In Euripides’ famous play The Bakchai, the exceptionally wise prophet Teiresias gives the following speech (lines 200-209) to his ivied comrade Kadmos, the former king of Thebes and an émigré from far-off Phoenicia:
To the Gods we mortals are all ignorant.
Those old traditions from our ancestors,
the ones we’ve had as long as time itself,
no argument will ever overthrow,
in spite of subtleties sharp minds invent.
Will someone say I disrespect old age,
if I intend to dance with ivy on my head?
Not so, for the God makes no distinctions—
whether the dancing is for young or old.
He wants to gather honours from us all,
to be praised communally, without division.
These are such important words, for they remind us that all the categories which are so important to humans – age, sex, race, physical ability, etc. – mean nothing to Dionysos, who welcomes all into his wild revels. This radical inclusivity is true not only of his worship in antiquity but can be found in thiasoi and other Bacchic communities today.
And so in that spirit I would like to share some of the contributions that Africans and Black Americans have made over the centuries to the Dionysian tradition. It was difficult to limit myself to just 10 figures or events, but hopefully that will be enough to inspire my readers to dig deeper and uncover other examples, of which there are many.