Dionysus was one of those gods whose birth was a mix of both good and bad luck, however in any case his birth was in no way conventional in any remote sense of the term.
Dionysus first bit of good luck was that his mother was the beautiful and gentle mortal Semele, who was a princess, and that his father was none other than the mighty Zeus, ruler of Olympus. The two had been having a love affair, however Semele had not even the faintest idea that her lover was in fact Zeus himself, since Zeus transformed himself before going to her. Hera found out about the affair and as in many other cases she went psycho and tried to make things a living hell for Zeus’s mistress. Hera disguised herself as a nurse and befriended Semele. After finally gaining her trust Hera convinced Semele to make her lover swear an oath to give him a single wish, which Zeus complied with. When Semele asked him to reveal his true identity he pleaded and pleaded for her to reconsider, however since he was under oath and she wasn’t budging he did. Unfortunately the simple sight of him caused Semele, the mortal, to die.
Zeus saddened by Semele’s death, he acquired the help of Hermes and with his help they rescued the unborn son from Semele’s womb as she was dying. They then proceeded to stitch the premature baby into Zeus’s thigh where Zeus held him until he was ready to be born, and upon birth he named him Dionysus. Though Hera was pissed now that Zeus conceived his own child (through his thigh no less), and so it was said that Dionysus was born twice (once in Semele and once in Zeus).
Hera, still extremely pissed that Dionysus was even alive hired Titan assassins who came and attacked Dionysus. After they viciously killed him and left his pieces lieing upon the floor it was said that Rhea brought him back to life once more.
Zeus then seeing the unsafe environment that the infant Dionysus was in ( though assassinations may build character they are decidedly unsafe for health). Subsequently Zeus entrusted Dionysus to Hermes who then gave Dionysus to King Athamas and Queen Io. To try and trick Hera they raised Dionysus as a girl, dressing him up as a woman and raising him even in the women’s quarters.
Hera soon found out that Dionysus was still alive, seeing through the tricks and, not content with killing him once, tried to kill him again. This time she made Dionysus’ foster parents go crazy, so in their madness they subsequently killed their own child thinking he was a deer. Hermes came just in time and snuck Dionysus out of the insane King and Queens place by turning him into a baby goat. Afterwards Hermes sent Dionysus into the mountains and had the mountain nymphs, known as the Hyades, raise him. To say the least the nymphs being ever so lovely creatures doted on him to an excessive amount, feeding him honey and practically spoiling him. During his stay on the mountains Dionysus invented the process of growing grapes and making wine, a drink much needed after all the stuff he’d been through by then! When he grew to manhood Hera found him again (can you see where this is going?), and drove him to madness, which cause Dionysus to wander the Greek countryside raving mad. However much to Dionysus fortune and Hera’s chagrin Rhea found him and cured him of his madness, making him perfectly sane again.
Eventually he would wander the countryside of his own accord and in the process he gathered a following of men and women who worshipped him. They traveled in the mountains and the forests having amazing celebrations where they became ecstatic, dancing to frenzied music (Dionysus could really shred on the panpipe), behaving like crazed followers.
Although these celebrations did alternate with deep meditation with extended periods of contemplative silences where the followers connected and become one with the God Dionysus. These celebrations are where the word “orgy” is derived. (it has also been said that during these various orgies that Dionysus started the first toga party and invented the first drinking games). As he traveled more and more his large following, which continued growing (apparently the Greeks liked to party), began to make various rulers to feel threatened by his growing influence which caused trouble for Dionysus and his followers. Once his followers, known as the Maenads, were arrested by king of Thebes (huge party killer) and imprisoned them. Dionysus, having learned a few things from Hera, drove the king insane who then imprisoned a bull thinking it was Dionysus. While he was preoccupied Dionysus escaped with his followers. They returned once they regrouped and brutally killed the king with the help of the queen who had also been driven insane. In another instance King Lycurgus of Thrace imprisoned Dyonysus’ followers. In this case Dionysus escaped and set a drought upon the land, and also cuased the king to go insanse killing his own son mistaking him for a patch of ivy which was a sign of Dionysus. Eventually an oracle told the people that the drought would only end when Lycurgus died, and so the people of Thrace sped things up and killed him themselves.
Awhile later Dionysus finally wanted to go back to Greece after much traveling. When he boarded a ship, he thought it was going to Greece to return him to his lovely home. However mid-travel he unveiled the ship’s secret and that was that it was actually a slave trade ship and it was shipping to, not Greece, but to Asia where they were going sell Dionysus into slavery (not knowing he was a God). Boy where they in for a surprise. Dionysus as soon as he found out turned their oars into snakes, filled the boat with ivy, and turned into a ferocious lion and slaughtered all the people on the boat.
Finally after returning home Dionysus demanded his divinity be acknowledged and join the Gods on Mount Olympus. The Gods’ finally agreed, even Hera, seeing as his actions had made him unignorable.
Later into Dionysus’ career he reminisced about his mother whom he had never met. Even though never having met her, he decided to brave Hades by himself to try and save the mother who had given him birth (well at least the first time). Persephone helped Dionysus get into the underworld, and Dionysus confronted Thanatos, the God of Death himself, and finally rescued his mother Semele, suffice to say it was a very interesting way to meet your mother.
Dionysus was also a God who rewarded those who did good deeds. Once Dionysus’ old master Silenus had gone missing. Apparently he had been drinking and had wandered into the forest drunk (I think we can blame Dioysus who INVENTED wine for this one). The subjects of King Midas found him and took him back to Midas. Midas treated him graciously and hospitably. Dionysus when he found Silenus was grateful to Midas and granted him one wish. Midas then asked for the “golden touch” (and im sure we all know where this is going). Eventually Midas regretted his wish after he turned his daughter into gold. Dionysus took pity and undid his wish.
Ironically Dionysus, God of Ecstasy and Orgies, was one of the few gods who married. Ariadne who had been a moon Goddess during the reign of the Titans, was engaged to Theseus, but he had deserted her. Dionysus found her and fell in love with her, and they married (you would think that would be a bad idea on Ariadne since Dionysus practically invented drunkenness and orgies, but it turned out otherwise). Most ironically and surprisingly Dionysus was one of the few gods who stayed faithful to his wife.
The themes of life and death are a pivotal part of the story of Dionysus. They show us that many times in our journey, we must “die” giving up our old selves (in Dionysus’ story it’s a quite literally die) and being reborn as a new more mature from ready to take on the tasks before us. Dionysus also reminds of the possibility of intense, sensual, and ecstatic experiences (Dionysus, God of Partying) with dancing, wine, singing, and a frenzied fervor. These celebrations have their dark side where they can potentially hurt ourselves, but also provides the possibility to communicate and become closer to our fellow person.
The Symbols of the Greek God Dionysus • grapes (vine, leaves, & fruit) • wine • pomegranate • myrtle • honey • lions • bulls • goats • tigers • flute