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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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Attic black-figure amphora, Dionysos (detail), ~540 B. C. - © [Louvre.edu], Ph. RMN H. Lewandowski


Dionysos is a particularly interesting member of the gods of the Greek Pantheon on account of his peculiarities and contradictions. The study of Dionysos holds a myriad of educational potential, and the interest of studying texts will be naturally greatened through the study of the rich iconography concerning the god.

Mainly because Dionysos is this god "born from Jupiter's thigh", the only god admitted among the Olympians with a mortal for a mother, a god who has experienced several deaths and several births. Whatever his origin, whether he originates from Thrace or is autochthonous, he is seen as "the foreigner". Rarely figuring in the Homeric epic, the god of mania and trance asserts his status by emerging as a conqueror of Greece. The study of Dionysos' victory - particularly in Euripides' Bacchae - can be complemented with the study of the Dionysos Zagreus myth. This will provide the opportunity to show another aspect of Greek religion : The mysterious cults.

We will not overlook the fact that he also appears in numerous mythological episodes, which provided subject matter for the development of artistic forms in antiquity as much as in XVIth and XVIIth century art. The various depictions of Zeus and Semele, of Bacchus and Ariadne, of the dismemberment of Pentheus by the Maenads, provide subject matter of great interest for study.

Dionysos is, par excellence, the god of festivities and wine. But once again he is "multiple" : he is Bacchus and Lusios, source of mania and liberator, and he almost always preserves a wild personality : Walter F. Otto analyses this aspect in detail, taking on astonishing proportions in iconography : depictions of the festivals are innumerable, the frenzied maenads who dance for the god to the music of the flute and the tambourine. He is the god of Ecstasy, while in his other persona he is simultaneously the "sweet and effeminate god of wine". Other major centres of interest are the Dionysian festival, the importance of wine in ancient Mediterranean society and the creativity which develops around its consumption.

But Dionysos remains the god of the mask ; and theatre originates from festivals celebrated in his honour. Comedy and tragedy are directly associated to religious festivals honouring the god, and to the sacrifice celebrated on such occasions. Great Dionysia was also the occasion for the Athenians to assert the excellence of their city. The link between politicians and monks is perhaps at its most delicate with this god.

A study on Dionysos can therefore be complemented by diverse studies which, always drawing on the combination of text and image, dive into the depths of Greek culture : its mythology, religion and cults, art and literature, and social and political life.

Sarcophagus, Dionysos and Ariadne pulled by Centaurs, 230-235,  © [Louvre.edu]


Nicolas Poussin, Bacchus (detail), ~1630 - © [Louvre.edu]
Dionysos and Ariadne (detail), IInd century - © [Louvre.edu],