Dionysus/God of Wine: A Primer
Dionysus, God of Wine, was more than just an Ancient Greek diety wholly concerned with the celebrated beverage of feasts and celebrations. He was also the god of theater, grapes, ritual madness and ecstasy.As you can see, quite often wine goes hand-in-hand with Dionysus’ other portfolios when consumed in excess – and the Ancient Greeks were experts when it comes to excesses.
Dionysus was a deity often shrouded in mystery. Some Greeks claimed to not even really know where he came from. He was always looked at as some sort of interloper deity, as opposed to the other Olympians (the other Greek gods). The common belief is that the worship of Dionysus migrated to Greece from Anatolia (modern Turkey) or Libya.
Though there was a creation myth associated with Dionysus’ birth, it was quite different from the other Olympians because his mother was a mortal, Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. His father was none other than the king of the gods, Zeus. Zeus was infamous for his dabblings with mortals, but his wife Hera still remained jealous. After some manipulation by Hera, Zeus was forced to reveal himself in all his deific glory to Semele, who died while still pregnant with Dionysus.Not wanting his child to die, Zeus sewed the still-unborn Dionysus into his thigh, where he grew and eventually was fully born in a region outside of Greece, giving him his “outsider” image. Dionysus was thus “twice born.” What made Dionysus different than other beings that were borne of a mortal and a god was that Dionysus was thereafter considered a god, rather than a demigod. For instance, Hercules, another man borne of Zeus and a mortal, was a demigod, not a full-on deity commonly worshipped and celebrated with huge temples and the like. Not that Hercules was not venerated for his strength and feats of heroism, but Dionysus’ sects far surpassed Hercules.
While Dionysus was God of Wine, he also had a dark side as well that represented the hedonism and evil acts that can happen when you give into excess. His cults tended to split on what side of Dionysus they represented, but many of them appealed to those Greeks that wanted to live without rules or laws and wanted to give into depravity. While the lighter side of Dionysus-worship took place in the form of celebrations and the like during special occasions, those that lived in the shadow of his worship practed lust, drunken depravity, and plain old hedonism every day, seeing this as a sign of their devotion to Dionysus, God of Wine.
So what lesson can we learn from Dionysus, God of Wine? First, the Ancient Greeks were just as wise as we always thought. Dionysus, who was later adopted as “Bacchus” by the Ancient Romans, represented the duality of wine and the danger of over-indulgence. Wine is a true gift that we mortals have, but it does have its consequences; if you cannot control yourself, wine can expand its role as party lubricant to a full-on problem. Too much wine is a bad thing. It’s all about enjoyment, not over-indulgence and gluttony.