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 D I O N Y S O S 
Introduction - The myth The attributes of the godThe cult - Festival days in Athens - Antique iconography - Modern iconography - Dionysos and the theatre - Greek theatre and Euripide's Bacchae - Dionysos in ancient Greek literature - References and links 
Study of iconography - Bacchus, myth and cult - Sophocles' Antigone

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The attributes of Dionysos

 Vegetation   Food and drinks   Sexuality  Animals  Fire and water   Other objects  

These attributes are important in order to analyse the iconographic representations of the God.

Berlin Painter (attributed to), Dionysos , ~540-530 B. C. Berlin Painter (attributed to), Dionysos , ~540-530 B. C. Berlin Painter (attributed to), Dionysos , ~540-530 B. C. Berlin Painter (attributed to), Satyr , ~540-530 B. C. Berlin Painter (attributed to), Dionysos and maenad, ~540-530 B. C.
© Louvre.edu

Epithets : Phloios (phloios being the envelope of a fruit), Dendrites (from dendron, the tree)

For attributes, Dionysos has the vine (ampelos) in all its forms - the branch (skutalè, oskhos) bearer of bunches of grapes (botrus, staphulè) and vine shoots (klèma), and also ivy (kissos), the reed - used for making flutes (surinx), and the pine cone (strobilos).

These three elements make up the thyrsos (thyrsos, stick entwined with ivy and vine, crowned with a pine cone - Toledo 1982.88, Perseus data base) worn by the Satyrs and Bacchae, or by Dionysos himself. In the legend this stick was a weapon used by the wild women, especially during the voyage to Asia.

Consumption of food and drink
Epithet : ômophagos

Dionysos is linked to the devouring of raw flesh (ômos), which has led certain interpreters to compare him with other barbaric gods of the ancient cannibalism age, god devouring and god devoured such as the Aegean god Zagreus.
He is also the god of wine and its resulting hybris (cf. the second day of the Anthesterias) and drinking competition.

Epithet : Phallèn

The old Silenus and the Satyrs are depicted naked, and the phallos, which they wore more or less straight (ithuphallos) depending on their age and the era in which they are depicted, is the symbol of fertility, worn in Athens during the rustic Dionysia processions in December.


As God of fertility and power, Dionysos is associated with the goat (tragos), and the bull whose horn (taurokerôs) he often wears in iconography.

He is also associated with the fawn or the goat (Louvre G185, Perseus base) : Satyrs and maenads sometimes wear a fawn's skin, the nebride (nebris), or a sheepskin (égide). The calf or the goat seem to be a metaphor for the dismembered body of Dionysos (diasparagmos), ripped apart by the Titans.

Dionysos is often depicted riding an ass, a panther or a leopard (panthèr, pardalis), or even, after his mythical Indian voyage, or his initiation voyage through India during the Alexandrian age, leading a harness of tigers.

In the province of Africa the cult of Dionysos, particularly developed under the Severan dynasty, depicts the god on a roaring lion and Silenus on a dromedary ! (mosaics in El Jem and in Museum of Sousse, Dionysos 3).

Mythographs analyse this cavalcade as Dionysos' intimacy with wild animals, which his followers, the maenads, also know how to tame : Dionysos both frees and masters animal violence (cf. Marcel Détienne, Dionysos mis à mort (Dionysos put to death), 2nd part : La panthère parfumée (The fragrant panther)).

Fire and water

The torch (daïs) is another of Dionysos' attributes : during the January/February Lenaea, the daduchus (torch carrier) is the one who wakes the women at night to invite them to dance.

But the god is also linked to fertility, to the humidity of the sea and swamps (Hyes, Limnaios).

Musical instruments

Satyr playing aulos, IInd century B. C. Satyr playing diaulos, ~40-30 B. C. Bacchante, IInd century B. C. Borghese vase, Maenad (detail), ~40-30 B. C.
© Louvre.edu

The flute (syrinx) and the tambourine (dulcimer) are the instruments which start off the bacchic frenzy. Numerous vases show Dionysos surrounded by satyrs and maenads (Harvard 1960.236, Perseus base).

Other objects and practices

In some of the later depictions, possibly in reference to the Eleusis mystery cults, there is a winnowing basket (liknon) representing the cradle in which the baby Dionysos was protected from Hera's anger, hidden under a cloth, in this basket filled with cakes in the form of genital organs.

The word "Orgies" (orgia, same radical as ergon, the work of art, is a plural word) designates all the actions played out during the Dionysian ceremonies. Dionysian ceremonies are based on the concept of 'outside the body' (the freedom of the initiate from the restraints of earthly matters to unite with the god through ecstasy) under the spell (katekhesthai) of music and dance, in the trance which seizes the maenads of the cortège as well as the women of Thebes on the Cithaeron of Delphes on the Parnassus (see Antigone's 4th stasimon). This trek in the mountains is called oreibasia (from oros, mountain and basis, the act of walking).