Niaiserie

Wild Hunt reported on a Dionysian mural that was recently taken down because someone on Facebook complained, calling it “satanic.” As gross as I found the artist’s apology (“I would like to publicly apologize for anyone who is offended by this piece, and also to state that never in my career would I intentionally insult or offend a religion or culture with my artwork.”) the comments left on that post were even worse, especially this one by J Verdant:

The artist is in the right and the people who took it down are idiots. This has very little to do with Dionysus though. The image doesn’t seem to be based on any actual myth, just his personal struggles with alcohol. And I’m confused by his statement “the Dionysus myth is illuminated as manly, tough, courageous.” That doesn’t really sound like any Dionysus myth I’m familiar with…

Clearly this is someone who needs to read more. 

Might I suggest starting with Horace Odes 2.19:

I saw Bacchus on distant cliffs – believe me,
O posterity – he was teaching songs there,
and the Nymphs were learning them, and all
the goat-footed Satyrs with pointed ears.
Evoe! My mind fills with fresh fear, my heart
filled with Bacchus, is troubled, and violently
rejoices. Evoe! Spare me, Liber,
dreaded for your mighty thyrsus, spare me.
It’s right to sing of the willful Bacchantes,
the fountain of wine, and the rivers of milk,
to sing of the honey that’s welling,
and sliding down from the hollow tree-trunks:
It’s right to sing of your bride turned Goddess, your
Ariadne, crowned among stars: the palace
of Pentheus, shattered in ruins,
and the ending of Thracian Lycurgus.
You direct the streams, and the barbarous sea,
and on distant summits, you drunkenly tie
the hair of the Bistonian women,
with harmless knots made of venomous snakes.
When the impious army of Giants tried
to climb through the sky to Jupiter’s kingdom,
you hurled back Rhoetus, with the claws
and teeth of the terrifying lion.
Though you’re said to be more suited to dancing,
laughter, and games, and not equipped to suffer
the fighting, nevertheless you shared
the thick of battle as well as the peace.
Cerberus saw you, unharmed, and adorned
with your golden horn, and, stroking you gently,
with his tail, as you departed, licked
your ankles and feet with his triple tongue.

And then perhaps Diodoros Sikeliotes’ Library of History, Nonnos’ Dionysiaka and Euripides’ Bakchai for good measure

Then, of course, there is my favorite invocation of him, Orphic Hymn 30:

I call upon loud-roaring and reveling Dionysos,
primeval, two-natured, thrice-born Bacchic lord,
savage, ineffable, two-horned and two-shaped.
ivy-covered, bull-faced, warlike, howling, pure,
you take raw flesh, you have triennial feasts,
wrapt in foliage, decked with grape clusters.
Resourceful Eubouleus, immortal God sired by Zeus
when he mated with Persephone in unspeakable union,
hearken to my voice, O Blessed One,
and with your fair-girdled Nurses,
breathe on me in spirit of perfect kindness. 

Incidentally, I found the mural quite powerful and resonant of Dionysos’ own struggles with insanity, likely the constellation of myths he was drawing on.

Art is supposed to be shocking, transgressive and force us to confront our preconceived notions and societal conditioning as well as feel novel and alien sensations – at least good, Dionysian art is, which is why this guy never should have apologized.

I also found it amusing that Wild Hunt’s readers were miffed with the piece being taken down when I’ve seen some of them laud censorship, deplatforming and doxxing in the past. I guess it’s only problematic to them when people they don’t like are doing it. I, personally, am for unlimited free expression, especially when it comes to material I don’t care for.   


8 comments

      • I’m not familiar with Ancient Greek scansion, but I’m guessing they adapted it to fit the music. The guy who painted Dionysos looks a bit like Dionysos too :-D

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        • Naw, it’s the modern vs ancient pronunciation. (I.e. flattening of vowels, and swapping V for B.) Nothing wrong with that, per se, it always just catches in my ear.

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  1. I couldn’t find the hymn to Dionysos in Ancient Greek, but the OH to Hermes in AG is below. The discussion in the comments is good too. Interestingly, the /v/ sound didn’t enter the Greek language until the first century AD (and disappeared later, as the language simplified, and was replaced with the /b/ sound).

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  2. Added for clarification: I swapped the phonemes in the above, it should read——> /b/ was replaced by /v/. The /v/ sound itself was new, which is uncommon for an IE language. I suspect the distinction between the sounds dissipated somewhat, as the /b/ sound still exists in MG. Cf. Spanish, where there is no distinction between the two sounds.

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