DIONYSUS Dionysus, or to the Romans, Bacchus, was the son of Zeus and Semele, a mortal woman. He is the god of wine, cheer, wild behavior, dancing, fertility, resurrection, drama, song, vegetation, and all-around merrymaking. He was a very popular god because of his jolly disposition and carefree attitude. It is said that Dionysus’s mother, Semele, was killed before his birth, so Zeus snatched her unborn child and sewed him into his own thigh. He is identified with Zagreus, son of Zeus and Persephone, who was killed, dismembered, and eaten by the Titan gods. His heart was saved and he was reborn through Semele as Dionysus. He is unusual in that he was one of the only gods to be born a god despite being half mortal. By the 5th century B.C., Dionysus was known to both the Romans and Greeks as Bacchus. Dionysus is usually depicted in Greek art and literature accompanied by maenads, fauns, satyrs, and nymphs. They once had many festivals in Greece celebrating the wine-god. The most important one, the Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring. There was dancing, feasts, plays, and other entertainments. But most of Greece just used it as an excuse to get drunk. Dionysus’s worshippers were the fanatic maenads, or bacchantes. They were a group of female devotees who left their homes to roam the wilderness in ecstatic devotion of him. They were believed to have occult powers, and were garbed in fawn skins. His worship services were more or less orgiastic rituals dedicated to him. He was good and gentle to his worshippers, but brought madness and destruction to those who spurned him or the fanatic rituals of his cult. Wine miracles were reputedly performed at his festivals. According to tradition, Dionysus died each winter and was reborn each spring. To his followers, this cyclical revival, accompanied by the seasonal renewals of the fruits of the earth, embodied the pr…

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