Hail Ariadne Antheia!
I suppose you could substitute Greek for the supper, but why would you when Italian is obviously far superior?
I’m just having fun with some triggered YSEEs on Twitter. Both cuisines are yummy, and truthfully you can offer the Martyrs anything that feels right. The important part is sharing a meal with our honored dead, and reflecting on their lives and sacrifices. Something you can do regardless of your race.
Gardzienice, Euoi Bakchai
Ancient Roman Music, Synaulia I
Ancient Roman Music, Synaulia II
Music from Southern Italy recorded by Alan Lomax, Ballo del tamburo
Music from Southern Italy recorded by Alan Lomax, La Pampanella
Johnny Cash, Redemption
V for Vendetta dir. James McTeigue
The Last Shift dir. Anthony DiBlasi
Make a proper Italian feast and set a place for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s modern Italian dishes they never would have eaten – it just has to be Italian. Listen to Italian music or watch an Italian movie or play Italian games. Eat, drink, dance and have a good time with them. When you are finished, perform divination to see if there’s anything further they would like.
Alternately you may offer them some of your blood, since they shed their blood in defense of the Bacchic mysteries. Ask them to drink deep and draw nourishment from you, as you drink in their ecstasy and are fed by their experiences and example.
Clifford Ando, The Rites of Others
Fiachra Mac Góráin, Virgil’s Bacchus and the Roman Republic
Heather Moser, Silencing the Revelry: An Examination of the Moral Panic in 186 BCE and the Political Implications Accompanying the Persecution of the Bacchic Cult in the Roman Republic
Matthias Riedl, The Containment of Dionysos: Religion and Politics in the Bacchanalia Affair of 186 BCE
‘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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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.
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 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)
Alexis, fragment 222 from The Tarentines
Whether anybody will say that my judgement is good or bad I cannot tell you; but this, at least, I have made up my mind about on careful study: that all the doings of men are out-and-out crazy, and that we who for the time being are alive are only getting an outing, as though let loose from death and darkness to keep holiday, to amuse ourselves and to enjoy this light which we can see. And the man who laughs and drinks the most, and holds fast to Aphrodite, during the time he is set free, and to such gifts as Fortune offers, after he has had a most pleasant holiday can depart for home a well-satisfied man.
Arnobius of Sicca, Adversus Nationes 5.20
After the tenth month she bears a daughter, of beautiful form, whom later ages have called now Libera, now Proserpine; whom when Jupiter Verveceus saw to be strong, plump, and blooming, forgetting what evils and what wickedness, and how great recklessness, he had a little before fallen into, he returns to his former practices; and because it seemed too wicked that a father openly be joined as in marriage with his daughter, he passes into the terrible form of a dragon: he winds his huge coils round the terrified maiden, and under a fierce appearance sports and caresses her in softest embraces. She, too, is in consequence filled with the seed of the most powerful Jupiter, but not as her mother was, for she bore a daughter like herself; but from the maiden was born something like a bull, to testify to her seduction by Jupiter. If any one asks who narrates this, then we shall quote the well-known senarian verse of a Tarentine poet which antiquity sings, saying “Taurus draconem genuit, et taurum draco” [“The bull begot a dragon, and the dragon a bull.”] Lastly, the sacred rites themselves, and the ceremony of initiation even, named Sebadia, might attest the truth; for in them a golden snake is let down into the bosom of the initiated, and taken away again from the lower parts.
Augustine, De Civitate Dei 7.21
Now as to the rites of Liber, whom they have set over liquid seeds, and therefore not only over the liquors of fruits, among which wine holds, so to speak, the primacy, but also over the seeds of animals:— as to these rites, I am unwilling to undertake to show to what excess of turpitude they had reached, because that would entail a lengthened discourse, though I am not unwilling to do so as a demonstration of the proud stupidity of those who practice them. Varro says that certain rites of Liber were celebrated in Italy which were of such unrestrained wickedness that the shameful parts of the male were worshipped at crossroads in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a little trolley, was first exhibited with great honour at the crossroads in the countryside, and then conveyed into the city itself. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honorable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order for the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment (fascinatio) to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators.
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 4.13
I ran across the statement very recently in the book of Theophrastus On Inspiration that many men have believed and put their belief on record, that when gouty pains in the hips are most severe, they are relieved if a flute-player plays soothing measures. That snake-bites are cured by the music of the flute, when played skilfully and melodiously, is also stated in a book of Democritus, entitled On Deadly Infections, in which he shows that the music of the flute is medicine for many ills that flesh is heir to. So very close is the connection between the bodies and the minds of men, and therefore between physical and mental ailments and their remedies.
Sandra Benjamin, Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History pages 122-23
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.
Julius Caesar, The Spanish War 31.8
Upon this motion, our cavalry on the left fell upon Pompey’s right wing. Meanwhile the clashing of armor mingled with the shouts of combatants, and the groans of the dying and the wounded, terrified the new-raised soldiers. On this occasion, as Ennius says, “they fought hand to hand, foot to foot, and shield to shield;” but though the enemy fought with the utmost vigor, they were obliged to give ground, and retire toward the town. The battle was fought on the feast of Bacchus, and the Pompeians were entirely routed and put to flight; insomuch that not a man could have escaped, had they not sheltered themselves in the place whence they advanced to the charge.
Giovanni Casadio, Dionysus in Campania
Let us now revert to Aristodemus. Besides his uncontrolled—but ritual—wine-drinking habit, which proved his undoing in the end, another indication of his membership in the bakchoi brotherhood comes from an explicit insinuation made by those same local historians from whom Dionysius of Halicarnassus derived his information: as a boy he once acted as femminiello (a Neapolitan word sounding like “drag queen” and corresponding exactly to the Greek thēlydria) καὶ τὰ γυναιξίν ἁρμόττοντα ἔπασχεν, which is an explicit exegesis of the particular initiation to which the god himself had been subjected in the mythical-ritual complex of Lerna and to which were also subjected (with varying degrees of enjoyment) the Roman youths involved in the so-called Bacchanalia affair … This was presumably the last phase in a process of successive rearrangements and functional re-adaptations of an ethos that regards inversion and androgyny as coincidentia oppositorum, an ethos whose origin can be traced back to the tragicomic parades that Aristodemus Malakos in his devotion to Dionysus imposed on the boys and girls of the Cumaean aristocracy. To quote Plutarch about the rules laid down by the tyrant (Mul. Virt. 26.261f–262a), “It was the will of the god that adolescent boys should wear their hair long, adorned with gold jewels; and he forced the girls to cut their hair short and to wear boys’ garments and scanty petticoats.”
Cassius Dio, Roman History 9.39.5-10
Lucius was despatched by the Romans to Tarentum. Now the Tarentines were celebrating the Dionysia, and sitting gorged with wine in the theatre one afternoon, they suspected that he was sailing against them. Immediately, in a passion and partly under the influence of intoxication, they set sail in turn; and thus, without any show force on his part or the slightest suspicion of any hostile act, they attacked and sent to the bottom both him and many others. When the Romans heard of this, they naturally were angry, but did not choose to take the field against Tarentum at once. However, they despatched envoys, in order not to appear to have passed over the affair in silence and in that way render them more arrogant. But the Tarentines, so far from receiving them decently or even sending them back with an answer in any way suitable, at once, before so much as granting them an audience, made sport of their dress and general appearance. It was the city garb, which was in use in the Forum; and this the envoys had put on, either for the sake of dignity or else by way of precaution, thinking that this at least would cause the foreigners to respect their position. Bands of revellers accordingly jeered at them — they were also celebrating a festival, which, though they were at no time noted for temperate behaviour, rendered them still more wanton — and finally a man planted himself in the way of Postumius, and stooping over, relieved his bowels and soiled the envoy’s clothing. At this an uproar arose from all the rest, who praised the fellow as if he had performed some remarkable deed, and they sang many scurrilous verses against the Romans, accompanied by applause and capering steps. But Postumius cried: “Laugh, laugh while you may! For long will be the period of your weeping, when you shall wash this garment clean with your blood.” Hearing this, they ceased their jests, but made no move toward obtaining pardon for their insult; indeed, they took to themselves credit for a kindness in the fact that they had let the ambassadors withdraw unharmed. Meton, failing to persuade the Tarentines not to engage in war with the Romans, retired unobserved from the assembly, put garlands on his head, and returned along with some fellow-revellers and a flute-girl. At the sight of him singing and dancing the cordax,a they gave up the business in hand to accompany his movements with shouts and hand-clapping, as people are apt to do under such circumstances. But he, after reducing them to silence, said: “Now it is our privilege both to be drunk and to revel, but if you accomplish what you plan to do, we should be slaves.”
Cassius Dio, Roman History 43.44.1-3
In honour of his victory the senate passed all those decrees that I have mentioned, and further called him “Liberator,” entering it also in the records, and voted for a public temple of Libertas. Moreover, they now applied to him first and for the first time, as a kind of proper name, the title of imperator, no longer merely following the ancient custom by which others as well as Caesar had often been saluted as a result of their wars, nor even as those who received some independent command or other authority were called by this name, but giving him once for all the same title that is now granted to those who hold successively the supreme power.
Sacred to holy Bacchus the Deliverer. Lucius Iunius Paederos, freedman of Lucius, after a vow had been made, willingly and rightly from his own money, gave and dedicated this as a gift.
Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks Book Two
If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Corybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympus. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Corybantes also they call Cabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Cabiric mystery. For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?
Inscription from Cumae
Lying buried in this place is illicit unless one has lived like a bakchos.
Nancy de Grummond, Mirrors, Marriage and Mystery
Another specimen, of a Praenestine pear-shaped type but with Etruscan inscription, has the theme of the fate of Esia, a name unknown in Greco-Roman myth. E. H. Richardson argued that she was the equivalent of Ariadne, in a story of the latter’s death as caused by Artemis, and many have accepted her suggestion. She is held wrapped up like a dead soul by Artumes, who displays the arrows with which the goddess is accustomed to end the lives of young girls. Next to her stand Fufluns, the Etruscan Dionysos, a bearded male with a drinking cup, and a winged Menrva. Below, coming up from the ground, appears an oracular head. We do not know its message, but most likely it relates to the fate of Esia. It may be that Fufluns will receive her and bestow immortality upon her. Whatever the message, Fufluns and Menrva seem to react strongly: Menrva throws up both hands in a gesture of surprise (or dismay?) and Fufluns also raises one hand. We shall observe these gestures again in other scenes of individuals who are receiving a prophecy.
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 37.12
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.
Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Roman Antiquities 19.5.1-5
Postumius was sent as ambassador to the Tarentines. As he was making an address to them, the Tarentines, far from paying heed to him or thinking seriously, as men should do who are sensible and are taking counsel for a state which is in peril, watched rather to see if he would make any slip in the finer points of the Greek language, and then laughed, became exasperated at his truculence, which they called barbarous, and finally were ready to drive him out of the theatre. As the Romans were departing, one of the Tarentines standing beside the exit was a man named Philonides, a frivolous fellow who because of his besotted condition in which he passed his whole life was called Demijohn; and this man, being still full of yesterday’s wine, as soon as the ambassadors drew near, pulled up his garment, and assuming a posture most shameful to behold, bespattered the sacred robe of the ambassador with the filth that is indecent even to be uttered.
When laughter burst out from the whole theatre and the most insolent clapped their hands, Postumius, looking at Philonides, said: “We shall accept the omen, you frivolous fellow, in the sense that you Tarentines give us what we do not ask for.” Then he turned to the crowd and showed his defiled robe; but when he found that the laughter of everybody became even greater and heard the cries of some who were exulting over and praising the insult, he said: “Laugh while you may, Tarentines! Laugh! For long will be the time that you will weep hereafter.” When some became embittered at this threat, he added: “And that you may become yet more angry, we say this also to you, that you will wash out this robe with much blood.” The Roman ambassadors, having been insulted in this fashion by the Tarentines both privately and publicly and having uttered the prophetic words which I have reported, sailed away from their city.
Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Roman Antiquities 19.8.1-4
When the Tarentines wished to summon Pyrrhus from Epirus to aid in the war against the Romans and were banishing those who opposed this course, a certain Meton, himself a Tarentine, in order to gain their attention and show them all the evils that would come in the train of royalty into a free and luxury-loving state, came into the theatre, at a time when the multitude was seated there, wearing a garland, as if returning from a banquet, and embracing a young flute-girl who was playing on her flute tunes appropriate to songs of revelry. When the seriousness of all gave way to laughter and some of them bade him to sing, others to dance, Meton looked round him on every side and waved his hand for silence; then, when he had quieted the disturbance, he said: “Citizens, of these things which you see me doing now you will not be able to do a single one if you permit a king and a garrison to enter the city.” When he saw that many were moved and paying attention and were bidding him to prospect on, he proceeded, while still preserving the pretence of drunkenness, to enumerate all the evils that would befall them. But while he was still speaking, the remain responsible for these evils seized him and threw him head first out of the theatre.
Richard Hamilton, Choes and Anthesteria 50-51
A good many Italiote choes show the same pictures as the Attic ones. Youths pouring a libation on an altar from an ornamented chous; a boy with a painted chous and an obelias-cake (reminding one of a streptos), standing near a table; a youth sitting near an altar; youth crowned with feathers or spikes holding out a garland; – all these pictures bring us into a well-known sphere. A jug-race is depicted on an Italiote chous. A boy juggling with three balls, using only one hand, surpasses the skill of the Attic ball-player; hence his conceited attitude, reminding one of a circus-acrobat. Is a rattle or a streptos-cake depicted here? Neither is unfamiliar to us. The rhombos or inyx is shown on many Attic vases, but not on Attic choes: it occurs on this Lucanian chous. The chthonic connection of the chous is proved by the siren approaching a sacrificial altar. The chous was used in the cult at a tomb. […] Very remarkable is the marriage of Dionysos on an Italiote vase, where the young bridegroom is represented with short horns. No Attic vase alludes so clearly to the god, whose wedding was celebrated in the Boukoleion, the bull-stable. Some of the Italiote pictures are equivalent to the theatrical scenes on Attic choes: travesty of Herakles, seen pilfering chous and omphalos-cake from a woman at the Anthesteria; a farce of masked actors on a luxuriously decorated chous; the results of over-eating; a scene at a fair: phlyakes on a merry-go-round to the accompaniment of the flute. Other subjects are a boy hastening to the revel; a single head; women holding mirrors and birds.
Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves pg. 248
“Charming language,” he said, “charming! Ever since I learned that the Etruscans used to call the god of wine Fufluns, I’ve taken the keenest interest in their language. Fufluns – how incomparably more appropriate that is than Bacchus, or Liber, or Dionysos! Fufluns, Fufluns,” he repeated with delighted emphasis. “It couldn’t be better. They had a real linguistic genius, those creatures. What poets they must have produced! ‘When Fufluns flucuthukhs the ziz’ – one can imagine the odes in praise of wine which began like that. You couldn’t bring together eight such juicy, boozy syllables as that in English, could you?”
Hyginus, Astronomica 2.17
Aglaosthenes, who wrote the Naxica, says that there were certain Tyrrhenian shipmasters, who were to take Father Liber, when a child, to Naxos with his companions and give him over to the nymphs, his nurses. Both our writers and many Greek ones, in books on the genealogy of the gods, have said that he was reared by them. But, to return to the subject at hand, the shipmates, tempted by love of gain, were going to turn the ship off course, when Liber, suspecting their plan, bade his companions chant a melody. The Tyrrhenians were so charmed by the unaccustomed sounds that they were seized by desire even in their dancing, and unwittingly cast themselves into the sea, and were there made dolphins. Since Liber desired to recall thought of them to men’s memory, he put the image of one of them among the constellations.
Hyginus, Fabulae 134
When the Tyrrhenians, later called Tuscans, were on a piratical expedition, Father Liber, then a youth, came on their ship and asked them to take him to Naxos. When they had taken him on and wished to debauch him because of his beauty, Acoetes, the pilot, restrained them, and suffered at their hands. Liber, seeing that their purpose remained the same, changed the oars to thyrsi, the sails to vine-leaves, the ropes to ivy; then lions and panthers leapt out. When they saw them, in fear they cast themselves into the sea, and even in the sea he changed them to a sort of beast. For whoever leaped overboard was changed into dolphin shape, and from this dolphins are called Tyrhhenians, and the sea Tyrrhenian. They were twelve in number with the following names: Aethalides, Medon, Lycabas, Libys, Opheltes, Melas, Alcimedon, Epopeus, Dictys, Simon, Acoetes. The last was the pilot, whom Liber saved out of kindness.
Julian, Misopogon 355d
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.
Carl Kerényi, Dionysos Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life 364-65
It must have been a festival of all-souls related to the Athenian Anthesteria. One of these choës from Italy shows – through a siren approaching the sacrificial altar – a connection with the realm of souls, and the picture on a larger vase even indicates that this form of vessel was used in the funeral sacrifice. The conception of the departure of the youthful dead, especially women, as an exodus from the city to Dionysian nuptials – such an exodus is represented on innumerable south Italian vases – was based on actual departures to private mysteries during the Anthesteria. An Italic chous bears the image of a characteristic figure in this nocturnal exodus: a boy satyr with torch and situla. A chous from near Brindisi shows Dionysos and his female companion on a couch served by a boy satyr. The vases with these scenes were found in tombs, and it was for this purpose no doubt that they were manufactured in such quantity. The spread of this conception required vases for burial with men as well as women; or better still, vases with pictures of two kinds that could be buried with persons of either sex.
Charles Godfrey Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition pages 67-70
On inquiring from my best authority if there was in La Romagna Toscana a spirit of the vineyards, or of wine, I was promptly informed that there was such a being known as Fardel, or Flavo, but among the witches, or those better informed in such mysteries, as Faflon. And at once there was narrated to me a legend which was then written out:–
“Faflon is a spirit who lives in the vines, and when women or men have gathered grapes and filled the panniers, then comes this Faflon and scatters them all on the ground; but woe to the contadini should they be angered at it, for then Faflon knocks them right and left, and tramples (on the grapes), so that they get no profit. But if they take it good-naturedly, he gathers them again, and replaces them in the panniers.
“Now there was a peasant who greatly loved the spirits, and frequently blessed them. One year everything went wrong with him, his crop of grapes and all other fruit failed, yet for all this he still loved Faflon and blessed him.
“One morning he rose to gather what little there was on the vines, but found that even that little was gone. The poor peasant began to weep, and said: ‘Non mi resta che morire. All that remains for me now is to die, for I have lost what little crop I had in my little vineyard.’ When all at once Faflon appeared, but beautiful with a beauty like enchantment–ma tanto bello di una bellezza da fare incantare–and said: ‘Oh, peasant with great coarse shoes, but with a fine brain, thou hast loved me so well I will reward thee. Go to thy cellar, and there a great quantity
“D’uva mastatata tu troverai
E gran vino tu lo farai.
(“Pressed grapes thou shalt see,
And great thy store of wine will be.)
“Now what Faflon had said seemed to be like a dream to the peasant, but he went to his cellar, and truly the wine which he had that year made him rich, e non ebbe piú biogna di fare il contadino–he was no longer obliged to live as a peasant.”
No one can doubt that this Faflon–it was written in the MS. sometimes Flaflon–is the Fufluns, or Fufunal, of the Etruscans. His appearance as a very beautiful being is perfectly in accordance with that of Bacchus. It is exactly in this manner that Bacchus flashes up in beauty from disguise in classic tales. Bacchus of old carried off mortal beauties for mistresses, and I now give word for word as related by a witch a story of a modern Ariadne:–
“There was a contadino who had several vineyards, yet all went so ill with them for several years that he had not wine enough to drink for his family.
“Now he had a daughter–di una belleza da fare incantare–of enchanting beauty. And one evening as he was sitting almost in despair, his daughter said: ‘Father, dear, do you not know how all this came to pass? Have you forgotten that strange and beautiful youth who once came to you and begged for me–he was so much in love? And when you denied him what he asked, he replied: “If I cannot have her neither shall you have any vintage.”‘
“Then the peasant was very angry, and beat his daughter, so that she had to go to bed. Then he went into the cellar, but what a sight be saw! On all the barrels were devils frolicking; fire flashed from their eyes and flamed from their mouths, and as they danced they sang:–
Give Faflon that girl of thine,
And henceforth thou shalt have wine
If the maiden you deny,
As a beggar thou shalt die.’
“Then the man gave his daughter to Faflon, and lo! all the barrels were filled with the best, and from that time his vintages were abundant.”
The picture of the cellar full of frisking Bacchanals and Fauns is good. I suspect that a Catholic influence made them “devils with fire coming out of their mouths.” But perhaps it was only“Il vino divino Che fiammeggia nel Sansovino.”
The wine divine
Which flames so red in Sansovine.”)
I should have been really sorry if, after all this fine Bacchic lore, I had not found a hymn to him. And here it is. When a peasant wants a good vintage he may possibly pray for it in church, but to make sure of it he repeats the following to the jovial god:–
“Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!
A vuoi mi raccomando!
Che l’uva nella mia vigna
E multa scarsa,
E vuoi mi raccomando,
Che mi fate avere
Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!
A vuoi mi raccomando!
Che il vino nella mia cantina
Me lo fate venire fondante,
E molto buono,
Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!”
(“Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!”
Oh, listen to my prayer.
I have a scanty vintage,
My vines this year are bare
Oh, listen to my prayer!
And put, since thou canst do so,
A better vintage there!
Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!
Oh, listen to my prayer
May all the wine in my cellar
Prove to be strong and rare,
And good as any grown,
Faflon, Faflon, Faflon!”)
There, reader, is the very last real and sincere hymn to Bacchus which was ever sung in Italy-probably the last truly Bacchanalian song which will ever be heard on earth.
Charles Godfrey Leland, The Wonderful Conjuration of Bacchus from Legends of Florence; Second Volume (1907 CE) pages 169-174
There was once a certain Friar Geronimo, unto whom a marvelous thing happened; for as he was hastening along to a meeting at the Cloister of San Lorenzo he stumbled over a little old book or ancient manuscript, which he picked up and put in his pocket. During the course of the proceedings, which were extremely long-winded and boring, Friar Geronimo recalled the book, took it out and began to read. Like peasants and children who have not yet mastered their lessons, Geronimo was in the habit of moving his lips and pronouncing aloud the syllables as he read. As it turned out the book was the sort of thing that wizard-jugglers used in the course of performing their audacious tricks and summoning of devils, and as the good friar read aloud a conjuration, strange things began to happen – all the men of the assembly grew horns on their heads! It also caused their ears to shoot forth like those of fauns or jackasses, according to their temperaments, with the asses’ ears in the majority. It made the hair of the abbesses and mother superiors grow forth luxuriantly as well. Indeed, it improved the good looks of the assembly to an extraordinary degree – saving the horns and ears. Withered old abbots became rosy, plump and handsome fellows; thin ascetics lusty as facchini or porters; while the eyes of all grew large and startling, wild or languishing. It was a wondrous change for all, indeed!
It took a while for everyone to notice, whereupon the Friar continued to read out the spell:
All ye who hear my voice,
be merry and rejoice!
Laugh and shout as in a revel!
All be merry, raise the devil;
all be jolly, la, la, la,
with ho! ho! ho! and ha! ha! ha!
Whereupon all present obeyed the instructions to the letter. They began to laugh and dance, and with one accord burst out into a mad, irregular song:
Bacco! Bacco! Bacco!
Padre dei Farraini e dei Folletti!
Dio del vino divino!
Che porti sempre nella mano la pina,
Fate le belle corne crescere,
Sulle teste di tutti qui i presenti!
Fate le orecchie lunge,
Come le orecchie degli asini!
Fate di noi Baccanti,
Tutto in tuo onore,
Bacco! Evviva Bacco!
Bacchus, Bacchus, Bacchus hear!
Father of Fairies and Goblins queer,
God of the wine divine
Which trickles from the vine,
Who bear’st the pine-cone in thy hand,
Great Lord adored in every land!
Make the merry horns appear
On the heads of all assembled here;
Make their ears like asses’ grow,
Make us all Bacchanti. Ho!
In thy honour let it be
Bacchus, O Bacchus, Evöe!
The Friar, as if inspired, read on at the top of his voice; and all the dancers sang to a wild music which came from — the devil knows where:
L’un sopra l’altro saltiamo!
E il diavolo facciamo!
Nel sacco il dolòr mettiamo!
Bacco! Bacco! Bacco!
Tutto in tup onore!
Quando Bacco trionfa
Il dolore fugge via.
Buon amore e buon vino
Mi scalda il mio cammino,
Beviamo il buon vino
Lascia andar l’acqua al mulino!
Il vino ha il sapore,
La bella donna ha il colore,
Facciamo tutti l’amore!
Uomo chi non ama vino,
Non vale un quattrino:
Bacco! Bacco! Bacco!
Evviva! Evviva il dio!
Con gioia faremmo il diavolo!
Mettiamo il dolor in sacco
Bacco! Bacco! Evviva Baccho!
Let’s be merry! Let us dance,
Hop and skip, and whoop and prance!
O’er one another jump and revel
Till we raise the very devil!
Away with sorrow and despair,
Follow us no more, dull care!
Let no grim blue devils track us
While we worship jolly Bacchus!
When he triumphs all is gay,
And affliction flies away,
Love and Laughter, jest and song,
All make light the way so long;
Drink good wine and take your fill!
Let the water turn the mill!
Wine is rosy that is true,
Pretty girls are rosy too;
Let us all make love and true.
He who loves not girls and wine
Is a fool and superfine.
Bacchus! Bacchus! Holy Bacchus!
Let no fear attack us!
Bacchus! Bacchus! Aid the revel!
Let us raise the very devil!
Send all care and grief away,
Bacchus! O Bacchus! Evöe!
And the merriment grew wilder; goblins came dancing in, bearing great flasks of wine, with wreaths of roses and much ivy; the revelers cast away their gowns and stoles and clad themselves with garlands — se le misero in capo e sene formarono delle cinture — crowning and girdling themselves with leaves; laughing, dancing, and shouting more wildly every minute.
The Bishop became mighty – yea, a magnificent man, with curling locks, drinking lustily from a tremendous vase of wine, while the arms of a beautiful abbess encircled his neck.
His attendant, who was short and plump, grew even plumper and jollier, crying aloud, ‘Io sono il Silenzio!‘ And there came in an ass all garlanded with flowers, and the attendant, Silenzio, mounted the ass, supported by wild and merry girls. And so he rode around the hall, following the Bishop; and after him came the rest in a reveling procession, embracing, kissing, making love, drinking, dancing, shouting – facendo il diavolo e peggio! — and singing:
Evviva Bacco, ha Bacco si,
Da Martedi a Lunedi!
“Hurrah for Bacchus, that is right,
from Sunday morn till Saturday night!”
So they kept it up all day and night, and none could enter the hall or leave it, for the doors seemed to be changed to a wall. But at last the brave Geronimo – who had not missed the opportunity, I assure you, to share in the lovemaking and drinking and dancing – began to think how all this revelry he had begun might be brought to an end. He went back to the book and eventually found the counter-spell and read it aloud. As soon as Geronimo finished a change came over all and everything; ’twas like the waking from a wondrous dream. All were silent in an instant – the horns and long ears vanished – gone were the garlands, ivy, roses, vines – yea, even the donkey faded into air. And in that instant they all forgot everything – what they had seen, and what they had been, and how they had behaved. All that they knew was that they were awfully tired of a long day’s hard work, and so went to bed early. All forgot, except for Geronimo that is who laughed heartily and kept the secret, deciding to become a Wizard instead of a Friar.
Singular as it may seem – for the story as I have told it probably seems to every reader a piece of modern manufacture – this tale is widely spread, and the embroidery which I have added to it has been very slight. Other legends give us souvenirs of Bacchanalia, as for instance, the procession in which Venus restores the ring to a youth, and the story of the Bacchanals and Bacchus which still haunt Florence. In fact, there is very little indeed given here which is not found in other traditions. It is worth noting that many writers on occulta, even to the seventeenth century, believe that common jugglers and mountebanks, or legerdemainists, executed their marvelous tricks by the aid of sorcery and the devil. This was not, however, regarded as quite so bad as witchcraft.
“Truly,” adds Flaxius, “there is something touching in the manner in which chroniclers and tellers of old tales recall these little memories of jolly heathen gambollings, rollicking and frolicking, revels, dances, rompings, love-makings, kiss-n-the-rings, and similar jolly, harmless didoes, as if they who were in them had raised the very devil of Iniquity himself, and like Moses, broken all the commandments at once, when, pardy, they were rather acting piously and doing their duty — if innocent enjoyment be such, and a stimulus to honest labour and kindly feeling. For in all this tale there is not one word said that any of the revelers smote or cursed or reviled the rest, or did them wrong in any way — which thing is so unlike the proceedings of all Church councils that it is probably the reason why the Bacchic revel was recorded as unholy.”
Leonidas of Tarentum, Greek Anthology 9.542
To the must-drinking Satyrs and to Bacchus,
planter of the vine,
Heronax consecrated the first handfuls of his plantation,
these three casks from three vineyards,
filled with the first flow of the wine;
from which we,
having poured such libation as is meet to crimson Bacchus and the Satyrs,
will drink deeper than they.
Livy, History of Rome 34:15-18
15. After despatching these officers to their several employments, the consuls mounted the rostrum; and, having summoned an assembly of the people, one of the consuls, when he had finished the solemn form of prayer which the magistrates are accustomed to pronounce before they address the people, proceeded thus: Romans, to no former assembly was this solemn supplication to the gods more suitable or even more necessary: as it serves to remind you, that these are the deities whom your forefathers pointed out as the objects of your worship, veneration, and prayers: and not those which infatuated men’s minds with corrupt and foreign modes of religion, and drove them, as if goaded by the furies, to every lust and every vice. I am at a loss to know what I should conceal, or how far I ought to speak out; for I dread lest, if I leave you ignorant of any particular, I should give room for carelessness, or if I disclose the whole, that I should too much awaken your fears. That the Bacchanalian rites have subsisted for some time past in every country in Italy, and are at present performed in many parts of this city also, I am sure you must have been informed, not only by report, but by the nightly noises and horrid yells that resound through the whole city; but still you are ignorant of the nature of that business. Part of you think it is some kind of worship of the gods; others, some excusable sport and amusement, and that, whatever it may be, it concerns but a few. As regards the number, if I tell you that they are many thousands, that you would be immediately terrified to excess is a necessary consequence; unless I further acquaint you who and what sort of persons they are. First, then, a great part of them are women, and this was the source of the evil; the rest are males, but nearly resembling women; actors and pathics in the vilest lewdness; night revelers, driven frantic by wine, noises of instruments, and clamors. The conspiracy, as yet, has no strength; but it has abundant means of acquiring strength, for they are becoming more numerous every day. Your ancestors would not allow that you should ever assemble casually, without some good reason; that is, either when the standard was erected on the Janiculum, and the army led out on occasion of elections; or when the tribunes proclaimed a meeting of the plebeians, or some of the magistrates summoned you to it. And they judged it necessary, that whatever a multitude was, there should be a lawful governor of that multitude present. Of what kind do you suppose are the meetings of these people? In the first place, held in the night, and in the next, composed promiscuously of men and women. If you knew at what ages the males are initiated, you would feel not only pity but also shame for them. Romans, can you think youths initiated, under such oaths as theirs, are fit to be made soldiers? That arms should be intrusted with wretches brought out of that temple of obscenity? Shall these, contaminated with their own foul debaucheries and those of others, be champions for the chastity of your wives and children?
16. “But the mischief were less, if they were only effeminated by their practices; of that the disgrace would chiefly affect themselves; if they refrained their hands from outrage, and their thoughts from fraud. But never was there in the state an evil of so great a magnitude, or one that extended to so many persons or so many acts of wickedness. Whatever deeds of villainy have, during late years, been committed through lust; whatever, through fraud; whatever, through violence; they have all, be assured, proceeded from that association alone. They have not yet perpetrated all the crimes for which they combined. The impious assembly at present confines itself to outrages on private citizens; because it has not yet acquired force sufficient to crush the commonwealth; but the evil increases and spreads daily; it is already too great for the private ranks of life to contain it, and aims its views at the body of the state. Unless you take timely precautions, Romans, their nightly assembly may become as large as this, held in open day, and legally summoned by a consul. Now they one by one dread you collected together in the assembly; presently, when you shall have separated and retired to your several dwellings, in town and country, they will again come together, and will hold a consultation on the means of their own safety, and, at the same time, of your destruction. Thus united, they will cause terror to every one of you. Each of you, therefore, ought to pray that his kindred may have behaved with wisdom and prudence; and if lust, if madness, has dragged any of them into that abyss, to consider such a person as the relation of those with whom he has conspired for every disgraceful and reckless act, and not as one of your own. I am not secure, lest some, even of yourselves, may have erred through mistake; for nothing is more deceptive in appearance than false religion.
When the authority of the gods is held out as a pretext to cover vice, fear enters our minds, lest, in punishing the crimes of men, we may violate some divine right connected therewith. Numberless decisions of the pontiffs, decrees of the senate, and even answers of the haruspices free you from religious scruples of this character. How often in the ages of our fathers was it given in charge to the magistrates, to prohibit the performance of any foreign religious rites; to banish strolling sacrificers and soothsayers from the forum, the circus, and the city; to search for, and burn, books of divination; and to abolish every mode of sacrificing that was not conformable to the Roman practice! For they, completely versed in every divine and human law, maintained that nothing tended so strongly to the subversion of religion as sacrifice, when we offered it not after the institutions of our forefathers, but after foreign customs. Thus much I thought necessary to mention to you beforehand, that no vain scruple might disturb your minds when you should see us demolishing the places resorted to by the Bacchanalians, and dispersing their impious assemblies. We shall do all these things with the favor and approbation of the gods; who, because they were indignant that their divinity was dishonored by those people’s lusts and crimes, have drawn forth their proceedings from hidden darkness into the open light; and who have directed them to be exposed, not that they may escape with impunity, but in order that they may be punished and suppressed. The senate have committed to me and my colleague an inquisition extraordinary concerning that affair. What is requisite to be done by ourselves, in person, we will do with energy. The charge of posting watches through the city, during the night, we have committed to the inferior magistrates; and, for your parts, it is incumbent on you to execute vigorously whatever duties are assigned you, and in the several places where each will be placed, to perform whatever orders you shall receive, and to use your best endeavors that no danger or tumult may arise from the treachery of the party involved in the guilt.
17. 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.
18. 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 39.8-12
A low-born Greek went into Etruria first of all, but did not bring with him any of the numerous arts which that most accomplished of all nations has introduced amongst us for the cultivation of mind and body. He was a hedge-priest and wizard, not one of those who imbue men’s minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries. At first these were divulged to only a few; then they began to spread amongst both men and women, and the attractions of wine and feasting increased the number of his followers. When they were heated with wine and the nightly commingling of men and women, those of tender age with their seniors, had extinguished all sense of modesty, debaucheries of every kind commenced; each had pleasures at hand to satisfy the lust he was most prone to. Nor was the mischief confined to the promiscuous intercourse of men and women; false witness, the forging of seals and testaments, and false informations, all proceeded from the same source, as also poisonings and murders of families where the bodies could not even be found for burial. Many crimes were committed by treachery; most by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those who were being violated or murdered could not be heard owing to the noise of drums and cymbals.
Livy, History of Rome 39.13-16
Then Hispala gave an account of the origin of these rites. At first they were confined to women; no male was admitted, and they had three stated days in the year on which persons were initiated during the daytime, and matrons were chosen to act as priestesses. Paculla Annia, a Campanian, when she was priestess, made a complete change, as though by divine monition, for she was the first to admit men, and she initiated her own sons, Minius Cerinnius and Herennius Cerinnius. At the same time she made the rite a nocturnal one, and instead of three days in the year celebrated it five times a month. When once the mysteries had assumed this promiscuous character, and men were mingled with women with all the licence of nocturnal orgies, there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting. More uncleanness was wrought by men with men than with women. Whoever would not submit to defilement, or shrank from violating others, was sacrificed as a victim. To regard nothing as impious or criminal was the very sum of their religion. The men, as though seized with madness and with frenzied distortions of their bodies, shrieked out prophecies; the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, their hair dishevelled, rushed down to the Tiber with burning torches, plunged them into the water, and drew them out again, the flame undiminished, as they were made of sulphur mixed with lime. Men were fastened to a machine and hurried off to hidden caves, and they were said to have been rapt away by the gods; these were the men who refused to join their conspiracy or take a part in their crimes or submit to pollution. They formed an immense multitude, almost equal to the population of Rome; amongst them were members of noble families both men and women. It had been made a rule for the last two years that no one more than twenty years old should be initiated; they captured those to be deceived and polluted.
Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.18.7-10
In the performance of sacred rites a mysterious rule of religion ordains that the sun shall be called Apollo when it is in the upper hemisphere, that is to say, by day, and be held to be Dionysos, or Liber Pater, when it is in the lower hemisphere, that is to say, at night. Likewise, statues of Liber Pater represent him sometimes as a child and sometimes as a young man; again, as a man with a beard and also as an old man, as for example the statue of the god which the Greeks call Bassareus and Briseus, and that which in Campania the Neapolitans worship under the name Hebon.
Martial, Epigrams IV.44
This is Vesuvius, green yesterday with viny shades; here had the noble grape loaded the dripping vats; these ridges Bacchus loved more than the hills of Nysa; on this mount of late the Satyrs set afoot their dances; this was the haunt of Venus, more pleasant to her than Lacedaemon; this spot was made glorious by the fame of Hercules. All lies drowned in fire and melancholy ash; even the High Gods could have wished this had not been permitted them.
Nonnos, Dionysiaka 9.16-24
Hermes Maia’s son received him near the birthplace hill of Dracanon, and holding him in the crook of his arm flew through the air. He gave the newborn Lyaios a surname to suit his birth, and called him Dionysos, or Zeus-limp, because while he carried his burden lifted his foot with a limp from the weight of his thigh, and nysos in the Syracusan language means limping. So he dubbed Zeus newly delivered Eiraphiotes, or Father Botcher, because he had sewed up the baby in his breeding thigh.
Plato, Laws 1.637a-c
Megillus: Indeed there is not a man who would not punish at once and most severely any drunken reveller he chanced to meet with, nor would even the feast of Dionysos serve as an excuse to save him—a revel such as I once upon a time witnessed “on the wagons” in your country; and at our colony of Tarentum, too, saw the whole city drunk at the Dionysia. But with us no such thing is possible.
Athenian: Regarding all such practices, whether in Tarentum, Athens or Sparta, there is one answer that is held to vindicate their propriety. The universal answer to the stranger who is surprised at seeing in a State some unwonted practice is this: “Be not surprised, O Stranger: such is the custom with us: with you, perhaps, the custom in these matters is different.”
Titus Maccius Plautus, Miles Gloriosus 1016-17
Palaestrio: You conceal it from the profane. I am reliable and trustworthy to you.
Milphidippa: Give me the password, if you are one of our bacchants.
Palaestrio: ‘A certain woman loves a certain man.’
Milphidippa: Well, many women do that.
Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 19
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, Life of Crassus 9.3
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.
Angelo Poliziano, Fabula Di Orfeo Scene 5
Ho! Bacchus! Ho! I yield thee thanks for this!
Through all the woodland we the wretch have borne:
So that each root is slaked with blood of his:
Yea, limb from limb his body have we torn
Through the wild forest with a fearful bliss:
His gore hath bathed the earth by ash and thorn!—
Go then! thy blame on lawful wedlock fling!
Ho! Bacchus! take the victim that we bring!
Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus
The consuls Quintus Marcius son of Lucius and Spurius Postumius son of Lucius consulted the senate on the seventh of October in the Temple of Bellona. Present at the writing of the decree were Marcus Claudius son of Marcus, Lucius Valerius son of Publius, and Quintus Minucius son of Gaius.
Regarding the Bacchanalia it was resolved to give the following directions to those who are in alliance with us.
None of them is to possess a place where the festivals of Bacchus are celebrated: if there are any who claim that it is necessary for them to have such a place, they are to come to Rome to the urban praetor, and the senate is to decide on those matters, when their claims have been heard, provided that not less than 100 senators are present when the affair is discussed. No woman is to be a Bacchant, neither a Roman citizen, nor one of the Latin name, nor any of our allies unless they come to the praetor urbanus, and he in accordance with the opinion of the senate expressed when not less than 100 senators are present at the discussion, shall have given leave. Carried.
No man is to be a priest; no one, either man or woman, is to be an officer (to manage the temporal affairs of the organization); nor is anyone of them to have charge of a common treasury; no one shall appoint either man or woman to be master or to act as master; henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus, and he, in accordance with the opinion of the senate, expressed when no less than 100 senators are present at the discussion, shall have given leave. Carried.
No one in a company of more than five persons altogether, men and women, shall observe the sacred rites, nor in that company shall there be present more than 2 men or 3 women, unless in accordance with the opinion of the praetor urbanus and the senate as written above.
See that you declare it in the assembly (contio) for not less than three market days; that you may know the opinion of the senate this was their judgment: if there are any who have acted contrary to what was written above, they have decided that a proceeding for a capital offense should be instituted against them; the senate has justly decreed that you should inscribe this on a brazen tablet, and that you should order it to be placed where it can be easiest read; see to it that the revelries of Bacchus, if there be any, except in case there be concerned in the matter something sacred, as was written above, be disbanded within ten days after this letter shall be delivered to you.
In the Teuranian field.
Seneca, Oedipus 449 ff
Thee, O boy, a Tyrrhenian band once captured and Nereus allayed the swollen sea; the dark blue waters he changed to meadows. Thence flourish the plane-tree with vernal foliage and the laurel-grove dear to Phoebus; the chatter of birds sounds loud through the branches. Fast-growing ivy clings to the oars, and grape-vines twine at the mast-head. On the prow an Idaean lion roars; at the stern crouches a tiger of Ganges. Then the frightened pirates swim in the sea, and plunged in the water their bodies assume new forms: the robbers’ arms first fall away; their breasts smite their bellies and are joined in one; a tiny hand comes down at the side; with curving back they dive into the waves, and with crescent-shaped tail they cleave the sea; and now as curved dolphins they follow the fleeing sails.
Servius, commenting on Vergil’s Eclogues 5.29
This refers unambiguously to Caesar who, as is well-known, was the first to bring the cult of Liber Pater to Rome; thiasus stands for dances, the round dances of Liber, which means the Liberalia.
Silius Italicus, Punica 7.162-211
Though called away by my great theme, I may not pass over the honours of Bacchus without mention. I must tell of the god who bestowed on man the divine drink, and whom the nectar-bearing vines forbid to set any brand above the presses of Falernus. In the good old days before swords were known, Falernus, a man in years, used to plough the high ground of Mount Massicus. Then the fields were bare, and no vine-plant wove a green shade for the clusters; nor did men know how to mellow their draught with the juice of Lyaeus, but were wont to slake their thirst with the pure water of a spring. But when Lyaeus was on his way to the shore of Calpe and the setting sun, a lucky foot and a lucky hour brought him hither as a guest; nor did the god disdain to enter the cottage and pass beneath its humble roof. The smoke-grimed door welcomed a willing guest; the meal was set, in the fashion of that simple age, in front of the hearth; nor was the happy host aware that he entertained a god; but, as his fathers used to do, he ran hither and thither with kindly zeal, tasking his failing strength. At last the feast was set—fruit in clean baskets, and dainties dripping dew which he hastened to cull from his well-watered garden. Then he adorned the toothsome meal with milk and honeycomb, and heaped the gifts of Ceres on a chaste board which no blood denied. And from each dish he first plucked a portion in honour of Vesta, and threw what he had plucked into the centre of the fire.
Pleased by the old man’s willing service, Bacchus decreed that his liquor should not be lacking. Suddenly a miracle was seen: to pay the poor man for his hospitality, the beechen cups foamed with the juice of the grape; a common milk-pail ran red with wine; and the sweet moisture of fragrant clusters sweated in the hollow oaken bowl. “Take my gift,” said Bacchus; “as yet it is strange to you, but hereafter it will spread abroad the name of Falernus, the vine-dresser”; and the god was no longer disguised. Straightway ivy crowned his brows that glowed and flushed; his locks flowed down over his shoulders; a beaker hung down from his right hand; and a vine-plant, falling from his green thyrsus, clothed the festive board with the leaves of Nysa. Falernus found it hard to strive against the cheerful draught: when he had drunk once again of the cup, his stammering tongue and staggering feet roused mirth. With splitting head he tried, though he could not speak plain, to render thanks and praise to Father Lyaeus; and at last Sleep, who goes ever in the train of Bacchus, closed his reluctant eyes. And when the sun rose and the hoofs of Phaethon’s horses dispelled the dews, all Mount Massicus was green with vine-bearing fields, and marvelled at the leafage and the bunches shining in the sunlight. The fame of the mountain grew, and from that day fertile Tmolus and the nectar of Ariusia and the strong wine of Methymna have all yielded precedence to the vats of Falernus.
Sokrates the Rhodian, History of the Civil War, as quoted in Athenaios’ Deipnosophistai 4.29
Antony himself, when he was staying at Athens, a short time after this, prepared a very superb scaffold to spread over the theatre, covered with green wood such as is seen in the caves sacred to Dionysos; and from this scaffold he suspended drums and fawn-skins, and all the other toys which one names in connection with Dionysos, and then sat there with his friends, getting drunk from daybreak, a band of musicians, whom he had sent for from Italy, playing to him all the time, and all the Greeks around being collected to see the sight.
Synesios, Dio 1133
But their procedure is like Bacchic frenzy – like the leap of a man mad, or possessed – the attainment of a goal without running the race, a passing beyond reason without the previous exercise of reasoning. For the sacred matter (contemplation) is not like attention belonging to knowledge, or an outlet of mind, nor is it like one thing in one place and another in another. On the contrary – to compare small and greater – it is like Aristotle’s view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit for revelation.
Tacitus, Annals 11.31.2
Messalina meanwhile, more wildly profligate than ever, was celebrating in mid-autumn a representation of the vintage in her new home. The presses were being trodden; the vats were overflowing; women girt with skins were dancing, as Bacchanals dance in their worship or their frenzy. Messalina with flowing hair shook the thyrsus, and Silius at her side, crowned with ivy and wearing the buskin, moved his head to some lascivious chorus.
Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History 4.21; 5.20
At Antioch Valens spent considerable time, and gave complete license to all who under cover of the Christian name, Pagans, Jews, and the rest preached doctrines contrary to those of the Gospel. The slaves of this error even went so far as to perform pagan rites, and thus the deceitful fire which after Julian had been quenched by Jovian, was now rekindled by permission of Valens. The rites of the Jews, of Dionysos and Demeter were no longer performed in a corner as they would have been in a pious reign, but by revellers running wild in the forum. Valens was a foe to none but to them that held the apostolic doctrine. Against the champions of the apostolic decrees alone he persisted in waging war. Accordingly, during the whole period of his reign the altar fire was lit, libations and sacrifices were offered to idols, public feasts were celebrated in the forum, and votaries initiated in the orgies of Dionysos ran about in goatskins, mangling dogs in Bacchic frenzy.
Theopompos, fragment 233, quoted by Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 4.166 e-f
The city of Tarentum offers sacrifices of oxen and holds public banquets nearly every month. The mass of common people is always busy with parties and drinking-bouts. And the Tarentines have a saying of some such purport as this, that whereas the rest of the world, in their devotion to work and their preoccupation with various forms of industry, are always preparing to live, they themselves, with their parties and their pleasures, do not put off living, but live already.
Vergil, Aeneid 7.341-405
Straightway Alecto, through whose body flows
the Gorgon poison, took her viewless way
to Latium and the lofty walls and towers
of the Laurentian King. Crouching she sate
in silence on the threshold of the bower
where Queen Amata in her fevered soul
pondered, with all a woman’s wrath and fear,
upon the Trojans and the marriage-suit
of Turnus. From her Stygian hair the fiend
a single serpent flung, which stole its way
to the Queen’s very heart, that, frenzy-driven,
she might on her whole house confusion pour.
Betwixt her smooth breast and her robe it wound
unfelt, unseen, and in her wrathful mind
instilled its viper soul. Like golden chain
around her neck it twined, or stretched along
the fillets on her brow, or with her hair
enwrithing coiled; then on from limb to limb
slipped tortuous. Yet though the venom strong
thrilled with its first infection every vein,
and touched her bones with fire, she knew it not,
nor yielded all her soul, but made her plea
in gentle accents such as mothers use;
and many a tear she shed, about her child,
her darling, destined for a Phrygian’s bride:
“O father! can we give Lavinia’s hand
to Trojan fugitives? why wilt thou show
no mercy on thy daughter, nor thyself;
nor unto me, whom at the first fair wind
that wretch will leave deserted, bearing far
upon his pirate ship my stolen child?
Was it not thus that Phrygian shepherd came
to Lacedaemon, ravishing away
Helen, the child of Leda, whom he bore
to those false Trojan lands? Hast thou forgot
thy plighted word? Where now thy boasted love
of kith and kin, and many a troth-plight given
unto our kinsman Turnus? If we need
an alien son, and Father Faunus’ words
irrevocably o’er thy spirit brood,
I tell thee every land not linked with ours
under one sceptre, but distinct and free,
is alien; and ‘t is thus the gods intend.
Indeed, if Turnus’ ancient race be told,
it sprang of Inachus, Acrisius,
and out of mid-Mycenae.”
But she sees
her lord Latinus resolute, her words
an effort vain; and through her body spreads
the Fury’s deeply venomed viper-sting.
Then, woe-begone, by dark dreams goaded on,
she wanders aimless, fevered and unstrung
along the public ways; as oft one sees
beneath the twisted whips a leaping top
sped in long spirals through a palace-close
by lads at play: obedient to the thong,
it weaves wide circles in the gaping view
of its small masters, who admiring see
the whirling boxwood made a living thing
under their lash. So fast and far she roved
from town to town among the clansmen wild.
Then to the wood she ran, feigning to feel
the madness Bacchus loves; for she essays
a fiercer crime, by fiercer frenzy moved.
Now in the leafy dark of mountain vales
she hides her daughter, ravished thus away
from Trojan bridegroom and the wedding-feast.
“Hail, Bacchus! Thou alone,” she shrieked and raved,
“art worthy such a maid. For thee she bears
the thyrsus with soft ivy-clusters crowned,
and trips ecstatic in thy beauteous choir.
For thee alone my daughter shall unbind
the glory of her virgin hair.” Swift runs
the rumor of her deed; and, frenzy-driven,
the wives of Latium to the forests fly,
enkindled with one rage. They leave behind
their desolated hearths, and let rude winds
o’er neck and tresses blow; their voices fill
the welkin with convulsive shriek and wail;
and, with fresh fawn-skins on their bodies bound,
they brandish vine-clad spears. The Queen herself
lifts high a blazing pine tree, while she sings
a wedding-song for Turnus and her child.
With bloodshot glance and anger wild, she cries:
“Ho! all ye Latin wives, if e’er ye knew
kindness for poor Amata, if ye care
for a wronged mother’s woes, O, follow me!
Cast off the matron fillet from your brows,
and revel to our mad, voluptuous song.”
Thus, through the woodland haunt of creatures wild,
Alecto urges on the raging Queen
with Bacchus’ cruel goad.
Vergil, Georgics 2.380-396
And they’re the why, such transgressions, a goat is sacrificed
on every altar to the wine god – since our elders started to stage plays
and the sons of Theseus rewarded talent along the highways and byeways
and, with drink taken, took to hopping here and there,
a dance on greasy hides, and toppling in soft grass.
So too, Ausonian settlers – who came from Troy –
recited their rough-hewn verse to entertain the masses,
and put on scary masks cut out of bark
and called on you, Bacchus, in rousing song,
and in your honour dangled from the tips of pines tender tokens.
And it ensues that every vineyard crests and fills,
valleys teem, and deep ravines –
anywhere the god took in with his goodly gaze.
Therefore, as is only right, we accord to Bacchus due respect
with songs our fathers sang and trays of baked offerings
and, led by the horn, the sacrifical puck is set before the altar
and his spewling innards roasted on hazel skewers.
Or Hate the Athenians, not the Greeks
I get so fucking sick of hearing about how “the ancient Greeks” were misogynist pigs. Ever notice that 90% of the evidence these people cite comes from Classical Athens? By Herakles, it’s as if the only two cities that existed in all Greece were Athens and Sparta!
Of course, even then there’s really no excuse for this idiocy since as Plutarch ably demonstrates Spartan women were totally badass and didn’t take shit from anybody, least of all a man. Plutarch was so fond of women (he addressed several of his most important treatises – including his masterpiece On Isis and Osiris – to his colleague at Delphi the Thyiad Klea and wrote a tender and touching letter of consolation to his wife when their daughter died while he was abroad) that he put together several pieces defending their virtue and taking their side in mythological disputes, such as that between Circe and Odysseus. Note that he came from Chaironeia in Boiotia not Athens.
Also not Athenians were the Epizephyrii Locrians, whom Polybios describes in the following manner:
For I know for certain that the inhabitants themselves acknowledge that the report of Aristotle, and not of Timaeus, is the one which they have received from their ancestors. And they give the following proofs of this. In the first place, they stated that every ancestral distinction existing among them is traced by the female not the male side. For instance, those are reckoned noble among them who belong to “the hundred families”; and these “hundred families” are those which were marked out by the Locrians, before embarking upon their colonisation, as those from which they were in accordance with the oracle to select as virgins to be sent to Ilium. Further, that some of these women joined the colony: and that it is their descendants who are now reckoned noble, and called “the men of the hundred families.” Again, the following account of the “cup-bearing” priestess had been received traditionally by them. When they ejected the Sicels who occupied this part of Italy, finding that it was a custom among them for the processions at their sacrifices to be led by a boy of the most illustrious and high-born family obtainable, and not having any ancestral custom of their own on the subject, they adopted this one, with no other improvement than that of substituting a girl for one of their boys as cupbearer, because nobility with them went by the female line. (Histories 12.5)
In fact most of the Magna Graecian colonies had a pretty high regard for women.
Angry over the treatment of their mothers, a group of Spartan men left with them in tow to found a new colony, Taras or Tarentum, where such sexual bigotry would not be tolerated:
A number of young men were sent back to Sparta with permission to form promiscuous connexions with all the women of the city, thinking that conception would be more speedy if each of the females made the experiment with several men. Those who sprung from these unions were called Partheniae, as a reflection on their mothers’ violated chastity; and, when they came to thirty years of age, being alarmed with the fear of want (for not one of them had a father to whose estate he could hope to succeed,) they chose a captain named Phalantus, the son of Aratus, by whose advice the Spartans had sent home the young men to propagate, that, as they had formerly had the father for the author of their birth, they might now have the son as the establisher of their hopes and fortunes. Without taking leave of their mothers, therefore, from whose adultery they thought that they derived dishonour, they set out to seek a place of settlement, and being tossed about a long time, and with various mischances, they at last arrived on the coast of Italy, where, after seizing the citadel of the Tarentines, and expelling the old inhabitants, they fixed their abode. (Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 3.4)
Another foundation-myth of Tarentum enshrines the love and support of spouses for each other:
Tarentum is a colony of the Lacedaemonians, and its founder was Phalanthus, a Spartan. On setting out to found a colony Phalanthus received an oracle from Delphi, declaring that when he should feel rain under a cloudless sky (aethra), he would then win both a territory and a city. At first he neither examined the oracle himself nor informed one of his interpreters, but came to Italy with his ships. But when, although he won victories over the barbarians, he succeeded neither in taking a city nor in making himself master of a territory, he called to mind the oracle, and thought that the god had foretold an impossibility. For never could rain fall from a clear and cloudless sky. When he was in despair, his wife, who had accompanied him from home, among other endearments placed her husband’s head between her knees and began to pick out the lice. And it chanced that the wife, such was her affection, wept as she saw her husband’s fortunes coming to nothing. As her tears fell in showers, and she wetted the head of Phalanthus, he realized the meaning of the oracle, for his wife’s name was Aethra. And so on that night he took from the barbarians Tarentum, the largest and most prosperous city on the coast. They say that Taras the hero was a son of Poseidon by a nymph of the country, and that after this hero were named both the city and the river. For the river, just like the city, is called Taras. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.10.6-8)
Likewise, the men of Cumae were famed for enjoying the company of their wives:
And the people of Cumae in Italy, as Hyperochos tells us, or whoever else it was who wrote the History of Cumae which is attributed to him, wore golden brocaded garments all day, and robes embroidered with flowers; and used to go to the fields with their wives, riding in chariots. (Athenaios, Deipnosphistai 12.37e)
While the men of Sybaris were fond of their wives showing off and gave them pride of place at their festive banquets:
But Phylarchus, in the twenty-fifth book of his History states that the Sybarites, having given loose to their luxury, made a law that women might be invited to banquets, and that those who intended to invite them to sacred festivities must make preparation a year before, in order that they might have all that time to provide themselves with garments and other ornaments in a suitable manner worthy of the occasion, and so might come to the banquet to which they were invited.
Of course the medal for progressive gender relations goes to the Tyrrhenians whom I’m going to pretend are descended from Greeks since their origins are hotly disputed (and were equally so in antiquity) and it serves my argument to do so:
Sharing wives is an established Tyrrhenian custom. Tyrrhenian women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive. The Tyrrhenians raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name. When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them. They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Tyrrhenia are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies. (Theopompos of Chios, Histories Book 43)
And the Epizephyrii Locrians loved their women so much that they went to fairly extreme lengths in defending their virtue:
And Clearchus, in the fourth book of his Lives, writes as follows:—“But Dionysius, the son of Dionysius, the cruel oppressor of all Sicily, when he came to the city of the Locrians, which was his metropolis, (for Doris his mother was a Locrian woman by birth,) having strewed the floor of the largest house in the city with wild thyme and roses, sent for all the maidens of the Locrians in turn; and then rolled about naked, with them naked also, on this layer of flowers, omitting no circumstance of infamy. And so, not long afterwards, they who had been insulted in this manner having got his wife and children into their power, prostituted them in the public roads with great insult, sparing them no kind of degradation. And when they had wreaked their vengeance upon them, they thrust needles under the nails of their fingers, and put them to death with torture. And when they were dead, they pounded their bones in mortars, and having cut up and distributed the rest of their flesh, they imprecated curses on all who did not eat of it; and in accordance with this unholy imprecation, they put their flesh into the mills with the flour, that it might be eaten by all those who made bread. And all the other parts they sunk in the sea. But Dionysius himself, at last going about as a begging priest of Cybele, and beating the drum, ended his life very miserably. We, therefore, ought to guard against what is called luxury, which is the ruin of a man’s life; and we ought to think insolence the destruction of everything.” (Athenaios, Deipnosphistai 12.58)
Strabo provides confirmation of Dionysius’ abuse of the Locrian maidens:
After the Locrians had lived under good laws for a very long time, Dionysius, on being banished from the country of the Syracusans, abused them most lawlessly of all men. For he would sneak into the bed-chambers of the girls after they had been dressed up for their wedding, and lie with them before their marriage; and he would gather together the girls who were ripe for marriage, let loose doves with cropped wings upon them in the midst of the banquets, and then bid the girls waltz around unclad, and also bid some of them, shod with sandals that were not mates (one high and the other low), chase the doves around—all for the sheer indecency of it. (Geography 6.1.8)
And unlike far too many in contemporary neopaganism the Temesans took a clear stance against rape:
Odysseus, so they say, in his wanderings after the capture of Troy was carried down by gales to various cities of Italy and Sicily, and among them he came with his ships to Temesa. Here one of his sailors got drunk and violated a maiden, for which offence he was stoned to death by the natives. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.7)
Women played an important role not only in religion (which is true of most parts of ancient Greece, even Athens) but in the arts and intellectual lives of their cities as well.
For instance, there was Nossis whom Antipater of Thessalonica (Palatine Anthology 9.26) included among the pantheon of female poets alongside Sappho:
Such women with divine tongue raised with hymns the Helicon and so did the peak of the Macedonian Pieria, Praxilla, Moero, the mouth of Anyte, the female Homer, Sappho jewel of Lesbos’ women by the beautiful hair, Erinna, the famous Telesilla and you, Corinna, who sang the fearsome shield of Athena, Nossis by the soothing female voice and the sweet song of Myrtis, all authors of immortal texts.
And justifiably so, for this Locrian maiden penned lovely verses on local subjects such as:
Away from the wretched shoulders threw these shields the Bruttii,
beaten in the fray by the Locrians fast in the fight,
now, laid down in the temple, devote hymns to their bravery,
neither regret the arms of the cowards left without them.
(Palatine Anthology 6.132)
Nothing is sweeter than Love; and every other joy
is second to it: even the honey I spit out of my mouth.
Thus Nossis says: and who didn’t love Kypris,
doesn’t know what sort of roses her flowers are.
(Palatine Anthology 5.170)
Pass by over me with a ringing laugh, and then tell me
a friend word: I am Rinthon, the one of Syracuse.
A small nightingale of the Muses; from the tragic phliaxes
I was able to pick an ivy different and mine.
(Palatine Anthology 7.414)
And women were especially prominent in the Pythagorean communities in Southern Italy.
Iamblichos, for instance, provides the following list of female members of the sect:
The most illustrious Pythagorean women are Timycha, the wife of Myllias the Crotonian. Philtis, the daughter of Theophrius the Crotonian. Byndacis, the sister of Ocellus and Occillus, Lucanians. Chilonis, the daughter of Chilon the Lacedaemonian. Cratesiclea the Lacedaemonian, the wife of Cleanor the Lacedaemonian. Theano, the wife of Brontinus of Metapontum. Mya, the wife of Milon the Crotonian. Lasthenia the Arcadian. Abrotelia, the daughter of Abroteles the Tarentine. Echecratia the Phliasian. Tyrsenis, the Sybarite. Pisirrhonde, the Tarentine. Nisleadusa, the Lacedaemonian. Bryo, the Argive. Babelyma, the Argive. And Cleaechma, the sister of Autocharidas the Lacedaemonian. (Life of Pythagoras 36)
Diogenes Laertios relates a story about one of the most illustrious of these women:
Telauges wrote nothing, so far as we know, but his mother Theano wrote a few things. Further, a story is told that being asked how many days it was before a woman becomes pure after intercourse, she replied, “With her own husband at once, with another man never.” And she advised a woman going in to her own husband to put off her shame with her clothes, and on leaving him to put it on again along with them. Asked “Put on what?” she replied, “What makes me to be called a woman.” (Lives of Eminent Philosophers 8.43)
Another important Pythagorean woman was Perictyone, who wrote:
A woman should be a harmony of thoughtfulness and temperance. Her soul should be zealous to acquire virtue so that she may be just, brave, prudent, frugal, and hating vainglory. Furnished with these virtues, when she becomes a wife, act worthily towards herself, her husband, her children and her family. She should venerate the gods, thereby hoping to achieve felicity, also by obeying the laws and sacred institutions of her country. For no greater error or injustice can be committed by men than to act impiously towards their parents.
And Phintys, also of the sect, provided this defense of female philosophical aspirations:
Now some people think that it is not appropriate for a woman to be a philosopher, just as a woman should not be a cavalry officer or a politician. I agree that men should be generals and city officials and politicians, and women should keep house and stay inside and receive and take care of their husbands. But I believe that courage, justice, and intelligence are qualities that men and women have in common. Courage and intelligence are more appropriately male qualities because of the strength of men’s bodies and the power of their minds. Chastity is more appropriately female. Women of importance leave the house to sacrifice to the leading divinity of the community on behalf of themselves and their husbands and their households. They do not leave home at night nor in the evening, but at midday, to attend a religious festival or to make some purchase, accompanied by a single female servant or decorously escorted by two servants at most. They make modest sacrifices to the gods also, according to their means. They keep away from secret cults and Cybeline orgies in their homes. For public law prevents women from participating in these rites, particularly because these forms of worship encourage drunkenness and ecstasy. The mistress of the house and head of the household should be chaste and untouched in all respects.
So there you go. Greek men’s attitudes toward women were hardly monolithic, even in this particular region. Though clearly women were much better treated in Italy than in Attica.
Volcanic eruptions brought about massive ecological changes which crippled the great palatial cultures of Crete and mainland Hellas, making them vulnerable to successive population migrations from Eurasia. For a couple hundred years there’s almost no archaeological record and the few items that have come to light are technologically and artistically inferior to what existed before, leading scholars to refer to this period as the Greek Dark Ages. Towards the end of it you see a return to literacy and massive advancements in material culture. This rapid progress results in a swell in population which reaches crisis levels around the tenth and ninth centuries BCE, placing an intolerable strain on the land which was never that great to begin with since much of Hellas is coastal and mountainous. Famine and war do their part to reduce the population bottleneck but there is still terrible civil unrest, particularly among the younger, landless segments of society. Apollon from Delphi begins directing the Greeks to send this surplus humanity out to settle neighboring territories, at first in the islands, the Balkans, Asia Minor and along the Black Sea. Later, from the eighth to fifth centuries BCE, colonists are sent to France, Spain, North Africa and Italy.
Some of the territory they settle in is uninhabited but more often than not the Greeks in Italy are forced to displace populations or contend with (at times, though not always) hostile neighbors. Sometimes these people are indigenous (having sprung up from the soil and lived there always, at least according to their own traditions), usually they are native meaning populations (from Crete, Anatolia, the Near East or other parts of Italy) who had migrated to the area at a much earlier time and established strong ties to the land over the intervening centuries.
The Greeks rose to dominance, establishing a network of colonies all along the south and eastern coast of Italy that came to be known collectively as Megale Hellas or Magna Graecia – Greater Greece in English. There were the usual armed conflicts and massacres that one expects from even a casual perusal of history (though amusingly they seem to have fought more among themselves than with the other populations) but what really allowed them to come out on top was their enterprise and commerce. They were innovative agriculturists who prospered greatly by applying the hardscrabble techniques they’d picked up back in barren Hellas to the much more nutrient-rich volcanic soil of Southern Italy and Sicily. They impressed their neighbors through their wealth of grain and vines and traded in luxury goods imported from Hellas and abroad, which helped establish peaceful relations. Likewise they had evolved civic institutions that were soon adopted by the non-Greek populations and established important centers of learning and the arts which were accessible to all. (Some of the most important Pythagorean philosophers, for instance, weren’t Greeks.) Religion was also an important force for co-existence, with a strong emphasis placed on inclusive syncretism, the veneration of local Goddesses and heroes and an epic mythic tradition that was deeply appealing to their neighbors. (Indeed we find Apulian vases and terracotta representations of the Greek Gods and heroes in locations far removed from the colonies; we even find these figures incorporated into Italian grave goods and temples and symposiac scenes and plastic arts that otherwise betray no trace of Hellenization.) Their religion was as much changed by contact with their neighbors as it changed them – even traditionally Olympian deities take on a pronounced chthonic tone in Italy; there’s also much more concern with daimones and purity – which is why I see it as a distinct tradition in its own right and don’t consider myself a practitioner of Hellenismos proper.
All of which is to say, there’s not just one type of colonization. Any time that two bodies are competing for resources the fitter will triumph. In some instances fit is determined by strength, in others by cleverness, in others still by having a more desirable product or culture. There is, however, a right and a wrong way to subordinate others.
Despite the dominant position they came to hold in Italy the Greeks never let that blind them to the humanity they shared with their neighbors. For instance, the Tarentines sent a golden statue of Opis, king of the Iapygians, to Delphi to commemorate his valor and intelligence since he had distinguished himself as a general in battle against them and later when they were overcome with war-lust after a protracted campaign and humiliated some civilians of the vanquished city of Carbina, they instituted a festival of Zeus honoring the victims so that they would forever remain mindful of their shameful deeds and never repeat them. In one of their numerous territorial disputes with fellow Greek colonists the Tarentines employed Ambrician, Bruttian, Lucanian, Thesprotian, Chaonian and Samnite mercenaries.
They may have killed and even enslaved their neighbors, but what you don’t find are delusions of ethnic superiority, attempts to systematically exterminate other populations, cultural obliteration or assimilation, environmental holocaust and forced religious conversions the way you do with the French, English, Spanish and other European settlers in the Americas.
That comes about only with monotheism and its bastard child secular capitalism. These predatory systems tolerate no diversity or competition and place no check on human ambition. Drained of its inherent divinity they see the land as there simply to be exploited and used up until they can move on to the next place and anyone who is unfortunate enough to stand in their way is fair game. Even if the Greeks had no regard for their neighbors (which they clearly did) reverence for the Gods and spirits of those people, of the land they lived on would have forced them to go about conquest in a more humane and civilized fashion.
Everything must be done within proper bounds in polytheism, especially something as important as war, and with the understanding that we are not at the top of the food-chain. Should we overstep, the Gods and their vengeance is there to smack us down and shame us for our hubris. Over and over again this comes up in the accounts of Magna Graecia – which is why I think this religious tradition is so vitally important, especially for those of us living in a decaying empire built on the rotting corpses of countless multitudes.
The cult of Dionysos Bakcheios took root in Sicily and Southern Italy when the region was heavily colonized by the Greeks. It swiftly spread to Rome, Tuscany and the cities of the north so that a few centuries later Sophokles could refer to Dionysos in the choral ode from Antigone as “the Lord of all Italy.” Though the Etruscans were especially devoted to the god, the heart of the cult remained in the mystic South which was also the home of Pythagorean and Orphic communities.
As the Bacchic cult was welcoming to women, effeminate males, foreigners, slaves and other disenfranchised minorities — who together formed an overwhelming majority of the population — the Roman authorities grew suspicious and moved to put an end to their perceived revolutionary aspirations. They found a prostitute who had been initiated into the cult and threatened and bribed her until she gave damning testimony against her fellow initiates. She alleged that the cult had committed all manner of lewd and indecent acts and had branched out to murder, forgery, extortion and other serious crimes.
In order to corroborate her scandalous charges they sent out spies, paid informants and strongmen who terrorized the communities of Southern Italy for months. Many chose suicide rather than give false confession under torture, but eventually the Roman authorities had enough information to act upon. They declared the Bacchic cult illicit and with their justly earned reputation for ruthlessness and efficiency, the Romans made war upon the devotees of the god.
And war it was too, as the sober historian Livy recounted. He claims that over seven thousand men and women were found guilty of association with the Bacchanalia, and whole cities were depopulated in the suppression.
But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that … the praetors Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius were obliged to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. Since the law-courts were closed and those who had charges brought against them often had fled, the consuls were forced to make a circuit of the country towns where they made their inquisitions and held the trials. Those for whom the only crime was initiation were left in prison while those that they could prove had committed a host unspeakable crimes were 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. (History of Rome 34:18)
Once they had broken the cult’s base of power in Italy they appointed their own officials to operate the few remaining temples and strictly organize small, private religious associations. Anyone who attempted to honor the god outside of this system of control was severely punished. Dionysos did not remain gagged and straight-jacketed for long however. On the eve of one of his festivals Dionysos came to the assistance of a young soldier, helping him to gain victory and through that distinction and power. His generosity was not forgotten. Once that young man — known to history as Julius Caesar — had the whole country under his control one of the first things he did was lift the ban on the Bacchanalia.
The massacre of the Bacchic Martyrs is one of the few instances of Roman religious intolerance (along with the suppression of the Druids, the destruction of the temple of Isis and the expulsion of Sabazius-worshipers from the city) before the Christian era. Unlike those other instances, however, the Bacchic persecution came with a body count that would not be equaled until the time of Decius and Diocletian.
For contemporary Dionysians these are our ancestors, our predecessors, men and women who paid the ultimate price to be counted among the mystai of the god. They must be remembered.
We who are engaged in the revival of our ancestral traditions must remember those who came before us and include them in our labor if we are to see the fruit of success. They possess wisdom that we, with our sundered traditions, do not. They understood the importance and sacredness of these traditions since they were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of them. We, especially those of us who live in Western secular societies, have it easy and that has led to apathy and complacency. We must take inspiration from their examples and devote ourselves to honoring the holy powers and strengthening our traditions so that we have something of worth to pass on to the generations that follow.
For those who wish to honor our Bacchic Martyrs on October 7th I’m going to post some of the material from their chapter in Masks of Dionysos. Never forget.
But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that … the praetors Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius were obliged to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. Since the law-courts were closed and those who had charges brought against them often had fled, the consuls were forced to make a circuit of the country towns where they made their inquisitions and held the trials. Those for whom the only crime was initiation were left in prison while those that they could prove had committed a host unspeakable crimes were 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. (Livy, History of Rome 34:18)
An important feature in the daily ritual of the temples was the opening of the gates to allow the rising Sun to touch the cult image or the lighting of lamps when this was not possible. This opening or lighting symbolized the daily rebirth of the Sun and its triumph over the dark forces of chaos which sought to devour and destroy it during its nocturnal travels in the underworld, which we find expressed in this myth about Orpheus:
When he descended to the underworld to recover his wife, Orpheus saw things there and ceased to honor Dionysos, through whom he had gained glory. Instead, he considered Helios the greatest of the Gods, calling him Apollon. (Eratosthenes, Vat. Fragm. 24)
In the solar theology of Orphism, all the Gods were thought to derive their power from the Sun, as we see in Macrobius:
Orpheus here has called the Sun “Phanes” (φανερός), from its light and enlightening, for the Sun sees all and is seen by all. The name Dionysos is derived, as the soothsayer himself says, from the fact that the Sun wheels round in an orbit. Cleanthes writes that the name Dionysos is derived from the Greek verb meaning “to complete” (διανύσαι), because the Sun in its daily course from its rising to its setting, making the Day and the Night, completes the circuit of the heavens. For the physicists Dionysos is “the mind of Zeus” (Διὸς νοῦς), since they hold that the Sun is the mind of the universe, and Zeus is the universe. (Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.18.13-15)
Members of the Orphic sect believe that material mind is represented by Dionysos himself, who, born of a single parent, is divided into separate parts. In their sacred rites they portray him as being torn to pieces at the hands of angry Titans and arising again from his buried limbs alive and sound, their reason being that nous or Mind, by offering its undivided substance to be divided, and again, by returning from its divided state to the indivisible, both fulfills its worldly functions and does not forsake its secret nature. (Macrobius, Commentarium in Somnium Scipionis 1.12.12)
And the much earlier Derveni Papyrus col. 13 and 16
He swallowed the phallus of […], who sprang from the aither first.
Since in his [i.e. Orpheus] whole poetry he speaks about facts enigmatically, one has to speak about each word in turn. Seeing that people consider that generation is dependent upon the genitalia, and that without genitals there is no becoming, he used this (word), likening the Sun to a phallus. For without the Sun the things that are could not have become such … things that are … the Sun everything ….
It has been made clear above [that] he called the Sun a phallus. Since the beings that are now came to be from the already subsistent he says:
[with?] the phallus of the first-born king, onto which all the immortals grew (or: clung fast), blessed Gods and Goddesses And rivers and lovely springs and everything else That had been born then; and he himself became solitary
In these verses he indicates that the beings always subsisted, and the beings that are now came to be from (or: out of) subsisting things. And as to (the phrase): ‘and he himself became solitary’, by saying this, he makes clear that the Mind [Nous] itself, being alone, is worth everything, as if the others were nothing. For it would not be possible for the subsisting things to be such without the Mind. And in the following verse after this he said that Mind is worth everything:
Now he is king of all and will always be
…. Mind and …
So this triumph of the Sun was viewed as a triumph of all the Gods collectively. Even when the deities were not specifically solar in nature, it was still thought necessary for the rays of the Sun to alight upon the cult image in order to reenergize it.
As far back as Homer we are told that the Greek deities reside in a brilliant heavenly abode – Olympos meaning “brightly shining” and their epiphany was often described with terms signifying the appearance of light or gold (Plato Phaedrus 250; Aristides Sacred Discourses 3; Plutarch On the Soul) – even the more chthonic deities such as Hekate who nevertheless bore the epithet Phosphoros or “light-bringer.”
As you light your candle or lamp, meditate on these associations. Feel the triumph of light over darkness and what this meant to a world with no electricity, in which the dark was all-consuming and terrifying. Feel the heat and radiance as a herald to the shortly coming full divine presence. Think about the warmth and joy you feel on a sunny summer day, the flush of love in your cheeks, the conviviality of the hearth flame, how fire makes civilization possible – and how all of these are a blessing from the Gods. See the light as a beacon rising from your shrine up over your city, your country, the world, shining across the vast expanse of space, that the Gods and Spirits might be able to follow it back from their heavenly abode to your humble shrine.
In the Orphism of late antiquity (representing the theoretical rather than operative side of the tradition) the Gods possess names, souls, and bodies. The name signifies their absolute, eternal, perfect, and unchanging nature. The henad of the God, as Plato might say. The soul is how the God manifests in the world, the unique area of influence that it possesses, those concepts and activities associated with it, but which are not of its fundamental nature. (Thus, for instance, one might say that Aphrodite and Hera are both Goddesses of love, concerned with its promotion and protection in the world – but they are not the concept of love itself, as evidenced by the fact that they have other, more complex functions as well.)
And finally, the body of the God, which in antiquity was usually contained in its tomb or temple, whether thought to be an actual relic of the God or simply a symbolic representative image of the deity, and was highly localized and thus distinct from place to place. This plays into the notion of divine manifestation: the deity remained always in the realm of the eternal – however, it could choose to send a portion of itself out and either manifest spiritually through dreams, visions, and similar things, or through natural phenomena such as a rain-storm, a sunrise, or the growth of plants. Alternately, it could temporarily inhabit objects – the cult image, a sacred place, or else its holy animal or a priest in a trance state. These distinct manifestations could be simultaneous – the God would remain in heaven, while also being present as a numinous energy felt by all of its worshipers, and additionally being manifest in its statue hidden deep in the temple’s sanctuary. More so, the God could be present in multiple locations at the same time – thus if people were doing synchronized rituals in Rome, Athens, and Memphis at the same hour, the God could be at each one even though great distances separated these places.
However, the highly localized nature of the body of the God – the materials used in its construction, the specific locality where it could be found, the variant traditions that had developed around the cult center – assured that there were also differences, despite the ultimate idealized unity of the Godhead. It was important to emphasize the specific form of the God you were calling on, the version of the deity that you had a previous relationship with, where he or she was originating from, and so forth. It wouldn’t do to call on the abstract idea – you had to trace them through their localized manifestation, through the proximity of their “body” since this was where their potency lay. Thus, for instance, we always find in the invocations their names are always accompanied by local descriptors (Pythian Apollon vs Clarian Apollon) or epithets (Athene Ergane, Demeter Thesmophoros) and we can even see distinctions between these manifestations: thus when Xenophon sets out as a Greek mercenary in the employ of the Persian Cyrus he is under the guidance and protection of Zeus Basileios (Anabasis 3.1.5-8), but later on meets with obstacles set in his path by Zeus Meilichios who is angry because the general hasn’t sacrificed to him in this form since leaving Athens (7.8.3-6) or the way that Dionysos Meilichios puts an end to the raging madness of Dionysos Bakchios. (Athenaios 3.78c) They are ultimately the same God – but also meant to be approached as distinct entities.
The invocation also further emphasizes the distinct spatial and temporal manifestations of the God – first in its original home, the cult center found in ancient religious practice and mythology (which can further be viewed as an anchor in eternity) – secondly through mention of Alexandria, which serves as a medium between the ideal and the local, anchors the God in the past, and also bonds together all those who are using this same formula, and finally through the mention of one’s local city, which suggests that the Gods did not cease to be active in some remote period in history, and are not distant and cut off from us – but manifest right here, right now, a constant presence for those capable of seeing them, and further reveal themselves to the individual in a personal form.
And as mentioned earlier, that personal connection is vitally important. Thus the central space in the invocation has been left blank so that the individual can fill it in with their own understanding of the God and mention of past experiences. This is an important nod to the ancient Greek side of our faith, based as it was on the concept of charis or reciprocal action. Basically, the whole relationship that the ancient Greek had with his Gods was established on a series of gift-exchanges: the Gods had given the individual assistance in the past (good crops, inspiration, help in a tight spot) and in return he thanked them through sacrifices and devotional activities or promises to do these if the prayer request was met, which produced good will in the God, inclining them to further beneficial actions, which in turn called forth additional praises and offerings. This wasn’t simply a mercenary exercise to bribe the Gods: it was rather an acknowledgement of their importance in our lives and a continual effort at mindfulness and gratitude. It further reminded people that nothing in life was free, that everything required hard work, and if you are going to ask something from the Gods, you have to be willing to carry out your side of the bargain through the fulfillment of your oath. It also set the stage for future interaction with the God by bringing to mind – both for yourself and for them – the ways in which your life had intersected with theirs in the past.
As you speak your invocations, remain mindful of that. Try to speak from the heart. Don’t worry about using a preset formula of address – let the epithets and descriptions rise poetically from your soul, even if they are inelegant and you stumble over them. In time this will come naturally to you, and you’ll have a whole stock of expressions to employ – some of them drawn from the lore, some entirely personal and based on your own understanding and experiences with the God.
You know the most depressing part of all this?
They clearly think I’m more interesting than I actually am.
Apparently at one of the Starry Bull retreats we had a drug-fueled orgy in the blood of a sacrificed goat.
Jesus, I need to up my game.
Tumblr is such a great educational resource.
Today I learned that Brandy Williams, a respected figure in the Thelemic and magical communities who has done tremendous work bringing to light the often overlooked or downplayed contributions of female occultists and mystics from the past (and whom I have read but never spoken to, corresponded with or even met though we’ve been at a couple of the same conferences) is a member of a super secret organization I run, and an operative disseminating disinformation on my behalf.
I’m sure she’ll be just as surprised to hear of this as I was. Ditto that she apparently learned of the Greek Gods from me.
I’m guessing she’ll also be just as annoyed as I am at the attempted erasure of yet another woman’s power, authority, agency, ability, intelligence and decades of effort on behalf of her Gods and communities.
Fuck you and your misogyny, lefty trolls. You’ve earned yourself a fig:
I mean, why assume she’s part of my organization and not the other way around? It’s the current year. Girls can run secret societies too. Isn’t that right, Beyoncé?
As a Dionysian one of my favorite devotional practices is watching movies, so to get in the mood for Halloween this year I have decided to view a film a day. Although not all of these technically qualify as “horror” they hit all the right notes as far as I’m concerned.
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) dir. by Francis Ford Coppola
2. The Devil’s Advocate (1997) dir. by Taylor Hackford
3. Videodrome (1983) dir. by David Cronenberg
4. Sleepwalkers (1992) dir. by Mick Garris
5. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) dir. by Tony Randel
6. Uzumaki (2000) dir. by Higuchinsky
7. The Lair of the White Worm (1988) dir. by Ken Russell
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) dir. by Chuck Russell
9. In the Mouth of Madness (1994) dir. by John Carpenter
10. Nightbreed (1990) dir. by Clive Barker
11. Baskin (2015) dir. by Can Evrenol
12. Martyrs (2008) dir. by Pascal Laugier
13. The Last Circus (2011) dir. by Álex de la Iglesia
14. Candyman (1986) dir. by Bernard Rose
15. The Cell (2000) dir. by Tarsem Singh
16. Poltergeist (1982) dir. by Tobe Hooper
17. Meridian: Kiss of the Beast (1990) dir. by Charles Band
18. Night of the Demons 2 (1994) dir. by Brian Trenchard-Smith
19. Gothic (1986) dir. by Ken Russell
20. Mandy (2018) dir. by Panos Cosmatos
21. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) dir. by Danny Steinmann
22. The Exorcist (1973) dir. by William Friedkin
23. Halloween (2007) dir. by Rob Zombie
24. Carrie (1976) dir. by Brian De Palma
25. The Passion of the Christ (2004) dir. by Mel Gibson
26. The Green Inferno (2013) dir. by Eli Roth
27. The Wicker Man (2006) dir. by Neil LaBute
28. Midsommar (2019) dir. by Ari Aster
29. Night Terrors (1993) dir. by Tobe Hooper
30. The Lords of Salem (2012) dir. by Rob Zombie
31. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) dir. by Henry Selick
I address myself to the malingerers of Tumblr;
I’m not sure why you fixate upon me (especially since I haven’t been active in the community or even in maintaining this blog for a while) and feel the need to spread distortions and lies to boot, but you do, so here I am to address them. (Admit it, you miss me and this is some sick attempt to get my attention. Well, it worked. Hope you’re happy.)
To begin with, have the decency to respect my labels. I am far-right, with no political affiliation – not Fascist, let alone Nazi. Clearly you follow my blog closely enough to have seen the multiple times I’ve carefully explained the differences. Your persistence in using such scare terms is not only dishonest and libelous but as rude as continuing to address a trans person by the gender they were born into after they’ve told you their preference. It’s bad form, and you should stop it.
I have never tried to hide the fact that Rhyd Wildermuth was once a friend.
If you don’t believe the world is ending please notify that poor Greta Thunberg child, because she seems really upset about the prospect.
Incidentally, I don’t either. It is possible to experience παλιγγενεσία or rebirth without a literal death. Metaphorical is a whole other story.
Also, you should probably wait until all 13 books in my poetic cycle are complete before critiquing their apocalypticism. Potential spoiler, but I have a great fondness for M. Night Shyamalan style twists.
You may mock my belief that Dionysos will one day be the Successor of Zeus, but it’s straight out of the Rhapsodic Theogony, according to Otto Kern’s Orphicorum Fragmenta:
Proklos. Zeus the Father ruled all things, but Bakchos ruled after him.
Dionysos will lead the New Pantheon from Nysa or the reclaimed Tower of Kronos, not our cult compound. I am unsure where you got that from, as I’ve never suggested anything like it.
And yes, our community will defend itself. Would you belong to one that didn’t?
I have never been forced out of any group.
Hellenion – stepped down from elected position in protest over restrictive bylaws (which I felt stifled the formation of dêmoi) and how a situation involving the sitting president was handled. (The guy had converted to Episcopalianism and thought it was still okay for him to run a Hellenic polytheist organization. Unfortunately, so did several other prominent board members.)
Neokoroi – left to explore Kemeticism and eventually Greco-Egyptian polytheism.
Neos Alexandria – left to focus on local-focus polytheism and eventually Bacchic Orphism; also disappointed that the group seemed to care more about publishing books than worshiping the Gods, and I had disagreements with the editorial staff and one of our authors to boot. (Note I have nothing but respect for Rebecca and what her team have subsequently accomplished, and she was not part of the dispute.)
Thiasos of the Starry Bull – unwilling to budge on the position of animal sacrifice within the tradition I stepped down as Archiboukolos when this became hotly debated. I remained in an advisory role to the council I appointed to govern the group in my stead until they decided to shut things down a year or two later.
Bacchic Underground – left over personal disputes and a dislike for the culture that was developing there.
I have warned of the deleterious effects of prolonged exposure to social media; indeed, I have probably not been critical enough of it. But you go ahead and defend the shenanigans of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of their technocrat ilk as well as continue to use their services. (Pro tip: if you aren’t paying, you and your private information are the product.)
However, I have not and would never demean someone for their occupation. “There is no shame in labor, only in idleness,” as Hesiod once quipped. That said, I have argued that our values and ethics should shape all parts of our lives as polytheists, including employment. You will note that I do not state how that should play out, as it’s up to the individual to make such determinations for themselves. I probably wouldn’t think much of a polytheist who ran a corporation that polluted our waterways, or produced child pornography, or published an Antifa ‘zine but then I suspect they wouldn’t be terribly fond of me either.
I do not “make a living” off of selling books and classes, and I wager most of the folks in Neopaganism, Polytheism, Heathenry and Occultism don’t either. What little I earn through these ventures is usually funneled back into the community, as I have helped multiple people attend conferences and retreats over the years by paying for their transportation, food and related expenses (and also helping out during emergency situations) or used it to host public rituals or fund other devotional projects. When I’m not engaged in such activities I use it for offerings and shrine supplies, purchasing from polytheist artisans when I can.
But, even if I was … – and? Since when is using one’s intelligence and creativity to support oneself a bad thing? Do you believe that writers, artists, teachers, etc. should be compelled to give their services away without just compensation? That’s called slavery, something I thought your kind were supposed to be against.
This is my blog. I will promote whatever groups or projects I please here, especially my own. If you don’t like it, don’t read me. I don’t venture forth into any other part of the internet to “spam them” – and if you believe otherwise you are delusional or being deceived, and quite possibly both.
The Year One calendar for the Bakcheion never got off the ground; it would have taken conventional American holidays and grounded them in Bacchic ritual, myth and milieu as a way to probe their deeper meaning. The aition for “Valentine’s Day” was chosen precisely because it was such a problematic story. It raises questions about sacrifice, love, obsession, loyalty, ethics and the place of the Gods in all of this. Wrestling with such matters – and avoiding easy, pat answers – seems a more worthwhile way to spend the day than accumulating cards, flowers, chocolates and other commercialized tokens of affection or worse, wallowing in despair and self-loathing because you don’t. I apologize if you did not understand that. Clearly the
American Canadian educational system has failed you.
Now, is there anything else you wanted to know?
A serious study of myth can be a maddening thing, especially when it comes to making sense of the variant threads in the ancient tales that have been passed down to us concerning the Goddess Kore-Persephone. I have seen a fair number of people express bewildered frustration over their inability to reconcile the standard Homeric sequence of events with what we find alluded to in the poetry of Orpheus. They assert that in the famous Hymn to Demeter that provides the mythological basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, Persephone is an innocent young maiden out picking flowers with her girlhood companions when Haides, the lord of the dead, carries her off to his shadowy realm. She is such an innocent that she seems to have no independent personality of her own. Her whole life up to that point has been as the satellite of her mother and she lacks any kind of distinctive name, being called simply Kore or The Girl. It is only once she makes the willful decision to accept the seeds that Haides offers her – pomegranate seeds, mind you, the fruit of marriage sacred to Hera – that she begins to develop something like a personality of her own, reflected in the change of her name to Persephone. Therefore, reductionists argue, there is no room for the Orphic “prehistory” of this Goddess and thus it is best viewed as a late and artificial intrusion, interesting perhaps for its implications but not to be regarded with the same weight of authority that the Homeric-Eleusinian myth possesses.
I am not so certain of that. While it is true that we must wait until the Neoplatonic philosophers and Christian apologists to get a full and cohesive narration of the myth of Zagreus – and even then there is a great deal of contradiction in our sources – authors as far back as Herodotos, Plato, Pindar and even a few Presocratic philosophers betray a general awareness of the myth and reference many of its most important details. Furthermore, there is no inherent contradiction in the sequence of events if we read it with a certain sensitivity.
The Orphic account can be summarized in the following way: long before Kore was out gathering flowers with the Nymphs her mother kept her secluded from the world in a cave where she spent all of her time weaving a grand tapestry containing all of the wonderful things she longed to see. One day her father Zeus came to her disguised as a great serpent and he seduced her. From their unspeakable union sprang the bull-horned child Zagreus who was later torn apart by the Titans at the instigation of the jealous Goddess Hera. Kore was greatly angered on account of the sorrowful things she suffered and was appeased only through mystic rites called orgies after her orge or wrath.
One of the reasons why I find it plausible to place this myth chronologically before the other is because it tallies with the experiences of many who have suffered rape and incest. Often they retreat in upon themselves, creating a simplified and artificial personality which they present to the world. They lose interest in many of the activities that excited them previously, disassociate themselves from anything sexual or adult and surround themselves only with innocent, unchallenging and playful companions. This is precisely the situation we find Kore in prior to her encounter with Haides – indeed her picking flowers could even be read as a desire to regain the lost beauty of her innocence.
If we accept this interpretation of the story then it casts Haides’ actions in an interesting new light. Because while he unquestionably abducts her forcefully she does not respond to him as a rapist. She accepts his proposal of marriage and takes her rightful place at his side as queen of those beneath the earth. Indeed when Theseus and his companion later come to liberate the Goddess and return her to the sunlit world above, she makes it abundantly clear that she’s happy where she is and punishes them for their impudence. Though we are given precious few details of what transpired between the abduction and the offer of pomegranate seeds we can guess at his treatment of her by the fact that she willingly accepted those seeds and all that they represented. Indeed Haides seems to show nothing but gentle affection and respect for his bride in that he first went to ask her father for her hand in marriage and unlike his Olympian counterpart he engaged in no extramarital dalliances. Aside from Persephone Haides is romantically linked only with the Nymph Minthe and that was well before he was wed. Such fidelity is truly extraordinary among our Gods and speaks highly of Haides’ feelings for his wife. Likewise Persephone took no lovers, though she was briefly enamored of the child Adonis – perhaps because he reminded her of all she had lost, her innocence as well as her own son who is so often compared to the Syrian Godling.
Therefore in a strange way Haides’ rape of Kore may have been liberating and healing by taking her out of surroundings that were a constant reminder of her past trauma and into a strange new realm where she could find her own bearings and craft an identity for herself on her own terms. Her controlling, worrisome mother may have served to keep her trapped in the limited and powerless role of victim despite her best intentions to care for and safeguard her daughter. Only when all of the bonds were broken, everything dear and familiar to her had been stripped away could she begin the journey into transformative wholeness. And that could happen only in a place of fertile darkness where the souls of the deceased come to be nourished after the anguish of life on earth. Haides their lord is a quiet, aloof and solemn divinity, a far cry from the intensely emotional and smothering embrace of Kore’s mother. Perhaps in the solitary and still darkness the Goddess was finally able to sit with her grief, to let it out and no longer have to pretend that she was the happy, playful, flower-loving child any longer. Once her tears and rage had passed she was able to see what was left – and what was left was Persephone.
Thus I accept the Orphic chronology because it enhances one’s interpretation of the rest of the myth and brings out nuances in the characters of the Gods involved. It is also the only place that makes any sense, since it couldn’t have transpired after Haides’ abduction of her as that would have surely introduced an enmity between the brothers which we can find no trace of in our sources. So either it happened then, in some pocket alternate reality or timeline or else we must discard it altogether. And I am unwilling to accept this final option since Dionysos and Persephone so clearly have close ties. Not only can we bring in all of the evidence of their joint cults and the strong chthonic traits that Dionysos possesses – but there is even a familial resemblance when you examine their personalities and functions. If Persephone isn’t Dionysos’ other mother then I can think of no way to account for all of this. Therefore I feel it best to accept the testimony of Orpheus whose divinely given wisdom and musical skill are without rival.