Dionysus is commonly known by his Roman name, Bacchus which appears to have two distinct origins. He is the son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, Semele. He was a late arrival in the Greek mythology and whenever he was mentioned, it is with hostility .
Dionysus was the Greek god of grape harvest, wine, wine making, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and the theatre. He was worshipped probably in 1500-100 BC.
Dionysus’ mother, Semele was tricked by Hera, wife of Zeus that she can see the true form of her lover. Zeus was forced to reveal himself as he had sworn. As he did so, Semele was engulfed in flame as Zeus revealed himself in all his glory. Zeus saved Dionysus as a fetus by sewing him into his thigh until he was ready to be born.
Dionysus was upholded in a special category being a twice born god and the only god with a mortal parent .
Dionysus was also called the god of fertility and the god of wine. Mythology scholars believe so because of the nature of his early rebirth and the process of cutting of the grapevine to produce good wine from grapes .
Zeus’ wife was still angry and jealous with Dionysus and had sent the Titans to kill the boy. Zeus struck the Titans with his thunderbolt but was late to rescue Dionysus as the Titans had already dismembered and ate him except for his heart. Athena saved his heart and Zeus recreated him in his thigh .
Dionysus was often described earlier as a mature male. with a beard holding in his hand a fennel stand with a pine cone in the end. However, later images of the god showed him a beardless, naked semi androgynous youth where was described as “womanly”.
He was a handsome man with an imposing hair and a wreath of ivy in his hands. He carried the “thyrsos”, a light staff with ivy leaves and a pine cone on top .
Dionysus symbols are the (1) Grapes and Goblet. This is in relation to his being god of wine. He taught humans how to cultivate the grapevine, press grapes and make it into wine; (2) Leopard, Panther and Tiger. These animals were used to draw his chariots; (3) Ivy. This plant is a symbol of immortality and indulgence. It was said that the wreath correlates to merrymaking. (4) Thyrsos.Is a magic wand that could turn a rock into water and the water into wine .
Some accounts say that Hermes took care of the young Dionysus while others say that Zeus left his son for the care of the mountain nymphs at Mount Nysa. While a versions of the story mentioned that he let Persephone or Rhea take him to the underworld away from the eyes of Hera .
Hera let him wander around the world. As Dionysus was wandering, he started spreading his cult and was accompanied by the Maenads, wild women with wine. While the other gods had temples for them to be worshipped, Dionysus’ followers worshipped him in the forest.
Dionysus was also one of the few in mythology who went to the underworld to bring back the dead. He wanted to see and know his mother, Semele and wanted her to be brought back from the dead. He repelled Thanatos , personification of death and brought his mother back to Mount Olympus .
Great Dionysia is a Greek festival in honor of Dionysus. It is held in March in Athens where ancient dramatic festival and satyric drama first started. The festival is attended by the citizen of Athens where a poet will compete for the best satyr play .