Search Results for: boreas

Dionysos is a God

A reader commented with regard to my Amazons post that these female warriors seemed so “nasty” and “violent” and so he couldn’t conceive of them being part of the Retinue since Dionysos’ conquest of the East was “peaceful” and “bloodless.”

Oh, have I got news for you buddy.

As it turns out, I’ve had this conversation several times before, most notably with a prominent Tumblrite to which I wrote the following reply. Their response was to delete their account. Hopefully you will not behave in such an histrionic fashion as I’ve enjoyed our exchanges, most especially when you’ve had critical feedback.

To begin with, let me just reiterate a point of supreme importance, which is why I flog it constantly: you cannot derive an accurate understanding of what the ancients did or believed from only a single source.

We have no idea how widely representative such a view may have been or often even what the author’s intent in making it was. What are our source’s biases? Is he describing something contemporary with him or something he thinks happened in the remote past? It’s also important to keep in mind that each community gave a local spin to the myths and were not really bothered when they encountered regional variations, even quite drastic ones. Context is everything when interpreting the ancients.

Now, to bring it back around to your objections — it is true that there are sources that claim Dionysos won a bloodless victory over the East either as a result of his powers of persuasion or when Pan came to his aid and frightened all of his opponents, but this was only ever a minority view.

Classical literature is filled with far more anecdotes such as these:

It is related, anyhow, that Herakles of Egypt and Dionysos after they had overrun the Indian people with their arms, constructed engines of war, and tried to take the place by assault; but the sages, instead of taking the field against them, lay quiet and passive, as it seemed to the enemy; but as soon as the latter approached they were driven off by rockets of fire and thunderbolts which were hurled obliquely from above and fell upon their armour. (Philostratos, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2.33)

Inachos was witness to both, when the heavy bronze pikes of Mykenai resisted the ivy and deadly fennel, when Perseus sickle in hand gave way to Bakchos with his wand, and fled before the fury of Satyrs cyring Euoi; Perseus cast a raging spear, and hit frail Ariadne unarmed instead of Lyaios the warrior. I do not admire Perseus for killing one woman, in her bridal dress still breathing of love. (Nonnos, Dionysiaka 25.104)

On its rich stream has Lydian Pactolus borne thee, leading along its burning banks the golden waters; the Massgetan who mingles blood with milk in his goblets has unstrung his vanquished bow and given up his Getan arrows; the realms of axe-wielding Lycurgus have felt the dominion of Bacchus; the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites, and the nations which Maeotis’ cold water washes, and they on whom the Arcadian constellation looks down from the zenith and the wagons twain. He has subdued the scattered Gelonians; he has wrested their arms form the warrior maidens; with downcast face they fell to earth, those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads. Sacred Cithaeron has flowed with the blood of Ophionian slaughter; the Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame’s very presence, paid homage to Bacchus. (Seneca, Oedipus 401 ff)

And then there’s the fragment from the Greco-Egyptian poet Dionysios’ Bassarika. The fragment begins with the discovery of a spy who has been sent into the camp of Dionysos by the Indian king Deriades. The God orders several of his soldiers to go out and hunt a stag. That’s when the fun starts.

They slew it and flayed it, and stripping off the skin, arrayed the wretched man from head and shoulders down. The new-flayed hide clave to his body, moulded to the flesh; above, the horns gleamed to be seen afar; to one that beheld him, he wanted nothing of the wild beast’s form. Thus had they transformed a man into a counterfeit animal … The Bacchanal God leapt into the midst of the enemy army, where most of all the Kethaians were rushing to the flame of battle. Standing there he cried aloud to Dereiades and the rest: ‘Slaves of women, Indians, consider now this way: to Deriades above all I speak this from knowledge. You shall not, in your present straits, withstand the onslaught of the gleaming wine and escape your evil fate, before in the swift night you tear apart the raw flesh of a living animal and eat it. Behold this tall stag straight of horn, the finest that followed us from holy Hellas, a marvel to behold! Come, hasten to rend it in good conflict for its flesh.’ So he spoke, and they of their own accord were fain to fall upon human flesh, and to appease their boundless desire, smitten by eager madness. And Deriades answered the son of Zeus, saying: ‘Would that I might cut your body limb from limb and swallow the flesh raw ….’

And you know, even the komos of Alexander the Great which helped solidify this legend in the Hellenistic mind, was not without violence and drunken mayhem:

Alexander held games in honor of his victories. He performed costly sacrifices to the Gods and entertained his friends bountifully. While they were feasting and the drinking was far advanced, as they began to be drunken a madness took possession of the minds of the intoxicated guests. At this point one of the women present, Thais by name and Attic by origin, said that for Alexander it would be the finest of all his feats in Asia if he joined them in a triumphal procession, set fire to the palaces, and permitted women’s hands in a minute to extinguish the famed accomplishments of the Persians. This was said to men who were still young and giddy with wine, and so, as would be expected, someone shouted out to form the komos and to light torches, and urged all to take vengeance for the destruction of the Greek temples. Others took up the cry and said that this was a deed worthy of Alexander alone. When the king had caught fire at their words, all leaped up from their couches and passed the word along to form a victory procession in honor of Dionysos. Promptly many torches were gathered. Female musicians were present at the banquet, so the king led them all out for the komos to the sound of voices and flutes and pipes, Thais the courtesan leading the whole performance. She was the first, after the king, to hurl her blazing torch into the palace. As the others all did the same, immediately the entire palace area was consumed, so great was the conflagration. It was most remarkable that the impious act of Xerxes, king of the Persians, against the acropolis at Athens should have been repaid in kind after many years by one woman, a citizen of the land which had suffered it, and in sport.” (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 17.72.1-6)

This should surprise no one. After all the God was hailed by the names Savage, Man-Killer, He Who Tears Apart, He Who Devours Raw Flesh. The ancients understood this about him even if many today have forgotten or would prefer not to contemplate the implications of it.

And of course to do so they must consciously ignore about two-thirds of his mythology.

Lykourgos. Pentheus. Perseus. The daughters of Kadmos. The daughters of Proitos. The daughters of Minyas.

Need I go on?

If these names do not fill you with fear, you should probably crack open a book. Might I suggest you begin with Euripides’ Bakchai? By the end you will see why the playwright refers to him as most tender and most terrible of Gods.

Dionysos is a God of extremes, the paradox personified. He blurs all boundaries and enjoys crossing no line more than the arbitrary one of sexuality. To put it in the modern parlance, Dionysos is the God of genderfuck. He turns brash kings into simpering queens and bored housewives into frenzied soldiers driving back the settled folk of the valley with their deadly ivy-twined spears. Dionysos is soft, sensual, womanly — and also hirsute and hungry, virile as a hundred bulls. He spans everything in between, a whirlwind of form, a clever shape-shifter.

Now hold on to your seat, because this shit’s going to blow your mind.

Dionysos is a God.

Even the smallest God is beyond man’s full comprehension — and Dionysos is immense.

You know what that means? Dionysos is more than just some handsome bearded dude with a crown of ivy, come hither eyes and lips wet with wine.

He may show himself to you like that but he’s not limited to just that one mask, that one form. When you can see a dozen such masks, a hundred simultaneously then you’ll get at something of the truth of what Dionysos is.

But you still won’t know him completely. No mortal possibly can. For Dionysos exists beyond what is known. He is a God of mystery, as all true Gods are.

And art is man’s imperfect means of expressing the ineffable. Art points the way, it alludes and suggests. It can do no more.

When that is understood about art, art is a profound ally to religion. We are sensual creatures — there is nothing wrong with engaging the senses in worship. This makes for the most powerful kind of worship in fact.

But the object is not the subject.

The Gods are more than our conceptions of them.

When you mistake the image for what inspired it, when you accept only the surface reading of a text and go no further — you do a grave disservice to art and to religion.

Yes, the myths are true and what art depicts is real — but don’t stop there. He is more than that, always more than we can imagine. And if you try to box him in you’ll miss the really special stuff about him, the stuff you can only learn by opening yourself up to him completely. And you’ll piss him off. He doesn’t do well in cramped spaces — unless those spaces happen to be bottles.



From what does the place Panhaema on the island of Samos derive its name? Is it because the Amazons sailed from the country of the Ephesians across to Samos when they were endeavouring to escape from Dionysos? But he built boats and crossed over and, joining battle, slew many of them near this place, which the spectators in amazement called Panhaema [‘Allblood.’] because of the vast quantity of blood shed there. (Plutarch, Greek Questions 56)

Pindar, however, it seems to me, did not learn everything about the Goddess, for he says that this sanctuary was founded by the Amazons during their campaign against Athens and Theseus. It is a fact that the women from the Thermodon, as they knew the sanctuary from of old, sacrificed to the Ephesian Goddess both on this occasion and when they had fled from Heracles; some of them earlier still, when they had fled from Dionysos, having come to the sanctuary as suppliants. However, it was not by the Amazons that the sanctuary was founded, but by Koresos, an aboriginal, and Ephesos, who is thought to have been a son of the river Kayster, and from Ephesos the city received its name. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.2.7)

As for Kronos, the myth relates, after his victory he ruled harshly over these regions which had formerly been Ammon’s, and set out with a great force against Nysa and Dionysos. Now Dionysos, on learning both of the reverses suffered by his father and of the uprising of the Titans against himself, gathered soldiers from Nysa, two hundred of whom were foster-brothers of his and were distinguished for their courage and their loyalty to him; and to these he added from neighbouring peoples both the Libyans and the Amazons, regarding the latter of whom we have already observed that it is reputed that they were distinguished for their courage and first of all campaigned beyond the borders of their country and subdued with arms a large part of the inhabited world. These women, they say, were urged on to the alliance especially by Athena, because their zeal for their ideal of life was like her own, seeing that the Amazons clung tenaciously to manly courage and virginity. The force was divided into two parts, the men having Dionysos as their general and the women being under the command of Athena, and coming with their army upon the Titans they joined battle. The struggle having proved sharp and many having fallen on both sides, Kronos finally was wounded and victory lay with Dionysos, who had distinguished himself in the battle. Thereupon the Titans fled to the regions which had once been possessed by Ammon, and Dionysos gathered up a multitude of captives and returned to Nysa. Here, drawing up his force in arms about the prisoners, he brought a formal accusation against the Titans and gave them every reason to suspect that he was going to execute the captives. But when he got them free from the charges and allowed them to make their choice either to join him in his campaign or to go scot free, they all chose to join him, and because their lives had been spared contrary to their expectation they venerated him like a God. Dionysos, then, taking the captives singly and giving them a libation (spondê) of wine, required of all of them an oath that they would join in the campaign without treachery and fight manfully until death; consequently, these captives being the first to be designated as “freed under a truce” (hypospondoi), men of later times, imitating the ceremony which had been performed at that time, speak of the truces in wars as spondai. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 3.71)

Bright glory of the sky, come hither to the prayers which thine own illustrious Thebes, O Bacchus, offers to thee with suppliant hands. Hither turn with favour thy virginal face; with thy star-bright countenance drive away the clouds, the grim threats of Erebus, and greedy fate. Thee it becomes to circle thy locks with flowers of the springtime, thee to cover thy head with Tyrian turban, or thy smooth brow to wreathe with the ivy’s clustering berries; now to fling loose thy lawless-streaming locks, again to bind them in a knot close-drawn; in such guise as when, fearing thy stepdame’s wrath, thou didst grow to manhood with false-seeming limbs, a pretended maiden with golden ringlets, with saffron girdle binding thy garments. So thereafter this soft vesture has pleased thee, folds loose hanging and the long-trailing mantle. Seated in thy golden chariot, thy lions with long trappings covered, all the vast coast of the Orient saw thee, both he who drinks of the Ganges and whoever breaks the ice of snowy Araxes. On an unseemly ass old Silenus attends thee, his swollen temples bound with ivy garlands; while thy wanton initiates lead the mystic revels. (Seneca, Oedipus 405-430)

On its rich stream has Lydian Pactolus borne thee, leading along its burning banks the golden waters; the Massgetan who mingles blood with milk in his goblets has unstrung his vanquished bow and given up his Getan arrows; the realms of axe-wielding Lycurgus have felt the dominion of Bacchus; the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites, and the nations which Maeotis’ cold water washes, and they on whom the Arcadian constellation looks down from the zenith and the wagons twain. He has subdued the scattered Gelonians; he has wrested their arms from the warrior maidens; with downcast face they fell to earth, those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads. Sacred Cithaeron has flowed with the blood of Ophionian slaughter; the Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame’s very presence, paid homage to Bacchus. (Seneca, Oedipus 467-486)

A wind brought me from Troy to the Kikonians

So, you know my whole theory that Freyja is Kírkē and Óðr is Odysseus, who has forgotten that he is Dionysos?

Well, I found something that could be interpreted as further confirmation.

And I don’t mean this statue of a Bacchic Freyja whose staff is topped by a little dancing Satyr, which Tetra recently posted about:


Though that is pretty fucking cool.

Our household actually has one of these, though I use a different eidolon in my personal devotional practice. My mouth hung open like a gasping fish (or dolphin) when I first saw it.

No, what I’m referring to is a passage from George Hinge’s Dionysos and Herakles in Scythia ‒ The Eschatological String of Herodotos’ Book 4, which I was rereading to mine for ideas for the play. Specifically, this passage:

A fragment of a black-glazed kylix found in Olbia carries the very beginning of Odysseus’ own tale in the Odyssey (9.39): Ἰλιο[θεν] µε φ[ερων] ἄνεµ[ος Κικ]ονεσσι [πελ]ασσεν “a wind brought me from Troy to the Kikonians” (= SEG XXX, 933); given that the concept of the wind carrying the soul to and fro was ascribed to Orpheus (Arist. De an. 410b = Orph. fr. 27 Kern), and the Thracian Kikonians and their king Ismaros were connected not only with wine (Od. 9.196-7, Archil. fr. 2.2 West), but also with Dionysos (cf. Ps.-Hes. fr.238 Merkelbach-West), the inscription may be yet another testimony to the character of the Olbian cult of Dionysos.

The Winds or Anemoi were really important in certain strains of Orphism, as Renaud Gagné makes clear in Winds and Ancestors: The Physika of Orpheus. Ditto the more Apollonian/Pythagorean side of the tradition, as Leonid Zhmud shows in Pythagoras’ Northern Connections: Zalmoxis, Abaris, Aristeas (and you yourself may have noticed with how frequently Boreas in particular has been showing up.)

Troy, by the way, is the Labyrinth – and labyrinths are important both in Russia and Scandinavia. Indeed, Snorri Sturluson relates in the Prologue to the Prose Edda (3-4) that the Æsir were originally neighbors and allies of the Trojans: 

Near the earth’s centre was made that goodliest of homes and haunts that ever have been, which is called Troy, even that which we call Turkland. This abode was much more gloriously made than others, and fashioned with more skill of craftsmanship in manifold wise, both in luxury and in the wealth which was there in abundance. There were twelve kingdoms and one High King, and many sovereignties belonged to each kingdom; in the stronghold were twelve chieftains. These chieftains were in every manly part greatly above other men that have ever been in the world. One king among them was called Múnón or Mennón; and he was wedded to the daughter of the High King Priam, her who was called Tróán; they had a child named Trór, whom we call Thor. He was fostered in Thrace by a certain war-duke called Lóríkus; but when he was ten winters old he took unto him the weapons of his father. He was as goodly to look upon, when he came among other men, as the ivory that is inlaid in oak; his hair was fairer than gold. When he was twelve winters old he had his full measure of strength; then he lifted clear of the earth ten bear-skins all at one time; and then he slew Duke Lóríkus, his foster-father, and with him his wife Lórá, or Glórá, and took into his own hands the realm of Thrace, which we call Thrúdheim. Then he went forth far and wide over the lands, and sought out every quarter of the earth, overcoming alone all berserks and giants, and one dragon, greatest of all dragons, and many beasts. In the northern half of his kingdom he found the prophetess that is called Síbil, whom we call Sif, and wedded her. The lineage of Sif I cannot tell; she was fairest of all women, and her hair was like gold. […] He who is named Vóden, whom we call Odin: he was a man far-famed for wisdom and every accomplishment. His wife was Frígídá, whom we call Frigg. Odin had second sight, and his wife also; and from their foreknowledge he found that his name should be exalted in the northern part of the world and glorified above the fame of all other kings. Therefore, he made ready to journey out of Turkland, and was accompanied by a great multitude of people, young folk and old, men and women; and they had with them much goods of great price. And wherever they went over the lands of the earth, many glorious things were spoken of them, so that they were held more like gods than men. They made no end to their journeying till they were come north into the land that is now called Saxland; there Odin tarried for a long space, and took the land into his own hand, far and wide.

Which may be where they first met Óðrysseus, before he was carried away by a terrible storm.

Possibly even a Typhoon.

Bearer of luck of the mother

I just found something really cool.

A bone tablet was discovered on Berezan Island where the Black Sea and the Dneiper meet, a short distance from Olbia. It contains a cult hymn to Apollon with some unusual epithets, a sequence of mystical numbers, and most importantly – something that appears to be actual musical notation!

Translation of the text:

2 A A A A À A A A A
3 Bearer of victory of Boreas (the North wind)
4 Seven – She-wolf without strength,
5 Seventy – Mighty, powerful lion,
6 Seven hundred – Most loved Bowbearer,
7 Mighty gift – a Healer,
8 Seven thousand – Wise dolphin.
9 Blessed peace!
10 I bless the City!
11 There I bear remembrance to Leto.
12 Seven
13 To Apollo,
14 The Didymaian,
15 The Milesian.
16 Bearer of luck of the mother (or the motherland),
17 Bearer of victory of Boreas (the North wind).
18 Didym(a)

Here’s an account of a presentation that Anna Boshnakova gave on it, and here’s a more in depth paper she wrote.

And if you’re interested in Apollon’s presence in the region, check out Patrick Bisaillon’s The cult of Apollo in the Milesian colonies along the coast of the Black Sea: an inventory of archaeological data.

Speaking of fire

One of the most important documents we have within Bacchic Orphism are a series of bone tablets inscribed with enigmatic phrases and symbols.

SEG 28.659:
Life. Death. Life. Truth. Zagreus. Dionysos. Orphikoi.

SEG 28.660:
Peace. War. Truth. Lie. Dionysos

SEG 28.661:
Dionysos. Truth. Body. Soul.

These were likely produced by an Olbian Orpheotelest and mantis who worked out of the temple of Hermes and Aphrodite by the name of Pharnabazos, known primarily because of a magical duel he had with Aristotles, a rival diviner of Hermes (and formerly of Athene) whose territory was probably near the temple of Demeter. Uniquely the defixiones both men employed against their opponent have come to light

Well, there’s another text that was made by thiasitai Boreikoi (or members of the Society of Apollo Boreas) which I mentioned here. Rather than being written on bone it’s a circular inscription engraved on the outer and inner edges of a black lacquer vase stand.

Scholars have proposed two different readings of the text, SEG 58:772:

Bios Bios, Apollon Apollon, Helios Helios, Kosmos Kosmos, Phos Phos.


Apollon Helios, Helios Kosmos, Kosmos Phos, Phos Bios, Bios Apollon.

For those not familiar the terms mean:

Apollon = “God of wolves, prophecy, fire, disease and healing”
Bios = “Life”
Helios = “Sun”
Kosmos = “Universe” or “Order”
Phos = “Light”

Both readings have deep significance. The first seems to be describing a progressive sequence of concepts or experiences, while in the second they weave in and out of each other as in a dance. I like the second better for reflection, and the first for chanting. I’m undecided whether the Greek or English is more effective.

So far I’ve just been using it as a cleansing mantra, but I suspect it may end up becoming as potent a tool as the Oration of Aristides – if I can unlock its true meaning, that is.

Oh, and one of the symbols found on a couple of the bone tablets is a Z-like shape. Various suggestions for what the symbol signifies have been put forth: snake, lightning bolt, a representation of the flow of energy or a meandering journey through the Labyrinth. I tend to accept all of these and also associate it with a pruning-knife or wolfsangel

Thoughts on the Olbian calendar

Assuming that we’re given the months in their proper order the Olbian calendar breaks down as follows:

Taureon: April/May
Thargelion: May/June
Kalamaion: June/July
Panemos: July/August
Metageitnion: August/September
Boedromion: September/October
Kuanepsion: October/November
Apatourion: November/December
Poseideon: December/January
Leneon: January/February
Anthesterion: February/March
Artemision: March/April

Andokides does not provide a name for the intercalary month; if I were going to use this instead of the Bakcheion calendar I’d call it “Lykeion.” 

My reasoning for this: 

  • Since there is a Bull Month (Taureon) it’s only fitting to have a Wolf Month. 
  • Apollon doesn’t have as much representation on the calendar as he probably should, considering his prominence in the Olbian pantheon. He appears on the city’s coinage, he’s mentioned in city treaties, the majority of the temples that have been uncovered thus far belong to him, he had several distinct forms i.e. Apollo Delphinios (of Delphi), Apollo Ietros (Healer), Apollo Neomenios (he who Opens the Month), Apollo Boreas (of the North Wind) etc, and there were several private religious associations dedicated to him – including one with possible Orphic ties.
  • It just feels right. 

Most of the names are familiar from other Greek calendars, but Kalamaion and Kúanepsion were new to me;  I’m uncertain of their meaning. 

There is a Púanepsion in the Attic calendar, from the Púanopsia (Bean-stewing) festival Theseus instituted in fulfillment of a vow he swore to Apollon should he prove victorious against the Minotaur. It is the seventh month. 

However, I checked the Greek and it is clearly a Kappa heading that word. Assuming that the person chiseling the inscription didn’t just fuck things up Kúanepsion could come from kúanos (κῠᾰνος) “dark blue” which, ironically enough, Robert Beekes’ Etymological Dictionary of Greek says probably derives from Hittite kuwannan (precious stone, copper, blue), likely from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwey- (to shine, white, light; compare *ḱweytós, white.) Ironic because there’s that whole debate about whether the ancients could even see blue. 

This begs the question of why they’d name one of their months Dark Blue – unless it’s from Kyanê (Κυανη), one of the Sicilian Nymphs who were part of Kore’s maiden companions that were out collecting flowers with her when the abduction occured:  

A great fountain was made sacred to Persephone in the territory of Syrakousa and given the name Kyane or ‘Azure Font.’ For the myth relates that it was near Syrakousa that Plouton effected the rape of Kore and took her away in his chariot, and that after cleaving the earth asunder he himself descended into Haides, taking along with him the bride whom he had seized, and that he caused the fountain named Kyane to gush forth, near which the Syrakousans each year hold a notable festive gathering; and private individuals offer the lesser victims, but when the ceremony is on behalf of the community, bulls are plunged in the pool, this manner of sacrifice having been commanded by Herakles on the occasion when he made the circuit of all Sicily, while driving off the cattle of Geryones. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 5.2.3)

While Herakles as the progenitor of the Skythians was certainly popular in the region and there was a temple to the Eleusinian deities at Olbia, the Azure Font is a local Syracusan addition to Persephone’s story. Olbia had extensive trade relations with a number of cities in Magna Graecia so it’s entirely possible that they were aware of the myth, but why enshrine it in their calendar? 

I’m not sure what else it could be though. 

As for Kalamaion only a couple things occur to me. 

Perhaps it honors the Epiriote River God Kalamas who flows into the Ionian Sea – but what significance would that have to a Milesian colony all the way over in the Ukraine?

Now the Kala- part could come from kalós (καλός) meaning:

  • beautiful, lovely
  • good, quality, useful
  • right, moral, virtuous, noble

I don’t know all the rules of declension and word formation so I’m not sure if that’s sufficient to explain the name, but the second half reminds me of Μαῖα the mother of Hermes as well as μαία meaning nurse or midwife. 

Comparing the Olbian calendar to others in the Greek world it probably comes the closest to the Attic, despite beginning shortly after the Spring Equinox whereas in Athens this happened post Summer Solstice. 

Taureon = Mounichion*
Thargelion = Thargelion
Kalamaion = Skiraphorion
Panemos = Hekatombaion
Metageitnion = Metageitnion
Boedromion = Boidromion
Kuanepsion = Puanepsion
Apatourion = Maimakterion
Poseideon = Poseideon
Leneon = Gamelion*
Anthesterion = Anthesterion
Artemision = Elaphebolion*

I’ve bolded matching months and put asterisks on ones with possible equivalences.

Mounichion, for instance, is the month in which the Mounichia took place. The festival takes its name from an epiklesis of Artemis associated with a temple in the Piraeus, Athens’ famous harbour district. The festival both celebrated the birthday of the Goddess and commemorated the Battle of Salamis, during which she favorably intervened on behalf of the Athenians. There was a procession in which young girls who played the part of Bears and served the Goddess at her sanctuary in Brauron took part. Cakes encircled with candles and other sacrifices were given on this occasion. 

While Taureon most likely means the Month of the Bull (as it does in other calendars) and honors Dionysos whose bull form was especially prominent in Asia Minor (and the Pontic region in particular) it could also refer to the Taurike, a region along the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula whose capital Tauris was home to a particularly savage form of Artemis (or her Skythian equivalent) which engaged in human sacrifice. Iphigéneia became her high priestess, after nearly being sacrificed herself at Aulis. Orestes rescues his sister, and is directed to steal the xoanon or primitive wooden idol of Artemis and take it to the town of Halae, where he is to build a temple for Artemis Tauropolos (Bull-slayer.) The xoanon either ends up in Sparta where it is worshiped with rites of bloody flagellation as Artemis Orthia or Italy where the Rex Nemorensis or King of the Grove served her until his successor came along and murdered him. Iphigéneia ended her days at the Brauron sanctuary where she taught the maidens the mysteries of the Bear Dance. 

Although in Attica the seventh month is Gamelion, after the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) of Zeus and Hera, in other parts of Greece the period of January/February (particularly in Asia Minor) is called some variation of Lenaeon from the Lenaia festival. 

Although not called Artemision as in Olbia, the Attic Elaphebolion honors Artemis the Deer Slayer at whose festival the Elaphebolia cakes in the shape of deer were offered. This either celebrated her hunting prowess, the transformation of Iphigéneia into a deer to save her from Agamemnon’s blade or the defeat of the Thessalians by Athens and Phokis thanks to another miraculous intervention by Artemis.

Panemos and its dialectical variations are found on the calendars of Aetolia, Argolis, Boiotia, Epidauris, Laconia, Rhodes. Sicily, Thessaly and the Makedonian-derived systems, among others. 

Apatourion has two possible origins. Either from the Apatouria festival, which the Wiley Online Library describes as follows:

The Apatouria, an important festival celebrated by Ionians, including Athenians, was for Herodotus one of two criteria of Ionian identity (Hdt. 1.147). In Athens the Apatouria was the central element in the ritual calendar of the phratries, the kinship organizations crucial for determining Athenian citizenship. The three‐day festival occurred in the autumn in the month Pyanepsion and was celebrated at the separate phratry shrines throughout Attica. There was a feast on the first day, and a sacrifice to Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria on the second. On the third day, fathers would introduce their sons for admission to the phratry (and, in effect, to Athenian citizenship). In the normal course of events this occurred during a child’s first few years. Our sources suggest that there were various athletic and intellectual literary competitions over the three days in which the children of the phrateres could demonstrate their merit. Ancient scholarship links the Apatouria to the myth of the ritual combat between the Athenian Melanthos (the “dark one”) and the Boiotian Xanthos (the “fair one”) for the kingship of Attica, which Melanthos won through a trick (apate) (Hellanikos FGrH 4 F23). Although some modern scholars have therefore seen a connection to the ephebes and to rites of passage involving social inversion, the rituals of the festival have no apparent connection to the narrative of the myth, and most modern scholars now link the Apatouria to “the control, maintenance, and affirmation of kinship and of membership in society at every level” (Lambert 1993: 151).

This trick or apate was played by none other than Dionysos:

The Athenians had a war on against the Boiotians over Kelainai, which was a place in their borderlands. Xanthios, a Boiotian, challenged the Athenian king, Thymoites to a fight. When he did not accept, Melanthos, an expatriate Messenian from the stock of Periklymenos the son of Neleus, stood up to fight for the kingdom. While they were engaged in single combat, someone wearing a black goat-skin cape appeared to Melanthos from behind Xanthios. So Melanthos said that it was not right to come two against one. Xanthios turned round and Melanthos smote and killed him. And from this was generated both the festival Apatouria and ‘of the Black Aigis’ as an epithet of Dionysos. (Suidas s.v. Apatouria)

However, it’s equally possible that the name comes from the epiklesis Mistress of Apatouron borne by Aphrodite Ourania in the Bosporus, for which Strabo gives the following aition:   

There is also in Phanagoreia a notable temple of Aphrodite Apaturus. Critics derive the etymology of the epithet of the Goddess by adducing a certain myth, according to which the Giants attacked the Goddess there; but she called upon Herakles for help and hid him in a cave, and then, admitting the Giants one by one, gave them over to Herakles to be murdered through “treachery.” (11.2.10)

For more on this Goddess, check out Yulia Ustinova’s Aphrodite Ourania of the Bosporus: The Great Goddess of a Frontier Pantheon.

Orphism is not misogynistic

People say some really stupid shit.

For instance, this scholar I’m reading actually asserted that Orphism was misogynistic!

Now, Plato in the Republic (10.620a) does have Er relate that Orpheus so loathed women that he chose to come back as a swan in order to not have to crawl through a vagina a second time. Er recounts this as part of a near-death experience during which his brain was no doubt deprived of oxygen for a span of time, so we shouldn’t necessarily put a lot of weight behind these words.

Nor is it necessary to accept the story Phanokles tells about Orpheus’ death:

Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, loved Calaïs, the son of Boreas, with all his heart and often he would sit in the shady groves singing his heart’s desire; nor was his spirit at peace, but always his soul was consumed with sleepless cares as he gazed on fresh Calaïs. But the Bistonian women of evil devices killed Orpheus, having poured about him, their keen-edged swords sharpened, because he was the first to reveal male loves among the Thracians and did not recommend love of women. The women cut off his head with their bronze and straightaway they threw it in the sea with his Thracian lyre of tortoiseshell, fastening them together with a nail, so that both would be borne on the sea, drenched by the grey waves. The hoary sea brought them to land on holy Lesbos […] and thus the lyre’s clear ring held sway over the sea and the islands and the sea-soaked shores, where the men gave the clear-sounding head of Orpheus its funeral rites, and in the tomb they put the clear lyre, which used to persuade even dumb rocks and the hateful water of Phorcys. From that day on, songs and lovely lyre-playing have held sway over the island and it is the most songful of all islands. As for the warlike Thracian men, when they had learned the women’s savage deeds and dire grief had sunk into them all, they began the custom of tattooing their wives, so that having on their flesh signs of dark blue, they would not forget their hateful murder. And even now, the women pay reparations to the dead Orpheus because of that sin. (fragment preserved in Stobaeus, Eclogae 20.2.47, IV 461-2)

When Orpheus had almost as many deaths as Dionysos. After all, he was immolated by heavenly fire:

Some say that Orpheus came to his end by being struck by a thunderbolt, hurled at him by the god because he revealed sayings in the mysteries to men who had not heard them before. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.6)

Murdered by an angry mob for being a charlatan:

At the base of Olympus is the city of Dium, near which lies the village of Pimpleia. Here lived Orpheus, the Ciconian, it is said — a wizard who at first collected money from his music, together with his soothsaying and his celebration of the orgies connected with the mystic initiatory rites, but soon afterwards thought himself worthy of still greater things and procured for himself a throng of followers and power. Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him. And near here, also, is Leibethra. (Strabo, Geography 7.7)

And committed suicide over the loss of his wife:

But by others it is said that when his wife died before him, he went to Aornum in Thesprotia on her account. For there was an ancient oracle of the dead there. And thinking that the soul of Eurydice was following him, and being deprived of her when he turned around, he committed suicide because of his grief. The Thracians say that the nightingales who have their nests on the tomb of Orpheus sing more sweetly and loudly. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.6)

To name just a few.

In fact there was so much confusion around his death that Hyginus wasn’t sure if Orpheus was killed in punishment by Dionysos:

The Lyre was put among the constellations for the following reason, as Eratosthenes says. Made at first by Mercury from a tortoise shell, it was given to Orpheus, son of Calliope and Oeagrus, who was passionately devoted to music. It is thought that by his skill he could charm even wild beasts to listen. When, grieving for his wife Eurydice, he descended to the Lower World, he praised the children of the gods in his song, all except Father Liber; him he overlooked and forgot, as Oeneus did Diana in sacrifice. Afterwards, then, when Orpheus was taking delight in song, seated, as many say, on Mt. Olympus, which separates Macedonia from Thrace, or on Pangaeum, as Eratosthenes says, Liber is said to have roused the Bacchanals against him. They slew him and dismembered his body. But others say that this happened because he had looked on the rites of Liber. The Muses gathered the scattered limbs and gave them burial, and as the greatest favour they could confer, they put as a memorial his lyre, pictured with stars, among the constellations. Apollo and Jove consented, for Orpheus had praised Apollo highly, and Jupiter granted this favour to his daughter. (Astronomica 1.2)

Or Aphrodite:

Some also have said that Venus and Proserpina came to Jove for his decision, asking him to which of them he would grant Adonis. Calliope, the judge appointed by Jove, decided that each should posses him half of the year. But Venus, angry because she had not been granted what she thought was her right, stirred the women in Thrace by love, each to seek Orpheus for herself, so that they tore him limb from limb. His head, carried down from the mountain into the sea, was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos. It was taken up and buried by the people of Lesbos, and in return for this kindness, they have the reputation of being exceedingly skilled in the art of music. The lyre, as we have said, was put by the Muses among the stars. (Astronomica 2.7)

Therefore I see no point in privileging this one legend above the others, especially when it is so violently in opposition to Orpheus’ well-established preference for the feminine. After all it was for love of his wife that he (successfully, in some accounts) harrowed hell:

Such was she whom the dear son of Oeagros, armed only with the lyre, brought back from Haides, even the Thracian Agriope. Aye, he sailed to that evil and inexorable place where Charon drags into the common barque the souls of the departed; and over the lake he shouts afar, as it pours its flood from out the tall reeds. Yet Orpheus, though girded for the journey all alone, dared to sound his lyre beside the wave, and he won over gods of every shape; even the lawless Kokytos he saw, raging beneath his banks; and he flinched not before the gaze of the hound most dread, his voice baying forth angry fire, with fire his cruel eye gleaming, an eye that on triple heads bore terror. Whence, by his song, Orpheus persuaded the mighty lords that Agriope should recover the gentle breath of life. Nor did the son of the Moon, Mousaios, master of the Graces, cause Antiope to go without her due of honour. And she, beside Eleusis’ strand, expounded to the initiates the loud, sacred voice of mystic oracles, as she duly escorted the priest through the Rarian plain to honour Demeter. And she is known even in Hades. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 597a)

He recognized Medeia as a colleague and partnered with her in certain necromantic operations:

After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies. They heard me quickly, and breaking forth from the caverns of the gloomy abyss, Tisiphone, Allecto, and divine Megaira arrived, brandishing the light of death in their dry pine torches. Suddenly the pit blazed up, and the deadly fire crackled, and the unclean flame sent high its smoke. At once, on the far side of the fire, the terrible, fearful, savage goddesses arose. One had a body of iron. The dead call her Pandora. With her came one who takes on various shapes, having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hecate of Tartarus. From her left shoulder leapt a horse with a long mane. On her right should there could be seen a dog with a maddened face. The middle head had the shape of a lion [or snake] of wild form. In her hand she held a well-hilted sword. Pandora and Hecate circled the pit, moving this way and that, and the Furies leapt with them. Suddenly the wooden guardian statue of Artemis dropped its torches from its hands and raised its eyes to heaven. Her canine companions fawned. The bolts of the silver bars were loosened, and the beautiful gates of the thick walls opened; and the sacred grove within came into view. I crossed the threshold. (Orphic Argonautika 122ff)

He founded mysteries for the Great Mother Rheia:

Jason supplicated the goddess with many prayers to turn away the tempest, as he poured libations on the blazing sacrifices. At the same time, upon Orpheus’ command, the young men leapt as they danced the dance-in-armor and beat their shields with their swords, so that any ill-omened cry of grief, which the people were still sending up in lament for their king, would be lost in the air. Since then, the Phrygians have always propitiated Rhea with rhombus and tambourine. The amenable goddess evidently paid heed to their holy sacrifices, for fitting signs appeared. (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 1.1132–1141)

And placated the nymphs whose homes had been destroyed by pollution:

The women instantly turned to dust and earth there on the spot. Orpheus recognized the divine portent and for his comrades’ sake sought to comfort the nymphs with prayers. “O goddesses beautiful and kind, be gracious, O queens whether you are counted among the heavenly goddesses or those under the earth, or are called solitary nymphs, come, O nymphs, holy offspring of Ocean, and appear before our longing eyes and show us either some flow of water from a rock or some sacred stream gushing from the ground, goddesses, with which we may relieve our endlessly burning thirst.” (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.1408–1418)

He even helped cure a group of women who were suffering from a violent affliction of madness:

In Pieria frenzied female worshipers of Dionysos were tearing apart the bodies of sheep and goats and performing many other violent acts; they turned to the mountains to spend their days there. When they failed to return to their homes, the townspeople, fearing for the safety of their wives and daughters, summoned Orpheus and asked him to devise a plan to get the women down from the mountain. Orpheus performed appropriate sacrificial rites to the god Dionysos and then by playing his lyre led the frenzied Bacchants down from the mountain. (Palaiphatos, Peri Apiston 33)

In fact women were among those who composed inspired verse under his name, such as Arignote:

A Samian woman; student of Pythagoras and Theano and a great philosopher in her own right. She composed the following: Bakchica, which is about the mysteries of Demeter; and also a Hieros Logos and the Teletai of Dionysos, among other philosophical works. (Suidas s.v. Arignote)

And there were female Orpheotelestai as both Plato:

There were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these: mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one’s life in the utmost holiness. ‘For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again; from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time men call them sainted heroes.’ (Meno 81a)

And Athanasius of Alexandria attest:

Well, an old woman, for twenty mites or a pint of wine will spin you an Orphic spell. (cod. Reg. 1993 fr. 317)

Orpheus’ name was even associated with female-centric mystic rites in Makedonia:

All the women of these parts were addicted to the Orphic rites and the orgies of Dionysus from very ancient times (being called Klodones and Mimallones), and imitated in many ways the practices of the Edonian women and the Thracian women about Mount Haemus, from whom, as it would seem, the word threskeuein came to be applied to the celebration of extravagant and superstitious ceremonies. Now Olympias, who affected these divine possessions more zealously than other women, and carried out these divine inspirations in wilder fashion, used to provide the revelling companies with great tame serpents, which would often lift their heads from out the ivy and the mystic winnowing baskets, or coil themselves about the wands and garlands of the women, thus terrifying the men. (Plutarch, Life of Alexander 2.1.6)

And Attica:

When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. (Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man)

On attaining manhood, you abetted your mother in her initiations and the other rituals, and read aloud from the cultic writings. At night, you mixed the libations, purified the initiates, and dressed them in fawnskins. You cleansed them off with clay and cornhusks, and raising them up from the purification, you led the chant, ‘The evil I flee, the better I find.’ And it was your pride that no one ever emitted that holy ululation so powerfully as yourself. I can well believe it! When you hear the stentorian tones of the orator, can you doubt that the ejaculations of the acolyte were simply magnificent? In the daylight, you led the fine thiasos through the streets, wearing their garlands of fennel and white poplar. You rubbed the fat-cheeked snakes and swung them above your head crying ‘Euoi Saboi’ and dancing to the tune of hues attes, attes hues. Old women hailed you ‘Leader’, ‘mysteries instructor’, ‘ivy-bearer’, ‘liknon carrier’, and the like. (Demosthenes, On the Crown 259-60)

And Rome:

The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good, whom the Greeks call the Women’s Goddess. The Phrygians say that this goddess originated with them, and that she was the mother of their king Midas. The Romans say that she was a Dryad nymph who married Faunus, and the Greeks say that she was the Unnameable One among the mothers of Dionysos. For this reason the women who celebrate her rites cover their tents with vine-branches, and a sacred serpent sits beside the goddess on her throne, as in the myth. It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony. (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 93)

In fact, a significant number of the Bacchic Orphic gold lamellae were found in graves belonging to women or inscribed with a woman’s name, such as this one from Rome:

A: I come pure from the pure, Queen of the Underworld, Eukles and Eubouleus, noble child of Zeus! I have this gift of Memory, prized by men!
B: Caecilia Secundina, come, made divine by the Law!

If Orpheus had a “contempt for women and their realm” he sure did a good job of hiding it. 

Some of our Bacchic Martyrs


‘All round the ship they leapt in showers of splashing spray. Time after time they surfaced and fell back into the sea, playing like dancers, frolicking about in fun, wide nostrils taking in the sea to flow it out again. Of the whole twenty (that was the crew she carried) I alone remained. As I stood trembling, cold with fear, almost out of my wits, the god spoke words of comfort: “Cast your fear aside. Sail on to Dia.” ‘Landing there, I joined his cult and am now a faithful follower of Bacchus.’ ‘We’ve listened to this rigmarole,’ said Pentheus, ‘To give our anger time to lose its force. Away with him, you slaves! Rush him away! Rack him with fiendish tortures till he dies and send him down to the black night of Stygia.’ So there and then Acoetes was hauled off and locked in a strong cell. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.572)

The Bakchai of Southern Italy

But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that because the lawsuits and property of many persons were going to ruin, the praetors, Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius, were obliged, under the direction of the senate, to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. The same deserted state of the law-courts, since the persons, against whom charges were brought, did not appear to answer, nor could be found in Rome, necessitated the consuls to make a circuit of the country towns, and there to make their inquisitions and hold the trials. Those who, as it appeared, had been only initiated, and had made after the priest, and in the most solemn form, the prescribed imprecations, in which the accursed conspiracy for the perpetration of every crime and lust was contained, but who had not themselves committed, or compelled others to commit, any of those acts to which they were bound by the oath—all such they left in prison. But those who had forcibly committed personal defilements or murders, or were stained with the guilt of false evidence, counterfeit seals, forged wills, or other frauds, all these they punished with death. A greater number were executed than thrown into prison; indeed, the multitude of men and women who suffered in both ways, was very considerable. The consuls delivered the women, who were condemned, to their relations, or to those under whose guardianship they were, that they might inflict the punishment in private; if there did not appear any proper person of the kind to execute the sentence, the punishment was inflicted in public. A charge was then given to demolish all the places where the Bacchanalians had held their meetings; first in Rome, and then throughout all Italy; excepting those wherein should be found some ancient altar or consecrated statue. With regard to the future, the senate passed a decree, “that no Bacchanalian rites should be celebrated in Rome or in Italy;” and ordering that, “in case any person should believe some such kind of worship incumbent upon him, and necessary; and that he could not, without offence to religion, and incurring guilt, omit it, he should represent this to the city praetor, and the praetor should lay the business before the senate. If permission were granted by the senate, when not less than one hundred members were present, then he might perform those rites, provided that no more than five persons should be present at the sacrifice, and that they should have no common stock of money, nor any president of the ceremonies, nor priest.” (Livy, History of Rome 34.18)


This tomb they say belongs to the maenad Chorea. She was one of the women who joined Dionysos in his expedition against Argos, and Perseus, being victorious in the battle, put most of the women to the sword. To the rest they gave a common grave, but to Chorea they gave burial apart because of her high rank. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.20.4)

The Comedian

One day, when public games were being celebrated and the theatre was filled with Roman spectators, they slew a comedian who expressed annoyance on the stage, on the pretext that he had not properly fulfilled his role. The whole theatre was filled with disorder and terror, when fortune brought onto the scene a satirical character appropriate to the circumstances. His name was Sannio, and he was of Latin origin. He was a very clever clown, who excited laughter not only by his words, but even when he was silent by the different poses of his body; there was something appealing about him, so that he enjoyed a high reputation in the theatres of Rome. The Picentines, wishing to deprive the Romans of the entertainment given by this humorous actor, determined to kill him. Sannio, informed of the fate that awaited him, stepped onto the stage where the comedian had just been murdered, and, addressing the audience, he said, “My spectators, the omens are favourable! May this evil turn into good fortune! I’m not a Roman, and I’m subject to the fasces just like you. I travel throughout Italy, searching for favours by making people laugh and giving pleasure. So spare the swallow, which the gods allow to nest safely in all your houses, for it is not fair to do anything that would make you upset.” The jester continued to speak with many other humorous remarks that amused them, and so by appeasing the crowd he freed himself from danger. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 37.12)


Amphion and Zethos put Dirce to death by binding her to an untamed bull; by the kindness of Liber, whose votary she was, on Mount Cithaeron a spring was formed from her body, which was called Dirce. (Hyginus, Fabulae 7)


Icarius’ dog returned to his daughter, Erigone; she followed his tracks and, when she found her father’s corpse, she ended her life with a noose. Through the mercy of the gods she was restored to life again among the constellations; men call her Virgo. That dog was also placed among the stars. But after some time such a sickness was sent upon the Athenians that their maidens were driven by a certain madness to hang themselves. The oracle responded that this pestilence could be stopped if the corpses of Erigone and Icarius were sought again. These were found nowhere after being sought for a long time. Then, to show their devotedness, and to appear to seek them in another element, the Athenians hung rope from trees. Holding on to this rope, the men were tossed here and there so that they seemed to seek the corpses in the air. But since most were falling from the trees, they decided to make shapes in the likeness of their own faces and hang these in place of themselves. Hence, little masks are called oscilla because in them faces oscillate, that is, move. (The First Vatican Mythographer 19)

The Haliai

Before the temple of Hera is a grave of women. They were killed in a battle against the Argives under Perseus, having come from the Aegean Islands to help Dionysos in war; for which reason they are surnamed the Women of the Sea. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.22.1)


When Father Liber went out to visit men in order to demonstrate the sweetness and pleasantness of his fruit, he came to the generous hospitality of Icarius and Erigone. To them he gave a skin full of wine as a gift and bade them spread the use of it in all the other lands. Loading a wagon, Icarius with his daughter Erigone and a dog Maera came to shepherds in the land of Attica, and showed them the kind of sweetness wine had. The shepherds, made drunk by drinking immoderately, collapsed, and thinking that Icarius had given them some bad medicine, killed him with clubs. (Hyginus, Fabulae 130) When Father Liber went out to visit men in order to demonstrate the sweetness and pleasantness of his fruit, he came to the generous hospitality of Icarius and Erigone. To them he gave a skin full of wine as a gift and bade them spread the use of it in all the other lands. Loading a wagon, Icarius with his daughter Erigone and a dog Maera came to shepherds in the land of Attica, and showed them the kind of sweetness wine had. The shepherds, made drunk by drinking immoderately, collapsed, and thinking that Icarius had given them some bad medicine, killed him with clubs. (Hyginus, Fabulae 130)

Ino and Melikertes

At the proper time Zeus loosened the stitches and gave birth to Dionysos, whom he entrusted to Hermes. Hermes took him to Ino and Athamas, and persuaded them to bring him up as a girl. Incensed, Hera inflicted madness on them, that Athamas stalked and slew his elder son Learchos on the conviction that he was a dear, while Ino threw Melikertes into a basin of boiling water, and then, carrying both the basin and the corpse of the boy, she jumped to the bottom of the sea. Now she is called Leukothea, and her son is Palaimon: these names they receive from those who sail, for they help sailors beset by storms. Also, the Isthmian games were established by Sisyphos in honor of Melikertes. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheca 3.26-29)


And those called the Boukoloi created a revolt in Egypt and joined with the other Egyptians led by the priest Isidoros. First, in the cloaks of women, they tricked the centurion since they appeared to be the women of the Boukoloi approaching to give him money for their men, and they struck him down. His companion they sacrificed swearing an oath on his entrails and then eating them. Of these men Isidoros was the bravest. Then, when they defeated the Romans in battle, they advanced towards Alexandria and would have reached there had not Cassius been sent against them from Syria and contrived to upset their unity and divide them from each other, for they were too many and too desperate for him to dare to come against them all together. And so he subdued them when they grew divided. (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXXII 4)

The Jews of Ptolemais and the neighboring Greek cities

At the monthly celebration of the King’s birthday people were driven by harsh compulsion to partake of the sacrifices, and when a festival of Dionysos was celebrated, they were forced to wear ivy wreaths and walk in the Dionysiac procession. At the suggestion of the people of Ptolemais a decree was issued to the neighbouring Greek cities, enforcing the same conduct on the Jews there, obliging them to share in the sacrificial meals, and ordering the execution of those who did not choose to conform to Greek customs. (2Maccabees 6)


About this time, in Easter week, the parish priest of Inverkeithing, named John, revived the profane rites of Priapus, collecting young girls from the villages, and compelling them to dance in circles to the honour of Father Bacchus. When he had these females in a troop, out of sheer wantonness, he led the dance, carrying in front on a pole a representation of the human organs of reproduction, and singing and dancing himself like a mime, he viewed them all and stirred them to lust by filthy language. Those who held respectable matrimony in honour were scandalised by such a shameless performance, although they respected the parson because of the dignity of his rank. If anybody remonstrated kindly with him, the priest became worse than before, violently reviling him. [Note: he was murdered by a Christian mob but I for some reason didn’t bother to transcribe that bit] (The Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1282)

Kadmos and Tieresias

Pentheus: One of you, go quickly to where this man, Tiresias, has that seat of his, the place where he inspects his birds. Take some levers, knock it down. Demolish it completely. Turn the whole place upside down—all of it. Let his holy ribbons fly off in the winds. That way I’ll really do him damage. You others—go to the city, scour it to capture this effeminate stranger, who corrupts our women with a new disease, and thus infects our beds. If you get him, tie him up and bring him here for judgment, a death by stoning. That way he’ll see his rites in Thebes come to a bitter end. (Euripides, The Bakchai 345-356)


Since we have set forth the facts concerning Samothrace, we shall now, in accordance with our plan, discuss Naxos. This island was first called Strongylê and its first settlers were men from Thrace, the reasons for their coming being somewhat as follows. The myth relates that two sons, Butes and Lykourgos, were born to Boreas, but not by the same mother; and Butes, who was the younger, formed a plot against his brother, and on being discovered was driven out to seek another land in which to make his home. Consequently Butes, together with the Thracians who were implicated with him, set forth, and making his way through the islands of the Cyclades he seized the island of Strongylê, where he made his home and proceeded to plunder many of those who sailed past the island. And since they had no women they sailed here and there and seized them from the land. Having been repulsed once from Euboea, they sailed to Thessaly, where Butes and his companions, upon landing, came upon the female devotees of Dionysos as they were celebrating the orgies of the god near Drius, as it is called, in Achaea Phthiotis. As Butes and his companions rushed at the women, these threw away the sacred objects, and some of them fled for safety to the sea, and others to the mountain called Dius; but Koronis, the myth continues, was seized by Butes and forced to lie with him. And she, in anger at the seizure and at the insolent treatment she had received, called upon Dionysos to lend her his aid. And the god struck Butes with madness, because of which he threw himself into a well and met his death. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 5.50.1-5)

Martino and Pietro

Asked why the said synagogue is held, he replies that it derives from the fact that they as a custom were in the habit of adoring a certain idol called Bacchus and Baron and also the Sibyl and the Fairies and that Baron and the Fairies were accustomed to holding congregations during which there was no respect between daughter and father, nor with the godmother, as there is, however, outside the said synagogue. And in the synagogue, by night, when the candle was out, they mixed and each took the woman he could have, without recognising her and without speaking while the synagogue lasted; and if a son was begotten, he was the most appropriate and apt to exercise the office of barbe; and he said other things, that his companion had previously said. (Record of the interrogation of the barbes Martino and Pietro, 1492)

The Martyrs of Alexandria

About this period, the bishop of Alexandria, to whom the temple of Dionysos had, at his own request, been granted by the emperor, converted the edifice into a church. The statues were removed, the adyta were exposed; and, in order to cast contumely on the pagan mysteries, he made a procession for the display of these objects; the phalli, and whatever other object had been concealed in the adyta which really was, or seemed to be, ridiculous, he made a public exhibition of. The pagans, amazed at so unexpected an exposure, could not suffer it in silence, but conspired together to attack the Christians. They killed many of the Christians, wounded others, and seized the Serapion, a temple which was conspicuous for beauty and vastness and which was seated on an eminence. This they converted into a temporary citadel; and hither they conveyed many of the Christians, put them to the torture, and compelled them to offer sacrifice. Those who refused compliance were crucified, had both legs broken, or were put to death in some cruel manner. When the sedition had prevailed for some time, the rulers came and urged the people to remember the laws, to lay down their arms, and to give up the Serapion. There came then Romanos, the general of the military legions in Egpyt; and Evagrios was the prefect of Alexandria. As their efforts, however, to reduce the people to submission were utterly in vain, they made known what had transpired to the emperor. Those who had shut themselves up in the Serapion prepared a more spirited resistance, from fear of the punishment that they knew would await their audacious proceedings, and they were further instigated to revolt by the inflammatory discourses of a man named Olympios, attired in the garments of a philosopher, who told them that they ought to die rather than neglect the gods of their fathers. Perceiving that they were greatly dispirited by the destruction of the idolatrous statues, he assured them that such a circumstance did not warrant their renouncing their religion; for that the statues were composed of corruptible materials, and were mere pictures, and therefore would disappear; whereas, the powers which had dwelt within them, had flown to heaven. By such representations as these, he retained the multitude with him in the Serapion. (Hermias Sozomen, The Ecclesiastical History 7:15)


When the Bacchanalian revels were being celebrated at Rome, Aruntius, who had been from birth a water-drinker, set at naught the power of the god. So much so that in a fit of drunkenness he violated his daughter Medullina to insult Liber. But she recognized from a ring his relationship and devised a plan wiser than her years; making her father drunk, and crowning him with garlands, she led him to the altar of Divine Lightning, and there, dissolved in tears, she slew the man who had plotted against her virginity. So Aristeides in the third book of his Italian History. (Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 19)

Thomas Morton

Thomas Morton and the Merry-mount colonists set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together like so many fairies, or furies rather and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians. (William Bradford, History Of Plymouth Plantation) The Plymouth Militia under Myles Standish took the town the following June with little resistance, chopped down the Maypole and arrested Morton for ‘supplying guns to the Indians’. He was put in stocks in Plymouth, given a trial and finally marooned on the deserted Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, until an ‘English ship could take him home’, apparently as he was believed too well connected to be imprisoned or executed (as later became the penalty for blasphemy in the colony). He was essentially starved on the island, but was supplied with food by friendly natives from the mainland, who were said to be bemused by the events, and he eventually gained enough strength to escape to England under his own volition. The Merry Mount community survived without Morton for another year, but was renamed Mount Dagon by the Puritans, after the Semitic Sea god, and they pledged to make it a place of woe. During the terrible winter famine of 1629 residents of New Salem under John Endecott raided Mount Dagon’s plentiful corn supplies and destroyed what was left of the Maypole, calling it the ‘Calf of Horeb’ and denouncing it as a pagan idol. Morton returned to the colony soon after and, after finding most of the inhabitants had been scattered, was rearrested, again put on trial and banished from the colonies. The following year the colony of Mount Dagon was burned to the ground and Morton shipped back to England. (Wikipedia s.v. Thomas Morton)

The Nurses

I will not fight against any god of the heaven, since even the son of Dryas, Lykourgos the powerful, did not live long; he who tried to fight with the gods of the bright sky, who once drove the fosterers of mainomenosDionysos headlong down the sacred Nyseian hill, and all of them shed and scattered their wands on the ground, stricken with an ox-goad by murderous Lykourgos, while Dionysos in terror dived into the salt surf, and Thetis took him to her bosom, frightened, with the strong shivers upon him at the man’s blustering. But the gods who live at their ease were angered with Lykourgos and the son of Kronos struck him to blindness, nor did he live long afterwards, since he was hated by all the immortals. (Homer, Iliad 6.129 ff)

The Oinotrophoi

My lord, most noble hero, you make no mistake. You saw me father of five children; now you see me almost childless, such is the fickleness of fate. For what help to me is my son far away on Andros isle where in his father’s stead he reigns? Delius gave him power of prophecy and Liber gave my girls gifts greater than their prayers, greater than belief. For at my daughters’ touch all things were turned to corn or wine or oil of Minerva’s tree. Rich was that role of theirs! When it was know to Atrides, plunderer of Troia … with force of arms he stole my girls, protesting, from their father’s arms and bade them victual with that gift divine the fleet of Greece. They fled, each as she could, two to Euboea, two to their brother’s isle, Andros. A force arrived and threatened war, were they not given up. Fear overcame his love and he gave up his kith and kin to punishment. And one could well forgive their frightened brother. Now fetters were made ready to secure the captured sisters’ arms: their arms still free the captives raised to heaven, crying “Help! Help, father Bacchus!” and the god who gave their gift brought help, if help it can be called in some strange way to lose one’s nature. How they lost it, that I never learnt, nor could I tell you now. The bitter end’s well known. With wings and feathers, birds your consort loves, my daughters were transformed to snow-white doves. (Ovid,Metamorphoses 13.631)

Lucius Opiturnius, Minius Cerrinius and Marcus and Caius Catinius

They then ordered the decrees of the senate to be read, and published a reward for any discoverer who should bring any of the guilty before them, or give information against any of the absent, adding, that if any person accused should fly, they would limit a certain day upon which, if he did not answer when summoned, he would be condemned in his absence; and if any one should be charged who was out of Italy, they would allow him a longer time, if he should wish to come and make his defense. They then issued an edict, that “no person whatever should presume to buy or sell anything for the purpose of leaving the country; or to receive or conceal, or by any means aid the fugitives.” On the assembly being dismissed, great terror spread throughout the city; nor was it confined merely within the walls, or to the Roman territory, for everywhere throughout the whole of Italy alarm began to be felt, when the letters from the guest-friends were received, concerning the decree of the senate, and what passed in the assembly, and the edict of the consuls. During the night, which succeeded the day in which the affair was made public, great numbers, attempting to fly, were seized, and brought back by the triumvirs, who had posted guards at all gates; and informations were lodged against many, some of whom, both men and women, put themselves to death. Above seven thousand men and women are said to have taken the oath of the association. But it appeared that the heads of the conspiracy were the two Catinii, Marcus and Caius, Roman plebeians; Lucius Opiturnius, a Faliscan; and Minius Cerrinius, a Campanian: that from these proceeded all their criminal practices, and that these were the chief priests and founders of the sect. Care was taken that they should be apprehended as soon as possible. They were brought before the consuls, and, confessing their guilt, caused no delay to the ends of justice. (Livy, History of Rome 34.17)


At the base of Olympus is the city of Dium, near which lies the village of Pimpleia. Here lived Orpheus, the Ciconian, it is said — a wizard who at first collected money from his music, together with his soothsaying and his celebration of the orgies connected with the mystic initiatory rites, but soon afterwards thought himself worthy of still greater things and procured for himself a throng of followers and power. Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him. And near here, also, is Leibethra.


Phryne was accused of impiety because she held a komos in the Lykeion. This is what Euthias, who prosecuted her, said: I have now proven that Phryne is impious because she has participated in scandalous revelry, because she has introduced a new god [Dionysos Isodaites], and because she has assembled unlawful thiasoi of both men and women. (Works of the Attic Orators 2.320)

The Sicilians

The Greeks’ popular god Dionysius [sic], the patron of the theater and of merrymaking generally — known to the Romans as Bacchus — was transformed by the Byzantines into a demon. Bacchic feasting had characterized, particularly, the final days of the Sicilians’ grape harvest; the Byzantines tried to suppress the festival. Byzantine priests interfered with carnivals, which they considered licentious, and refused to baptize actors so as to hinder theatrical productions. But the populace paid little heed, risking anathema to attend the amusements. (Sandra Benjamin, Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History pages 122-23)

King Skyles

So when Skyles had been initiated into the Bacchic rite, some one of the Borysthenites scoffed at the Skythians, `You laugh at us, Skythians, because we play the Bacchant and the god possesses us; but now this deity has possessed your own king, so that he plays the Bacchant and is maddened by the god. If you will not believe me, follow me now and I will show him to you.’ The leading men among the Skythians followed him, and the Borysthenite brought them up secretly onto a tower; from which, when Skyles passed by with his company of worshipers, they saw him raving like a Bacchant; thinking it a great misfortune, they left the city and told the whole army what they had seen. After this Skyles rode off to his own place; but the Skythians rebelled against him. They put at their head Octamasadas, grandson (on the mother’s side) of Teres. Then Skyles, when he learned the danger with which he was threatened, and the reason of the disturbance, made his escape to Thrake. Octamasadas, discovering whither he had fled, marched after him, and had reached the Ister when he was met by the forces of the Thrakians. The two armies were about to engage, but before they joined battle, Sitalkes sent a message to Octamasadas to this effect, ‘Why should there be trial of arms betwixt thee and me? Thou art my own sister’s son, and thou hast in thy keeping my brother. Surrender him into my hands, and I will give thy Skyles back to thee. So neither thou nor I will risk our armies.’ Sitalkes sent this message to Octamasadas, by a herald, and Octamasadas, with whom a brother of Sitalkes had formerly taken refuge, accepted the terms. He surrendered his own uncle to Sitalkes, and obtained in exchange his brother Skyles. Sitalkes took his brother with him and withdrew; but Octamasadas beheaded Skyles upon the spot. Thus rigidly do the Skythians maintain their own customs, and thus severely do they punish such as adopt foreign usages. (Herodotos, The Histories 4.79)


The battle was long and bloody, as might have been expected with so many thousands of desperate men. Spartacus was wounded in the thigh with a spear and sank upon his knee, holding his shield in front of him and contending in this way against his assailants until he and the great mass of those with him were surrounded and slain. The Roman loss was about 1000. The body of Spartacus was not found. A large number of his men fled from the battle-field to the mountains and Crassus followed them thither. They divided themselves in four parts, and continued to fight until they all perished except 6000, who were captured and crucified along the whole road from Capua to Rome. (Appian, Civil Wars 1.120)

Spartacus’ Wife

It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife*, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him. (Plutarch, Life of Crassus 9.3)

* This amazing woman’s name has not come down to us through history. I considered using one of the names given to her by writers of fiction, such as Varinia or Sura. But somehow it seemed more fitting to remind people that along with her freedom her name had been stripped from her. Dionysos has restored both to her and she now revels with him and the other mystai, beyond the reach of hateful men.

The Tarentines

Once upon a time the citizens of Tarentum paid to the Romans the penalty for this sort of jesting, seeing that, when drunk at the festival of Dionysos, they insulted the Roman ambassadors. (Julian, Misopogon 355d) 

The Vignerons

The so-called Kalends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful. And also the public dances of women, which may do so much harm and mischief. Moreover we drive away from the life of Christians the dances given in the names of those falsely called gods by the Greeks whether of men or women, and which are preformed after an ancient and un-Christian fashion; decreeing that no man from this time forth shall be dressed as a woman, nor any woman in the garb suitable to men. Nor shall he assume comic, satyric, or tragic masks; nor may men invoke the name of the execrable Bacchus when they squeeze out the wine in the presses; nor when pouring out wine into jars [to cause a laugh], practicing in ignorance and vanity the things which proceed from the deceit of insanity. Therefore those who in the future attempt any of these things which are written, having obtained knowledge of them, if they be clerics we order them to be deposed, and if laymen to be cut off. (Canon 62 of The Council of Trullo, convened in 692)