The Little Bear brings Wealth to his people

In nearby Kyzikos in ancient Mysia there was an especially relevant Bacchic association:

To Good Fortune. Auxanon, banker of the city and secretary of the foremost Bacchic Kynosoureites, set up the enclosure (cancelli). (CIG 3679)

The των Βάκχων Κυνοσουρειτῶν is literally “the Dionysiac group of the Dog’s Tail” which scholars take to be a reference to the constellation Ursa Minor. 

In other words, there literally was an ancient Bacchic Starry Bear cult.

It’s kind of amusing that the name of the banker and benefactor was named Auxanon for Αυξιτης (Auxitês) is an epithet of Dionysos meaning “Giver of Increase.”

Dionysos who casts his net

Speaking of Byzantion, a couple interesting inscriptions have been found dating from the period of Emperor Hadrian. The first (IByzantion 37) reads:

When Hadrian Caesar was official of the sacred (i.e. eponymous official of Byzantion) for the first time, the members of the society (thiasitai) dedicated this to Dionysos Parabolos on behalf of the gymnasium-director, Potamon Menodotos, an honor on account of his benefaction.  This was done when Menios son of Alexandros was priest (hiereus), Timogenes son of Timogenes was treasurer (tamias), Menodotos son of Timogenes was leader (prostatēs; or: patron), Chrysion son of Menios was benefactor, and Potamon son of Potamon was secretary (grammateus).

This was inscribed on a slab, which contained a relief described by Philip Harland in Associations of the Greco-Roman World in the following manner:

The relief depicts Dionysos on the right holding a wand (thyrsos) in one hand and a jug in the other, pouring out something into a container held by a boy on the left over a burning altar with a panther beside the altar. 

Παραβόλως is an otherwise unattested epithet for Dionysos, although in another inscription (IByzantion 38) we find:

When Hadrian Caesar was official of the sacred (i.e. eponymous official of Byzantion) for the second time, decree (?) of the Dionysoboleitans (Dionysoboleitai): Volusia Claudiane, wife . . . . (remainder missing).

Two proposals have been suggested. First that this form of Dionysos was somehow associated with Lake Parabolos or that the thiasos (or thiasoi if they came from separate groups) consisted of fishermen dedicated to Dionysos, as the Greek term bolos was used in reference to casting a net. 

This would certainly be unique since most of the time when fish come up in a Dionysiac setting it’s as part of a list of prohibited foods. For instance,  fish were forbidden to those being initiated into the mysteries at Eleusis, in which Dionysos had a part:

In the Eleusinian mysteries, likewise, the initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples, which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch, as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body But whoever is acquainted with the nature of divinely-luminous appearances knows also on what account it is requisite to abstain from all birds, and especially for him who hastens to be liberated from terrestrial concerns, and to be established with the celestial Gods. (Porphyry, On Abstinence From Animal Food 4.16)

In a fragment of the Commentaries preserved in Athenaios Hegesander relates a curious tradition among the natives of Apollonia in Chalkis linking fish and the Anthesteria festival:

Around Apollonia of Chalkidike there flow two rivers, the Ammites and the Olynthiacus and both fall into the lake Bolbe. And on the river Olynthiacus stands a monument of Olynthus, son of Herakles and Bolbe. And the natives say that in the months of Elaphebolion and Anthesterion the river rises because Bolbe sends the fish apopyris to Olynthus, and at that season an immense shoal of fish passes from the lake to the river Olynthus. The river is a shallow one, scarcely overpassing the ankles, but nevertheless so great a shoal of the fish arrives that the inhabitants round about can all of them lay up sufficient store of salt fish for their needs. And it is a wonderful fact that they never pass by the monument of Olynthus. They say that formerly the people of Apollonia used to perform the accustomed rites to the dead in the month of Elaphebolion, but now they do them in Anthesterion, and that on this account the fish come up in those months only in which they are wont to do honour to the dead.

And fish were forbidden within Pythagoreanism:

Above all, Pythagoras forbade as food red mullet and blacktail, and he enjoined abstinence from the hearts of animals and from beans, and sometimes, according to Aristotle, even from paunch and gurnard. (Diogenes Laertios, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 8.19)

A tradition that overlapped considerably with Bacchic Orphism, as Herodotos notes:

The Egyptians wear linen tunics with fringes hanging about the legs, called ‘calasiris’ and loose white woolen mantles over these. But nothing of wool is brought into the temples, or buried with them; that is forbidden. In this they follow the same rules as the ritual called Orphic and Bacchic, but which is in truth Egyptian and Pythagorean; for neither may those initiated into these rites be buried in woolen wrappings. There is a sacred legend about this. (The Histories 2.81)

However the net is more promising, and one wonders if there is Orphic influence at work here. After all weaving and nets are a prominent feature of Orphism. Orpheus, according to the Suidas, authored a book entitled Diktyon or ‘The Net’ which likely discussed the generative weaving of Persephone. Indeed, Aristotle in his treatise On the Generation of Animals writes:

In the verse ascribed to Orpheus the various organs – heart, lungs, liver, eyes, etc. – were formed successively, for he says that animals come into being in the same way as a net is woven. (734a)

A more detailed and quite lovely account is given by Porphyry:

Let the stony bowls, then, and the amphorae be symbols of the aquatic Nymphs. For these are, indeed, the symbols of Dionysos, but their composition is fictile, i.e., consists of baked earth, and these are friendly to the vine, the gift of God; since the fruit of the vine is brought to a proper maturity by the celestial fire of the sun. But the stony bowls and amphorae are in the most eminent degree adapted to the Nymphs who preside over the water that flows from rocks. And to souls that descend into generation and are occupied in corporeal energies, what symbol can be more appropriate than those instruments pertaining to weaving? Hence, also, the poet ventures to say, “that on these, the Nymphs weave purple webs, admirable to the view.” For the formation of the flesh is on and about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones. Hence these instruments of weaving consist of stone, and not of any other matter. But the purple webs will evidently be the flesh which is woven from the blood. For purple woollen garments are tinged from blood and wool is dyed from animal juice. The generation of flesh, also, is through and from blood. Add, too, that the body is a garment with which the soul is invested, a thing wonderful to the sight, whether this refers to the composition of the soul, or contributes to the colligation of the soul (to the whole of a visible essence). Thus, also, Persephone, who is the inspective guardian of everything produced from seed, is represented by Orpheus as weaving a web and the heavens are called by the ancients a veil, in consequence of being, as it were, the vestment of the celestial Gods. (On the Cave of the Nymphs 6)

Her son Dionysos (whom Nonnos calls Zagreus) inherited his mother’s skill in weaving:

In him there had been resistless might, and a fierceness of disposition beyond control, a lust made furious, and derived from both sexes. He violently plundered and laid waste; he scattered destruction wherever the ferocity of his disposition had led him; he regarded not Gods nor men, nor did he think anything more powerful than himself; he contemned earth, heaven, and the stars. Now, when it had been often considered in the councils of the Gods, by what means it might be possible either to weaken or to curb his audacity, Liber, the rest hanging back, takes upon himself this task. With the strongest wine he drugs a spring much resorted to by Acdestis where he had been wont to assuage the heat and burning thirst roused in him by sport and hunting. Hither runs Acdestis to drink when he felt the need; he gulps down the draught too greedily into his gaping veins. Overcome by what he is quite unaccustomed to, he is in consequence sent fast asleep. Liber is near the snare which he had set; over his foot he throws one end of a halter formed of hairs, woven together very skilfully; with the other end he lays hold of his privy members. When the fumes of the wine passed off, Acdestis starts up furiously, and his foot dragging the noose, by his own strength he robs himself of his sex; with the tearing asunder of these parts there is an immense flow of blood; both are carried off and swallowed up by the earth; from them there suddenly springs up, covered with fruit, a pomegranate tree. (Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Heathen 5.5-6)

Zagreus in Crete had a special relationship with the net, which he used to capture animals and then set them free according to Carl Kerényi. Indeed while most derive this allonym of Dionysos from za agrios “the Great Hunter” as, for instance, the Etymologicum Gudianum does:

The one who greatly hunts, as the writer of the Alcmeonis said Mistress Earth, and Zagreus highest of all the Gods. That is, Dionysos. (s.v. Zagreus)

Hesychios proposed that it came from zagre, a “pit for the capture of live animals.” with nets being used to retrieve them.

This naturally reminds one of a certain Cretan Nymph:

Britomartis was born at Kaino in Crete of Zeus and Karme, the daughter of Euboulos who was the son of Demeter; she invented the nets which are used in hunting, whence she has been called Diktynna, and she passed her time in the company of Artemis, this being the reason why some men think Diktynna and Artemis are one and the same Goddess; and the Cretans have instituted sacrifices and built temples in honor of this Goddess. But those men who tell the tale that she has been named Diktynna because she fled into some fishermen’s nets when she was pursued by Minos, who would have ravished her, have missed the truth; for its is not a probable story that the Goddess should ever have got into so helpless a state that she would have required the aid that men can give, being as she is the daughter of the greatest one of the Gods. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 5.76.3)

While Diodoros credits Euboulos’ daughter with the invention of nets, in Pliny that honor goes to Arachne:

The use of the spindle in the manufacture of woolen was invented by Closter son of Arachne, linen and nets by Arachne. (Natural History 7.196)

Incidentally, this is why the eighth month on our calendar (roughly August/September) is called Diktya (Δίκτυα) = the Net, and why we count this among the Sacred Weapons of our God.  



Back to Black Sea History Month

Near the site where the Black Sea and the Aegean meet (often considered the boundary between Asia and Europe) grew up the polis of Perinthos, originally a Samian colony. Many roads met here, and it had a prosperous harbor making it a strong rival of Byzantion – which would eventually be rechristened Constantinople and become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, until it fell to the marauding and was named something else.

Among the most important Gods in the pantheon of Perinthos was Dionysos. The establishment of his cult here had Sibyline sanction:

Greetings! Oracle of the Sibyl: “When Bakchos, after having shouted euai, is beaten, then blood, fire, and ash will be united.” Set up by Spellios Euethis, archiboukolos, Herakleides son of Alexander being archimystos, Alexandros being speirarchos, Arrianos son of Agathias, Heroxenos son of Magnus, Soterichos son of Dadas, Meniphilos son of Menophilos. (IPerinthos 57)

Would that more of the text had survived!

It is notable that the religious association was referred to as a speira rather than the more common thiasos, as there were some minor but significant differences as Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes:

σπεῖρα speîra, spi’-rah; of immediate Latin origin, but ultimately a derivative of αἱρέω (to take for oneself, to prefer, choose, to choose by vote, elect to office) in the sense of its cognate εἱλίσσω (to roll up or together).

1. anything rolled into a circle or ball, anything wound, rolled up, folded together
2. a military cohort
3. a division of a legion
4. any band, company, or detachment of soldiers
5. a squad of Levitical janitors
6. a religious guild

They were not the only game in town, for there was another association attached to a  temple of Dionysos:

For good fortune! For the health, victory, and eternal duration of our lord emperor Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Arabicus Adiabenicus, of Marcus Aurelius Antonius Caesar, of his entire household, of the sacred Senate, and of the People of Perinthos, which oversees the temple. Marcus son of Horos has dedicated the pillar to the Bakcheion of Asians (Asianoi) from his own resources, for the eternal honor and goodwill towards him. This was done when Statilius Barbaros was governor, Pomponius Justinianus was in charge of the sacred things (hieromnemon), Maximus son of Claudius was chief initiate, and Eutychos son of Epiktetos was priest. Prosper. (IPerinthos 56)

And even a third group called the Sparganiōtai, mentioned on the metrical inscription on the grave of one of its members:

. . . and for Sophrosyne.  Now if anyone buries someone here, that person will pay to my company (speirē), whose members are named Sparganiōtai … What should the greeting be, oh passers-by?  This–what you see here–is life:  The sounds of the cicada stop suddenly, the rose blooms but withers quickly, the shelter was tied but it loosens and the wind returns.  As a mortal man, he speaks; as a corpse, he stiffens.  The soul is carried away and I have been released. (IPerinthos 146)

Which naturally calls to mind the words of Damaskios and Orpheus:

Dionysos is the cause of release, whence the God is also called Lusios. And Orpheus says: “Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. You, having power over them, whomever you wish you will release from harsh toil and the unending goad.” (Commentary on the Phaido 1.11)

And Proklos and Orpheus:

The happy life, far from the roaming of generation, that is desired by those who, in Orpheus, are made initiates of Dionysos and Kore in order to ‘cease from the circle and enjoy respite from disgrace.’ (Commentary on the Timaios 3.296.7)

Perinthos went through its own παλιγγενεσία or rebirth.

The city was sacked by barbarians, lay dormant for a while and then in the 4th century e.v. was rebranded as Herakleia, becoming a favorite getaway and summer resort of the Byzantine nobility. According to Procopius de Aed. 4.9 Justinian built a stunning imperial palace there and restored the aqueducts as a benefaction to its citizens. 


The Patron Saint of Actors, Magicians and Epileptics


The danger of wearing a mask, of course, is that in time you may end up becoming that which you pretend to be. This truth of the theater is perfectly illustrated in the tale of Saint Genesius of Rome, as recounted on the Orthodox Wiki:

Genesius was a gifted actor, comedian, playwright and the leader of a troupe of actors in Rome. When Diocletian initiated his great persecution, Genesius, who was a pagan, hatched a grand scheme to construct a play parodying the Christian Sacraments, to expose them to the ridicule of the audience. Thus he resolved one day to represent Baptism, with all its ceremonies, as ludicrously as possible. To this effect he became well acquainted with all that takes place at holy Baptism, he appointed the parts for the play, and instructed the actors as to what they were to do.

On the day of the performance Emperor Diocletian and his court were present. The comedy began, with Genesius acting the principal part. Feigning to be sick, he lay down, calling to his friends to bring him something to relieve his suffering. When they had done this, he said that he felt that he was soon to die, and wanted to become a Christian, and that they should “baptize” him. Everything was brought upon the stage that was used at Baptism, and an actor playing a priest came on stage in order to “baptize” the ailing catechumen. All the questions were put to him which are made to those who are to be baptized. The ceremony was performed in so ludicrous a manner, that the Emperor and all the people shouted with laughter.

At the moment when the pagan actors scoffed and blasphemed the Holy Sacrament of the true Church, as the actor poured the water over his head, the Almighty touched the heart of Genesius and illumined it with a ray of His divine Grace. Seeing the truth of Christianity, suddenly an entire change took place in the actor, and he loudly and earnestly proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ.

His companions, not knowing what had happened, continued the blasphemous mockery. When the whole ceremony was performed, they threw a white robe over Genesius in derision of the garment usually given to the newly-converted and baptized; thus clothed, they presented him to the people amidst great hilarity. But Genesius, already a true believer in Christ, turned to the Emperor and other spectators and confessed to them with great dignity what had taken place within him. He declared solemnly that until that day, blinded by idolatry, he had scoffed and derided Christianity, and therefore had proposed to represent baptism on the stage, for the amusement of the people. But during the sacrilegious performance, his heart had suddenly changed, and he desired to become a Christian. He said that he had seen the heavens open, and perceived a hand that touched him, when the baptismal water was poured over him. He further stated that before they had baptized him, he had seen an angel, with a book in which all his past iniquities had been recorded, who assured him that they would all be washed away by holy baptism, and that he had in fact seen that all his vices had been obliterated from its pages. After relating this, he added that he renounced idolatry, and believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and the Redeemer of the world, he would henceforth live and die a Christian.

This was the manner of his death:

It soon became clear to the Emperor and the audience that he was no longer acting. The Emperor then became enraged at his noble and frank confession, and gave immediate orders that his garments should be torn from him, and that he should he whipped with scourges and clubs before all the people, and then be cast into prison. Plautian, the prefect, received orders to renew this punishment daily until Genesius would abandon his new faith and sacrifice to the pagan gods. The holy confessor was stretched upon the rack, torn with iron hooks, and burned with torches. As the prefect urged him to submit to the imperial command and sacrifice to the pagan gods. 

Plautian, provoked at his fearlessness, reported his words to the Emperor, who ordered him beheaded, which sentence was executed in year of our Lord 303. Thus St. Genesius, who from an idolater became a Christian, and from a scoffer of Christianity a fearless confessor of the Saviour, received the crown of martyrdom.

Hearing of his death, the Christians realized that Genesius had been converted and put to death for the faith. They managed to secure his body and buried him in the Cemetery of St Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina with other Christian martyrs. When the persecution ended and following the Christianisation of Rome, his remains were exhumed and later solemnly enshrined in the Church of San Giovanni della Pigna near the Pantheon in Rome. The church at Rome which was dedicated in his honour from ancient times, was restored and beautified by Gregory III in A.D. 741. In 1591 his relics were transferred to a tomb in the Church of Santa Susanna where they lie to this day.

Since early times Genesius has been considered the patron saint of actors, actresses, comedians and those who work in the theatrical arts; with the advent of cinema, he is also regarded as its patron. More recently he has also been adopted as a patron of converts, dancers, and epileptics.

Were someone so inclined to pay their respects to Genesius they needn’t visit the bolded locations above; indeed, as it turns out the Patron Saint of Actors, Magicians and Epileptics has a strong cult presence here in New York, according to the regular Wiki. Specifically:

Genesius is said to have been buried in the Cemetery of St. Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina. His relics are claimed to be kept in San Giovanni della Pigna, Santa Susanna di Termini, and the chapel of St. Lawrence. His legend was dramatized in the fifteenth century. It was embodied later in the oratorio “Polus Atella” of Löwe, and more recently in a play by Weingartner. The accuracy of the Acts, dating from the seventh century, is very questionable, though it was defended by Tillemont (Mémoires, IV s. v. Genesius). Nevertheless, Genesius was venerated at Rome as early as the Fourth Century. A church was built in his honor, and it was repaired and beautified by Pope Gregory III in 741. A gold glass portrait of him dating to the Fourth Century also exists.

The veneration of St Genesius continues today, and the actor-martyr is considered the patron of actors and acting societies, including those that assist actors. The British Catholic Stage Guild regards him as their patron saint, and the Shrine of St. Genesius in Saint Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church in the New York City Borough of Manhattan, serves as a spiritual landmark for the city’s acting community. As the patron saint of epilepsy, many thus afflicted turn to him for his help. Because he is associated with stagecraft, Genesius is also venerated by stage magicians and illusionists. He is one of the patrons of the Catholic Magicians’ Guild.

A Genesian Theatre in Sydney, Australia hosts six seasons each year and is the centre of a vibrant amateur acting community. Other amateur companies around the world also use his name, including the Genesius Guild of Hammond, Indiana, which hosts an average of four productions each year and an annual children’s theater camp, the Genesius Theater of Reading, Pennsylvania, basis for the Lincoln Center production of Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days” starring Patti LuPone. Genesius Studios, a film production company in New York, New York founded by a group of traveling actors, whose slogan is “Freedom of Thought” and whose focus is producing motion pictures with wayward, lost protagonists and anti-heroes who often find something inside themselves worth standing for in tales of self-discovery, hubris and redemption, among other notably relative themes, and the Genesius Guild and Foundation in the Quad Cities in the United States, which focuses on classical Greek Drama.

A new association in the Roman Catholic Church, The Fraternity of St Genesius, has been founded under this Saint’s patronage. It aims to support men and women who work in theatre and cinema.

Wow, Patti LuPone. That’s pretty cool.

And Hippolytus, eh? 

Say, when is his Feast Day again? Oh yeah. August 25th.