Hail Semachus and his Daughters!


I was cleaning out my drafts in Gmail where I keep random links, quotations, snippets of peculiar phrases and title ideas for unwritten blog posts when I came across these passages on the obscure Bacchic hero Semachos:

Jerome, The Chronicle B1497
During the 10 years Moses was in charge of the Jewish nation in the desert Deucalion’s son Dionysus traveled abroad. When he arrived in Attica he was received as a guest by Semachus and gave his daughter the pelt of a goat.

Philochorus, fragment 206 (preserved in Stephanus Byzantinus)
Semachidae: a deme of Attica, named after Semachus, who with his daughters received Dionysus as a guest; the priestesses of Dionysus are descended from them. It belongs to the Antiochis tribe, and Philochorus says that the deme is in the district of Epacria.

Wanting to learn more about him and his daughters I hit the Google, turning up this:

Dionysus was welcomed by the women of Semachos’ oikos. His daughter received the gift of a deer skin (nebris), which Karl Kerenyi identified as the bestowal of the rite of maenads in rending limb from limb the animals they sacrificed to Dionysus: “nebrizein also means the rending of an animal.”

They go on to derive his name from a Northwest Semitic loanword represented by the Hebrew šimah, “made to rejoice.” Semachos, as a plural of simchah, “joyous occasion”, appears in the euphemistically titled Talmudic Tractate Semachos, which deals with customs of death and mourning.

Carl Kerenyi adds this fascinating detail:

On a sixth-century vase from Orvieto a man is leading Dionysos toward the host-hero, whose distinction is stressed by an eagle bearing a snake in its beak. Two women making dance movements and two ithyphallic sileni are also present. In all likelihood the scene represents the god’s arrival at the house of Semachos. (pg. 147)

Hmm. An eagle bearing a snake – where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, the coinage of Olbia and Shield of Dionysos.

Anyway, interesting timing that I should (re)discover this man and his daughters during the month of Νεβρίς, with Ἀγριώνια and Ἀλέτιδεια upon the horizon.  

5 thoughts on “Hail Semachus and his Daughters!

        1. I’ll put something together, but you should give teasing this thread out a shot too. Be interesting to see if we end up at the same place, or somewhere else.


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