1 Some Misconceptions
I like to begin these posts about the gods from common modern ideas, correcting some of the most widespread mistakes before I move on to the riches of the ancient sources. In this case, let me quote the two opening sentences of Dionysus’ Wikipedia page: “Dionysos or Dionysus […] is the god of the grape-harvest, winemaking, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre […]. He is also known as Bákkhos or Bacchus […], the name adopted by the Romans.”
Firstly, concerning the names. ‘Dionysos’ and ‘Dionysus’ – not Dionysius! – both represent the Greek proper name Διόνυσος; the latter form merely assimilates the Greek ending –os to the Latinate –us which is so much more familiar to English-speakers. ‘Bacchus’, on the other hand, represents the most common byname of the god, which was first used in Greek (Βάκχος) and consequently also in Latin, as Bacchus. However, the god’s proper name in Latin is Liber Pater (‘Father Liber’), or simply Liber. The Latin and Greek names were regarded as fully translatable, and a few late antique commentators on poetry even use the name Dionysus (or Dionisus) in Latin, perhaps to avoid the ambiguity of the word liber (which can also mean ‘free’, ‘child’ or ‘book’).
Secondly, the phrasing “god of X” is extremely uncommon in ancient texts, and does not fit very well with how the gods were understood. Dionysus’ godhood is not defined by his relation to wine or fertility, but by the fact that he is “an immortal, rational living being” (as ancient logicians would have it). His rule over various domains is described by using terms like ephoros (gr. ‘overseer’) or tutela (lat. ‘protection’), as in “Dionysus is the overseer of X” or “X is under the protection (in tutela) of Father Liber”.
To understand the distinction I am making, consider what it would mean to call a service worker a “service human”: it would mean the reduction of their humanity to their work, their utility. Despite the often very close conceptual connection between a god and their office or domain (lat. officium), we can never assume that a god’s powers (gr. dynameis) and activities (gr. energeiai) can be circumscribed definitively. Besides, by defining X as the domain of one god, we would imply that they are the only god with power over X, which is rarely or never the case.
2 Introducing Dionysus
In this section, I will follow the pattern for a prose hymn laid out by the rhetorician Alexander; although my aim is to inform rather than praise, there is in my opinion no better model for outlining how a god was conceived by the ancients. The first point Alexander mentions is that, while the idea that there are gods is shared across peoples, there may be a number of accounts about any given deity, both among Greeks and non-Greeks (barbaroi). So there were also many differing, sometimes conflicting traditions about Dionysus, and not just one tradition in one place, another elsewhere – rather, anyone anywhere could encounter multiple divergent accounts, sometimes even from the mouth of the same poet, acted out on the same stage, or written in the same scroll of papyrus. People of learning prided themselves on knowing a large number of such alternative traditions, and being able to call upon each of them at the right time.
Dionysus was worshipped by this name from a very early time by Greek-speakers; it already appears as the name of a god in Linear B texts of the mid-2nd millennium BCE (spelled Di-wo-nu-so in the syllabary script). He is mentioned in the earliest poets (8th/7th centuries BCE) and was still venerated by the last known pagan writers at the end of late antiquity (6th century CE).
In Latin, the same god is called Father Liber. Attempts to isolate an original “purely” Italic god Liber distinct from Dionysus are not entirely without merit, but since there is no Roman literature from a time before the two merged, these speculative reconstructions only concern the pre-historical period. In the period we have usable evidence from, Liber simply is Dionysus, regardless of the fact that his worship at Rome had its local idiosyncracies (as was the case in every Greek town, too). Thus, the Greek philosopher Plutarch in his Roman Questions (288f) asks not whether Father Liber is Dionysus, but “Why do they call Dionysus Liberum patrem?”, using the Latin accusative because the Roman word was never borrowed into Greek.
Almost the opposite phenomenon can be seen in Egypt. Here, the god known as Ousire in Coptic was identified by some Greeks as Dionysus, but the indigenous name was also adopted into the Greek language as ‘Osiris’. Just as the iconography and myths about Osiris always remained distinct from those of Dionysus, so their names coexisted in the same language, and it always remained an open question whether they actually were the same. Even in the 6th century CE – around a millennium after Herodotus had written that “Osiris, in the Greek language, is Dionysus” (Histories 2.144) – Damascius still writes of him that “some say he is Dionysus, some say he is another” (quoted in Suda s.v. Ὄσιρις). Unlike his mere paragraph about the Latin name, Plutarch devoted a whole monograph, On Isis and Osiris, to this god and his spouse, and to all the traditions surrounding them.
Another interesting case, which is different again, is that of the Phrygian Sabazius. In this case (to give a streamlined account), there was apparently a robust local tradition in Phrygia, which repeatedly found followers from other regions across its history. But there was also a chiefly literary tradition that looked back to the worship of Sabazius in classical Athens, where the Phrygian god had been equated with Dionysus. Thus, in the Roman period, there are dedicatory inscriptions to Zeus or Jupiter Sabazius, evidently reflecting a more recent (or at any rate a non-classical-Athenian) perspective on the god, while literary sources more commonly speak of Sabazius Dionysus. (Orphic Hymn 48 is a rare literary example of the identification with Zeus.)
Next, according to the rhetorician Alexander, “one must speak about their ancestry, and hence about their seniority or youth, that is, about the age of the god; for some of the gods are said to be older, others younger.” Few gods can compare with Dionysus on this point, since there are not only conflicting stories about his parents and his birth, but even in the most common version, he is born twice.
Semele, Thyone, Dione?
Nonnus Dionysiaca; Euripides Bacchae; what else?
Macrobius & Arstides on his age
Rhet.20,13 ὁ Διόνυσος ἡγεῖται τῶν Βακχῶν καὶ τῶν ναμάτων, ἐπικρατοῦσι δὲ τῶν ναμάτων αἱ Βάκχαι, καὶ μεταβάλλουσιν εἰς ὃ ἂν ἐθέλωσι,
Pan.184,16.1 τῶν μὲν θείων εὐθέως δύο μὲν – ἡ περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς σπουδὴ] ταῦτα τὰ δύο καθολικὰ λέγει καὶ γε- νικὰ τῷ τοὺς Ἀθηναίους φιληθῆναι παρὰ θεῶν, καὶ αὐ- τοὺς τοὺς Ἀθηναίους θεούς. BD. Pan.184,16.5 ἥ τε ἐκ τῶν θεῶν τιμὴ] πρὸς τὴν πόλιν. C. Pan.184,17.1 ἡ περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς σπουδὴ] αὐτῆς. C. περὶ αὐτοὺς] τοὺς θεούς. B. τούτων] τῆς παρὰ τῶν θεῶν τιμῆς καὶ τῆς περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς σπουδῆς. C. Pan.184,18.1 τοὺς ἐν τέλει] τοὺς ἐν ἀξιώματι φησὶ καὶ ἐπισήμους· Δημήτηρ μὲν γὰρ τοὺς ἀμφὶ Κελεὸν, Διόνυσος δὲ τοὺς ἀμφὶ τὸν Ἴκαρον. BD. τοὺς προύχοντας τῆς πό- λεως, Κελεὸν καὶ Τριπτόλεμον. C. Pan.185,2.1 ἁμιλλάσθω δὲ καὶ περὶ τούτων ἄλλη πρὸς ἄλλην πόλις] ὡς καὶ πρώην ἔφαμεν. C. Pan.185,3.1 ἡ δὲ τοὺς τοῦ Διονύσου] εὐεργετεῖν φησι τὸν Διόνυσον, καὶ δοῦναι ἀνθρώποις. δηλοῖ δὲ ὁ Φερε- κύδης, καὶ μετ‘ ἐκεῖνον Ἀντίοχος, λέγοντες καὶ διὰ τοῦ- το κεκλῆσθαι Διόνυσον, ὡς ἐκ Διὸς ἐς νύσας ῥέοντα· νύ- Pan.185,3.5 σας γὰρ, φησὶν, ἐκάλουν τὰ δένδρα· εἶτ‘ ἐπεξίασι φυσι- κώτερον τῷ λόγῳ λέγοντες Ἶσιν μετωνομάσθαι τὴν γῆν, ἀπὸ τῆς περὶ τὴν θέσιν τῆς κατὰ μέσον ἰσότητος, ταύτης δὲ ἀδελφὸν Ὄσιριν καθ‘ Ἕλληνας καὶ Διόνυσον τὸν ἐκ Διὸς εἰς γῆν ῥεόμενον Βρόντου παῖδα, τὸν Ὧρον τὸν ἄρειον Pan.185,3.10 ἡδύκαρπον· ταῦτα δὲ λέγουσιν Ὠγύγου καὶ Θήβης, τῆς τούτου γυναικὸς, τῶν Ἀττικῶν αὐτοχθόνων ἐλθόντων ἐπὶ τὴν Αἴγυπτον, τά τε μυστήρια πρῶτον αὐτοῖς κατασκευά- σασθαι τὰ περὶ τὴν Ἶσιν, καὶ θεοὺς οὕτως ὀνομάσαι τού- τους μετὰ τὸ κτίσαι τὸν Ὤγυγον τὰς ἐκεῖ Θήβας τὴν πό- Pan.185,3.15 λιν. BD. οὐ μόνον τοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς ἀμπέλου, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἡμέρων] τῶν ἀκροδρύων· λέγεται γὰρ ταῦτα πάντα Διονύ- σου μετὰ τῆς ἀμπέλου χαρίσματα. BD. οὐ μόνον τὴν ἄμ- πελον ὁ Διόνυσος Ἀθηναίοις παρέσχεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα Pan.185,3.20 ἥμερα δένδρα, ὡς ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ λόγου εἴπομεν. C. Pan.185,4.1 ἡ δὲ τρίτη] πόλις. C. τὴν τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς δωρεὰν καὶ ταύτην διπλῆν] τῆς σο- φίας καὶ ἐλαίας. A. τὴν ἐλαίαν καὶ τὴν σοφίαν· ἢ τὴν ἐλαίαν καὶ μόνον, διπλῆν δὲ, ὅτι καὶ εἰς βρῶσιν καὶ εἰς Pan.185,4.5 ὑγείαν ἐπιτηδεία ἐστίν· ἢ αὐτὴν τὴν ἐλαίαν καὶ τὸ ἔλαι- ον· ἢ τὴν ἐλαίαν καὶ τὴν παίδευσιν. BD. τὴν τῆς ἐλαίας καὶ τῶν λόγων. C. Pan.185,6.1 αὖθις τοίνυν τὰ πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς] εἰπὼν ἀνωτέρω (184, 16.) περὶ τῆς ἐκ θεῶν πρὸς τὴν πόλιν τι- μῆς, καὶ περὶ τῆς σπουδῆς, ἣν ἡ πόλις πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς ἐνεδείξατο, ἐπειδὴ πρῶτον περὶ τῆς ἐκ θεῶν πρὸς τὴν πό- Pan.185,6.5 λιν τιμῆς ἐμνημόνευσε, νῦν λέγει καὶ περὶ τῆς πρὸς θεοὺς τῆς πόλεως σπουδῆς. C. τοῦτο μὲν οἱ νεὼ] οὓς τοῖς θεοῖς ἡ πόλις ἀνέστησε. C. δι‘ ἔτους] ἀντὶ τοῦ δι‘ ὅλου. B. Pan.185,7.1 τὰ δ‘ εἰς ὑπερβολὴν ἔτι καὶ νῦν γίγνεται] ὡς ἄλλων μὲν εὑρόντων, αὐτῆς δὲ ὑπερβαλλομένης. BD. Pan.185,8.1 τὰς δ‘ ἀρρήτους τελετὰς, ὧν τοῖς μετα- σχοῦσι – τὰ πράγματα γίγνεσθαι δοκεῖ] ἔλεγον Ἕλληνες ὡς οἱ τὰ μυστήρια μυηθέντες εὐμενοῦς καὶ ἵλεω τῆς Περ- σεφόνης ἐν Ἅιδου ἐτύγχανον, ὡς καὶ Ἰσοκράτης ἐν τῷ Πα- Pan.185,8.5 νηγυρικῷ φησι λόγῳ. C. τὰς δ‘ ἀρρήτους τελετὰς] τὰ Δήμητρος καὶ Περσε- φόνης μυστήρια. C.
Rhet.15,18.5 ἐξ ἄλλου τοῦ θεῶν] Ῥέας, Δήμητρος, Περσεφόνης, Rhet.15,18.6 Διονύσου. A Oxon.
Pan.109,6.1 καθάπερ καὶ πρόσθεν τοῖς μυστηρίοις ἐτί- μησε πρῶτον ξένων] Ἀθηναῖοι τὰ Ἐλευσίνια ἄγοντες, ἃ πρὸς τὴν Δήμητραν ἐποίουν, ἐπειδὴ παρ‘ αὐτῇ τῇ ἑορτῇ Ἡρακλῆς ἐπελθὼν ἐδεῖτο καὶ αὐτοῖς μυηθῆναι. νόμιμον Pan.109,6.5 δὲ ἦν μὴ ξένον τινὰ μυεῖν. αἰσχυνθέντες τὴν αὐτοῦ ἀρετὴν ἐποίησαν τὰ λεγόμενα μικρὰ μυστήρια πρὸς τὴν Δήμητρος Περσεφόνην, ἐν οἷς πρῶτον αὐτὸν ἐμύησαν, ὕστερον δὲ καὶ τοὺς Διοσκούρους. A. ἐπεὶ δοκεῖ κοινὸν εἶναι τὸ τιμᾶν θεοὺς, καὶ τῶν ἄλλων πόλεων τῇ διαφορᾷ Pan.109,6.10 τὴν ὑπερβολὴν ἐδήλωσε. μυστηρίοις δὲ λέγει τοῖς Ἐλευσι- νίοις, οὐκ ἐξὸν δὲ παρ‘ Ἀθηναίοις τὰ μυστήρια ξένους μυεῖν. ἐπιδημήσαντος δὲ ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῶν μυστηρίων Ἡρα- κλέους, αἰσχυνθέντες οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἐμύησαν αὐτόν· οὕτω καὶ πρώτη ἔστησεν αὐτῷ ἀγάλματα καὶ τιμάς. D. Pan.109,6.15 θεὸς ὢν] ἐκεῖνος. A. θεὸς ὢν καὶ δοκῶν] ἐχρῆν εἰπεῖν δοκῶν καὶ ὤν. ἀν- τέστρεψε δὲ τὴν λέξιν. καλῶς δὲ εἶπε· πολλοὶ γὰρ εἰσὶ μὲν, οὐ μέντοι δοκοῦσιν. ἄλλως τε τὸ δοκῶν μᾶλλον θεὸν αὐτοῖς ἔδειξε· τὰ μὲν γὰρ κρυπτὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις δοξάζο- Pan.109,6.20 μεν μόνον περὶ αὐτῶν, ἀλλ‘ οὐκ ἀκριβῶς ἐπιστάμεθα. ἐξ ἐκείνου δὲ, τουτέστι τοῦ χρόνου ἀφ‘ οὗ τετίμηται παρ‘ Ἀθηναίοις. πρεσβυτάτους δὲ τῶν θεῶν τοὺς περὶ τὸν Κρόνον, καὶ Δία, καὶ Ῥέαν, καὶ Ποσειδῶνα, καὶ Ἀθη- νᾶν, καὶ ἄλλους. D. Pan.109,6.25 ἐξ ἐκείνου] τοῦ μυηθῆναι τῶν μυστηρίων. A. Pan.109,7.1 τοὺς πρεσβυτάτους ἄρα τῶν θεῶν] τοὺς περὶ Κρόνον, καὶ Ῥέαν, καὶ Δία, καὶ Ποσειδῶνα, καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους. A. ἦρξε τιμᾶν] ἀντὶ τοῦ ἔγραψε. τὸ δὲ ἐπήλυδας ἀντὶ Pan.109,7.5 τοῦ νεωτέρους. Ἡρακλέα δὲ λέγει καὶ Διόνυσον. ἵνα δὲ μὴ δόξῃ ἄτοπά τι ποιεῖν καινοτομεῖν θεοὺς φησὶν ὅτι πολι- τευομένη μετὰ τῶν θεῶν ἐγίνωσκε τούτων τὸ βούλημα. ἐκεῖνοι γὰρ, φησὶν, ἐδέχοντο καὶ ταύτην οὐκ ἐλάνθανον. D. Pan.109,8.1 τοὺς ἐπήλυδας] τοὺς οὐ φύσει θεοὺς, ἀλλὰ διὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν εἰς τοῦτο ταχθέντας, Ἡρακλέα καὶ Διό- νυσον, καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους. A.
Pan.115,12.1 καθάπερ τὸν Διόνυσον γράφουσιν] ἐπειδὴ καὶ ὁ οἶνος, εἰς ὃν οὗτος ἀλληγορεῖται, παλαιός ἐστι καὶ νέος. C. ἀντὶ τοῦ ζωγραφοῦσιν· οὕτω γὰρ καὶ νέον καὶ παλαιὸν αὐτὸν γράφουσι, διὰ τὸ καὶ τὸν οἶνον παλαιὸν Pan.115,12.5 εἶναι καὶ νέον, ἢ ὅτι οἱ μὲν δεόντως αὐτῷ κέχρηνται, οἱ δὲ πλέον τοῦ δέοντος νωθεῖς εἰσιν, ὥσπερ οἱ γέροντες. D.
πανηγύρεις] τὰ Διονυσιακὰ, τὰ Παναθή- ναια, τὰ Ἐλευσίνια. C. πανηγύρεις λέγει τὰ Διονύσια, τὰ Παναθήναια, τὰ Ἐλευσίνια· ἄλλαι δὲ δι‘ ἄλλων, φησὶ, θεῶν. διαφόρους γὰρ βούλεται δεῖξαι τὰς δωρεὰς, καὶ ἐκ Pan.107,8.5 διαφόρων δεδομένας, καὶ ταῖς τιμαῖς τῶν θεῶν ἀκολου- θεῖν τὰ δῶρα, ὅτι ὅσον, φησὶν, εὐσεβέστερον Ἀθηναῖοι διέκειντο, ἀγάλμασι τιμῶντες τὸ θεῖον, τοσούτου πλέον εὐεργετήθησαν παρ‘ αὐτῶν. αἰτία δὲ τοῦτο τοῦ πῶς ἐγέ- νοντο αἱ πανηγύρεις. εἰς δύο δέ ἐστι νοούμενον τὸ ῥητόν· Pan.107,8.10 ἢ γὰρ, ὅτι τὰ δῶρα τῶν θεῶν ἠκολούθει τοῖς Ἀθη- ναίοις, ἐπειδὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ ὡς καλῶν ἄλλοις μετεδίδοσαν, ὥσπερ αὐτοῖς οἱ θεοὶ, ἃ καὶ λαμβάνοντες Ἀθηναῖοι παρὰ τῶν θεῶν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἠμείβοντο αὐτοῦ δι‘ αὐτῶν. ἐκ γὰρ τῶν εὐεργετημάτων καὶ τὴν ἀμοιβὴν ἐποιοῦντο. ἐτύγχανε Pan.107,8.15 γοῦν ἐν τοῖς Ἐλευσινίοις ἀγῶσιν ἄσταχυς τὸ ἆθλον. ἐπι- βάλλοντα δὲ λέγει τὰ ὀφειλόμενα. ὡς καὶ τῶν θεῶν ὀφει- λόντων δέχεσθαι παρ‘ αὐτῶν. ἐδίδαξαν δὲ, φησὶ, τοὺς Ἀθηναίους οἱ θεοὶ ἀρετὴν καὶ δικαιοσύνην τῷ παρ‘ αὐ- τοῖς δικάζειν. ἐγύμνωσε γὰρ νῦν τὸ θεώρημα, διὰ τοῦ εἰ- Pan.107,8.20 πεῖν ὅτι καὶ ὧν ἤρισαν, πρὸς ἀλλήλους τοὺς διδασκάλους ἔχειν Ἀθηναίους τοὺς θεούς· προσυπακουστέον δὲ τῷ ὧν ἤρισαν πρὸς ἀλλήλους τὸ πραγμάτων, ἵν‘ ᾖ ὧν ἤρισαν πρὸς ἀλλήλους πραγμάτων. τὸ δ‘ ἐπιστρέφοντες πάντας ἀνθρώπους πρὸς τὴν πόλιν ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀποβλέπειν ποιοῦντες Pan.107,8.25 καὶ ἐλπίζειν. οὕτω γοῦν καὶ τὸν Ὀρέστην εἰσάγει παρ‘ Ἀργείοις ἀποτυχόντα τῶν δικαίων, καὶ πρὸς τὴν πόλιν ἐλ- θόντα καὶ ἀπολαύσαντα. D.
ὁ μὲν Ἴακχος ἐξεφοίτησε καὶ μετέσχε τῶν δρωμένων] ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐξῆλθε πρὸς τὸ μετασχεῖν τῆς ναυμαχίας. B. Tett.213,18.5 τοῦτον λέγουσιν υἱὸν Δήμητρος εἶναι, τὸν δὲ αὐτὸν Tett.213,18.6 καὶ Διόνυσον. […]. τοῦτον λέγουσιν υἱὸν Δήμητρος εἶναι, τὸν δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ Διόνυσον· ἄλλοι δὲ παῖδα Διονύσου.
Satyrs are “Dionysiac daemons” (Tett.307,17;310,2)
winemaking, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre
-a god seems to be the same as certain of the others, and the power of however many gods is reduced into him, as they say, for example, that Helios and Apollon are the same, and that Selene, Artemis and Hecate are the same.
9. Then, by whom they have been sculpted.
10. Then, their power, what it is and over which activities; here one must also speak about the domain (arkhḗ) of the god.
11. Then, of what kind they are (poîós tis), one of the celestials, or the marine, or the terrestrial gods; and further, their city and region may be praised.
12. Then, what art they are said to be (guarding) over,7 and whether one or all or many, as Athena is said to be over all art, and Zeus and Apollon over divination. Then, how many things prosper through the art which they practice and govern.
13. Then, whether any works among the gods or for the gods are theirs, like rule (over them) belongs to Zeus, and their heraldship to Hermes.
14. Then, where they appear to people, wherein their love for humanity is shown.
15. Then, which animals are sacred to them,8 which trees, which regions, and whether any residences and entertainments are dedicated to them as receptions, and which gods they are (grouped) with, as Apollon with the Muses.
3 Calling Dionysus
‚epiphthegmata‘, names, meters, etc.
Etymologicum Magnum/Photius/Suda s.v. Taurofagon
Scholia on Aristophanes: taurofag-, kaloumenon tauron
Scholia on Clement: tauromorfon
Scholia on Nicander: taurokerws
Scholia on Lycophron: keratophorousi, keratoforon, tauromorf
Proclus taurokerwn (!)
Porphyry: taurou de tw dionusou
Antoninus Liberalis: egeneto tauros