Robert Brown.

The great Dionysiak myth online

. (page 4 of 38)
Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 4 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

character of Kissokomes, his locks bound with the death-
less ivy, as being himself a giver of life to his faithful

Svhsection VI, — General character of tlie Dionysos of
the Homerik Hymns.

As Aristoteles is the philosopher of the ancients, and
Strabo the geographer, so is Homeros the poet, and to
the poet i3 erroneously ascribed the composition of a vast
number of ancient verses and hymns, the scattered pro-
ductions of various rhapsodists and Orphiks, dating from
the later heroic epoch down to the times of Kleisthenes.
One fragment of a Hymn to Dionysos ^ celebrates him as
Eiraphiotes the Thigh-sewn,^ and another as Gynaimanes
the Erotic, * the son of Semele, whom men call Thyone/
the Inspired. Nysa, or Nyse, his birthplace, is a lofty
wood-crowned mountain, *far from Phoinike, near the
Sowings of Aigyptos,' i.e. Neilos.* * Others,* says the
Hymn-wiiter, * falsely say that he was born in Thebai.'
This testimony is true, and all these traditions point
imanimously to some portion of the Semitic East as the
real birthplace of the god, who lives in his cult far and
wide over the Hellenik world. To ascertain the exact
age of this or that particular myth is a difficulty frequently

> Apud Diod. Sik. iii. 66. « Of. Od, xiv. 26; vide inf. VIII.

' Vide VIU. i. Eiraphuftes. i. Nyaios,

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


amounting to impossibility, but be it remembered that
the most ^miliar version of a legend, Homerik or other-
wise, is not necessarily the oldest ; and that l^ends do not
originate at that point in history when we first meet with
them, but have almost invariably been in existence pre-
viously, possibly for centuries. Tales have often been
classed amongst late inventions or introductions, as being
supposed to be contrary to the spirit or knowledge of
more primitive ages, when in reality our acquaintance
with such earlier times is probably insufficient to enable
us to judge whether this or that particular assumption or
idea is in harmony with them or not. Thus without
being dogmatic about dates, like the writers who once
informed us that Troia was taken June 22, B.C. 1184, we
may safely consider some of these Homerik Fragments as
of very high antiquity, and as embodying conceptions
necessarily older than themselves ; for the real poet,
whether a writer of hymns or drinking-songs, never ar-
bitrarily invents, but takes some portion of existing truth
or fact, and moulds it into a new and distinct shape of
beauty or power. Thus when we find Diodoros alluding
to the Bakchik Hymns of Eumolpos the Thrakian, a con-
temporary in mythic history with Erektheus of Athenai,
also said to have been the founder of the Eleusinian
Mysteries, and priest of Demeter and Dionysos, and
quoting the line, * Dionysos, with face of flame, glitters
like a star with his rays,' although we are not in the least
boimd to recognize the existence of a particular Eumolpos,
yet that there was an ancient Good-singer we need not
doubt ; nor does it necessitate any violent effort of imagi-
nation to believe that some few fragments of his muse
may have been preserved to us. Dionysos Pyropos, or

the Fiery-eyed, who

From each plumed arc, pale glitterings
And fiery flakes,

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


widely differs from an Hellenik concept, as will probably
be acknowledged ; bufc this fact by no means necessarily
implies the late date of the idea, as belonging to the time
when Hellas was invaded by a vast wave of Oriental
cults, that passing over it broke upon Imperial Rome
beyond. The early, not to say the prehistoric, connec-
tion between East and West is becoming ever more
apparent, as patient research slowly unveils the buried
annals of Kam,^ and Phoenicia, of Assur and Bab-ilu ; *
and, as it were, unearths from the recesses of immem-
orial tombs ever-burning lamps whose rays, like those
from Dionysos Pyropos, cast new hght and meaning on
the course of Hellenik history. Let the Agnostics, for
whom ante-Olympiak time in Hellas is but a blank and
void, Tohu-and-Bohu, be content to accept the curtain as
the picture, and to pass by miracle at a bound from
legend to history in the wonderful year B.C. 776.' But
let not their want of faith on the one hand, or the vast
credulity of former enquirers on the other, deter the
student of the Earlier Time from the quiet pursuit of his
researches ; it being his duty, as Bunsen well says, * to
throw out piquets into the empire of history which is
to be conquered, as far as his means will permit.* It is
unnecessary to allude further to the ancient Hymn Frag-
ments ; they all tell us, either directly or by implication,
that Dionysos was not originally bom in the Boiotiaa

> E^t. ' Called in the hierogly- what doubtful. Vide The Olympiads

pliics Kam^ or the Blacky iroin the in connection with the Oolden Age of

colour of the alluvial mud of the Nile. Greece*^ W. R. A. Boyle, in the

To the Hebrews it was known as Transactions of the Society ^ BibUcal

Mitsraim, or the Two Mitsrs, an ap- Archaeology, ii. 289-300. Well, says

pellation found also in the Assyrian Mr. H. Spencer, * The assumption

as Musr, and the Persian as Mudraya ; that any decided division can be madft^

but the Greeks called it Aiguptos, a between legend and history is un-

word of uncertain derivation re- tenable. To suppose that at a certain

tained at the present day as Egypt.' stage we pass suddenly from the

(Birch, Egypt from the Earhest mythical to the historical, is absurd '

Times, Introduction, i.) (The Principles of Sociology, No. 40,

' Babylon, i,e. Gate of God. Appendix).

* Even this magical date is some-

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Thebai, though the city of Kadmos was his Hellenik
birthplace ; or, in other words, that his cult reached it
from the Outer- world. The god is thus, in another sense.
Dimeter, Bimater, Son-of-two-mothers.

Subsection VII. — Dionysos and the Kyklih Poenis,

The llias and the Odysseia are the sole standing
columns of the great temple of the Epik Cycle, and
around their bases lie a few fragments of their once com-
panions, deemed by some to have been of almost as fine
a workmanship as the two survivors, though I doubt not
but that these were ' the two middle pillars upon which
the house stood,' and that their preservation is an in-
stance of the * survival of the fittest/ This great Cycle
contained a history of the world from the marriage of
Heaven and Earth down to the death of Odysseus by. the
unwitting hand of his son Telegonos, and treated at length
of the Wars of the Titanes, of Thebai, and of Troia,
Three at least of the Epik poems, the Oidipodeia^ the The-
hais^ and the Epigonoi^ were devoted to the history of the
Kadmeis, and one of the very few surviving lines of the
later work speaks of .

Venerable Earth, and Zagreus highest of all gods.

A glimpse such as this enables us to imagine to some
extent what has been lost, and how much easier it would
have been to trace the prepress of an obscure and
shadowy divinity Uke Dionysos, did we possess the com-
plete works of the Epik poets, of Pindaros, Anakreon,
Aischylos, Sophokles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and others,
instead of only a comparatively small portion of them,
not to mention numbers of interesting, perhaps admirable,
wiiters whose every hne has perished. Mr. Grote, when
speaking of the writings of the Ancient World, truly says.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


* We possess only what has drifted ashore fix)m the wreck
of a stranded vessel.' That Semitic influence, still very-
perceptible in Hellenik history, although so coldly ad-
mitted by some, and so boldly denied by others, would,
had we the materials of antiquity, have been far more
apparent ; but fortunately sufficient traces of it remain
to enable us to construct, to a considerable extent, an
account of its early progress, as the fragments of colour-
ing found in ancient churches recall to the skilled
restorer the period when the shades of the walls corre-
sponded with the hues of the windows. That Zagreus
is a phase of the mystic Dionysos, is sufficiently well
known,^ and his intimate connection with the venerable
Earth-mother, De-meter, will become more apparent
when we consider the combined cult of Demeter and
lakchos in the historical Eleusinian Mysteries.^ But it
will be observed that Zagreus is represented as a Zeus
Hypsistos, Jupiter the Highest, god of gods; and so,
Dionysos, although in Aryan regions, son of the Aryan
Zeus, whom he was imable to dethrone, is himself a Zeus,
but in Hellas only the Zeus of Nysa.* His place in the
Aryan pantheon, into which he was admitted as a stranger
divinity, was much lower than the one occupied by him
in the land where 1^ cult first originated, and hence, he
might easily be regarded esoterically by his worshippers
as being far greater than he appeared by comparison with
other deities of the earlier Aryan religion,* and so, in the
Bakchai the barbarian Chorus declare that he * is inferior
to none of the gods.' * Only one other allusion to him is
preserved amongst the few surviving fragments of the
Kyklics. Isaac Tzetzes, cir. a.d. 1150, author of the
Commentary on the Kassandra of Lykophron, mentions
that the writer of the Epik poem called the Kyprian

» Inf. IX. vi. Zagreus. » Of. Diod. Sik. iii. 64.

« Ibid. VI. ii. * V. 777.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


VerseSy who may have been Stasinos of Kypros, re-
lated the story of Koio, the beloved of ApoUon and
the daughter of Staphylos the Argonaut, son of Dionysos
and Ariadne* Koio was shut up in a chest by her
father, and thrown into the sea, a repetition of the legend
which related that Semele had been so treated by Kad-
mos on his discovery of her intrigue with Zeus. The chest
was cast up on the shore of Euboia, and broken by the
waves; and Koio, saved from the sea, called her new-
born son Anios, the Ben-oni or Son of Sorrow. Anios
became the fether of three daughters, Oino, Spermo, and
Elaisi to whom Dionysos gave the magic power of pro-
ducing any quantity of wine, corn, and oil, with which
they supplied the Achaioi during the first nine years of
the Troian War. The general purport of the myth is
sufficiently evident. Staphylos or Bunch-of-grapes, is the
fether of Koio, the Flowing-wine, beloved by Apollon,
whose genial rays ripen the fruit. Then follows the
fomiUar idea of the outraged and revengeful sire who,
like Kadmos or Akrisios, shuts the frail fair one in a
chest and casts her into the sea. The child is naturally
Anios, the Son of Sorrow, but he is the great grandson
of Dionysos, and, his mother's troubles being over, the
genial element re-appears in the story, and his daughters,
Oino, wine, Spermo, seed, and Elais, oil, support the
Achaian host before Troia. Dionysos, it will be observed,
is not merely the father of Wine alone. Seed and Oil
are equally his daughters, for he is the lord of the pro-
during vitality of the venerable Earth-mother. The
principle of explaining legends from the signification of
the names of personages riientioned in them is frequently
both sound and serviceable, but may easily be over-
strained. Thus Eumolpos may, in the abstract, be
merely a general term for a Poet or Good-singer, and
Homeros for a Stitcher-together of lays and ballads ; but

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Argos is not necessarily the Land of Whiteness, nor
Lykia that of light, in any aerial or heavenly sense.^

Subsectimi VIII — Eikon of the Bomerik Dionysos.

The Homerik Dionysos appears as the son of Zeus,
and Semele daughter of Kadmos ; as a stranger opposed
and injured on his first entry into the regions of the
West ; as enrolled among the cycle of Aryan and
Hellenik divinities, to which he did not originally be-
long;^ as a god apparently feeble, yet potent to revenge
himself; and as locally connected with Naxos, Thrake,
and the Boiotik Thebai. He is a charm or soothing joy
to mortals, and crowned with the deathless ivy can grant
life to his votaries, himself the dark-eyed, smiling, bloom-
ing, and eternal youth. Women minister in his orgies,
and the wine is consecrated in his worship. The green
earth-mantle is his robe of freshness and beauty, adorned
with the embroidery of flowers which chaplet the brows
of Dionysos Antheus, and he breathes of sunny skies,
pure air, ever-verdant meadows, and flowing streams.
Father is he of grape-clusters, of corn, and wine, and oil,
and of the fatness of the earth beneath. But, like Janus,
he has another face. The dark and smihng eyes can
deepen and intensify till they burn and scorch with the
fierce rays of Dionysos Pyropos. The perfect vigour of
the beautiful youth can develope into the fierce bound of
the savage beast of prey, Dionysos Omestes, the Eaw-
flesh-eating ; ^ Dasyllios, the apparently innocent rustic
deity, can also appear as Agrionios, the ruthless and
savage. This curious two-fold character, this face at

* Cf. De Quincy on the coDclusions second year of the reign of Perseus,

to he drawn from the meanings of as Apollodorus Bajs, in his [truly

Hellenik names. Works, v. 316 et valuaole] Chronology.*

$eq, » Vide inf, IV. iii. 2; VIU. L

8 Of. Olem. Alex. Strom, i. 21. Omestes.
' Dionysos was dei£ed in the thirty-

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


once grim and smiling, * Dionysos, son of Zeus, a god at
once most terrible and most gentle to mortals/ ^ we shall
see developed throughout his career ; its closer considera-
tion belongs to another stage of the enquiry. With
reference to the introduction of the Dionysiak cult into
Hellas, Mr. Gladstone well remarks : * We cannot, per-
haps, treat the Dionusos of Homer as the discoverer of
wine, and father of its use, in Greece ; for it is univereal
and familiar, while he appears to be but local and as yet
strange. The novel feature, which connects itself with
his name, seems to be the use of wine by women ; and the
eflfect produced, in an extraordinary and furious excite-
ment, which might well justify not only jealousy, but even
forcible resistance to demoralising orgies. It seems, then,
as if this usage was introduced by immigrants of a race
comparatively wealthy and luxurious, and was resisted
by, or on behalf of, the older and simpler population.'^
Ph)fessor Mayor, commenting on Od. ix. 197, where
allusion is made to the skin of excellent wine given to
Odysseus by Maron, priest of Apollon, remarks : * Neither
here, nor in the vineyard of Alkinoos, nor in the vintage
scene on the Shield of Achilleus, do we find Dionysos ;
hence he cannot have been the god of wine to Horner'^
I think it will clearly appear that this inference is amply
justified. There is one more incident in the description
of the Homerik Dionysos which is not without a special
significance. The poet never admits him to that wide
heaven, the peculiar home and abode of Zeus Hypsistos,*

^ Eur. Bak, 860. to the effect that Homeros placee

' Juo. Mwn, 319. neither Dionysos or Bemeter in

• The Narrative of Ody$seus, i, Olyinpofl by any distinct declaration.
106. As Demeter is imquestionably an

* I hare endeavoured to show Aryan divinity, this must seem an
(PoaeuUm, xxiz.) that the customary exception to the principle above sug-
Homerik formula for the Aryan gested. Even if it be an exception,
dirinities is * the gods who possess the reason of it is not fiir to seek, as
the wide heaven. Mr. Gladstone it would seem to us to be a strange
(Juv. Mun, 318) quotes Nagelsbach clashing of ideas to place Earth in

D 2

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


that clear blue aether which is far removed from the
career and independent of the sway, alike of the terres-
trial Dionysos and of the chthonian Zagreus, whose liirid
torches, though for a time they may obscure, cem never
vie with, the pure beauty of its incorruptible stars.^ .


Subsection L — Dionysos^ son of Semele.

* To Zeus,' says the poet of Askra,^ ' Semele, daughter
of Kadma«», bore a famous son Dionysos, the Much-
cheering,^ an immortal though she was mortal. But now
both are deities.' The Hesiodik account is thus in per-
fect accord with the Homerik ; Dionysos is a Kadmeion,
i.e. a Son of the East. The primary meaning of the
word phaidmos, * famous,* is that which is brought to light
or made to appear, and hence that which strikes the eye
remarkably. Some of its fellow words are phaino, * to
bring to light ;' phaney * a torch,' i.e. that-which-brings-
things-to-light ; and 'Phanes, the Apparent-one, the
Orphik Demiurge, who has made, and in making has
brought to light, all created things which form his * living

Heaven; but Demeter in Homerik ^ The originally protagonistic solar

idea probably had too much anthropic phase of the god (Inf. sec. iii. 2,

personality to make the concent m- XII. L) does not appear directly in

congruous, and as all the goos are Homeros, though clearly developed

said to possess Olympos (II. i. 606) , in the Hymns. In Phoenicia and

it is likely that he regarded both Egypt the kosmogonic element be-

Dionysos and Demeter as at times came very pronounced, and conse-

present there. The distinction is quently^ to some extent, interfered

Between the two formulas — * the gods with the former.

who possess Olympos/ or the entire ^ TKeoff, 940-2.

Pantheon ; and * the gods who poe- ' Polygethes (cf. Pind. I^ag.

sess the wide heaven/ or the Aryan cxxx.

members of it only.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


visible garment/^ Whether Hesiodos uses phaidimosj
one of his epithets for Dionysos, in this primary sense, or
merely in the secondary sense of ' famous/ is of course
doubtful ; but it should be remembered that Phanes in
the Orphik Theogony^ is identified with Dionysos, and
this circumstance illustrates the exceedingly important
kosmogooic aspect of the Dionysiak Myth.^ Phaidimos
occurs in Homeros* as the name of the king of the
fidonians, who gave Menelaos the splendid bowl wrought
by the Phoenician Hephaistos, and presented by the king
of Sparte to Telemachos. Some subtle Unks of connec-
tion between East and West may be traced in these
circumstances. That remarkable Thrakian symbohc re-
ligious mysticism subsequently known as Orphik, and
afterwards overshadowed by the parasitic growth of Neo-
Flatonism, appears to have coalesced, perhaps in Kabirik
Lemnos, past which the head and harp of Orpheus were
carried in tradition to Lesbos^ early home of the lyric
muse — ^with the Semitic religious element, chiefly repre-
sented by the world-colonising Phoenician. The Orphik
Demiurge and the kosmogonic Phoenician divinity, known
in Hellas as Dionysos, are one and the same. One is
Phanes, the Spirit-of-the-Apparent the other is Phaidimos
the Illustrious-apparent, a Sidonian or Phoenician hero.
These Aryan names are really the same, as is the Semitic
concept which they embody, namely, that of the Creator
becoming apparent pantheistically in his works. Hence
Dionysos is Phaidimos more truly than perhaps ever
entered into the mind of the author of the Hesiodifc
Theogony who, nevertheless, had a wonderful, although
shadowy apprehension of certain great root-truths, which

^ Vide inf, VIII. i. Phanes. * * Hia gory viaage down the stream

' JVay. viii. was sent,

' Vide tn/1 sec iii. 8. Down the swift Helnrua to the

* Od, iv. 617, XV. 117. Lesbian shore.'

Milton^ Lycidns.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


gleam and pierce through all their cumbrous trappings
and disguises.^

Subsection IL — Dionysos and Ariadne.

* Dionysos Chrysokomes [the Golden-haired] made
the blonde-haired Ariadne, daughter of Minos, his bloom-
ing spouse, and for him Kronion [Zeus] made her im-
mortal and ever-young.' ^ Dionysos here appears in one
of his solar aspects, Chrysokomes, the Golden-haired Sun,
as the rival divinity the Aryan Apollon is Akersekomes,
the Unshorn, imdeprived of his far-reaching beams.
Minos, the mighty king of Krete, whose * name is man^
the measurer or thinker, the Indian Manu,* ' and whom
Homeros speaks of as * possessed of awful wisdom,* * is
the son of Zeus and Europe the daughter, either of Phoi-
nix son of the Phoenician king Agenor, or of Agenor
himself. He is thus of direct Phoenician descent, and his
daughter Ariadne, whose name is perhaps Phoenician,^
forms by relationship a suitable bride for her Phoenician
cousin Dionysos. His rival is the Aryan Theseus,-^ who
is defeated in the competition, and Dionysos confers im-
mortality on his consort as on his mother.^ The root of
the story is probably some contest or connection between
the Phoenician powers of Krete and Naxos, and the
Hellenik Attike. Pausanias speaks of Dionysos as having
had a much superior force,^ and, so far as the god repre-
sents in the legend the Phoenician Navy, this was doubt-
less correct. Minos has been regarded as a solar hero

* As to the connection between » Of. Bunsen, EgypCi Place^ iy.
Hesiodos and Phoenician Eosmo- 246. Bunsen remarks, ' The strictly
ponies, vide Bunsen, Effyp^s Place, Greek derivation, however, Ariadne,
IV. 246 ^ seq, equivalent to Axiagiie, the Very

» Theog. 947. Holy, is palpable.'

» Mythol, of the Aryan Nations, ^ Vide inf. X. iv.

ii. 87. ' Cf. Pherekydes, IVag. cvi.

* Od. xl 322. 8 Paus. x. 29.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


because there is a tradition that he was slain in the West
by a king of Sikelia. If all solar heroes, like their pro-
totype, closed their careers in the West, their histories
would present a gratifying consistency ; but since heroes
who travel from West to East, such as Achilleus, and die
in Oriental regions, are equally supposed to be solar, it is
evident that, let them die where they may, they cannot
escape a solar character.^ The Episode of Dionysos and
Ariadne formed one of the favourite subjects of ancient
art, and is thus treated on a fresco discovered at Pom-
peii : * Bacchus, after his arrival at Naxos, finds Ariadne
sunk in a profound slumber. Her face is hid in the pil-
lows ; over her head stands Sleep, with outspread wings,
and bearing in his left hand a torch reversed, a symbol
common to him with his brother Death. A young faun
lifts the sheet, or veil, in which Ariadne is enveloped, in
an attitude expressive of surprise at her beauty, and looks
earnestly at the god, as if to discover what impression it
makes upon him. Bacchus, crowned with ivy and berries,
clothed in a short tunic and flowing pallium, having on
his legs rich buskins, and holding in his right hand the
thyrsus bound with a fillet, appears to be approaching
slowly, and cautiously, for fear he should awake the
nymph.^ Seilenos and the Bakchik train follow. Mr.
King, after having illustrated the custom of honouring a
deceased friend ' by sculptiuing his portrait in the cha-
racter of a Bacchus,' remarks, * from all this it is allow-
able to conjecture that the heads of Bacchus and Ariadne,
in which the Koman glyptic art so conspicuously displayed
itself, may not in every instance be ideal, but may often
perpetuate the features of deceased friends.' ^

* For Uliifltrations of the Phoe- xxxiv.

mdan character of Minos, vide Juv, ' Dyer, Rvxm of Pompeii, 80-1 ;

Mun, 119 et seq., and for the early Adams, Buried Cities of Campaniaf

hisiojj and non- Aryan character of 211-2.

Krete vide Poseidon, sees, xxx.- ' Antique Genu, i. 218, 266.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Subsection III. — Grapes, the gift of Dionysos.

The remaining allusion to Dionysos in the Hesiodik
Poems states that * he gave grapes to men, a source of joy
and grief/ ^ This passage excellently illustrates the two-
faced character of Dionysos Theoinos, the Wine-god.*
In one aspect he is Luaios, the Deliverer-from-care ; in
the other he is Psychodaiktes, Destroyer-of-the-soul,
frantic, and raging. The rustic author of the Shield of
Herakles gives quite an Aryan aspect of the god, just
as an Attik husbandman of the age of Perikles might
have done, accustomed to connect him only with the
rural Dionysia and the sports of the Askohasmos or Leap-
ing-on-the-wine-skin ; and had- we nothing more about
the god than such a passage as this, we should unhesita-
tingly ascribe to him an Aryan origin. But even the
Hesiodik allusions to Dionysos, brief as they are, would
fully warrant us in regarding him as a foreign importa-

Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 4 of 38)