Persephone’s goose

In Southern Italy the goose is one of the sacred animals of Persephone and often found accompanying her, as we see in this pinax from Lokroi Epizephyrii which depicts a maiden offering a rooster to the enthroned goddess while a goose flexes its wings beneath the offering table:

On an Attic red figure krater said to have been found in S. Agata dei Goti in Campania the goose has wandered into the andrōn where Persephone’s husband is hosting a symposion with Dionysos and his retinue (including a drunken Hephaistos and rambunctious Eros who is about to assault the poor goose) as the guests of honor:

This bird was so closely associated with Persephone that it figured prominently on her throne in the underworld:

Two more series, related to each other, also belong indisputably to the sphere of Persephone: the scenes depicting Hades and Persephone enthroned, and the ‘homage’ scenes in which various deities pay homage to an enthroned Persephone or to the enthroned couple. In the first series we find the following symbols and cult objects. (I) The cock (one is held by Persephone and another is standing under the throne). (2) The thymiaterion surmounted by a cock. (3) The stalk of grain (held by Persephone). (4) The phiale (held by Hades). (5) A blooming twig (held by Hades). (6) The throne with a back ending in a goose’s head. In the homage scenes the divinities paying homage hold attributes which identify them (e.g. Hermes the ram), or offer the cock or other objects appropriate to Persephone or the circumstances. The following deities appear in these scenes. (a) Hermes, always with a ram, and often presenting a cock to Persephone; he is sometimes accompanied by a female figure to whom I shall return below. (b) Dionysos, holding a kantharos and a vine, sometimes also accompanied by a female figure. (c) Apollo, in one type with a lyre, in the other with a lyre and a bow. (d) Triptolemos, holding a stalk of grain in one hand and with the other guiding the winged serpents of his chariot. (e) The Dioskouroi, who are represented as horsemen, sometimes followed by a female figure; they hold a cup or a kantharos and a shield or a lyre. Pruickner so recognizes Athena in one of the types. […] In the fifth group a girl carrying the peplos on a tray and followed by the phialophoros arrives in front of a seated deity who has her himation drawn over her head and is holding a cock; under her seat there is a hydria. This type would suggest that in this cycle at least the phialophoros figure is a priestess, while the goddess, shown as ‘ideally present’, is meeting the peplos-carrying procession. The final group’ shows a girl putting the peplos away in a chest which stands in front of a throne with a back ending in a goose’s head. Since this simple act is shown on pinakes, it must have had a religious significance. The peplos, the type of throne, and the kalathos and kantharos hanging on the wall indicate that we are still in Persephone’s cultic sphere. A mirror is also handing on the wall: we saw that this object had entered Persephone’s orbit. There is also a lekythos on the wall, but this conveys no information to us. The context indicates a sacred garment kept in a sanctuary; this, in combination with the peplophoria scenes, suggests an occasion of garment presentation to a goddess, a well-known ritual act in Greek religion. Zancani Montuoro suggested that we are dealing with the presentation of Persephone’s bridal peplos; she considered the whole nexus of scenes involving the peplos as part of Persephone’s theogamia, but was undecided as to whether these are cultic scenes taking place in the Locrian sanctuary or mythological ones, though she is inclined towards the latter view. (Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, Persephone and Aphrodite at Locri: A Model for Personality Definitions in Greek Religion)

This is as close as I’ve come to finding an explanation for this bit of Magna Graecian iconography – until the other night.

I was looking through the Karaitos Catalogue of Heroines to see if I could track down any Dionysiac figures I wasn’t already familiar with (alas, none turned up) when I came across this:

HERKYNA (Lebadeia) a companion of Kore. She has a temple on the banks of the river of the same name (Paus. 9.39.2-3). It is unclear whether she received divine or heroic cult there.

Now Lebadeia is where the oracle of Trophonios was located and that has some intriguing parallels with Bacchic Orphic stuff since at various points in the katabasis ritual you had to drink water from Lethe and Mnemosyne. So I decided to refresh my memory and see what Pausanias had to say about her:

They say that here Herkyna, when playing with Kore, the daughter of Demeter, held a goose which against her will she let loose. The bird flew into a hollow cave and hid under a stone; Kore entered and took the bird as it lay under the stone. The water flowed, they say, from the place where Kore took up the stone, and hence the river received the name Herkyna. On the bank of the river there is a temple of Herkyna, in which is a maiden holding a goose in her arms. In the cave are the sources of the river and images standing, and serpents are coiled around their sceptres. One might conjecture the images to be of Asklepios and Hygeia; but they might equally be Trophonios and Herkyna, because they think that serpents are just as much sacred to Trophonios as Asklepios. (Description of Greece 9.39.2)

The only other information I could turn up on her was at

Her name probably means guard-dog, from eruô, to guard, and kyôn a dog, or alternatively, she-who-wards-off, erukô. The story given by Pausanias, however, has it derive from herkos, a bird-catching net or noose. Herkyna appears to be closely identified with the goddess Hekate. Both were childhood companions of the goddess Persephone; and chthonian (or underworld) goddesses associated with dogs. […] Herkyna founded the worship of Demeter at Lebadeia, who hence received the surname of Herkyna. (Lycoph. 153, with the note of Tzetzes.) Herkyna was worshipped at Lebadeia in common with Zeus, and sacrifices were offered to both in common. (Liv. xlv. 27.) […] It appears that Pausanias has ommitted certain details of this story, which seems to be a local version of the tale of the abduction of Persephone. The goose appears to be the lure (rather than the usual narcissus flower), and the burried stream the entranceway to the upper world for the god Haides.

That conjures all sorts of associations with Acheloos and Euthymos, the latter of whom was linked with Persephone at Lokroi:

Many terracotta plaques featuring three female heads were found in the Grotta, sometimes with Pan and sometimes with Dionysiac symbols. This trio of heads is found in nymphaea, in Persephone shrines, and in tombs elsewhere in the Greek world, but in the Grotta Caruso an unusual combination occurs: sometimes the nymphs appear with a tauromorph, a bull with a human face and horns. The iconography of this figure is consistent with portraits of Acheloos or other river gods, and we have textual evidence that ties the Locrian one to a river. An inscription on one of the Grotta’s plaques names the bull-man as Euthymos, a curious Locrian hero. (Bonnie MacLachlan, Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave)

This makes me curious – is the Herkynaean goose the one depicted in Magna Graecian art? And if so, how did it get there? Most of the Hellenic colonies in Italy were outside the Boiotian cultural sphere, so does that mean that this form of the abduction myth was at one point more widespread before being eclipsed by the ‘canonical’ Eleusinian version? One possibility is that it was favored by Orphics, since both locations betray a strong Orphic influence.

Animals strike curious poses

[Relevant to a couple ongoing conversations, so I’m reposting it. Note, since writing this I’ve discovered another bird associated with Dionysos.]

A while back, in the context of discussing a possible Orphic ritual involving the freeing of a caged bird I mentioned how frequently doves come up in the Starry Bull tradition. They’re linked to Aphrodite, Persephone, Ariadne, Columbina, John the Baptist and Hermes. Well, apparently they were also considered sacred to Dionysos at Delphi.

G. W. Elderkin, in The Sacred Doves of Delphi (Classical Philology, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 49-52) writes:

As Ion was about to partake of a banquet at Delphi, an ill-omened word from one of the servants caused him and the others present to cast upon the ground the libation which had been intended for the god. He then ordered the sacred craters to be filled anew with wine of Byblos. At this moment the doves which dwelt in the halls of Apollo flew into the banquet tent and drank of the rejected libation. One of the birds reeled and fell dead of the poisoned wine which had been intended for Ion. The presence of doves in the Delphic sanctuary was not a figment of Euripides. […] A second significant detail of the description is that the doves drank wine. For this reason the poet happily called them a κώμος πελειών (1197) and enriched the Dionysiac flavor of the reference with the verb έβάκχευσευ (1204). That Euripides was not the first to give the dove a Dionysiac habit is shown by certain coins which have been assigned to Mallos in Cilicia, a Cretan colony. On these coins which are dated between 485 and 425 appears a dove with a body formed of a bunch of grapes, while closely related types of the same city have only the bunch of grapes. This curious grape dove may be the rock dove called οίνάς – a word which means not only “dove” but “vine” and “wine.” Aristotle, the earliest author known to have used the word, derived it from οίνος because of the wine-dark color of the dove. This derivation leaves out of account the bibulous propensities of the Delphic flock and the grape dove of Mallos where there was, as at Delphi, a most trustworthy oracle.

The article goes on to discuss the dove’s association with Apollon and Aphrodite as well as Dionysos, and there’s some interesting bits about Sicily and Phoenicia – but then it takes a detour into crazy land, proposing that the Pythia and other Apollonian oracular women received their inspiration from drinking water from springs or cisterns that had been mixed with wine. There were actually several Dionysian oracles where that was the medium through which the mantis achieved a state of entheos or enthousiasmos but that’s just not how things were done at Delphi, Klaros, etc. But hey, at least Elderkin wasn’t proposing that the Pythia ingested oleander.

I find this connection between Dionysos and doves very interesting and not just because it helps explain their strong presence in the Starry Bull tradition.

Birds, for the most part, aren’t found in the Dionysian menagerie. Bulls, goats, foxes, donkeys, spiders, beetles, large and small felines, deer, gazelle, pigs, dolphins, bears, elephants and whatever the fuck these animals here and here are – but not birds. The few exceptions I can think of are owls (which he transforms the Minyades into in some accounts), peacocks (found mostly in Ptolemaic Egypt) and eagles, though in all probability Pausanias was describing a statue of Sabazios:

Polykleitos of Argos made the image; it is like Dionysos in having buskins as footwear and in holding a kantharos in one hand and a thyrsos in the other, but an eagle sitting on the thyrsos does not fit in with the received accounts of Dionysos. (Description of Greece 8.31.4)

Interestingly, as I was tracking down the above quote I found another source pertaining to Dionysian doves – the Oinotrophoi:

Then virtuous Anchises said: ‘O chosen priest of Phoebus, am I wrong, or do I not remember that you had a son and four daughters, when I first saw your city?’ Shaking his head, bound with its white sacrificial fillets, Anius replied sadly: ‘Mightiest of heroes, you are not wrong: you saw me the father of five children, whom now you see almost bereft. What is the use of my absent son, who holds the island of Andros, that takes its name from him, and rules it in his father’s place? Delian Apollo gave him the power of prophecy. Bacchus Liber gave my female offspring other gifts, greater than those they hoped or prayed for. All that my daughter’s touched turned into corn or wine or the grey-green olives of Minerva, and employing them was profitable.

‘When Agamemnon, son of Atreus, ravager of Troy, learned of this (so that you do not think we escaped all knowledge of your destructive storm) he used armed force to snatch my unwilling daughters from a father’s arms, and ordered them to feed the Greek fleet, using their gift from heaven. Each escaped where they could. Two made for Euboea, and two for their brother’s island of Andros. The army landed and threatened war unless they were given up. Fear overcame brotherly affection, and he surrendered his blood-kin. It is possible to forgive the cowardly brother, since Aeneas and Hector, thanks to whom you held out till the tenth year, were not here to defend Andros.

Now they were readying the chains for the prisoners’ arms. They, while their arms were free, stretched them out to the sky, saying: “Help, O Father Bacchus; deliver us, we pray!” and he, who granted their gifts, helped them – if you call it help for them to lose in some strange way their human form, for I could not discover by what process they lost it, nor can I describe it. The end of this misfortune I did observe: they took wing, and became snow-white doves, the birds of your goddess-wife Anchises, Venus.’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.640-674)

Which could actually serve as an aition for the Orphic rite described in the Derveni papyrus:

For libations, prayers and sacrifices placate souls. An incantation by magoi can dislodge daimones that have become a hindrance; daimones that are a hindrance are vengeful souls. This is why the magoiperform the sacrifice, as they are paying a blood-price. Onto the offerings they make libations of water and milk, with both of which they also made drink-offerings. They sacrifice cakes which are countless and many-humped, because the souls too are countless. Initiates make a first sacrifice to the Eumenides in the same way as magoi do; for the Eumenides are souls. For these reasons a person who intends to make offerings to the gods, first frees a bird, having a hope of being sometime in the netherworld with the souls, when the evil (?) … but they are souls … this (?), but as many (souls) as … of … but (?) they wear …


Even more fascinating, since that rite is supposed to effect the liberation of the soul from spiritual bondage and ancestral guilt – the banded owl butterfly’s scientific name is Caligo atreus dionysosPsuchai in Greek can mean either “soul” or “butterfly” and the Atreidae are practically the definition of a tragically doomed family.

Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Plato, Republic 2.364a–365b)

We are everywhere


I was reading Matthew Lloyd’s Dionysus, masculinity, and the return of Hephaestus when I came across this interesting detail:

Indeed, Dionysus maintains his appeal to the more traditionally masculine. Nick Offerman, the actor best known for playing Ron Swanson in the sitcom Parks and Recreation, is an avid worshipper of Dionysus. In his 2014 autobiography, Paddle Your Own Canoe he says:

if I had to choose one god to serve, I would choose… Dionysus. The Greek god of wine, song, and theatre. My Eucharist is found in entertaining people, receiving the bread and the wine of laughter and tears from the crowd, and being brought to catharsis by the work of others. When I take the stage, Dionysus (or Bacchus) sees and hears my ministry and he is muchly pleased.

To Offerman, Dionysus is a god of theatre, revelry, and performance.

The public perception of Offerman is that he is a traditionally manly man. This perception is partially based on the character of Ron Swanson, but also on Offerman’s skill at woodworking. In Chapter 7 of Paddle Your Own Canoe, “Enter Dionysus”, he discusses his early time in the theatre and how his skill with his hands supported his theatrical pursuits. Nevertheless, he denies his own manliness – largely because of those Dionysiac tendencies. In a recent interview with Men’s Health, he says: “I went to theatre school. I took two semesters of ballet. I’m the sissy in my family. I cry with pretty great regularity. It’s not entirely accurate to equate me with manliness.” Indeed, even for Offerman Dionysus is not necessarily male – the quotation from Paddle Your Own Canoe above ends: “Or she. No reason to stick with the tired dogma of the patriarchy.”

Daß Narrenschyff

This bit from Kathryn Topper’s Dionysos, Sympotic Ships, and Empire: Banqueting aboard the Thalamegos of Ptolemy IV:

A fragment of Kallixeinos of Rhodes’ Peri Alexandreias (FGrH 627 F 1, ap. Ath., Deipn. 5.204d-206d) provides a lengthy description of the Thalamegos, the luxurious Nile barge of Ptolemy IV Philopator. Unlike the Tessarakonteres, Philopator’s giant warship, the Thalamegos was built for pleasure cruises, a purpose reflected in its lavish interior design. Distributed over its two decks were promenades, bed chambers, and several dining rooms, including one dining room decorated in an Egyptian style and another with columns of Indian stone. Additionally, the upper deck held a shrine to Aphrodite and a large “Dionysian” room capable of holding thirteen couches and furnished with an artificial cave that housed portrait statues of the royal family.


The metaphor of the symposium as a ship or a journey at sea appears as early as the archaic period, and for several centuries it permeated every aspect of the Greek banquet, from painted pottery to poetry to mosaic floor decoration. The metaphor could function in a variety of ways, referring sometimes to the physical and aesthetic experiences of the symposiasts, and at other times to the relationship between the sympotic group and the larger community (Slater 1976, Davies 1978, Daraki 1982, Corner 2010). As Franks has recently shown, it could also cast the symposiasts as voyagers to distant lands whose journeys resembled that of Dionysos as he traveled throughout the known world triumphantly spreading his cult (Franks 2014), and it is this last use of the metaphor that is most relevant to my reading of Philopator’s Thalamegos.


Banqueting aboard a ship that allowed them to travel – albeit metaphorically – to the limits of the civilized world, guests on the Thalamegos performed their own version of Dionysos’ journeys throughout Greece and the East. In doing so, they enacted a crucial aspect of Ptolemaic ideology, which cast the kings as semidivine spreaders of civilization whose capital city – with its zoo, botanical gardens, Museion, and library – was itself a microcosm of the inhabited world (Casey 2006, Strootman 2014a, 2014b). A ship that brought the riches of the world on board while promising travel to exotic lands, the Thalamegos turned banqueters into participants in this imperial program of collection and expansion.

Reminded me of my favorite Agrigentine anecdote:

Timaeus of Tauromenium relates that there was a certain house at Akragas called the Trireme, on this account:— At a festival of Dionysos once a group of young men were drinking and became so wild when overheated by the liquor that they imagined they were sailing in a trireme, and that they were in a bad storm on the ocean. Finally they completely lost their senses, and tossed all the furniture and bedding out of the house as though upon the waters, convinced that the pilot directed them to lighten the ship because of the raging storm. Well, a great crowd gathered and began to carry off the jetsam, but even then the youngsters did not cease from their mad actions. The next day the military authorities appeared at the house and made a complaint against the young men when they were still half-seas over. To the questions of the magistrates they answered that they had been much put to it by a storm and had been compelled to throw into the sea the superfluous cargo. When the authorities expressed surprise at their insanity, one of the young men, though he appeared to be the eldest of the company, said to them: ‘Ye Tritons, I was so frightened that I threw myself into the lowest possible place in the hold and lay there.’ The magistrates, therefore, pardoned their delirium, but sentenced them never to drink too much and let them go. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 2.37)

Okay, second favorite.

There’ll be birds on the ground


“In Hermione, Argolis is a temple of Dionysos Melanaigis (of the Black Goatskin). In his honor every year they hold a competition in music, and they offer prizes for swimming-races and boat-races.” (Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.35.1)

“Want your boat, Georgie?”

Okay. I am terribly amused.

I chose the swarthy fellow in the jester’s cap to illustrate this post because I’d always understood Mórychos to be a Dionysian epiklesis from Syracuse meaning “the Dark One” and his sinister expression conveyed all the right notes (sexy, mysterious, slightly menacing and mad, etc.) The clown thing was just icing on the cake.

Well, as it turns out the image was more appropriate than I guessed!

Or icing is more important than it seems!

Morychos, you see, was a proverbial buffoon; people would say, “stupider than Morychos” as in this quip recorded by Zenobios:

You are more stupid than Morychos, who got rid of his furniture and now has to sit outside his house.

He seems to have started off as a 5th century tragedian whom Aristophanes mocked for his gluttony in The Peace; after that the character took on a life of it own.

According to Thomas Horn he’s alive and well today as the Spirit of Mardi Gras:

In Syracuse, Dionysus was known as Dionysus Morychos (“the dark one”) a fiendish creature; roughly equivalent to the biblical Satan, who wore goatskins and dwelt in the reqions of the underworld. In the scholarly book, Dionysus Myth And Cult, Walter F. Otto connected Dionysus with the prince of the underworld. He wrote: “The similarity and relationship which Dionysus has with the prince of the underworld (and this is revealed by a large number of comparisons) is not only confirmed by an authority of the first rank, but he says the two deities are actually the same. Heraclitus says, ‘Hades and Dionysus, for whom they go mad and rage, are one and the same.'”

But the Hebrews considered the magic (witchcraft) of the Bacchae (the female followers of Dionysus) to be the best evidence of Dionysus’ Satanic connection, and, while most of the details are no longer available because of the fact that Dionysus was a mystery god and his rituals were thus revealed to the initiated only, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel described the “magic bands” (kesatot) of the Bacchae, which, as in the omophagia, were used to capture (magically imprison) the souls of men. We read, “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold I am against your magic bands [kesatot] by which you hunt lives [souls] there as birds, and I will tear them off your arms; and I will let them go, even those lives [souls] whom you hunt as birds” (Ez. 13:20 NAS).

The kesatot was a magic arm band used in connection with a container called the kiste. Wherever the kiste is inscribed on sarcophagi and on Bacchic scenes, it is depicted as a sacred vessel (a soul prison?) with a snake peering through an open lid. How the magic worked and in what way a soul was imprisoned is still a mystery. Pan, the half-man/half-goat god (later relegated to devildom) is sometimes pictured as kicking the lid open and letting the snake (soul?) out. Such loose snakes were then depicted as being enslaved around the limbs, and bound in the hair, of the Bacchae women. The demon Pan, the serpents, the imprisoned souls, and the magic Kesatot and Kiste, were evidently perceived by the prophet Ezekiel as an effort of the Bacchae to mystically imprison the souls of men through magic and sensuality. Also, Pan was beloved of Dionysus for his pandemonium (“all the devils”) which struck panic and/or pleasure in the hearts of men and beasts. Does the same spirit reside over New Orlean’s Mardi Gras, Rio’s Carnival, and Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras? It appears to this writer that an equally tenacious effort on the part of modern Bacchae to embrace the will of evil supernaturalism exists.

It’s funny, I’ve been getting pinged for a while to start working more with the Harlequinade portion of Dionysos’ Retinue, and (once the monotheist lunacy and historical innacuracies/misrepresentations have been filtered out) I’d say this is a pretty strong confirmation and ties things together rather nicely. (Hahaha. Get it? Ties. Kesatot. I slay me.)

Oh, this should make Anthesteria extra fun this year.

Take it away, Crispin:

Step through to the other side

Etruscan myth provides us a glimpse into another world, one that is a distorted reflection of our own. Case in point, the Icarius Mirror:


Click to enlarge and around the edge you’ll find an inscription which reads:

Ikra the king from Mount Ossa of Ixion,
three things on this side he went to see,
I long for the brother also to go,
I cut the grapes abundant of the wine-stock to owe,
to the wine press! Young boy,
three on the side bedewed.

Context is provided by Mel Copeland and the Schøyen Collection

MS in Etruscan on bronze, Etruria, Italy, 6th c. BC. Illustration of Icarius standing, with a club over his shoulder, with a Phrygian style cap, in a chariot pulled by two bearded centaurs, one carries a bunch of grapes, the other a long cutting knife and a wine bag, above Icarius is a cherub sprinkling water, below is Icarius’ dog Maera running. So far this seems to be the only contemporary example of Etruscan literature recorded, and where the text is illustrated in addition. This records a part of Greek mythology that is not yet fully known, adding some new information. Icarius was the hero of the Attic town of Icaria who had a daughter, Erigone. He had been taught by Dionysos to make wine and the Bacchalian rites, and he loaded a wagon with wine skins, called his faithful dog Maera, and set off to spread the word about wine. He gave wine to some sheperds who got drunk, and who believed Icarius had tried to poison them. They beat him to death with clubs and buried him under a tree.

This suggests oh so very much to me. For instance, as Ikarios received the bakcheia from Dionysos, the God was instructed in them by the centaur Cheiron, at least according to Ptolemy Hephaistion’s New History (as preserved in Photius, Myriobiblon 190):

Dionysos was loved by Cheiron, from whom he learned chants and dances, the so-called Bacchic rites and initiations.

Euphorion, however, believed that Dionysos was older than the centaurs and inadvertently responsible for their creation:

Wroth with Hyes, the bull-horned Dionysos,
Rheione cast mind-destroying drugs upon the Pheres;
all those drugs in which Polydamna or Cytaean Mede were skilled.

The Etymologicum Genuinum states that Ῥείωνη is a name for Hera, while Nonnos (Dionysiaka 14.143–185) provides the rest of the story our fragment can only allude to: angry that the Pheres (a primitive race who lived in the mountains) had nursed the infant Dionysos, the Goddess Hera gave them poisonous drugs, transforming them into centaurs “who had the horns of bulls.”

Euphorion, who lived during the Hellenistic era, is one of our earliest testimonies to the Titanic sparagmos of Dionysos:

Dionysos, too, was honoured in Delphi together with Apollon, in the following way. The Titans tore asunder Dionysos’ limbs, threw them into a cauldron, and set it before his brother Apollon. Apollon stowed it away beside his tripod, as we learn from Kallimachos and Euphorion, who says:

Into the fire those arrogant beings cast divine Bacchus

(Tzetzes’s commentary on Lykophron’s Alexandra 207.98.5)

Which parallels Ikarios getting mauled by the mad throng of drugged peasants. However there’s an even more direct parallel with Ikarios in the story of Pholos’ reception of the ambivalent gift of Dionysos:

Pholos was a centaur who received Herakles with the courtesies due to a guest and opened for him a jar of wine which had been buried in the earth. This jar, the writers of myths relate, had of old been left with a certain centaur by Dionysos, who had given him orders only to open it when Herakles should come to that place. And so, four generations after that time, when Herakles was being entertained as a guest, Pholos recalled the orders of Dionysos. Now when the jar had been opened the sweet odour of the wine, because of its great age and strength, came to the centaurs dwelling near there, it came to pass that they were driven mad; consequently they rushed in a body to the dwelling of Pholos and set about plundering him of the wine in a terrifying manner. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.12.3)

Though I was familiar with this legend I never noticed until now how it’s basically a condensed version of the Aiora and Anthesteria but with Herakles taking the place of Orestes, the way the Keres are swapped out for the Sirens in the South Italian version of the festival. There’s even a jar of wine buried in the earth.

Say: wine, centaurs, Ixion – where have I seen that combination before?

Oh yes, that trusted authority Robert Graves:

Since revising The Greek Myths in 1958, I have had second thoughts about the drunken god Dionysus, about the Centaurs with their contradictory reputation for wisdom and misdemeanour, and about the nature of divine ambrosia and nectar. These subjects are closely related, because the Centaurs worshipped Dionysus, whose wild autumnal feast was called `the Ambrosia’. I no longer believe that when his Maenads ran raging around the countryside, tearing animals or children in pieces and boasted afterwards of travelling to India and back, they had intoxicated themselves solely on wine or ivy-ale. The evidence, summarized in my What Food the Centaurs Ate (Steps: Cassell & Co., 1958, pp.319-343) suggests that Satyrs (goat-totem tribesemen), Centaurs (horse-totem tribesmen), and their Maenad womenfolk, used these brews to wash down mouthfuls of a far stronger drug: namely a raw mushroom,amanita muscaria, which induces hallucinations, senseless rioting, prophetic sight, erotic energy, and remarkable muscular strength. Some hours of this ecstasy are followed by complete inertia; a phenomenon that would account for the story of how Lycurgus, armed only with an ox-goad, routed Dionysus’s drunken army of Maenads and Satyrs after its victorious return from India.

On an Etruscan mirror the amanita muscaria is engraved at Ixion’s feet; he was a Thessalian hero who feasted on ambrosia among the gods. Several myths are consistent with my theory that his descendents, the Centaurs, ate this mushroom; and, according to some historians, it was later employed by the Norse `berserks’ to give them reckless power in battle. I now believe that `ambrosia’ and `nectar’ were intoxicant mushrooms: certainly the amanita muscaria; but perhaps others, too, especially a small, slender dung-mushroom named panaeolus papilionaceus, which induces harmless and most enjoyable hallucinations. A mushroom not unlike it appears on an Attic vase between the hooves of Nessus the Centaur. The `gods’ for whom, in the myths, ambrosia and nectar were reserved, will have been sacred queens and kings of the pre-Classical era. King Tantalus’s crime was that he broke the taboo by inviting commoners to share his ambrosia.

I have myself eaten the hallucigenic mushroom, psilocybe, a divine ambrosia in immemorial use among the Masatec Indians of Oaxaca Province, Mexico; heard the priestess invoke Tlaloc, the Mushroom-god, and seen transcendental visions. Thus I wholeheartedly agree with R. Gordon Wasson, the American discoverer of this ancient rite, that European ideas of heaven and hell may well have derived from similar mysteries. Tlaloc was engendered by lightning; so was Dionysus; and in Greek folklore, as in Masatec, so are all mushrooms — proverbially called `food of the gods’ in both languages. Tlaloc wore a serpent-crown; so did Dionysus. Tlaloc had an underwater retreat; so had Dionysus. The Maenads’ savage custom of tearing off their victims’ heads may refer allegorically to tearing off the sacred mushroom’s head — since in Mexico its stalk is never eaten. We read that Perseus, a sacred King of Argos, converted to Dionysus worship, named Mycenae after a toadstool which he found growing on the site, and which gave forth a stream of water. Tlaloc’s emblem was a toad, so was that of Argos; and from the mouth of Tlaloc’s toad in the Tepentitla fresco issues a stream of water.

Dig deep enough, maaaan, and everything’s a mushroom.

Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy

I’m always fascinated by the glimpses we get of local variant traditions in Italy, such as this Etruscan mirror:


Nancy de Grummond in Mirrors, Marriage and Mystery explains the scene thusly:

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.

I’d love to know more details of this story, as it has some direct bearing on the relationship between Ariadne and Arachne, a subject of no little importance within the Starry Bull tradition.

Speaking of which, I received a bit of external corroboration a while back from no less than the Bard, good old Willy Shakespeare himself.

I’ll let Elizabeth Freund tell the tale:

In Book VI of The Metamorphoses Ovid tells the story of Arachne, a subtle weaver of Lydia, too skillful for her own good. She dares to rival Pallas Athene with her superior artistry at the loom. Mortal and goddess engaged in a competition in which each wove splendid scene into her tapestry. Athene represented the Immortals (including herself) as all-powerful figures of authority, while Arachne chose to weave tales of divine erotica into her web. When the work was done not even Athene’s envy could deny the superior quality of Arachne’s art. In her jealous rage the goddess struck through Arachne’s loom and tore the tapestry. The girl, ashamed and humiliated, hung herself, but the goddess restored her to life as a spider.

Arachne makes a single, abbreviated appearance in the Shakespearean canon, and even then her provenance is doubtful. Her tale of ill-fated rivalry with divine artistic power is curtailed to a rather obscure simile in V.ii of Troilus and Cressida.

Troilus: Within my soul there doth conduce a fight
Of this strange nature that a thing inseparate
Divides more wider than the sky and earth;
And yet the spacious breadth of this division
Admits no orifex for a point as subtle
As Ariachne’s broken woof to enter.
(V.ii 146-51)

By what devious detours of the imagination does this apocryphal “Ariachne” find her way into the texture of Troilus and Cressida? How subtle is “a point as subtle as Ariachne’s broken woof?” What are we to make of this pointed figure, sharp enough to penetrate the impenetrable, yet obscured by breakage and division? How Ariadne, who provided Theseus with the clue of a thread to guide him out of the Cretan maze, came to be enmeshed in Arachne’s web, whether by a printer’s carelessness or in an author’s slip of the pen or daring of the imagination, is probably beyond conclusive recovery. “Ariachne” may be an “original,” a felicitous neologism spun spider-fashion out of the creator’s own gut; or she may be no more than the accidental issue of a typesetter’s clumsy fingers. In either event she is a new creation who also carries incontestable traces of prior origins.

The conflation or confusion of this marginal figure of “Ariachne,” who is and is not Arachne, is and is not Ariadne, points the way into the major labyrinth of citation and the travesty of citation which is the “stuff” out of which Troilus and Cressida “makes paradoxes” (I. iii. 184). Yet this fragmentary clue proves also the very obstacle which thwarts the expectation of a safe conduct through the maze.

And while you’re pondering all of that, listen to Ariadna en su Laberinto (Ariadne in Her Labyrinth) – a traditional Sephardic romance by Osvaldo Golijov, from his song-cycle Ayre.

Here are the lyrics:

Why do you cry fair child?
Why do you cry, white flower?
I cry because you leave me.

More resources on Mister E.

And here are a couple posts from the pre-scrubbed days at House of Vines:


In my post on the Sortes Empedocleae I said:

Empedokles of Akragas was a Sicilian holy man and wonder-worker who, combining elements of Orphism with indigenous Italian traditions, created a philosophy that anticipated atomic and evolutionary science.

Although instances of this are to be found throughout much of the remaining fragments of his works, one of the most striking is this passage:

Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen’s heads; creatures, too, in which were mixed some parts from men and some of the nature of women, furnished with sterile members.

Among the cities of Magna Graecia (particularly those within the orbit of Lokroi Epizephyrii) an important hero was venerated, the Olympic athlete Euthymos who was either the son of Astykles or the river-god Kaikinos. While he presumably had a regular human body as a mortal (since he competed in boxing and the pankration) he took on quite a different form posthumously:

Many terracotta plaques featuring three female heads were found in the Grotta, sometimes with Pan and sometimes with Dionysiac symbols. This trio of heads is found in nymphaea, in Persephone shrines, and in tombs elsewhere in the Greek world, but in the Grotta Caruso an unusual combination occurs: sometimes the nymphs appear with a tauromorph, a bull with a human face and horns. The iconography of this figure is consistent with portraits of Acheloos or other river gods, and we have textual evidence that ties the Locrian one to a river. An inscription on one of the Grotta’s plaques names the bull-man as Euthymos, a curious Locrian hero. (Bonnie MacLachlan, Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave)

Pausanias (Description of Greece 6.7-11) relates the aition for his cult:

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. Now Odysseus, it is said, cared nothing about his loss and sailed away. But the ghost of the stoned man never ceased killing without distinction the people of Temesa, attacking both old and young, until, when the inhabitants had resolved to flee from Italy for good, the Pythian priestess forbad them to leave Temesa, and ordered them to propitiate the Hero, setting him a sanctuary apart and building a temple, and to give him every year as wife the fairest maiden in Temesa.

So they performed the commands of the god and suffered no more terrors from the ghost. But Euthymos happened to come to Temesa just at the time when the ghost was being propitiated in the usual way; learning what was going on he had a strong desire to enter the temple, and not only to enter it but also to look at the maiden. When he saw her he first felt pity and afterwards love for her. The girl swore to marry him if he saved her, and so Euthymos with his armour on awaited the onslaught of the ghost.

He won the fight, and the Hero was driven out of the land and disappeared, sinking into the depth of the sea. Euthymos had a distinguished wedding, and the inhabitants were freed from the ghost for ever. I heard another story also about Euthymos, how that he reached extreme old age, and escaping again from death departed from among men in another way. Temesa is still inhabited, as I heard from a man who sailed there as a merchant.

This I heard, and I also saw by chance a picture dealing with the subject. It was a copy of an ancient picture. There were a stripling, Sybaris, a river, Calabrus, and a spring, Lyca. Besides, there were a hero-shrine and the city of Temesa, and in the midst was the ghost that Euthymos cast out. Horribly black in color, and exceedingly dreadful in all his appearance, he had a wolf’s skin thrown round him as a garment. The letters on the picture gave his name as Lycas.

Another example of the bull-wolf ritual combat theme I have previously delineated. Which means that while people usefully draw comparisons between Euthymos’ story and Herakles’ contest with Acheloos for the hand of Dionysos’ daughter Deïanira, as described in Sophokles’ Trachiniae:

I had a river as a suitor, Acheloos, who asked my father for my hand in three shapes, coming now as a bull plain to see, now as a slithering, coiling serpent, now bull-faced with a man’s body; and streams of fresh water poured from his shaggy beard. Anticipating such a suitor, I, wretch, prayed continually to die, before I ever drew near such a marriage bed. (9-17)

I think an even more useful comparison is with the story of Theseus and the Minotaur:

And by means of the ingenuity of Daidalos Pasiphae had intercourse with the bull and gave birth to the Minotaur, famed in the myth. This creature, they say, was of double form, the upper parts of the body as far as the shoulders being those of a bull and the remaining parts those of a man. As a place in which to keep this monstrous thing Daidalos, the story goes, built a labyrinth, the passage-ways of which were so winding that those unfamiliar with them had difficulty in making their way out; in this labyrinth the Minotaur was maintained and here it devoured the seven youths and seven maidens which were sent to it from Athens, in recompense for the murder of Minos’ son Androgeus. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.77.1)

There is even a tradition where Euthymos disguised himself as the maiden who was to be deflowered by Lycas, much as transvestitism played a role in the Oschophoria celebrating Theseus’ triumphant return and that Ariadne never set foot on Attic soil.

Which is significant since in the Orphic gold lamellae found in Southern Italy the initiate is instructed to proclaim Ἀστέριος ὄνομα. This could just be a suggestive synchronicity except that the epilogue of the Minoan myth took place in Sicily:

Minos, the king of the Cretans, who was at that time the master of the seas, when he learned that Daedalus had fled to Sicily, decided to make a campaign against that island. After preparing a notable naval force he sailed forth from Crete and landed at a place in the territory of Acragas which was called after him Minoa. Here he disembarked his troops and sending messengers to King Cocalus he demanded Daedalus of him for punishment. But Cocalus invited Minos to a conference, and after promising to meet all his demands he brought him to his home as a guest. And when Minos was bathing Cocalus kept him too long in the hot water and thus slew him; the body he gave back to the Cretans, explaining his death on the ground that he had slipped in the bath and by falling into the hot water had met his end. Thereupon the comrades of Minos buried the body of the king with magnificent ceremonies, and constructing a tomb of two storeys, in the part of it which was hidden underground they placed the bones, and in that which lay open to gaze they made a shrine of Aphrodite. Here Minos received honours over many generations, the inhabitants of the region offering sacrifices there in the belief that the shrine was Aphrodite’s; but in more recent times, after the city of the Acragantini had been founded and it became known that the bones had been placed there, it came to pass that the tomb was dismantled and the bones were given back to the Cretans, this being done when Theron was lord over the people of Acragas. (Diodoros Sikeleiotes, Library of History 4.79.1-4)

And not just anywhere in Sicily – but specifically the home of Empedokles. So I think in the fragment I opened with Empedokles is drawing a comparison between the Locrian man-faced bull hero Euthymos and the more widely known bull-faced man Asterios the Minotaur, one with profound implications when you consider Euthymos’ role in the baptismal and eschatogamic mysteries at the Grotta Caruso. (Especially since it comes in a discussion about Aphrodite and Nestis, likely a local name for Persephone.)

All of which is a good example of the bricolage method that characterizes ancient Orphism:

I propose a re-examination of the ancient evidence that takes seriously the model, proposed by Burkert and others, of itinerant religious specialists competing for religious authority among a varying clientele. Rather than looking for a coherent set of sacred texts canonical to people who considered themselves Orphics, texts expressive of doctrines pertaining to sin, salvation, and afterlife, we should look for the products of bricolage, pieced together from widely available traditional material to meet the demand of clients looking for extra-ordinary solutions to their problems. If the texts and rituals are products of bricolage, however, and their creators bricoleurs competing for authority, we cannot expect to find either consistency of texts or doctrines, merely a loose family resemblance between composites of the same traditional elements. A redefinition of ancient Orphism requires a polythetic definition that accommodates the complexities of the ancient contexts rather than the sort of monothetic definition that identifies Orphism by its scriptures and doctrines. Nevertheless, the attempt to force the evidence into this preconceived modern construct has created unnecessary confusions in interpretation, as, e.g., the debate over the Orphic status of the author of the Derveni papyrus shows. (Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, Redefining Ancient Orphism)

And though Empedokles never explicitly references Orpheus a lot of his cosmological speculation agrees with the various Orphic theogonies that have come down to us and he, himself, seems to have engaged in activities similar to the Orpheotelestai. Compare Plato’s account:

But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Republic 2.364a–365b)

With what Empedokles describes in the Katharmoi or Purifications:

And thou shalt learn all the drugs that are a defense against ills and old age; since for thee alone will I accomplish all this. Thou shalt arrest the violence of the weariless winds that arise to sweep the earth and waste the fields; and again, when thou so desirest, thou shalt bring back their blasts in return. Thou shalt cause for men a seasonable drought after the dark rains, and again thou shalt change the summer drought for streams that feed the trees as they pour down from the sky. Thou shalt bring back from Hades the life of a dead man … Friends, that inhabit the great town looking down on the yellow rock of Akragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbors of honor for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail. I go about among you divine and no longer mortal, honored among all as is meet, crowned with fillets and flowery garlands. Straightway, whenever I enter with these in my train, both men and women, into the flourishing towns, is reverence done me they go after me in countless throngs, asking of me what is the way to gain; some desiring oracles, while some, who for many a weary day have been pierced by the grievous pangs of all manner of sickness, beg to hear from me the word of healing.

Empire State of Mind


Dionysus was called ‘Dithyrambos’, either because it draws attention to the double door of the mouth and makes people blurt out secrets; or because it makes the young go up to doors, or barge into them, i.e. fall against them and dislodge the bolts. (People thought he was destructive of absolutely everything; also that he was a warrior, and first established the practice of the triumph for military victories. The ‘triumph’ got its name from the shouting and lampooning, which is why in military triumphs the crowds use anapaests when they jeer.) The jay is sacred to him as a chattering bird. (Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Theology)

Countdown to the Noumenia: how to pray.

When you pray
be overcome by the power of the words
so that everything else disappears
and it’s just you at your shrine
with the God looking on.

Speak your words like a lover
seducing the divine
and know that they are not empty sounds
but every one of them is full of myths.

When you say hail Bromios,
mean that night when you screamed as loud as you could
and didn’t care what your neighbors thought.
the skin of the grape between your teeth.
the pain and your tears
falling down.

Hold the aromas of his invocation in your mouth
like wafts of wine poured from the bottle,
like a damp forest late at night,
like the smoke of a fine cigarette after sex.

And then let it out.

Give it to him.

Offer everything inside you up to the God
– the good and the bad, the pain and the joy –
in a single blast of euphoric love,
for you are his and all you have belongs to him.

Cry “Io evohe!” like the maenads of old
and mean it with all your heart.

That is how you pray.

Countdown to the Noumenia: ivy chernips.

If you need to make cleansing water (Greek chernips), but aren’t able to light a laurel leaf on fire and dip it into the basin of water (for instance because you’re at an event that doesn’t allow open flame or your roommate is sensitive to smoke and other strong smells or you’re a teenager practicing Hellenismos on the down low or you just want to do things a little differently) you may use the following simple recipe.

For this you will need:

  • Water
  • A bowl
  • An ivy leaf

This form of chernips uses ivy because it was the sacred plant of Dionysos; indeed the god was even called Kissos, “the ivy” for in many respects it was his double. Ivy is a plant that, like Dionysos, has two births. The first birth is when it sends out its shade-seeking shoots with their distinctive leaves. But after the dormant months of winter, when the god himself is rejuvenated it sends out another shoot, one that grows upright and towards the light, thus honoring the return of the vibrant god. When the fire of Zeus’ lightning consumed Semele – with Dionysos still in her womb – it was the cool ivy that surrounded and protected him. When the satyrs were first given wine they were driven mad by its effects. Dionysos placed ivy around them and the plant extinguished the heat of the wine, allowing them to regain their senses – though ivy itself produces a strong poison which has intoxicating properties. The ivy leaf was tattooed on the hand of Dionysian initiates. And Dionysos and his mainades are always pictured wearing crowns of ivy.

Hold the leaf in your palm high above your head, like a tendril seeking the sun, and then slowly bring it down, plunging it into the bowl of water, as when young Dionysos plunged into the sea and the waiting arms of Thetis.

As you are bringing the leaf down feel the power and vitality of the god flow into the receptive basin.

Then lift the bowl to the level of your heart and recite Orphic Hymn 47 to Perikionios (who is twined around the pillar) as follows:

I call upon Bakchos Perikionios, giver of wine,
who enveloped all of Kadmos’ house
and with his might checked and calmed the heaving earth
when the blazing thunderbolt and the raging gale stirred all the land.
Then everyone’s bonds sprang loose.
Blessed reveler, come with joyous heart!

And then carry the bowl around your ritual space, using the leaf of ivy to sprinkle the soothing and protective water as you repeat these lines from the Orations of Aelius Aristides:

Nothing can be so firmly bound
by illness, by wrath or by fortune
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos.

Envision the drops of water cleansing whatever they touch and neutralizing any harmful effects through the power of Dionysos and feel it spread out until the whole space is covered in green, throbbing vegetation.

Countdown to the Noumenia: my favorite cleansing chant.

Aelius Aristides was a second century Roman lawyer, hypochondriac and initiate of Asklepios, Serapis and Dionysos. He kept exhaustive records of his illnesses, dreams, spiritual encounters and visits to various healing and oracular sites, and the unconventional cures he was prescribed – by doctors, priests and his various Gods and Spirits. This work – the Hieroi Logoi or “Sacred Tales” – give a fascinating glimpse into the interior life of what we’d consider today a slightly neurotic spirit-worker. (Some of his dream encounters come off really shamanic. Like at one point he gets cut into pieces by a flaming sword and in another Asklepios reaches into his chest and scoops out the pollution/illness. There were a bunch more but it’s been ages since I read him.)

The Orations are less autobiographical; they’re rhetorical exercises praising cities and institutions and salutary hymns in honor of various deities. The passage we use in the Starry Bull tradition – II.331k – comes from an Oration to Dionysos written on the occasion of his initiation, if memory serves.

οὐδὲν ἄρα οὕτως βεβαίως δεδήσεται, οὐ νόσῳ, οὐκ ὀργῇ, οὐ τύχῃ οὐδεμιᾷ, ὃ μὴ οἷόν τ᾽ ἔσται λῦσαι τῷ Διονύσῳ.

Oudèn árâ hoútos bebaíos dedésetai ou nóso ouk orgê ou týkhe oudemía, ho mé hoîon t’estai lýsai tô Dionýso.

Nothing can be so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune – that cannot be released by [the Lord] Dionysos.