Hence the ancient etymology of Pleiades from πλέω ‘sail’. Ancient astronomers and mythographers liked to connect the Pleiades with Dionysus, stressing their corporate persona as a chorus and their location between the horns of Taurus (the bull).
Dionysus’ connection with the agricultural year has been noticed and overrated: in Athens, at least, he is less of a fertility god. His connection with shipping and commerce, on the other hand, is generally unnoticed and underrated. Theophrastus’ Chatterbox, a man who talks in clichés and links them together in a chain of the most hackneyed associations, connects cheap wheat, lots of foreigners, the beginning of the sailing season and the Dionysia. Agriculture gets mentioned too, but only in a less vivid future conditional clause: he says ‘that wheat is now selling at a good price in the market place, and that there are a lot of foreigners in town, and that the sea becomes navigable from the time of the Dionysia, and that if Zeus were to send more rain, the crops would be better’. Classical Athenians connected the sailing season with the Dionysia because the festival and its associated market were designed to attract merchants and foreign visitors. Together they brought good things to alleviate the want and tedium of a long winter: food, money, unusual privileges, and dazzling entertainments.
At Delos several inscriptions detail the construction of the ‘wagon’ or ‘phallagogeion’ used to carry the phallos in the Parade. Phallos wagons are also attested elsewhere. An eye-witness tells us that the sixty metre high golden phallos at the Alexandrian Dionysia under Ptolemy II (274 or 270 BC) was carried on a four-wheeled wagon. A phallos in 2nd c. AD Edessa was also carried by a four-wheeled wagon as shown on the tombstone of a pet pig that got so excited he used the wagon as his juggernaut Four Attic vases, produced at the end of the sixth century show Dionysus and satyrs riding wagons, fitted out like ships (Figures 13-14).63 Later antiquity’s larger and more international festival economies seem to have required the magnificence of actual wheeled ships. By contrast the images on the Attic skyphoi are very much ‘wagons’ in the shape of ships—and unlikely to be called anything other than ‘wagons’ in ancient texts. Even the Panathenaic ship was referred to as a ‘wagon’ (in Latin currus) as late as the first century AD.64 In the case of the Tarquinian amphora (Figure 15), the vehicle is mythicised as an actual ship, but incorporates features of the ritual wagon including the piper and the mysterious wicker-like object at the keel. Since the nineteenth century most scholars have connected these ship-wagons with the Anthesteria, because Philostratus and Aristides mention a sacred ship for Dionysus in second-century AD Smyrna at a festival in the month of Anthesterion.
In part it suits the Athenian Dionysus because, as we saw, he brings for his festival food and wealth from overseas. But there is something deeper. The utopic vision inspired by the Athenian carnival is one of things spontaneously appearing and spontaneously moving under the influence of Dionysus. In the first messenger speech of Euripides’ Bacchae the presence of Dionysus is revealed by the sudden appearance of springs of water, wine, milk and honey (705-11), and by the effortless coordination, energy and equilibrium of the bacchants’ movements (esp. 693, 755-8). The spontaneous springs of water, wine, milk and honey recall the αὐτόματος βίος of the Cronian Golden Age when the earth freely produced an abundance of food and drink for all men at no cost or effort. This was of course also an ideal embodied by the Dionysian festival where food and wine really were abundant and free. But effortless coordination and equilibrium are also an expression of the processional god. Dionysus sets people and things in motion, particularly in a graceful and rhythmic motion: the power of music to animate the body (even at times against one’s will) is perhaps the supreme expression of this particular aspect of the god. When in Euripides’ Bacchae (726-7) Dionysus appears in answer to the bacchants’ invocation, ‘the entire mountain revelled along with them and the beasts, nothing remained still’ (πᾶν δὲ συνβάκχευ᾽ ὄρος / καὶ θῆρες, οὐδὲν δ᾽ ἦν ἀκίνητον δρόμῳ). Plenitude also means that both animate and inanimate nature is filled by the god and made to move αὐτομάτως (cf. E. Ba. 477), with no effort of the individual will or body. It is for this reason that the earliest processional technology, perhaps the first truly sophisticated machines, were created for the Dionysian Parade.