Fast Facts on: Dionysus

God of Wine and Revelry

Bacchus statue in Aix-en-Provence, France
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Dionysus is usually depicted as a dark-haired, bearded young man but he can be shown beardless as well.

Dionysus' Symbol or Attribute ​

Grapes, winecups, and wineskins; the staff formed a pinecone on a stick called a thyrsus.

Strengths

Dionysus is the creator of wine. He also shakes things up when it gets dull.

Weaknesses

God of intoxication and drunkenness, states he pursues frequently.

Parents

Son of Zeus and Semele, who unwisely asked to see her lover Zeus in his real form; he appeared and thunder and lightning and Semele were consumed; Zeus saved their child from the ashes of her body.

Spouse

Best known is Ariadne, Cretan princess/priestess who assisted Theseus to defeat the Minotaur only to be abandoned by him on the shores of Naxos, one of the islands favored by Dionysos. Fortunately, Dionysus liked beachcombing and quickly found and comforted the abandoned princess with an offer of marriage.

Children

Several children by Ariadne, including Oenopion and Staphylos, both associated with grapes and winemaking.

Some Major Temple Sites

Dionysus was reverenced at Naxos and generally wherever grapes were grown and wine was produced. In modern times, the so-called "Dirty Monday" rites at Tyrnavos in the Thessaly region of Greece are believed to retain traditions dating back to when he was openly worshiped.

The theater dedicated to Dionysus at the Acropolis in ​Athens, Greece has been recently restored and is now hosting performances after a 2500-year hiatus.

Basic Story

Other than the story of his birth, Dionysus is relatively myth-free, yet he was very widespread in later Greek belief.

He was not considered to be one of the Olympians, and since Homer skips him, it is suspected that his worship came late to the Greeks, possibly from Anatolia. He was later "adopted" by the Romans under the name of Bacchus, god of the grape, but the Greek worship of Dionysus was more ecstatic and may have preserved some early shamanic practices related to the intoxication provided by wine.

Some see in him a survival of the young, vigorous "Cretan-born" Zeus.

Interesting Fact

Otherwise proper and repressed Greek matrons devoted to Dionysus would become wild maenads for a night and run the slopes of the mountains, looking for prey to catch and tear apart with their bare hands.

Alternate Spellings

Dionysos, Dionisis