An Introduction to Dionysos

Dionysos is god of wine, theater, and ecstasy. He was particularly loved and worshipped by women.

Myths and Stories

The story of Dionysos’ birth is a dramatic one. His mother, Semele, was a lover of Zeus. Hera discovered the affair, and went in disguise to Semele, urging her to ask Zeus to show himself to her in his true form. Semele did so, but was unable to bear the sight of Zeus in all his godly glory. Semele died, but Zeus rescued the child she was carrying, keeping it safe in his thigh until it was time for him to be born.

He is also well known for his love for and marriage to Ariadne, a mortal woman who he had made immortal, who had been first seduced and abandoned by Theseus (or perhaps she was taken by Dionysos, there are confilcting versions of this story).

Dionysos was as inclined as any of the gods to seek vengeance for slights. In one story, he is captured by pirates, bound, and taken to sea. His bonds fall off, convincing only the helmsman that he is in fact a god; the other pirates scoff until vines grow through the ship. Dionysos transforms into a lion, and all but the helmsman leap into the sea, turning into dolphins.

Names and Epithets

Like many of the gods, Dionysos was addressed under different names or epithets at different times and under different circumstances.

Dionysos Lenaios (Dionysos of the Vintage). Refers to Dionysos’ role as god of the grape harvest.

Dionysos Omadios (Dionysos the Flesh-Eater). May refer to sacrifices of raw meat given to the god.

Dionysos Bromios (Dionysos the Clamoring). May refer to the loud and rowdy revels of Bacchus.


While most of Greek religious practice supported the community, Dionysian ritual often focused more on the individual, with a greater emphasis on mysticism and transcendent experience. A god very different from the rest of the pantheon, Dionysos was celebrated in a number of festivals, including the following:

Anthesteria, a three-day wine-drinking festival. On the first day the jars were opened and the new wine tasted; on the second day, more wine was drunk, and the symbolic marriage between Dionysos and the wife of the Basileus (an official in charge of various religious festivals) occurred; on the third day, offerings were made to Hermes on behalf of the dead.

City Dionysia, a festival very much like the Country Dionysia but featuring theatrical tragedies.

Country Dionysia, a festival involving a phallic procession, theatrical comedies, and contests

Oschophoria, a festival to Dionysos held on the same day as Apollo’s Pyanepsia.


Dionysos’ attributes include the grape and the wine, the ivy and the vine, the leopard and the thyrsus staff.

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