The earliest cult images of Dionysus show a mature male, bearded and robed. He holds a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus. Later images show him as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half-naked androgynous youth: the literature describes him as womanly or "man-womanish". In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized. His procession (thiasus) is made up of wild female followers (maenads) and bearded satyrs with erect penises. Some are armed with the thyrsus, some dance or play music. The god himself is drawn in a chariot, usually by exotic beasts such as lions or tigers, and is sometimes attended by a bearded, drunken Silenus. This procession is presumed to be the cult model for the human followers of his Dionysian Mysteries. In his Thracian mysteries, he wears thebassaris or fox-skin, symbolizing a new life. Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.
He was also known as Bacchus (// or //; Greek: Βάκχος, Bakkhos), the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. He is also called Eleutherios ("the liberator"), whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself. His cult is also a "cult of the souls"; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.
In Greek mythology, he is presented as a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, thus semi-divine or heroic: and as son of Zeus andPersephone or Demeter, thus both fully divine, part-chthonic and possibly identical with Iacchus of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Some scholars believe that Dionysus is a syncretism of a local Greek nature deity and a more powerful god from Thrace or Phrygia such as Sabazios or Zalmoxis.
Dionysus had a strange birth that evokes the difficulty in fitting him into the Olympian pantheon. His mother was a mortal woman, Semele, the daughter of king Cadmus of Thebes, and his father was Zeus, the king of the gods. Zeus' wife, Hera, discovered the affair while Semele was pregnant. Appearing as an old crone (in other stories a nurse), Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that Zeus was the actual father of the baby in her womb. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele's mind. Curious, Semele demanded of Zeus that he reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood.
Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he agreed. Therefore he came to her wreathed in bolts of lightning; mortals, however, could not look upon an undisguised god without dying, and she perished in the ensuing blaze. Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. A few months later, Dionysus was born on Mount Pramnos in the island of Ikaria, where Zeus went to release the now-fully-grown baby from his thigh. In this version, Dionysus is born by two "mothers" (Semele and Zeus) before his birth, hence the epithet dimētōr (of two mothers) associated with his being "twice-born."
In the Cretan version of the same story, which Diodorus Siculus follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the Greek underworld. Diodorus' sources equivocally identified the mother as Demeter. A jealous Hera again attempted to kill the child, this time by sending Titans to rip Dionysus to pieces after luring the baby with toys. It is said that he was mocked by the Titans who gave him a thyrsus (a fennel stalk) in place of his rightful sceptre. Zeus turned the Titans into dust with his thunderbolts, but only after the Titans ate everything but the heart, which was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus used the heart to recreate him in his thigh, hence he was again "the twice-born." Other versions claim that Zeus recreated him in the womb of Semele, or gave Semele the heart to eat to impregnate her. The rebirth in both versions of the story is the primary reason why Dionysus was worshipped in mystery religions, as his death and rebirth were events of mystical reverence. This narrative was apparently used in several Greek and Roman cults, and variants of it are found in Callimachus and Nonnus, who refer to this Dionysus with the title Zagreus, and also in several fragmentary poems attributed to Orpheus.
The myth of the dismemberment of Dionysus by the Titans, is alluded to by Plato in his Phaedo (69d) in which Socrates claims that the initiations of the Dionysian Mysteries are similar to those of the philosophic path. Late Neo-Platonists such as Damascius explore the implications of this at length.
Infancy at Mount NysaEditAccording to the myth, Zeus gave the infant Dionysus to the care of Hermes. One version of the story is that Hermes took the boy to King Athamas and his wife Ino, Dionysus' aunt. Hermes bade the couple to raise the boy as a girl, to hide him from Hera's wrath. Another version is that Dionysus was taken to the rain-nymphs of Nysa, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their care Zeus rewarded them by placing them as the Hyades among the stars (see Hyades star cluster). Other versions have Zeus giving him to Rhea, or to Persephone to raise in the Underworld, away from Hera. Alternatively, he was raised by Maro.
Dionysus in Greek mythology is a god of foreign origin, and while Mount Nysa is a mythological location, it is invariably set far away to the east or to the south. The Homeric hymn to Dionysus places it "far from Phoenicia, near to the Egyptian stream." Others placed it in Anatolia, or in Libya ('away in the west beside a great ocean'), in Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus).
According to Herodotus:
As it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt; and as for Pan, the Greeks do not know what became of him after his birth. It is therefore plain to me that the Greeks learned the names of these two gods later than the names of all the others, and trace the birth of both to the time when they gained the knowledge. —Herodotus, Histories 2.146
The Bibliotheca seems to be following Pherecydes, who relates how the infant Dionysus, god of the grapevine, was nursed by the rain-nymphs, the Hyades at Nysa.
Behind the Curtain: Zagreus and the Golden Calf Edit
The Golden Calf of the Israelites may be related to Dionysus. As was mentioned, he has an ephithet as the Liberator. The episode is recounted in the Bible -- Exodus 32.
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us bgods, which shall cgo before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
"And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
"And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
"And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
So the story goes that Moses went up to Mount Sinai (Jebel al-Lawz) and all of Israel promised Yahveh their God, that they will become a nation of priests unto Yahveh. Then Moses stayed up on the Mount and the people, they became anxious. At the time, the people got Aaron to make them a golden calf based on the Apis bull. Although according to the account, no one group of Israelites was actually the instigators, but there is a clue in the beginning chapters of the Exodus.
-- Exodus 32:1-4
The Ama-Zoans -- the group of women who were detached from the Men, who became the Amazons. The women was led by Mirriam, Moses sister with the gift of foresight. The worship of the Golden Calf was one of merriment and licentiousness. The Israelites practiced homosexuality, Child sex, incest, lying, backbiting, gossip, the worship of a dumb idol, murder, stealing, covetousness, and all manner of wickedness while Moses received the Celestial Law and the Temple Covenants. They broke their Covenant with Yahveh and probably did try to sacrifice a human being to their version of the Apis bull -- Zagreus. Calling it a liberator, the God that liberated them from the bondage of Egypt.
They may have instigated the rebellion against Yahveh and Yahveh made a promise that he would burn all of Israel, seeing that they were stiffnecked and prone to leave like most other humans. Yahveh promised that he will start again with Moses -- as he will have a nation of priests and priestesses. Moses then came down from the Mount carrying the Celestial Laws, laws that were written on stone by the finger of YHVH. Moses then judged Israel and threw down the tablets of the Celestial Laws. The result was that the priests and some of followers of the Golden Calf Zagreus was swallowed up by the Earth.
The Traditions of Zagreus actually survived that incident. When the Amazons left Israel, and the continigent of Danites that became the Danaans left Israel, they took the Golden Calf with them when they founded the city of Argos in the Peloponessus. The Golden Calf eventually became Dionysus.