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Per.2, English 2
Tuesday, December 24, 1996
MYTHOLOGY: DIONYSUS AND SEMELE
Semele was the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, king and
queen of Thebes, and the mother of Dionysus, god of wine. Zeus fell madly
in love with her and made an oath to do anything that she asked.
Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus,realized Zeus was in love with Semele and
tricked Semele into asking Zeus to let her see him in his majesty. Bound
by an oath, Zeus appeared before the unfortunate woman in all his
divine glory. (Morford-Lenardon 187) As she looked at him, she was
consumed by the lightening bolts and light that radiated from him. Zeus
was able to rescue her unborn child, Dionysus, and hid him in his side
until it was ready to be born.
Hermes carried Dionysus to be cared for by the nymphs of Nysa-
the loveliest of earth?s valleys.(Hamilton 65) When Dionysus had grown up,
he wandered to many far and strange places. Everywhere he went he taught
men the culture of the vine and mysteries of his worship and everywhere he
had been, he was accepted as a god.
Dionysus went to Thebes to establish his worship, since that was his
mother?s city. He was accompanied by the Maenads. Pentheus, the King of
Thebes, was not happy with the behavior of this group of strangers. He
ordered his soldiers to imprison the visitors, but he had no idea that Dionysus
was a new god.
The soldiers tried to imprison the maidens but said that the doors
unbarred themselves. Pentheus was furious. He ordered his soldiers to
imprison Dionysus but the prison could not hold him. Dionysis tried to show
that the wonders of this new worship of a new and great god was divine but
when Pentheus only heaped insults and threats upon him, Dionysus left him to
his doom.(Hamilton 71)
When Pentheus went to pursue the maidens that had escaped his
prison, many Theban women joined him, and that is when Dionysis made
them mad and they thought Pentheus was a wild beast and tore him apart.That
is when Pentheus realized that he had fought with a god and must now pay
with his life.
Some time during his wanderings, Dionysus came upon the princess of
Crete, Ariadne, when she was utterly desolate, having been abandoned on the
shore of the island of Naxos by the Athenian prince, Theseus, whose life she
had saved. (Hamilton 67) Dionysus rescued her and later fell in love with her.
When she died, Dionysus took her crown and put it among the stars.
His mother, Semele, whom he had never seen, was not forgotten. He
longed for her so much that he went to the lower world, defied the power of
Death and brought her to live on Olympus. Even though she was a mortal, the
gods accepted her as one of themselves since she gave birth to a god.
The Maenads, or the Bacchantes, were women frenzied with wine.
They were the followers of Dionysus. The most important festival, the
Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring.They were
days of pure enjoyment. It was held in a theater, and the ceremony was the
performance of a play. The greatest poetry in Greece was written for him.
Dionysus died with the coming of a cold, but he was always brought
back to life. It was this joyful resurrection celebrated in his festivals.
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