Robert Brown.

The great Dionysiak myth online

. (page 8 of 38)
Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 8 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

give us a detailed history of the intrigue, while Nonnos
records how the deified Thyone sits at the same heavenly

* Dithyrambs, Frag. iii. Choe. 6.

« Queen of the Air, i. 12 ; cf. 7Z. » Find. Isth. y\, 4.

xxiii. 142 ; Hes. TJieog. 347 ; Ais. * Orphik Hymn, i. 7.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


table with Zeus and Hermes, Ares and Aphrodite.^ But
while we cast aside the comparatively modem and worth-
less fiction which entwines itself round the original idea,
we may well admire the fullness of meaning of these
strange stories of the Earlier Time, which seem as death-
less as the truths they represent. Nor are we bound to
see in them only the thoughts and ideas which they may
have reflected upon the gifted minds of antiquity. But
in the story of Semele we may find an adumbration of
the truth that the creature cannot bear to behold the un-
veiled glories of tiie Creator ; that if He look upon the
earth it trembles, if He touch the hills they smoke ; that
we must be covered with the hand and set in the cleft of
the rock while the brightness of the Infinite passes by ;
and, lastly, that all changes in created things shall ever
be fix)m tiie lower to the higher, firom glory to glory,
until at length in place of Semele, the present mortal and
melancholy earth that shall wax old as a garment, will
arise the deathless splendour of a happier creation,
Thyone, inspired to show forth the glory of the true
Zeus Hypsistos, when He shall make all things new. As
r^ards the historical cult of Semele, Hesychios^ mentions
a festival in her honour, which is apparentiy identical
with the Herois, a singular celebration performed by the
Delphians once in nine years, and in which, according
to Ploutarchos, * was a representation of something like
Semele's resurrection,' with many mysterious rites illus-
trating the restoration to life of a great heroine who was
doubtless a personification of the Earth-mother. The
inhabitants of Brasiai on the ArgoUk Gulf had a local
tradition that Kadmos enclosed Semele and her infant in
a chest, which was cast into the sea, and at length thrown
up on that coast ; from which circumstance the place
was said to have received its more modern name, i.e. fi'om

* Dianys. viii. 418. ^Invoc. Heroai,

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


brassOj to thrown up. Semele, they reported, died and
was splendidly buried upon the sea shore, and the youth-
ful Dionysos was nurtured by his aunt Ino, who had
opportunely arrived there in the course of her wander-
ings.^ The legend is a link between Dionysos and the
Semitic Adonis, who ' was placed in a chest and put into
the hands of Persephone,'^ herself another phase of
Semele. This mystic chest is a kind of ark or kosmic
egg, firom which the powers of growth, heat, and life-
beauty come forth in the procession of existence.'

Subsection 11. — Dionysos and the Dithyramb.

In Olymp. xiii. 22, the Poet, recounting the glories of
Korinthos, exclaims, * Where else appeared the dehghts
of Dionysos and the ox-capturing Dithyramb?' The
North Dorik cities of the Peloponnesos, Korinthos and
Sikyon, were more addicted to the Bakchik ritual than
Argos and Sparta. The Sikyonians worshipped the god
with many peculiar ceremonies as Bakcheios, the Exciter-
to-phrensy ; his cult having been originally introduced
from Thebai about the time of the Dorik invasion.* The
Dithyramb, or ancient Bakchik choral hymn, is said by
the almost unanimojis* voice of antiquity to have been
invented, or rather, remodelled and greatly improved, by
the lyric poet Arion of „Lesbos, who passed the greater
part of his life at the court of Periandros, despot of
Korinthos, who ruled B.C. 625-585.* This circumstance
explains the allusion of Pindaros, and, as the Scholiast
informs us, a bull was the prize and sacrifice at the
Bakchik festival. The fact is interesting as an early
instance of the cult of Dionysos Taurokeros.^ According

* Paus. iii. 24. * Miiller, Doric Race, i. 41d; wif.

* Mythology of the Aryan Natiom, VI. i. 3.

ii. 7. ^ ^ ^ ^^ ^^^ . 23

» Vide inf. V. v. 4. • Inf IX. iii., VIH. ii. Dithyramb

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


to the natural Phenomena Theory Arion is jo^ unhistoric
personage, whose harp represents the wind.^ This view,
like that of the Eumeristik interpreters of his history,^ is
much more easily advanced than satisfactorily supported ;
nor is it indeed at all material to the present enquiry,
the important fact remaining undoubted that a Bakchik
cult was introduced at Korinthos from Thebai, and was
subsequently enlarged and improved by strangers from
the neighbourhood of the eastern shores of the Aigaion.
The circumstance mentioned by Mr. Cox that Arion ' is
represented as a son of Poseidon/ is in perfect accordance
with the Semitic character of the worship and the foreign
nature of the god. Pausanias, alluding to the account in
Herodotos of Arion and his dolphin, states that he knew
a dolphin which would carry a certain boy who had cured
it of a hurt wherever he liked. ^

Subsection III. — Dionysos Associate of Demeter.

The sixth Isthmian Ode opens, * With which of the
former glories of thy country, O fortunate Thebai, does
thy mind chiefly delight itself? Was it when thou
broughtest forth to light the associate of bronze-rattling
Dameter, Dionysos Eurychaites ? ' From this important
passage we learn (1) that Dionysos was bom in Thebai,*
that is, that his cult was introduced there from the Outer-
world ; Thebai, as above noticed,* was one of the chief
centres from which it spread through continental Hellas ;

(2) that Dionysos became the associate of Demeter;

(3) in his character of Eurychaites, Lord-of-the-flowing-
tresses. The first point is already familiar in the enquiry,^
and, as r^ards the second, the connection between Diony-

* Of. Mvthotogy nfthe Aryan Na- * Of. Hymns, Frag, I
tioM, ii. 2d, 246. * Subsec. L

* Vide Rawlinaon, Herod, i. 136. « Su^, II. i. 2.

* Paofl. iii 25.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


SOS and Demeter has already been partially illustrated.^
We have seen how Semele in her phase as the earth is
necessarily an interchangeable concept with Demeter the
Earth-mother, the earth in a state of order and civilisa-
tion ; and how therefore, in this point of view, Dionysos
becomes the son of the latter. But he is not originally
her son, and it is only when the recognition of his
character gives a suitability to the idea that he thus
becomes connected with her and the assistant at her
Mysteries. There is a singular appropriateness in the
epithet by which Pindaros describes the imion between
them. He calls Dionysos the Paredros or Associate of
Demeter, literally one who sits with or by the side of
another to assist, not the original authority ; and thus, for
example, the term is applied to the inferior Archons at
Athenai, where each of the three premier Archons had
two assistants or associates. Here the original authority
is the Aryan Demeter and the associate, also 'of the com-
mission,' is the Semitic Dionysos. And it will further be
noticed that even the undoubtedly Aryan divinity Deme-
ter has, in this passage, an Oriental aspect, arising firom
her similarity of position to that of certain other Earth-
mothers and Great Mothers ; for the epithet Chalkokrotos,
Bronze-rattling, connects her cult with that of the
Phrygian Kybele, the goddess of furious and orgiastic
ritual, whose service was constantly accompanied with the
beating of drums, playing on the loud sounding cymbals,^
blowing of horns, and clashing of armour, and whose
worship was fiilly established at Thebai in the time of Pin-
daros,^ and also with that of Dionysos as the noisy god,
Bakchos, Bromios, and l^lainomenos.* The ancient earth-
goddess Ehea, daughter of Ouranos and Graia, and in
mythologic pedigree the mother of Zeus and others of

» Sup, Bubeec. i. » Of. Puth. iii. 78.

« Of: Eur. Hel. 1308. < Of. Dithyrambs, F^off. v.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


the chief divinities of Olympos, is another important
concept in this group of telluric personages, of whom
Dionysos is the Associate. She appears Aryan in origin,
and her name seems to be merely another form of G^,
Gaia, or of Era, Terra, the Earth. This, however, is not
beyond doubt, for Canon Eawhnson is of opinion that
she may be identical with the Kaldean Bilta (Beltis), Hhe
Great Gkxldess,' whose numerical symbol was fifteen, pro-
nounced Ri.^ The point, however, is not one of imme-
diate importance; but we notice that being all earth
goddesses, Semele, Demeter, and Rhea, are in phase at
least identical, the Earth, * whose names are many but
her form the same ;^ and Ehea, whether originally Aryan
or not, was early identified by the Asiatic Hellenes with
Kybele, an imdoubted phase of the Great Goddess of the
East. Perhaps, however, we must only understand from
this identification that Rhea and Kybele were correspond-
ing divinities in their respective Pantheons, for the general
Hellenik fashion of indiscriminately identifying the gods
of different nations and races is to be carefiiUy avoided.^
But although the two figures may be distinct, yet the
connection between them both in idea and historically is
very close. Rhea ' worshipped as the great reproductive
force of the world, as producing hfe through death,'*
identified with and an Aryan copy of Kybele the * mother
of the gods,' the great goddess of the Eastern world,
whose innimierous phases reach back to the most remote
antiquity ; Semele, the Foundation-of-things ; and Deme
ter, Mother-earth, are appropriately connected with
Bionysos the great earth-spirit whose almost countless
epithets answer harmoniously to the characteristics and
properties of his mythologic mother. And this leads to

' Ancient Monarchies^ L 120, note> * Mythology of the Aryan Nations,
« Ais. iVom. Des. 210. ii. 812.

* Of. Foseidon, v.

6 2

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


the third point in the passage, namely, that it is in his
character of Eurychaites, the Flowing -tressed, that
Dionysos is connected with Demeter. We noticed^ how
the descriptive epithets of Semele referred to her long
locks as symbolising the strength and flow of Ufe, the
vital earth vigour ; and how appropriately her son, the
lord of vitality and reproduction, is described as Eury-
chaites.^ This is the phase of Dionysos as Phleon or
Phloios, the fullness or overflowing of the life-force of
nature ; the hair, a symbol of which, is dedicated to the
divinities of the everflowing streams. And Ehea her-
self, whose historic cult is so closely connected with that
of Dionysos, may be the Flowing-one, the earth goddess
as the representative of the constant course and fullness
of life ; and, if so, Dionysos Phleon will in reality be
identical with her, the pair forming two distinct concepts,
male and female of the same root idea. It might be
urged that if Dionysos were the Associate of .the Aryan
Demeter, then he must in all probability be himself of
Aryan origin. But the analysis of their histories pre-
vents such a conclusion, and the difierent divinities group
themselves in orderly fashion in their respective Pan-
theons. On the Aryan side we find Gaia, Ehea, Demeter,
representatives of the Earth, mother of all ; on the Semitic
side we have Kybele and Semele,^ representatives of the
Earth-mother ; and Dionysos, when known as the child
of the Semitic Earth, naturally and necessarily becomes
the Associate of the Aryan Earth. I have classed Kybele
among Semitic divinities, for.even if it be admitted that
the Lydians and Phrygians were members of the Indo-
European Family of nations, yet the concept of the Great
Goddess is undoubtedly Semitic. The scientific labours

' Slip, subsec. i. It may, however, be identical with

' Of. Eur. Bak. 493-4. the Hebrew semel and Assyrian

' The name Semele is HeDenik. simaliu (vide inf. VII. ii.).

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


of Comparative Mythologists will ever be of the highest
value ; but they are at times apt to forget, in the ardom- of
discovery, and in their zeal for philological and ethnic
affinities, that there are also geographical and commercial
affinities which to some extent run counter to the former,
and in their operation at times produce apparent breaches
m scientific laws of language and classes of religious
ideas. Semitic influence in Hellas is a remarkable
instance of this fact, and thus it appears that some
Hellenik names and words being, like some English
words, adopted from foreign sources, do not belong to
the Aryan family of languages ; and therefore the idea
that all Hellenik words are necessarily Aryan, and so
cannot have a Semitic derivation, is simply based on a
misapprehension of the facts. Thus, if there be a single
Hellenik name, Melikertes for instance, which is admittedly
Semitic in derivation, there are, apart from any investi-
gation, in all probability a considerable number of kin-
dred terms.^ * We do not,' said an opponent of the
notion of a Phoenician colony at Thebai, * meet with the
slightest trace of Phoenician influence in the language of
Boeotia/^ A bold and unsupported assertion of this
kind forms an admirable groundwork for a theory.
Assuming the point in discussion, we may argue : The
Phoenicians left; no traces in Thebai ; but had they ever
been there they would have left; traces ; therefore, they
were never there. Keightley appears either to con-
ader that * the letters Cadmus gave ' were thoroughly
Aryan, or else that a nation may adopt the alphabet of
another and yet show us no trace of the influence of the
latter in its language. Either opinion is as reasonable as
the other, and possibly ultimate anti-Semitic investigation

* For a list of such words, bein^ mant, Le$ Pi'emih'es Civilisations, ii,

chiefly names of yarious productions 425-6.

of the East, musical instnmients, ' Keightley, 3fy^Ao/cyy, i. 327.
weights, and measures, vide Lenor-

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


may result in the discovery that the Phoenicians obtained
their letters from the Hellenes, not the Hellenes from the
Phoenicians. In the meantime, however, we must be
content to take things as we find them ; and meeting asser-
tion by assertion, it will be sufficient to reply that the
Phoenicians left traces in Thebai ; but had they never
been there, they would have left no traces; therefore,
they were once there. And that these are no mere idle
assertions the patient investigator will discover.


Subsection I. — Vinal Allusions.

As the Hellenik Lyric Poets, like most of their fellow
bards in all ages, appear to have fiilly appreciated the
good things of the present material hfe, gifts, which may
be briefly expressed by the triad Demeter, Aphrodite, and
Dionysos ; it is not surprising that the latter divinity
generally appears in their works as Theoinos the Wine-
god. It is far from my intention to ignore this important
though strictly subordinate part of his character, in which
he is seen as Botryokosmos the Grape-decked, Lenaios
the Lord-of-the-wine-press, Polystaphylos the Kich-in-
grape-clusters, Protygaios or Protryges the Presider-over-
the-vintage, Lyaios or Lysios the Deliverer-from-care,
Choopotes the Gallon-drinker, Oinops the Wine-faced,
and in other similar phases.^ Such is his constant aspect
in the Odes so long ascribed to Anakreon, and well
translated by Moore otherwise^ ' Little, young Catullus of
his day,' in which the height of happiness is placed in a

» Vide m/. VIH. L

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


kind of modem music-hall enjoyment, the quaffing of
wine forming the most important feature. To notice
such passages in detail is unnecessary, but I may refer to
several which somewhat illustrate the general character
of the god. Solon links Dionysos with the Kypros-bom
Aphrodite and the Muses, as being cheering deities,^ and
Theognis, cir. B.C. 544, alludes to wine as the gift of the
former divinity;^ Alkaios, too, cir. B.C. 608, declares that
'care-banishing wine the son of Zeus and Semele gave to
men;'' and thus all the earlier writers agree in connecting
the god with Kadmos and Thebai. Archilochos, cir. B.C.
700, in a passage noticed subsequently,* exclaims, *I know
how to lead off the dithyramb, the beautiful strain of King
Dionysos, when my mind is struck vdth wine as vdth a
thunderbolt;' and Ion, the friend of Aischylos, and also
a tragic poet, addresses the god as * father Dionysos,'
which recalls the * liber Pater ' of the Latin writers, and
connects him with wine-banquets and thyrsos-bearers.^
Simonides^ ' describes the dithyramb as sung by noisy
Bacchanalians, crowned vnih fillets and chaplets of roses
and bearing the ivy-v^reathed thyrsos.'^ There are many
similar passages scattered throughout the fragments of
Lyric Poets ;^ but should the reader feel inclined to give
undue prominence to Dionysos Theoinos, and to imagine
that the tauric, solar, and kosmogonic character of the
god is entirely a later and non-original phase, he will
probably be convinced on pursuing the enquiry that the
Dionysos of the Lyric Poets, like the Dionysos of the
Theologers and the Tragics, is no mere wine-god, but, as
we shall see him throughout the course of the investiga-

» Fraff. xxvi. ; cf. 11. xiv. 325 ; ^ Theatre of the Ch-eeks, 38.

Anakreon^ Frag, vl. ® Of. Dionysios Chalkous, Frag, v.;

. ' Theog. 976. Bakchylides, Frag, xxviii. ; Philo-

* Frag. xli. xenos, Frag. iv. ; Telestes, Frag. i. ;

* Inf. rV. iii. 1. Simonidee, Frag. bucxTiii. j Ana-

* Frag. f. kreos, F^HtgB. Iv. ciii. &c


Frag, cxlviii

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


tion, one of the vastest and most wonderfiil concepts that
ever entered the imagination of a thinker or received the
homage of a devotee.

Subsection II. — Non-Vinal Allusions.

Pratinas, cir. B.C. 500, alluding to the god as Bromios
the Noisy, a common epithet with the Lyric Poets, con-
nects him with clamour and choric dances, and calls him
by the sounding epithet of Thriambodithyrambos, the
Trumpher-in-the-dithyramb ; ^ and, similarly, Anakreon
speaks of him as * the loud-shouting Deunysos,' ^ and in
an Anonymous Fragment ^ he is addressed * lakchos
Thriambos the chorus-leader.' * It may be objected that
the noisy phase of the god is connected with wine ; but
this is only partially the case, for noise is Unked with song
and dance ; and these, especially the latter, have other
aspects and significations than mere vinal hilarity.^ More-
over, the cult of many Oriental divinities, e.g. the Great
Mother, is distinguished by noise which has no connection
with the excitement produced by wine. Anakreon^ con-
nects the Bassarides ^ with Dionysos, and calls the god
Aithiopais,^ Child-of-the-sun-bumt-land, i.e. the East ;
while Hipponax, cir. B.C. 530, associates the Bakchanals
with Kithairon.^ Another Anonymous Fragment ^^ appa-
rently identifies or closely links the god with Ares. * O
Bromios spear-bearing EnyaUos [the Warlike], father
Ares rousing-the-din-of-war,' but the full meaning of the
passage is probably uncertain. Euripides says similarly
that Dionysos 'has something of Ares in him.' ^^ Hb

* Pratin. I^aff. I ' yide inf. IV. i. 2.

« IVaff. xi. 8 Vide VUI. i. Att/Uopais.

» No. cix. Bergk. « Froff. xd. ; cf. Eur. Bak. 751 ;

* Of. Soph. Antiff. 1147 5 Eur. Aristoph. Thea. 996.
Bak. 141. »o No. cviii. B^gk.

* Vide mf. IV. iii. 1. " Bak. 302.

* F^ag. Ivi.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


savage and warlike phase frequently appears.^ An
obscure passage from Kastorio^ addressed to the god,
apparently exhibits him in a solar connection. We next
come to a cluster of Fragments which show Dionysos in
his tauric aspect. Thus Simonides ^ alludes to ' the ox-
slaying priest of King Dionysos ; ' and Ion, in his Dithy-
rambs,* addresses him as ' Inexorable youth, bull-fiiced,
young not young, sweetest assistant of tempestuous loves,
cheering vnne, lord of men.' This passage exhibits, per-
haps, the most perfect instance of the almost absolute
blending of the Oriental aspects of Dionysos Tauropos
with his femiliar phase as the Wine-god. The divinity is
actually treated as the very personification of wine, and
yet is also styled inexorable, bull-faced, young and not
young. This latter point in the description is of doubtfiil
meaning, but it may well signify that the establishment of
his cult in HeUas was comparatively recent, while at the
same time its origin was lost in antiquity ; that, in fact, he
was much younger in Hellas than in the Outer-world.
The epithet * inexorable' is fully explained when we realise
the Phoenician sternness and ferocity of his cult ; and
with respect to the remaining feature in the description,
perhaps the adherents of the extreme vinous theory can
explain why wine personified is called bull-faced. Fail-
ing to supply any satisfactory reason for the use of this
very singular epithet, they must needs abandon their
theory. Those who accept the true origin and character
of Dionysos Taurokerds can easily comprehend the poet,
follow the obscure course of the historic phases of the
god, and understand the invocation of the women of Elis,
which describes him as the * Worthy Bull.' ^

> Vide inf, IV. iiL 2. * Frag, ix.

» Frag. i. « Vide inf. IV, ii. 1, iii. 2, VI. L

' Frag, clxxii. IX. iii.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


eik6n of the lyeic dionysos.

The Lyric Dionysos appears as bom in Thebai, and as
the son of Zeus and Semele, the daughter of Kadmos ;
and his mother, beloved by her son, is at length exalted
to an equality with the elder Aryan divinities of the
country. As the lord of ever-renevdng life and vitality
he is Kissophoros the Ivy-bearer, Kissodotas the Ivy-
crowned, and Eukissos the Ivy-girt As a kosmogonic
divinity he is the Assistant of Demeter, the great Earth-
mother ; and appears as Eurychaites the Flowing-tressed,
son of Semele the foundation of material existence, who
is addressed as Tanuetheira the Long-haired, and Heli-
kampjrx Curling-hair-circlet-girt, these flowing locks of
mother and son typifying the flow and force of the life-
vigour of the world. As an Oriental divinity he is con-
nected with the bull the prize of the successfiil dithyramb
in which he triumphs, is styled ' bull-faced,' and hymned as
the * Worthy Bull ; ' and thus appears as Tauroker6s the
Bull-homed, and the Ox-homed lakchos of the Mysteries.
As fits a divinity of eastern votaries he is the choir-leader
of the heated dance wild and orgiastic, and as such is
Bromios the Noisy, and Eriboas the Loud-shouting, the fit
Associate of the Great Goddess, who is herself Chalko-
krotos the Bronze-rattling. He is also the Wine-god, and
has something of the War-god in him, an aspect occasion-
ally stern and savage. These notices, comparatively few
as they are, sufficiently embrace the salient points of the
character of the god, a stranger of Oriental associations
and Phoenician introduction, a solar, igneous, kosmogonic
earth-power, yet making his way into the Aryan Olympos,
the lord of vitality and the son of Zeus.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC




Subsection L — Dionysiak Allusions in Extant Plays.

But a tithe of the works of the son of Euphorion have
descended to us, and the seven extant Plays contain only
three direct Dionysiak allusions. In the opening speech
of the Eumenides, the scene of which is at Delphoi, the
Pythia or Priestess of ApoUon recounting the divinities of
the country, says, ' And Bromios possesses the land from
ike time when the god marshalled the Bakchai, having
contrived death for Pentheus like a hare.'^ Lykourgos,^
and Pentheus the grandson of Kadmos and King of
Thebai, afford the two most remarkable instances of
hopeless opposition to the introduction of the Bakchik
cult. The episode of the latter will be considered when
examining the Bakchai of Euripides,^ but the present allu-
sion is important as showing that the worship of Dionysos
Bromios, the noisy and orgiastic god, was not indigenous,
but was introduced into the Kadmeis at an early but still
sufficiently known period, and that on its introduction it
was unsuccessfully opposed.

In their opening speech in the Iketides, the Chorus,

« Bumm. 24-6. » Inf. sec. iii 2.

Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 8 of 38)