My current obsession is figuring out how Dionysos got to Italy.
You see, practically every country – if not city – where he was worshipped has a myth of arrival, which has him appearing to a representative of the place (the majority of the time this person is a member of the royal house, but in a number of instances they may be an impoverished peasant) and either receiving hospitality, however humble, for which they are rewarded with wine and knowledge of viticulture or rejection and violent opposition which inevitably brings about madness and child-killing. In a number of instances Dionysos seduces the wife or daughter of his host, begetting heroic offspring that either supplant the current royal line or fill an important, hereditary position within his cult.
The closest I’ve come to finding an example of this mytheme for Italy are the following.
In the 7th Homeric Hymn Dionysos is captured by Tyrsenian pirates while on his way to Naxos. It’s possible that in some variant of this story they brought him back to Tuscany with them. He was certainly popular in the region, known under the names Fufluns, Pachie, Loufir, and possibly Tinś. But that’s extremely hypothetical, especially since most accounts have the pirates wiped out mid-sea and Dionysos claiming ownership of their vessel, which necessarily precludes a return to Italy.
Alternately, we know that the Tarentines, who were descended from the Spartan Partheniae, kept the Dionysia, a festival which in Athens and Ionia tended to be associated with myths of arrival. The Spartan version of this myth is as follows:
DION, a king in Laconia and husband of Iphitea, the daughter of Prognaus. Apollo, who had been kindly received by Iphitea, rewarded her by conferring upon her three daughters, Orphe, Lyco, and Carya, the gift of prophecy, on condition, however, that they should not betray the gods nor search after forbidden things. Afterwards Dionysus also came to the house of Dion; he was not only well received, like Apollo, but won the love of Carya, and therefore soon paid Dion a second visit, under the pretext of consecrating a temple, which the king had erected to him. Orphe and Lyco, however, guarded their sister, and when Dionysus had reminded them, in vain, of the command of Apollo, they were seized with raging madness, and having gone to the heights of Taygetus,they were metamorphosed into rocks. Garya, the beloved of Dionysus, was changed into a nut tree, and the Lacedaemonians, on being informed of it by Artemis, dedicated a temple to Artemis Caryatis. [Serv. ad Virg. Ed. viii. 30.] (Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)
So perhaps that served as the basis for the Tarentine Dionysia? But even if Dionysos’ cult did come over with Phalanthos and his men, the story of Carya doesn’t really serve as an aition for his arrival in Italy.
Pliny (Natural History 3.60) mentions a competition between Bacchus and Ceres for ownership of the region of Campania, similar to the contest of Athene and Poseidon for Athens. But battling a goddess is very different from battling a king or his daughters and there’s nothing in those bare lines to imply alien status on Dionysos’ part.
There’s the story Clement of Alexandria relates in the second book of his Exhortation to the Greeks:
If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Corybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympus. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Corybantes also they call Cabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Cabiric mystery. For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?
But, again, that doesn’t really fit the parameters of the myth.
There’s Livy’s account of the introduction of the Bacchanalia:
A low-born Greek went into Etruria first of all, but did not bring with him any of the numerous arts which that most accomplished of all nations has introduced amongst us for the cultivation of mind and body. He was a dabbler in sacrifices and a fortune-teller, not one of those who imbue men’s minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries. These were initiatory rites which at first were imparted to a few, then began to be generally known among men and women. To the religious element in them were added the delights of wine and feasts, that the minds of a larger number might be attracted. When wine had inflamed their minds, and night and the mingling of males with females, youth with age, had destroyed every sentiment of modesty, all varieties of corruption first began to be practised, since each one had at hand to satisfy the lust he was most prone to. Nor was the mischief confined to promiscuous intercourse; false witness, the forging of seals and testaments, and false informations, all proceeded from the same source, as also poisonings and murders of families where the bodies could not even be found for burial. Many crimes were committed by treachery; most by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those who were being violated or murdered could not be heard owing to the noise of drums and cymbals. (History of Rome 39.8)
But that took place in historical time, with a human votary in place of Dionysos. As such it only half counts.
So does that mean there existed no narrative of arrival, and if so why?
One possibility I’ve considered is that Dionysos is an autochthonous Italian. After all, Persephone was raised (if not born) in Sicily and some accounts make her Dionysos’ mother. Of course, none of those accounts are associated with Italy, where Dionysos was clearly regarded as the son of Zeus and Semele and his relationship with Persephone tended towards the erotic rather than the maternal. However Dionysos’ birth from Zeus’ thigh is such a popular theme that I wonder if at some point there wasn’t a tradition that located this event in Italy – note its frequency of appearance on Apulian drinking vessels and this bit of folk etymology from Nonnos:
Hermes Maia’s son received him near the birthplace hill of Dracanon, and holding him in the crook of his arm flew through the air. He gave the newborn Lyaios a surname to suit his birth, and called him Dionysos, or Zeus-limp, because while he carried his burden lifted his foot with a limp from the weight of his thigh, and nysos in the Syracusan language means limping. So he dubbed Zeus newly delivered Eiraphiotes, or Father Botcher, because he had sewed up the baby in his breeding thigh. (Dionysiaka 9.16-24)
But then last night I came across this interesting passage from Vergil:
And they’re the why, such transgressions, a goat is sacrificed
on every altar to the wine god – since our elders started to stage plays
and the sons of Theseus rewarded talent along the highways and byeways
and, with drink taken, took to hopping here and there,
a dance on greasy hides, and toppling in soft grass.
So too, Ausonian settlers – who came from Troy –
recited their rough-hewn verse to entertain the masses,
and put on scary masks cut out of bark
and called on you, Bacchus, in rousing song,
and in your honour dangled from the tips of pines tender tokens.
And it ensues that every vineyard crests and fills,
valleys teem, and deep ravines –
anywhere the god took in with his goodly gaze.
Therefore, as is only right, we accord to Bacchus due respect
with songs our fathers sang and trays of baked offerings
and, led by the horn, the sacrifical puck is set before the altar
and his spewling innards roasted on hazel skewers.
Vergil has the Ausones bring their tragic traditions with them to Italy from Troy and connects these rites with askoliasmos and oscillatio, both of which are strongly tied to Ikarios and Erigone.
Why does that matter?
Do you know what one of the most important locales within Ausonian territory was called? Saturnia.
Why does that matter?
While most sources place Ikarios and his tragic daughter in Attica:
The constellation Bootes. The Bear Watcher. Some have said that he is Icarus, father of Erigone, to whom, on account of his justice and piety, Father Liber gave wine, the vine, and the grape, so that he could show men how to plant the vine, what would grow from it, and how to use what was produced. When he had planted the vine, and by careful tending with a pruning-knife had made it flourish, a goat is said to have broken into the vineyard, and nibbled the tenderest leaves he saw there. Icarus, angered by this, took him and killed him and from his skin made a sack, and blowing it up, bound it tight, and cast it among his friends, directing them to dance around it. And so Eratosthenes says : `Around the goat of Icarus they first danced.’ Others say that Icarus, when he had received the wine from Father Liber, straightway put full wineskins on a wagon. For this he was called Boötes. When he showed it to the shepherds on going round through the Attic country, some of them, greedy and attracted by the new kind of drink, became stupefied, and sprawling here and there, as if half-dead, kept uttering unseemly things. The others, thinking poison had been given the shepherds by Icarus, so that he could drive their flocks into his own territory, killed him, and threw him into a well, or, as others say, buried him near a certain tree. However, when those who had fallen asleep, woke up, saying that hey had never rested better, and kept asking for Icarus in order to reward him, his murderers, stirred by conscience, at once took to flight and came to the island of the Ceans. Received there as guests, they established homes for themselves. But when Erigone, the daughter of Icarus, moved by longing for her father, saw he did not return and was on the point of going out to hunt for him, the dog of Icarus, Maera by name, returned to her, howling as if lamenting the death of its master. It gave her no slight suspicion of murder, for the timid girl would naturally suspect her father had been killed since he had been gone so many months and days. But the dog, taking hold of her dress with its teeth, led her to the body. As soon as the girl saw it, abandoning hope, and overcome with loneliness and poverty, with many tearful lamentations she brought death on herself by hanging from the very tree beneath which her father was buried. And the dog made atonement for her death by its own life. Some say that it cast itself into the well, Anigrus by name. For this reason they repeat the story that no one afterward drank from that well. Jupiter, pitying their misfortune, represented their forms among the stars. And so many have called Icarus, Boötes, and Erigone, the Virgin, about whom we shall speak later. The dog, however, from its own name and likeness, they have called Canicula. It is called Procyon by the Greeks, because it rises before the greater Dog. Others say these were pictured among the stars by Father Liber. In the meantime in the district of the Athenians many girls without cause committed suicide by hanging, because Erigone, in dying, had prayed that Athenian girls should meet the same kind of death she was to suffer if the Athenians did not investigate the death of Icarus and avenge it. And so when these things happened as described, Apollo gave oracular response to them when they consulted him, saying that they should appease Erigone if they wanted to be free from the affliction. So since she hanged herself, they instituted a practice of swinging themselves on ropes with bars of wood attached, so that the one hanging could be moved by the wind. They instituted this as a solemn ceremony, and they perform it both privately and publicly, and call it alétis, aptly terming her mendicant who, unknown and lonely, sought for her father with the god. The Greeks call such people alétides. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.2)
Critolaus knew an alternate version:
The story of Ikarios who entertained Dionysos is told by Eratosthenes in his Erigone. The Romans, however, say that Saturnus when once he was entertained by a farmer who had a fair daughter named Entoria, seduced her and begat Janus, Hymnus, Faustus, and Felix. He then taught Icarius the use of wine and viniculture, and told him that he should share his knowledge with his neighbours also. When the neighbours did so and drank more than is customary, they fell into an unusually deep sleep. Imagining that they had been poisoned, they pelted Icarius with stones and killed him; and his grandchildren in despair ended their lives by hanging themselves. When a plague had gained a wide hold among the Romans, Apollo gave an oracle that it would cease if they should appease the wrath of Saturnus and the spirits of those who had perished unlawfully. Lutatius Catulus, one of the nobles, built for the god the precinct which lies near the Tarpeian Rock. He made the upper altar with four faces, either because of Icarius’s grandchildren or because the year has four parts; and he designated a month January. Saturnus placed them all among the stars. The others are called harbingers of the vintage, but Janus rises before them. His star is to be seen just in front of the feet of Virgo. So Critolaus in the fourth book of his Phaenomena. (Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 9)
This passage from Vergil shows that it was generally understood that Dionysos and not Kronos was the god hospitably received by Ikarios in Italy. Alternately, one might infer from it that the Ausones transferred the cult of Dionysos from Troy but Vergil elsewhere makes it clear that he was already in Italy when they arrived through the story of Queen Amata, who under the goad of Alecto participated in Bacchic revels in Latium (Aeneid 7.341-405):
Straightway Alecto, through whose body flows
the Gorgon poison, took her viewless way
to Latium and the lofty walls and towers
of the Laurentian King. Crouching she sate
in silence on the threshold of the bower
where Queen Amata in her fevered soul
pondered, with all a woman’s wrath and fear,
upon the Trojans and the marriage-suit
of Turnus. From her Stygian hair the fiend
a single serpent flung, which stole its way
to the Queen’s very heart, that, frenzy-driven,
she might on her whole house confusion pour.
Betwixt her smooth breast and her robe it wound
unfelt, unseen, and in her wrathful mind
instilled its viper soul. Like golden chain
around her neck it twined, or stretched along
the fillets on her brow, or with her hair
enwrithing coiled; then on from limb to limb
slipped tortuous. Yet though the venom strong
thrilled with its first infection every vein,
and touched her bones with fire, she knew it not,
nor yielded all her soul, but made her plea
in gentle accents such as mothers use;
and many a tear she shed, about her child,
her darling, destined for a Phrygian’s bride:
“O father! can we give Lavinia’s hand
to Trojan fugitives? why wilt thou show
no mercy on thy daughter, nor thyself;
nor unto me, whom at the first fair wind
that wretch will leave deserted, bearing far
upon his pirate ship my stolen child?
Was it not thus that Phrygian shepherd came
to Lacedaemon, ravishing away
Helen, the child of Leda, whom he bore
to those false Trojan lands? Hast thou forgot
thy plighted word? Where now thy boasted love
of kith and kin, and many a troth-plight given
unto our kinsman Turnus? If we need
an alien son, and Father Faunus’ words
irrevocably o’er thy spirit brood,
I tell thee every land not linked with ours
under one sceptre, but distinct and free,
is alien; and ‘t is thus the gods intend.
Indeed, if Turnus’ ancient race be told,
it sprang of Inachus, Acrisius,
and out of mid-Mycenae.”
But she sees
her lord Latinus resolute, her words
an effort vain; and through her body spreads
the Fury’s deeply venomed viper-sting.
Then, woe-begone, by dark dreams goaded on,
she wanders aimless, fevered and unstrung
along the public ways; as oft one sees
beneath the twisted whips a leaping top
sped in long spirals through a palace-close
by lads at play: obedient to the thong,
it weaves wide circles in the gaping view
of its small masters, who admiring see
the whirling boxwood made a living thing
under their lash. So fast and far she roved
from town to town among the clansmen wild.
Then to the wood she ran, feigning to feel
the madness Bacchus loves; for she essays
a fiercer crime, by fiercer frenzy moved.
Now in the leafy dark of mountain vales
she hides her daughter, ravished thus away
from Trojan bridegroom and the wedding-feast.
“Hail, Bacchus! Thou alone,” she shrieked and raved,
“art worthy such a maid. For thee she bears
the thyrsus with soft ivy-clusters crowned,
and trips ecstatic in thy beauteous choir.
For thee alone my daughter shall unbind
the glory of her virgin hair.” Swift runs
the rumor of her deed; and, frenzy-driven,
the wives of Latium to the forests fly,
enkindled with one rage. They leave behind
their desolated hearths, and let rude winds
o’er neck and tresses blow; their voices fill
the welkin with convulsive shriek and wail;
and, with fresh fawn-skins on their bodies bound,
they brandish vine-clad spears. The Queen herself
lifts high a blazing pine tree, while she sings
a wedding-song for Turnus and her child.
With bloodshot glance and anger wild, she cries:
“Ho! all ye Latin wives, if e’er ye knew
kindness for poor Amata, if ye care
for a wronged mother’s woes, O, follow me!
Cast off the matron fillet from your brows,
and revel to our mad, voluptuous song.”
Thus, through the woodland haunt of creatures wild,
Alecto urges on the raging Queen
with Bacchus’ cruel goad.
While not an arrival myth this passage does have some fucking profound implications. Which I’ll save for a separate post.