I, Dionysos, have left the wealthy lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, the sun-parched plains of the Persians, and the Bactrian walls, and have passed over the wintry land of the Medes, and blessed Arabia, and all of Asia which lies along the coast of the salt sea with its beautifully-towered cities full of Hellenes and Barbarians mingled together; and I have come to this Hellenic city first, having already set those other lands to dance and established my mysteries there, so that I might be a deity manifest among men.
– Euripides, prologue of The Bakchai
For some say, at Dracanum;
and some, on windy Icarus;
and some, in Naxos, O Heaven-born, Insewn;
and others by the deep-eddying river Alpheios
that pregnant Semele bare you to Zeus the thunder-lover.
And others yet, lord, say you were born in Thebes;
but all these lie.
The Father of men and gods gave you birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera. There is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with woods, far off in Phoenike, near the streams of Aigyptos.
… and men will lay up for her many offerings in her shrines. And as these things are three, so shall mortals ever sacrifice perfect hecatombs to you at your feasts each three years.’
– Homeric Hymn to Dionysos fragment
We have a number of Dionysi. The first is the son of Jupiter and Proserpine; the second of Nile–he is the fabled slayer of Nysa. The father of the third is Cabirus; it is stated that he was king over Asia, and the Sabazia were instituted in his honour. The fourth is the son of Jupiter and Luna; the Orphic rites are believed to be celebrated in his honour. The fifth is the son of Nisus and Thyone, and is believed to have established the Trieterid festival.
– Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 21- 23
Melampos was the one who taught the Greeks the name of Dionysos and the way of sacrificing to him … besides many other things which he learned from Egypt, he also taught the Greeks things concerning Dionysos, altering few of them; for I will not say that what is done in Egypt in connection with the god and what is done among the Greeks originated independently: for they would then be of an Hellenic character and not recently introduced. Nor again will I say that the Egyptians took either this or any other custom from the Greeks. I believe that Melampos learned the worship of Dionysos chiefly from Kadmos of Tyre and those who came with Kadmos from Phoinikia to the land now called Boiotia.
– Herodotos, The Histories 2.49
Now Jupiter had not revealed himself, nor laid aside the semblance of a bull, until they stood upon the plains of Crete. But not aware of this, her father bade her brother Cadmus search through all the world, until he found his sister, and proclaimed him doomed to exile if he found her not;—thus was he good and wicked in one deed. When he had vainly wandered over the earth (for who can fathom the deceits of Jove?) Cadmus, the son of King Agenor, shunned his country and his father’s mighty wrath. But he consulted the famed oracles of Phoebus, and enquired of them what land might offer him a refuge and a home. And Phoebus answered him; “When on the plains a heifer, that has never known the yoke, shall cross thy path go thou thy way with her, and follow where she leads; and when she lies, to rest herself upon the meadow green, there shalt thou stop, as it will be a sign for thee to build upon that plain the walls of a great city: and its name shall be the City of Boeotia.” Cadmus turned; but hardly had descended from the cave, Castalian, ere he saw a heifer go unguarded, gentle-paced, without the scars of labour on her neck. He followed close upon her steps (and silently adored celestial Phoebus, author of his way) till over the channel that Cephissus wears he forded to the fields of Panope and even over to Boeotia.—there stood the slow-paced heifer, and she raised her forehead, broad with shapely horns, towards Heaven; and as she filled the air with lowing, stretched her side upon the tender grass, and turned her gaze on him who followed in her path. Cadmus gave thanks and kissed the foreign soil, and offered salutation to the fields and unexplored hills.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses: Book Three
The Greek account of Dionysus runs like this: Cadmus, the son of Agenor, was sent forth from Phoenicia by the king to seek out Europê, under orders either to bring him the maiden or never to come back to Phoenicia. After Cadmus had traversed a wide territory without being able to find her, he despaired of ever returning to his home; and when he had arrived in Boeotia, in obedience to the oracle which he had received he founded the city of Thebes. Here he made his home and marrying Harmonia, the daughter of Aphroditê, he begat by her Semelê, Ino, Autonoê, Agavê, and Semelê was loved by Zeus because of her beauty, but since he had his intercourse with her secretly and without speech she thought that the god despised her; consequently she made the request of him that he come to her embraces in the same manner as in his approaches to Hera. Accordingly, Zeus visited her in a way befitting a god, accompanied by thundering and lightning, revealing himself to her as he embraced her; but Semelê, who was pregnant and unable to endure the majesty of the divine presence, brought forth the babe untimely and was herself slain by the fire. Thereupon Zeus, taking up the child, handed it over to the care of Hermes, and ordered him to take it to the cave in Nysa,4 which lay between Phoenicia and the Nile, where he should deliver it to the nymphs that they should rear it and with great solicitude bestow upon it the best of care.
– Diodoros Sikeleiotes, The Library of History 4.2.1-3
Near Damascus in Syria is Scythopolis, which was formerly called Nysa, after Father Liber’s nurse, whom he buried there.
– Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5.74
As for cinnamon, where it comes from and what land produces it they cannot say, except that it is reported, reasonably enough, to grow in the places where Dionysos was reared.
– Herodotos, The Histories 3.111
Plato, in Adonis, says that an oracle was given to Cinyras concerning his son Adonis which read: ‘O Cinyras, king of the Cyprians, those men with hairy rumps, the son that is born to thee is fairest and most admirable of all men, yet two divinities shall destroy him, the goddess driven with secret oars, the god driving.’ He means Aphrodite and Dionysos; for both were in love with Adonis.
-– Athenaios, Deipnosophistai X.456a
There is, however, another sacred story which I had from the lips of a wise man—that the goddess was Rhea, and the shrine the work of Attes. Now this Attes was by nation a Lydian, and he first taught the sacred mysteries of Rhea. The ritual of the Phrygians and the Lydians and the Samothracians was entirely learnt from Attes. For when Rhea deprived him of his powers, he put off his manly garb and assumed the appearance of a woman and her dress, and roaming over the whole earth he performed his mysterious rites, narrating his sufferings and chanting the praises of Rhea. In the course of his wanderings he passed also into Syria. Now, when the men from beyond Euphrates would neither receive him nor his mysteries, he reared a temple to himself on this very spot. The tokens of this fact are as follows: She is drawn by lions, she holds a drum in her hand and carries a tower on her head, just as the Lydians make Rhea to do. He also affirmed that the Galli who are in the temple in no case castrate themselves in honour of Juno, but of Rhea, and this in imitation of Attes. All this seems to me more specious than true, for I have heard a different and more credible reason given for their castration. I approve of the remarks about the temple made by those who in the main accept the theories of the Greeks: according to these the goddess is Hera, but the work was carried out by Dionysus, the son of Semele: Dionysus visited Syria on his journey to Aethiopia. There are in the temple many tokens that Dionysus was its actual founder: for instance, barbaric raiment, Indian precious stones, and elephants’ tusks brought by Dionysus from the Aethiopians. Further, a pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera my stepmother.” This proof satisfies me. And I will describe another curiosity to be found in this temple, a sacred symbol of Dionysus. The Greeks erect phalli in honour of Dionysus, and on these they carry, singular to say, mannikins made of wood, with enormous pudenda; they call these puppets. There is this further curiosity in the temple: as you enter, on the right hand, a small brazen statue meets your eye of a man in a sitting posture, with parts of monstrous size.
– Lucian, De Dea Syria 15-16
After Hera inflicted madness upon him, Dionysos wandered over Egypt and Syria. The Egyptian king Proteus was the first to receive him.
– Apollodoros, Bibliotheca 2.29
A great city called Meroe is said to be the capital of all Ethiopia. The people of the place worship no other gods but Zeus and Dionysos; these they greatly honor, and they have a place of divination sacred to Zeus; they send out armies whenever and wherever this god through his oracle commands them.
– Herodotos, The Histories 2. 29
Astydromia (Town-running): Among the Libyans it is like the birthday celebration of the city, and a Theodaisia festival, in which they honored Dionysos and the Nymphai; it seems to me they are hinting at both unmixed wine and the good mixture.
– Suidas s.v. Astydromia
Hermippus says that at the time when Liber was attacking Africa he came with his army to the place called Ammodes from the great quantities of sand. He was in great danger, since he saw he had to advance, and an added difficulty was the great scarcity of water. The army were almost at the point of exhaustion, and the men were wondering what to do, when a certain ram, wandering apart, came by chance near the soldiers. When it saw them it took safety in flight. The soldiers, however, who had seen it, though they were advancing with difficulty oppressed by the sand and heat, gave chase, as if seeking booty from the flames, and followed it to that place which was named from the temple of Jove Hammon later founded there. When they had come there, the ram which they had followed was nowhere to be seen, but what was more to be desired, they found an abundant supply of water, and, refreshed in body, reported it at once to Liber. In joy he led his army to that place, and founded a temple to Jove Hammon, fashioning a statue there with the horns of a ram. He put the ram among the constellations in such a way that when the sun should be in that sign, all growing things would be refreshed; this happens in the spring for the reason that the ram’s flight refreshed the army of Liber. He wished it, too, to be chief of the twelve signs, because the ram had been the best leader of his army. But Leon, who wrote about Egyptian affairs, speaks of the statue of Hammon as follows. When Liber was ruling over Eygpt and the other lands, and was said to have introduced all arts to mankind, a certain Hammon came from Africa and brought to him a great flock of sheep, in order more readily to enjoy his favour and be called the first inventor of something. And so, for his kindness, Liber is thought to have given him the land opposite Egyptian Thebes. Accordingly, those who make statues of Hammon, make them with horned heads, so that men may remember that he first showed the use of flocks. Those, however, who have wished to assign the gift to Liber, as not asked for from Hammon, but brought to him voluntarily, make those horned images for Liber, and say that in commemoration the ram was placed among the constellations.
– Hyginus, Astronomica 2.20
The Arabians believe in no other gods except Dionysos and Aphrodite Ourania; and they say that they wear their hair as Dionysos does his, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples. They call Dionysos Orotalt; and Aphrodite Alilat.
– Herodotos, The Histories 3.8
First the time and character of the greatest, most sacred holiday of the Jews clearly befit Dionysos. When they celebrate their so-called Fast, at the height of the vintage, they set out tables of all sorts of fruit under tents and huts plaited for the most part of vines and ivy. They call the first of the two days Tabernacles. A few days later they celebrate another festival, this time identified with Bacchos not through obscure hints but plainly called by his name, a festival that is a sort of ‘Procession of Branches’ or ‘Thyrsos Procession’ in which they enter the Temple each carrying a thyrsos. What they do after entering we do not know, but it is probable that the rite is a Bacchic revelry, for in fact they use little trumpets to invoke their god as do the Argives at their Dionysia. Others of them advance playing harps; these players are called in their language Levites, either from ‘Lysios’ or better, from ‘Euois.’ I believe that even the feast of the Sabbath is not completely unrelated to Dionysos. Many even now call the Bacchantes ‘Saboi’ and utter the cry when celebrating the God. Testimnoy of this can be found in Demosthenes and Menander. The Jews themselves testify to a connection with Dionysos when they keep the Sabbath by inviting each other to drink and enjoy wine; when more important business interferes with this custom, they regularly take at least a sip of neat wine. Now thus far one might call the argument only probable; but the opposition is quite demolished, in the first place by the High Priest, who leads the procession at their festival wearing a miter and clad in a gold-embroidered fawnskin, a robe reaching to the ankles, and buskins, with many bells attached to his clothes and ringing below him as he walks. All this corresponds to our custom. In the second place, they also have noise as an element in their nocturnal festivals, and call the nurses of the God ‘bronze rattlers.’ The carved thyrsos in the relief on the pediment of the Temple and the drums provide other parallels. All this surely befits no divinity but Dionysos.
– Plutarch, Quaestiones Convivales 4.6.1-2
Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa about the time when Saturn was driven from his throne by the power of Jupiter. Evidence of this is sought in the name. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighboring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judaei by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighboring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbors to seek a new dwelling-place. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name. Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods.
The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.
Moses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practiced by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. They slay the ram, seemingly in derision of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They abstain from swine’s flesh, in consideration of what they suffered when they were infected by the leprosy to which this animal is liable. By their frequent fasts they still bear witness to the long hunger of former days, and the Jewish bread, made without leaven, is retained as a memorial of their hurried seizure of corn. We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with it a termination of their toils; after a while the charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction.
This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death. They are wont to bury rather than to burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian custom; they bestow the same care on the dead, and they hold the same belief about the lower world.
Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honor to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used to chant to the music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of ivy, and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some have thought that they worshiped father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with the theory; for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean.
– Tacitus, The Histories
Darius when he had viewed the Bosporos also set up two pillars of white marble by it, engraving on the one in Assyrian and on the other in Greek characters the names of all the nations that were in his army: all the nations subject to him . . . These pillars were afterward carried by the Byzantines into their city and there used to build the altar of Artemis Orthosia, except for one column covered with Assyrian writing that was left beside the temple of Dionysos at Byzantion.
– Herodotos, The Histories 4.87
Let the people’s hymn sound with the praise of Bacchus. Bind your streaming locks with the nodding ivy, and in your soft hands grasp the Nysaean thyrsus! Bright glory of the sky, come hither to the prayers which thine own illustrious Thebes, O Bacchus, offers to thee with suppliant hands. Hither turn with favour thy virginal face; with thy star-bright countenance drive away the clouds, the grim threats of Erebus, and greedy fate. Thee it becomes to circle thy locks with flowers of the springtime, thee to cover thy head with Tyrian turban, or thy smooth brow to wreathe with the ivy’s clustering berries; now to fling loose thy lawless-streaming locks, again to bind them in a knot close-drawn; in such guise as when, fearing thy stepdame’s wrath, thou didst grow to manhood with false-seeming limbs, a pretended maiden with golden ringlets, with saffron girdle binding thy garments. So thereafter this soft vesture has pleased thee, folds loose hanging and the long-trailing mantle. Seated in thy golden chariot, thy lions with long trappings covered, all the vast coast of the Orient saw thee, both he who drinks of the Ganges and whoever breaks the ice of snowy Araxes.
On an unseemly ass old Silenus attends thee, his swollen temples bound with ivy garlands; while thy wanton initiates lead the mystic revels. Along with thee a troop of Bassarids in Edonian dance beat the ground, now on Mount Pangaeus’ peak, now on the top of Thracian Pindus; now midst Cadmean dames has come a maenad, the impious comrade of Ogygian Bacchus, with sacred fawn-skins girt about her loins, her hand a light thyrsus brandishing. Their hearts maddened by thee, the matrons have set their hair a-flowing; and at length, after the rending of Pentheus’ limbs, the Bacchanals, their bodies now freed from the frenzy, looked on their infamous deed as though they knew it not.
Cadmean Ino, foster-mother of shining Bacchus, holds the realms of the deep, encircled by bands of Nereids dancing; over the waves of the mighty deep a boy holds sway, new come, the kinsman of Bacchus, no common god, Palaemon.
Thee, O boy, a Tyrrhenian band once captured and Nereus allayed the swollen sea; the dark blue waters he changed to meadows. Thence flourish the plane-tree with vernal foliage and the laurel-grove dear to Phoebus; the chatter of birds sounds loud through the branches. Fast-growing ivy clings to the oars, and grape-vines twine at the mast-head. On the prow an Idaean lion roars; at the stern crouches a tiger of Ganges. Then the frightened pirates swim in the sea, and plunged in the water their bodies assume new forms: the robbers’ arms first fall away; their breasts smite their bellies and are joined in one; a tiny hand comes down at the side; with curving back they dive into the waves, and with crescent-shaped tail they cleave the sea; and now as curved dolphins they follow the fleeing sails.
On its rich stream has Lydian Pactolus borne thee, leading along its burning banks the golden waters; the Massgetan who mingles blood with milk in his goblets has unstrung his vanquished bow and given up his Getan arrows; the realms of axe-wielding Lycurgus have felt the dominion of Bacchus; the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites, and the nations which Maeotis’ cold water washes, and they on whom the Arcadian constellation looks down from the zenith and the wagons twain. He has subdued the scattered Gelonians; he has wrested their arms form the warrior maidens; with downcast face they fell to earth, those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads. Sacred Cithaeron has flowed with the blood of Ophionian slaughter; the Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame’s very presence, paid homage to Bacchus.
Naxos, girt by the Aegean sea, gave him in marriage a deserted maiden, compensating her loss with a better husband. Out of the dry rock there gushed Nyctelian liquor; babbling rivulets divided the grassy meadows; deep the earth drank in the sweet juices, white fountains of snowy milk and Lesbian wine mingled with fragrant thyme. The new-made bride is led to the lofty heavens; Phoebus a stately anthem sings, with his locks flowing down his shoulders, and twin Cupides brandish their torches. Jupiter lays aside his fiery weapons and, when Bacchus comes, abhors his thunderbolt.
While the bright stars of the ancient heavens shall run in their courses; while Oceanus shall encircle the imprisoned earth with its waters; while full Luna gather again her lost radiance; while Lucifer shall herald the dawn of the morning and while the lofty Bears shall know naught of caerulean Nereus; so long shall we worship the shining face of beauteous Lyaeus
– Seneca, Oedipus 401 ff