Dionysos dressed as Herakles dressed as Dionysos


Jacquelyn Collins Clinton,  A Late Antique Shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa pages 25-27
All of the above marble sculptures were reused in the late antique shrine. The statuettes probably served originally as private statuary of a decorative nature placed in house or garden, from the ruins of which the worshippers of Bacchus removed them to their shrine. […] These works do not fit into the Bacchic religious context as readily as the reused marble sculptures representing Dionysus directly, since they all were probably found purely by chance. One can only speculate on the reasons for reusing them at all. […] The small bust of Hercules is represented with grape leaves stick into the fillet around his head. He has thus a Bacchic aspect which must have had an immediate and relevant appeal. […] The Lysippean type after which the Cosa head is patterned is related to that of the Herakles Epitrapezios where Herakles is shown seated and holding out a cup of wine in an attitude of heroic repose after having attained immortality. This image of Herakles’ repose goes back to the sixth century B.C. in Greek vase painting where he is shown resting under a tree; by the end of the century, the repose came to be expressed in terms of a banquet, often celebrated with Dionysus. […] The Roman Hercules, of course, loved his wine and he is shown in works of art also engaged in a drinking contest with Dionysus. The theme of the drunken Hercules, furthermore, accounts for his inclusion in the Bacchic thiasos from Hellenistic times on. It becomes very popular in Roman times where Hercules bipax appears in representations of the Bacchic thiasos on sarcophagi. The imagery in these representations is, of course, funerary, illustrating the Bacchic concept of the afterlife as a continuing joyful revel or banquet. […] Moreover, the close connection between Hercules and Bacchus goes beyond these mythological ties, for the two were worshipped together in a common cult at least as early as the sixth century B.C. throughout Macedonia and Thrace, including the island of Thasos, and their names or images are linked in several monuments found in this region during Roman times. They are linked in various other monuments from other parts of the Roman world as well, and they were patron gods of Leptis Magna, the birthplace of Septimius Severus, who erected a temple for them in Rome and had their images included on his coinage. […] Thus, the connections between Hercules and Bacchus are so many and varied, with a long history continuing through late Roman times, that to discover an image of Hercules in a Bacchic shrine is not surprising.

11 thoughts on “Dionysos dressed as Herakles dressed as Dionysos

  1. This is interesting! (The excerpt, not the photo…I mean, it’s kind of intriguing, but come on…did they do their research? It’s like when I see supposed “Cú Chulainn” images that show him with facial hair…clearly non-readers!)

    I also think Hadrian is kind of a Dionysos-Herakles figure, as he is definitely identified as a Neos Dionysos, and due to various other things about him, he is very much a kind of Neos Herakles/Novus Hercules. His villa at Tibur was one of the few sites that had a Hercules cult attached to the Quinquatrus festival in March. His family was from Gades (modern Cadiz) in Spain, and the famous image of Hercules Gaditanus was located there (which was originally a shrine to the Phoenician Deity Melqart, Who became syncretized with Hercules), and it appears on some of Hadrian’s coinage. And, in the various hunting tondi now on the Arch of Constantine, the Lion Hunt is then dedicated to Hercules, and of course Hadrian was the victor in that particular instance. So, even more than those later Emperors (like Commodus!) who really tried hard to be like Hercules/Herakles, Hadrian was doing it proper! ;)


    1. Hadrian definitely reads as a blend of Herakles and Dionysos; Marcus Antonius too, though people tend to focus on his more Bacchic traits. Actually H & D have a lot in common, more than I realized until just a couple years ago. Which gives the scene in Aristophanes where Dionysos dresses as Herakles to make his katabasis quite significant, and not just a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.


      1. Indeed! And Herakles is one of very few even partial mortals who was able to make the back-and-forth trip to Hades without too much negative repercussions. Not all were as lucky (e.g. Orpheus!), even though Herakles would have known Orpheus and they could have traded notes on various things! (But, I’m not sure if in their respective chronologies, their time together was before or after their respective katabasoi, if I have that plural right…!)

        You know, as much as both Hadrian and Marcus Antonius shared many of these syncretic roles and characteristics in their lives, I somewhat suspect that they would have hated each other in real life. I’m sure Hadrian admired certain aspects of Marcus Antonius; and if the latter lived in a later era or Hadrian in the earlier and he had heard of Hadrian, I’m sure Marcus Antonius would have liked the sound of him on paper…but I suspect if they met, they’d be at blows with one another rather quickly over some relatively trifling thing. I lose no respect for either of them, though, with that potentiality in mind, of course! Just a strange hunch…something to take to divination one day, maybe! ;)


        1. Oh, they would definitely have been oil and water – unless a third party was there to unite against. Then again, I suspect most of the figures I admire wouldn’t have gotten along.


          1. Which is why the Antinoan spiritual technology of the “God-Party” is so effective. If He’s the one throwing the party, His requirement is that everyone gets along, and whether that results because They all want to get in His good graces (or get into something else of His, perhaps–?!?), it has never failed thus far!


  2. [BTW, I actually have that book! Yeah…haven’t read it yet, but I got it for a pretty good price at some point, somewhere…can’t now recall where, but it probably happened in the last 5 years at some stage. Thanks for reminding me I’ve got it! I should look more closely at it…when there is time…which is: when?]


    1. I love that bit I quoted because it gives one a glimpse into how ancient practice really worked. A modest religious association, without a wealthy benefactor, collecting and repurposing material from a defunct temple for their own use – I’m sure that happened more often than we realize. I wish we knew more of the nuts and bolts details of the process. Like what rites did they perform to rededicate the statuary, vases, etc.


      1. That would be excellent–especially since some of us are doing this in both literal and figurative fashions now (e.g. using an image intended to be of one particular divine being or even some random other person as a cult image for various Deities Who either don’t have definite images of Them, or none have survived, and thus there is no known standard depiction or attributes for Them, etc.).

        It’s all of these little things like that, I think, that we should try and be mindful of, and attempt to preserve and discuss and write about, in our own practices so that those who come after us aren’t left entirely in the dark and are having to reinvent the wheel. I know far too many people–myself included (though less and less as the years go on)–are in “analysis paralysis” over these sorts of practical issues for years in terms of how to proceed with something that they either want to do, or that one of their Deities has asked them to do, and then when they just finally dive in and give it a shot, everything goes just fine (usually!). Trial and error isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, though, but people are so afraid to “experiment” when it comes to such things, and would often rather do nothing than to attempt to do something that may not go to plan or be 100% pre-approved by their Deities. (And divination can be useful in finding that out beforehand, but so many forget even that option is available, or “don’t want to disturb Them” or ask about such things…too often, we defeat ourselves in these matters even independent of other people trying to tear us down and make us go away again!)

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          1. Indeed!

            I suspect all of us have done a thing or two that would fit into this category. One thing I’m rather good at currently–though I hate that such is the case–is disassembling a shrine. Since I’ve had to move 5 times in the last 15 years–during all of which I’ve kept at least one shrine in my home (and sometimes several), ever since I took down the first proper one in Ireland when I moved, I had a formal but also rather simple process of taking each thing off the space, thanking it for its service, securing it for transport, and then deconsecrating the space and/or surface back to mundane usage. It’s always a bit sad to do, and full of memories, but it’s also good because it involves a lot of gratitude, and does bring back all of the wonderful and powerful times and events involved in the space and with the objects concerned.


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