysus you can break out to impress your wine loving friends.
- Dionysus did not have it easy and, in fact, almost wasn’t born. His father, Zeus, took a mortal woman as a lover. The child that resulted was Dionysus. But, it wasn’t that simple.
When Zeus’ wife, Hera, discovered his infidelity she went to Semele and planted seeds of doubt in her head about Zeus. Semele convinced Zeus that if he loved her he would do anything she asked. She cajoled and persuaded and he gave in. He loved her dearly and would do anything for her. But when she made her request he was devastated: she wished to see him in his godly form. No human can survive this and when he kept his word (he was a man of honor when it came to some things) she was immediately engulfed in flame and quickly burned to ash. Zeus rescued the fetus and sewed it into his thigh until the child was ready to be born. For this reason, Dionysus is placed in a special category of twice-born gods.
He is also the only god with a mortal parent.
- Besides being the god of wine, Dionysus was also the god of fertility. Some mythology scholars believe that this is due to his early rebirth but also because the cutting back or pruning of vines that is so important to growing good wine grapes. He is an example of something being born from impossible circumstances and thus a logical choice for a fertility god.
- There were many Dionysus cults during ancient Greece. THey would gather five times a month for celebration of the god and carried the symbols of him: rods topped with pine cones, ivy dipped in honey and sacrificial goats and bulls. Some of the cults would hunt human sacrifies in addition to goats, tearing the sacrifice to pieces with their hands and eating the raw flesh. Later the practice was to hunt a bull and then stone the lucky hunter who succeeded. Eventually only goats were sacrificed. Some stories of Zeus include his being born with horns, so a horned beast was an appropriate gift to the god. Sacrifice most likely came from the myth – Zeus’ wife wanted the child dead and plotted to have him killed.
- Dionysus was a late addition to Greek mythology and makes very few appearance in Homer. When he is mentioned, it is with scorn.
- The second most important festival in Ancient Greece was Dionysia: the celebration of Dionysus. There were two of these, the rural and the urban. The festivals began with a procession or pompe which included people carrying offerings. It was common to see the rod with pinecone, young girls with baskets of flowers, people carrying large loaves of bread and others with water. The festival included games, dramatic and choral performances, weapons showcases, and a winner was declared. The most competitive contests included flutists and singers. The early rural festivals celebrated the vines and may not have included Dionysus until later.
- Dionysia was celebrated by different cities on different days, thus allowing travelling troupes of performers to be at more than one celebration and allowing wealther Greeks to travel to a variety of the spectacals.
- There are modern adaptations of Dionysia celebrated around the world.
- Dionysus is one of few gods who traveled to and returned from the underworld. He went to rescue his mother, whom he always held in deep regard and showed concern for despite her dying when he was in the womb.
- It was believed by the ancient Greeks that Dionysus was in people when they were drunk and that this is what brought on different reactions to being drunk. Going back to the idea of Dionysus being twice-born, he could come in either a fun form or an angry one.
- In keeping with the dual-nature of Dionysus, some myths have him as a woman. He often appears either as a bearded man or a younger, asexual or genderless figure. When appearing male he is often effeminate and connected to homosexuality.
The next time you are entertaining, break out your newfound knowledge of Dionysus and drink in celebration of the god of wine.