A pre-Starry Bull account of the myths of Dionysos.
There are many accounts of Dionysos’ birth. I shall begin with the Orphic one. In it, Demeter and her daughter Kore, who one day would be called Persephone, lived on the island of Sicily, where they made their home in a cave near the spring of Kyane. One day, Zeus, the father of the girl, came to the cave when the mother was gone, and in the form of a snake lay with his daughter and conceived by her a child, the bull-horned God Zagreus, the first Dionysos.
Now Zeus took the child back to Olympus with him, and his wife Hera grew jealous, for Zagreus was a most special child. Because of her jealousy, Hera plotted against the child, and when the guards who Zeus had placed over the boy were distracted, Hera caused the Titans to rise up from the underworld and set upon the child with their murderous knives. Brave Zagreus sought to evade the Titans by turning himself into a number of different creatures, a lion, a horse, a man, and finally a bull, but all his effort was for naught, for the Titans eventually caught the child, holding him by hoof and horn, and fulfilled their obligation to the Goddess by tearing the child to pieces. These pieces they cooked in a stew of milk, and then roasted over a fire, before they commenced their awful feast. The smell of roasting flesh drew the boy’s father, and Zeus upon discovering what happened, hurled his mighty lightning-bolts at the Titans, burning them up where they stood. Athena managed to save the heart of the child, and with this Zeus was able to conceive the God again. He did this either by eating the heart himself, or by giving it in a potion to the daughter of King Cadmus, who, however it was done, soon was with child.
Now when Hera discovered that Semele, as the girl was called, was pregnant with Zeus’ child, and the child was none other than Zagreus reborn, her wrath knew no limit. Immediately Hera disguised herself as the girl’s old nurse, Beroë, and with cunning words began to set doubt in the girl’s mind as to whether her lover was a God indeed, or just some rascal out to play a trick on her. The only proof, Hera claimed, was for her lover to reveal himself in his fullness, otherwise Semele’d never know if Zeus really was a God. The next time that Zeus came to lay with the girl, for he had fallen in love with her, Semele made him promise to grant her wish, whatever it would be. Impetuous Zeus made his promise, only to regret it when she made her request. Now, once a God has given his word, he cannot go back on it, however much he’d like to. Zeus put off his human form, and revealed himself to her in his fullness. The sight of Zeus in this form proved too great for her, and the girl was burned up at once.
The child in her womb would have died too, but for a miracle. Lush foliage wrapped itself round the baby in his mother’s womb and kept him safe from the heavenly fire that consumed her. And when Zeus saw that the child was safe, he immediately lifted the fetus up, and sewed it into a pocket in his thigh, there to keep him safe ’till he should come to term. When Zeus got back to Olympus, Hermes laughed at the funny way he walked, and so it was that the child was called Dionysos, for one meaning of that name is “the limp of Zeus.”
When the child was born, Zeus gave him into the care of his aunt, Ino, whose husband was Athamas. To hide him from the wrath of Hera, they dressed little Dionysos as a girl, and kept him in the women’s quarters of the palace. This only succeeded for a short time, and then Hera’s vengeance caught up with the child and his foster parents. Hera sent a madness against them, and Ino and Athamas slew their children, thinking that they were killing the boy. Dionysos, however, had turned himself into a kid, and so escaped the terrible trap.
Zeus sent Hermes to retrieve the boy and find a safe place for him. The Messenger of the Gods traveled far until he came to the mountain of Nysa, where there were some Nymphs into whose care the child was placed. Sources differ as to which Nysa the God was brought to – the one in Ethiopia, the one in Thrace, the one in India, or some other Nysa.
Now the Nymphs took good care of their charge, and loved him dearly. They suckled him on milk from their breasts, and later wild honey from nearby caves, until Dionysos gave them wine to drink and neither they nor the child never again tasted that inferior food. The Nymphs kept the boy entertained by singing songs to him, and playing the drums and pipes for him. Little Dionysos loved the pipes very much, and he begged them to teach him how to play. The Nymphs could refuse the boy nothing, and before long he had mastered the pipes. Animals and birds came to listen to him; trees and rocks too. Never before had the world heard such fine playing as Dionysos on his pipes – it was only the memory of the God’s playing that made people respond so to that Thracian and his lyre.
Silenus, that half man, half horse Satyr, wisest of the daimons, was the God’s own teacher. Every day he sat the boy down and gave him his lessons. It wasn’t long before Dionysos had surpassed his teacher in rhetoric and philosophy and then it was the boy who was schooling the Satyr in these weighty matters.
For all that, Dionysos preferred to spend his time in the forests surrounding Nysa. He would run through the vales, his joyful songs filling the forest with their gay sound. The Nymphs and Silenus tried to keep up with him, but Dionysos knew the forest as if he had spent his whole life there, and they would always fall behind. No part of the forest was unknown to him – all the creatures that dwelt there acknowledged him as their Lord. Frequently the God would hunt in the forest. After chasing down a goat, he would catch the creature and tear it apart with his bare hands. Once he had eaten its raw flesh, he would bring the goat back to life, that they might run and hunt another day.
This was how the God spent his youth, and while Dionysos loved his Nurses and wise old Silenus, he nevertheless grew bored at Nysa, and longed to travel the world. When he explained this to the Nymphs, they tried to dissuade the youth by explaining that he was safe from Hera only on the holy mountain. If he left, there would be no protection. Like all youths, Dionysos was headstrong and in his heart he did not fear Hera. So Dionysos left his home to explore the world, and suffer many great adventures. The Nymphs, unwilling to be without their Lord, came too.
The first of these great adventures happened shortly after leaving. Dionysos was sitting on a beach, appearing to all as a handsome youth with rich purple robes and long golden locks, when some pirates came upon him. The Tyrrhenians, for that was their race, spotted the boy and thought him some wealthy king’s son who had wandered off. If they caught him, certainly the boy’s father would pay a hefty ransom for his return, and so they plotted his capture. When Dionysos hailed the sailors, and begged passage to the island of Naxos, the Tyrrhenians agreed, and took the boy aboard their ship. Now their helmsman was a man named Acoetes, and he was good in his heart. When he saw the beautiful youth, he immediately recognized him as something more than mortal, and begged his fellows to set the boy free, warning them that they had taken some God aboard their ship and that he would not take kindly to their plans. The captain did not listen to this man’s wise words, and in fact he punished him for speaking them. Just as his crewmen were about to toss Acoetes over the side of the ship a sound of flutes was heard. Though there was a stiff breeze in its sails, the ship stood still. Ivy and grapevines twined themselves about the masts, and the oars turned into snakes. The ship was flooded with sweet wine, and on the deck appeared wild creatures – panthers, lions, and bears, who presently set upon the treacherous crew. The captain was devoured by a lion, or else Dionysos leapt upon him and attacked him with the fierceness of a lion. Those crewmen who were not mauled by the fierce creatures tried to jump to safety over the side of the ship, though when they hit the water they were no longer men, but dolphins. Acoetes, fearing for his life, tried to jump over the side with his former friends, but the God stopped him, saying that he had nothing to fear. For the kindness that he had shown the God, he would grant Acoetes whatever he wished. And so it was that Acoetes joined the holy band of the God’s followers, for that was his wish. Dionysos placed a dolphin in the sky to commemorate this event, and, no doubt, as a warning to all sailors.
Hera saw this, and grew angry. Some claimed that Hera had sent the pirates to catch the young God, others that it made Hera fear for her safety, for in this encounter the power of Dionysos was revealed. Out of her anger, Hera sent a madness to Dionysos, and it drove the young God across the face of the earth. He wandered through Egypt, Syria, and other lands, and in his madness did many terrible things. He killed a whole race of Amazons, flaying them alive. He made the Argive women think that they were cows, and made them eat the children that they had suckled at their breast. And he almost laid waste to the oracle at Delphi, and would have succeeded had Apollo, thinking quickly, not offered the God rule of the oracle during the winter months, which succeeded in checking the God’s wrath. Finally the God came to Phrygia where, in a swamp, he collapsed as he tried to cross the marsh. Two asses came along and helped the God across the marsh, where he found a temple to Cybele. In gratitude, the God placed one of the asses in the sky, and gave the other a human voice.
As it happened, Cybele was present in her temple, and when she spotted her grandson (for this was the same Goddess whom the Greeks called Rheia, the Mother of Zeus) she brought him inside, and tended to his needs. She purified the God, freeing him from the grip of madness, and taught him her ancient rites, which she gave over to Dionysos. It was also in Phrygia that he adopted the oriental costume that he and his followers would wear.
Dionysos met up with his Nurses at Dodona, where they had been waiting for him. (In some accounts, this was their original home.) Together, they traveled the world, establishing his worship and giving to those who honored him the gifts of wine and ecstasy. In that holy band there were Nymphs and Satyrs, mortal women called Mainads and Thyiades and Bassarides and Bacchae, and mortal men too, who dressed in the same flowing robes as the women, and everyone, whether mortal or immortal, man or woman, wore crowns of ivy, laurel, or myrtle, and carried the God’s emblem, the thyrsos-wand topped with a pine cone and twined with ivy or colored ribbons. Through the God, the Mainadic women were able to accomplish many great things: they could carry fire unscathed by its flames, speak with animals, conjure milk and wine with the touch of their thyrsic wands, and they possessed the ability to control weather. Mainad rites culminated in states of ecstasy where the God and his followers became one. While in these ecstatic states Mainads were impervious to physical harm, gifted with the arts of prophecy, and possessed incredible amounts of strength so that they could lift a full-sized bull over their heads, or tear apart a sacrificial goat with their bare hands. The Mainads honored Dionysos with drumming and dances and with the special rite of omophagia or the eating of raw flesh. Everywhere they went, women left their homes to join the revels of the God. Most returned after fulfilling their duty – some stayed with the God the whole of their lives, traveling with him across the world, part of the triumphant army of Lord Dionysos.
There were many places that accepted the fabulous gifts of the God, and gladly worshipped him, among them the Laconians, the Delians, the Eleans, the Carians, and all the people of the Islands – but their stories are not the most famous ones, for the poets preferred tales of opposition. And the first and greatest of those who opposed the God was Lycurgus, Dryas’ son, that violent fool who ruled the Edonians. Now the Edonians lived on the banks of the river Strymon and their soil was such that it received the grapevines of the God with ease, and before long the vines were everywhere. Now the people liked this, for they were fond of the God’s wine, but Lycurgus detested the plants, and the nocturnal rites that Dionysos had established with them. Therefore one night when the followers of the God, and Dionysos with them, had gathered to perform their holy dances outside the city, Lycurgus and his men crept upon them to disrupt the sacred rites. Lycurgus, brandishing an ox-goad, burst upon the group and scattered them, chasing the women to the shores of the river where they, urged on by Dionysos, sought refuge under the waves with the Oceanid Thetis, who kept the girls from drowning out of her love for the God. Now Lycurgus thought that he had won, since he had gotten the Mainads to drop their thyrsi and run, fleeing with their God into the river. This only confirmed the king’s contempt for the God, for he had fled from a mere mortal, and what sort of God would do that? Little did he understand that it was not fear that drove the God to flee, but concern for his followers, and so, once they were safe, the God came back up and confronted the king, who was busy trying to pull up all of the God’s vines. It was an easy thing to beat the king – indeed he was already half-mad to begin with. All that the God did was put before his eyes a vision of endless rows of grapevines, one after the other, grapevines that multiplied as the king and his men tried to pull them up. All through the morning, and into the day the king labored in his fields, and still they were full of vines. He bid his servants tear up the hateful plants, and when they were too slow, or grew tired and begged for rest, the king leapt upon them, and beat them with his ox-goad. The king’s son began to worry for his father, and when the boy approached Lycurgus to beg him to put off this madness, the king picked up an ax and began hacking away at his son, thinking as he did, that the boy was covered in vines. When the son’s blood splattered on Lycurgus, Dionysos made him think that the vines had taken hold of him – and so the king took the ax to his own legs. This seemed to bring the villain’s fit to an end – or at least stopped him from harming others with his madness. Fearing the man they had once proclaimed king, the Edonians banished the son of Dryas to a nearby mountain, Pangaeüs where the panthers roamed. Those wild beasts, sacred to the God, hunted down Lycurgus, tearing him apart like a fawn in the hands of a Mainad.
Another man who resisted the worship of God, and should have known better, was Pentheus the king of Thebes, whose own mother was the sister of Semele. Dionysos came to the daughters of Cadmus – Agave, Autonoe and Ino who had returned to the city of her father after the evil done in her husband’s home. Dionysos sought to convince these women that he was a God, and that his mother had indeed conceived him from a God. They would not listen: they persisted in their belief that Semele had only ascribed her pregnancy to Zeus, and that for this lie she had been punished with death. To them, Dionysos had died in his mother’s womb – they would not hear Ino’s tale of nursing the child, thinking as they did, that it was a delusion born of her madness. They spoke other lies against their sister, and spread this falsehood among the women of Thebes, who, on hearing it believed, and doubted the God. This was intolerable for the God, and so he drove the women of Thebes into the mountains outside their city, and there on Cithaeron they honored the God whom they had denied, honored him with songs and dances and the red, raw feast which so delights him.
The men of Thebes, Pentheus chief among them, found the situation unbearable, and so the king sent his soldiers into the hills to flush the women out. This got them nothing, for Dionysos was among his followers, and through him they were able to resist the armed men, working wonders before their awe-struck eyes. The women were able to turn aside the soldiers’ sharp-bladed swords, and cut through their bronze shields with the ivy-wrapped wands that they carried. Women held fire in their hands, and caused milk and wine to flow along the mountain’s side. Tiny girls, through the God, found the strength to lift full-grown men over their heads, and wild creatures ran at their sides, sharers in the holy mysteries of God. The women routed Pentheus’ finest soldiers: even so, a few Bacchants allowed themselves to be captured, that they might greet the king, and show him the ways of God. Among those that Pentheus’ men captured was Dionysos himself, disguised as a mortal priest in the robes of God.
Pentheus interrogated him at length, thinking correctly that he was the leader of the Bacchae, and though the God answered his questions in all truth, it made no sense to the king, for his mind was closed to all but the narrowest of truths. As the God continued on, trying to teach Pentheus a better way, the king grew enraged, for he thought that the God mocked him. Finally, when Pentheus was near to tears, the God ended the conversation, saying that if Pentheus intended to punish him, he should let nothing stand in his way. While Pentheus attempted to do just that, it proved a far difficulter task than he had expected. The chains that he had bound the God with fell from him and his followers at a word from Dionysos. When the king ordered his men to take hold of the prisoners, they could not move their limbs till the God gave them leave to, and when Pentheus tried to run the God through with his own sword, he found in Dionysos’ place one of the tall columns of the palace, the God having set before him a confounding image to do battle with.
The king was powerless to stop him, yet still he would not concede and grant the God that which he deserved, namely to be honored in the city that once housed his mother. Recognizing that, Dionysos placed before the king the method of his own demise, and Pentheus, blinded by his own foolishness, grasped for it as a thirsty man grasps for a cup of wine. Dionysos persuaded the king to follow him into the hills, where the Bacchae awaited them. He promised an end to this war, and the return of peace to Thebes. Pentheus interpreted this as the death of the Mainads – it was his own death that the God offered him.
Dressed as a Mainad, in gown and crown and ivy-wrapped wand, the king crept upon the camp of the Mainads, eager to see what infernal rites they were up to. When the king couldn’t see things as well as he had hoped, he climbed a pine tree to spy on the women in their nocturnal rites. From that vantage point all was revealed to Pentheus – and Pentheus was revealed to all. The Mainads saw the intruder, and were upon him in an instant, pulling the king from his tree, and tearing him apart once they had him on the ground. Chief among those who mauled the king were Autonoe and Agave, the very aunt and mother of Pentheus. When the deed was done, the women returned to their proper states of mind – only to witness the horrible things that they had done. All who had partaken in the savage rite were banished from Thebes, and wandered the world alone until alone they died. This, then, was the fate incurred by those who mocked the God in his own home – to commit an awful crime, and die a hideous death.
This should have proved a warning to all those who would deny another’s right to honor the God. However, the daughters of Minyas paid no attention to the fate of Pentheus, and when the holy band came to their city, and people filled the streets with revelry, the girls remained in their father’s bower, busying themselves with the “proper” work of women. Dionysos did not care that they refused to honor him – but when he heard that they would not allow their slaves to join the celebration, the God was forced to visit on them the punishment which comes to all those who refuse him – namely the madness which leads to death. The daughters, spurred on by the God, ate each other’s children, and then were themselves turned into bats who fled into the hills and the darkness, both of which they had previously felt were unfit places for well-bred women to frequent.
At Tangara they accepted the God, and their women honored him in the proper way. But Tritons, those terrible creatures who live under the sea, sought to disrupt their holy rites – though the God would not let them. He battled the Tritons to keep his voataries safe, and drove them far from Tangara once he had vanquished their leader, that they might never harm that holy people again. When Butes and his men tried to rape the Thessalian Mainads, the God hunted them down, until every last one of those black-hearts had paid the penalty for assaulting those dear to the God. To the daughters of Anius he gave the gift of growth, that they might produce corn, wine, and oil for their drought-stricken land. And when Agamemnon’s men tried to carry the girls off to feed his army, Dionysos kept them safe, turning them into doves that they might fly to freedom. He punished the Thracian bacchants when they killed his chosen prophet, Orpheus of the splendid voice, giving the singer’s head into the care of the Lesbians, that it might continue to give oracles in times of great need. Dionysos honored his votary Dirce when she died by causing a holy spring to rise up on the spot. He placed the Haliae in the sky when they were slain by Perseus the king of Mycenae for bringing wine into his city and getting his soldiers drunk while he was at war with the Aegean islands. (Perseus was well punished for his hastiness, although he eventually repented and established the God’s worship in his city.) And he danced up the rains for the people of Limos, an eastern city.
When Dionysos came to Attica it was not a king that greeted the God, but a humble shepherd, who offered the God his hospitality – modest though it was – and so was rewarded with the gift of wine and the knowledge of its cultivation. Icarius, for that was the shepherd’s name, took such great pleasure in the God’s wine – before then, all that he had had to drink was water, the same as his sheep – that he immediately wanted to go off and share this wonderful gift with his neighbors, for he was indeed generous of heart. Erigone, the man’s daughter, agreed with her father that they must share that which the God had given to them, and so the girl watched her father’s flocks while he went to the neighboring farm to bestow on them the rich wine of Dionysos. Now in his eagerness Icarius did not cut the wine with water, as the God had taught him to do, and so his neighbor’s sons were soon quite drunk, for they liked the wine as much as Icarius had. When the father came upon his sons in their drunken state, he thought that Icarius had poisoned them, for they had passed out and would not waken, or stumbled about in their drunken stupor. The neighbor and his friends sought vengeance against the kindly shepherd, killing him with heavy rocks and sticks plucked from the ground. When the boys awoke, no worse for wear, the father and his friends repented their hasty action, but too late, for Icarius was already dead. Fearing that others might find out what they had done, the men carried Icarius’ body to a nearby well and stuffed it in there, that he might be hidden from the eyes of men, and their dark deed go unpunished.
When Erigone’s father did not return, the girl began to despair. With her faithful dog Maeara, the girl searched out her father, and eventually found the well where his body was hidden, directed to the spot by the light of the moon. When the girl saw her father’s lifeless body, madness took hold of her, and the girl hung herself from a tree that grew near the spot. The dog, abandoned by those that he had loved, flung himself into the well where he died.
Now the men did not escape their evil deeds – as always happens, vengeance caught up with them. The Lord sent a madness upon the women of Attica, and as Erigone had hung herself from a tree, so too did they hang themselves. Nothing that the men of Attica could do stopped their women from taking their lives – even force of arm failed to stop the maddened women. In desperation the men of Attica consulted the Delphic oracle, where they discovered the cause of their plague and the means by which they could remedy it. First, they hunted down the killers of Icarius, slaying the impetuous men as they had slain the helpless shepherd. Next, they instituted a festival of Dionysos, the Aiora or “swinging festival” which was held during the grape harvest. During the Aiora young girls swung from trees on swings, in imitation of Erigone, and all sorts of small images were hung on trees and swung, and fruits were brought as an offering to the father and daughter. Dionysos relented, and the women regained their sanity, those that had not killed themselves. He further honored his votaries by placing them in the sky as the constellations Boötes, Virgo and Canicula or Porcyon.
In Aetolia the God recieved a hospitable welcome from Oeneus, king of Calydon. Not only did he entertain Dionysos and his holy band, but when the king recognized that Dionysos had taken an interest in his wife, he arranged so that he was called away on urgent business, that the two might be left alone. For his generosity, Dionysos gave him the vine, and taught him to make wine. Calydon prospered from its production of wine, and became, in time, one of the richest of nations. By Althea, the wife of Oeneus, the God bore a daughter, Deïaneira, the future bride of Heracles.
Crete had been at war with the nations of the Aegean, and because of her greater naval strength, and the fact that the Gods loved her above every other nation, she was able to overcome them. As a result of this, Minos forced Athens to pay tribute, in the form of seven youths and seven maids which she was forced to send to Crete on every ninth year. These youths were then sacrificed to the Minotaur, a monstrous creature – half-man and half-bull – that lived in the labyrinth, a giant maze that Minos had constructed under his palace. Despite his father’s pleas, Theseus volunteered to be one of the fourteen, and came to Crete to slay the beast and topple Minos’ rule. When Ariadne met the handsome youth, she immediately fell in love with Theseus. She gave the dashing young hero a silver thread, which, unraveled as he wandered through the labyrinth, would help him find his way out again – a thing no one, including the Minotaur, had been able to do before. When Theseus succeded in killing the beast and overthrowing Minos, he left for his home and took Ariadne with him as he had agreed to do. But on their way home, they stopped off on the Isle of Naxos where Theseus – who didn’t really love Ariadne – abandoned her to die. Some time later, Dionysos arrived at the island and found the princess near to death from exposure and heartbreak. He nursed her back to health, and when she recovered her strength, married the God, as they had fallen in love while she was recuperating. Ariadne bore many children for the God, and theirs was a most happy marriage. But it was not without sorrow, for the Goddess Artemis, thinking that Ariadne had betrayed Dionysos with Theseus, killed the princess on the Isle of Dia, which some claimed was the same as Naxos. Devastated, the wine-God placed the bridal crown of Ariadne in the heavens as the Corona Borealis, and, unable to bear the loss of his great love, begged his father Zeus to bring Ariadne back to life. Though it went against the very laws of heaven, Zeus consented, and Ariadne was made a Goddess. Together, the two immortals dwelt happily on Olympus and on the world, their love ever flowing.
Dionysos sought to share his mysteries and the gift of wine with all the men of the world, not just the Greeks and Asiatics who clung to the shores of the Mediterranean. Indeed, the God and his army – for that is how the holy band came to be called – carried his message to the very ends of the earth, “through Syria and Arabia and Palestine they traveled, into Egypt and Persia and Bactria they came, and on to India they went, that land of a hundred tongues” as the poets have it. Everywhere he went the God accomplished many wonderful things, teaching men to plant the vine and harvest wine and worship the Gods through mysteries. He got the Arabians to stop eating the flesh of men, and established among them civilization, with laws and art and worship of the Gods. In Egypt, the holy band was lost, and would have died of thirst, but for the intervention of the God Ammon, who, appearing as a ram, led the votaries back to their God, who caused a spring to rise up that they might drink and lose their thirst. For this kindness, Dionysos established a shrine to the ram-headed God Ammon, and placed a ram in the sky as Aries. Also in Egypt, Dionysos won the throne of Egypt back for its rightful owner, punishing the interloper who had taken it with madness, so that he wandered the land thinking himself a cow like Io – only there was no Isis to take pity on the man, and his days were ended as some farmer’s dinner. Dionysos was well loved in India – many of the ascetics’ wives fled to him, longing for that which their husbands would not give them, simple love. Dionysos taught the women powerful magics to win back the affections of their husbands, and taught the men to see in their wives an image of the Goddess, so that in making love to them they worshipped the divine. Seeing the popularity of the God, an Indian king declared war on him. The two armies met, the king’s and the assorted followers of the God, and they prepared to make fierce war, but the God gave a great shout, and the king’s army fled in fear, leaving the holy band victorious. This was how they conquered the world, without the shedding of blood. In order to cross the Euphrates (some said that it was the mother of rivers, the Ganges) Dionysos constructed a bridge of plaited vines and ivy strands for his followers to cross, and as for the Tigris – how else should he cross that river, but on the back of a tiger?
One day as the holy band was traveling through Phrygia, Silenus, the God’s old teacher, disappeared, and no one could find him. Finally, escorted by an honor guard sent along by Midas, king of the Mygdonians, the old Satyr returned. The king, or some of his peasants, had easily captured the ever-thirsty old man by setting out some wine-bowls, and once the old man had prophecized for him – that was what Satyrs were supposed to do when they were captured – Midas entertained him with splendid hospitality, giving him his best men as an escort when the old Satyr wished to return to the God. Dionysos rewarded the king for his kindness by agreeing to grant whatever Midas wished – and Midas foolishly asked that everything he touch turn to gold. Reluctantly – for once a God has given his word, he cannot turn back – Dionysos did so, and the God was not surprised when the king sought him out the next day, begging that his gift be withdrawn. It had worked too well, and he was starving since his very food turned to gold as well. Dionysos gladly told the king how he might banish his “golden touch” by bathing in the icy waters of the river Pactolus, a river rich with gold to this day.
Now that all the world worshipped him as a God, Dionysos took his place with the other immortals on Mount Olympus, but not, however, before he had descended into the underworld to bring up his mother out of that dark land. He took his mother up to Olympus with him, where she assumed the name Thyone and lived among the Gods.
Dionysos soon found himself involved in the war between the Gods and the Giants. Warlike Dionysos battled the Giant Eurythus with his wand, vanquishing his fierce opponent. Next the God took on Alcyoneus who was awed by the God’s powers and forsook battle with the Lord. Chthonious was not so wise – Dionysos dug a pit which the Giant fell into, and then filled the pit with wine, drowning his opponent. Pelorus and Porphyrian attacked the God together – together they were torn apart by the God’s fierce panthers. The other Giants were routed by the braying of the asses on which Dionysos and his Satyr companions rode. And when the Gods finally overcame the Giants, it was Dionysos’ suggestion which brought them victory. The God said that only by taking on their animal forms could they hope to vanquish their foes. The Gods feared losing their place in the world by lowering themselves in this way. As it turned out, only by adopting their bestail natures were they able to keep their noble place in heaven.
His role in the War with the Giants had gone a long way towards resolving the enimity between him and Hera – when a Giant had threatened to rape the Goddess, it had been Dionysos not Zeus who came to her aid. It was the following incident which completely ended it.
Hephaestus had always resented being abandoned as a child by his mother. So one day he hatched a plan to get revenge on her. The Great Artisan crafted for the Gods marvelous gifts, each one greater than the last. Finally, he presented to them the greatest gift of all – a marvelous golden throne for his mother, a chair inlaid with gems and precious stones, and sculpted with all her favorite things. The Queen of the Gods sat in her throne and proclaimed it the most comfortable thing she had ever sat upon in all her long lifetime. Hephaestus replied that that was good, because she was going to be spending a lot of time in the chair – and when the Goddess tried to rise from her seat, she found that she was quite stuck. Many of the strongest Gods tried to pull her free – they would have yanked the Goddess’ arms off before they would have pulled her free. In all the commotion, the throne was overturned and that is how it remained, hanging upside down with the Goddess still stuck in it. After the Gods had all gotten a good laugh, kingly Zeus ordered Hephaestus to free his mother (noting, as he had, the fierce look in her eyes) but the smith-God was nowhere to be found. He had gone down to his home below the waves, where his great smithy was. Now Ares, angry at the rough treatment of his mother, volunteered to go down and bring back the God – but this was a task easier to declare than to fulfill. Hephaestus was waiting for the war-God under the waves, and when Ares approached, Hephaestus began to fling fiery brands at the God, and drove him back to the shore, where he fled, nursing his wounds.
Dionysos proved more successful in his attempt. He did not try to bring the artisan back by force, knowing, as he did, that that path would not succeed. Instead the God brought his best wine, and he and the smith began to talk, speaking about Hera and Olympus and the problems that they had had with both. Before long Hephaestus was drunk – this was, after all, Dionysos’ best wine – and Dionysos managed to convince the God to relent. But because the God was so drunk he couldn’t make it back up to Olympus under his own power. Dionysos placed the heavy God on the back of an ass and led him up the high path to Olympus where the Gods were waiting anxiously for their return. Drunk Hephaestus agreed to set Hera free – but only on the condition that she acknowledge him as her child, and Zeus grant him the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride. All his demands were met, and Hera was released.
Out of gratitude for this service done her, Hera relented in her wrath. Further, she nominated Dionysos to the ruling council of the Gods, and all agreed that this was a grand idea.
So ends my account of the things that Dionysos did, the wonders he wrought, the gifts he shared, the marvel he became. In him is our redemption. Great is the God Dionysos!