di-o-ni'-sus (Dionusos): The youngest of the Greek gods. In Homer he is not associated with the vine. In later Greek legend he is represented as coming from India, as traversing Asia in a triumphal march, accompanied by woodland beings, with pointed ears, snub noses and goat-tails. These creatures were called satyrs. The vine was cultivated among European-Aryans first in Thrace, and here Dionysus is said to have established his worship first in Europe. Then the cult of Dionysus passed down through the Balkan peninsula to Thebes; and in the localized form of the myth the deity was born here--son of Zeus and Semele.
"Offspring of Zeus on high
Thou that carest for all
Who on Bacchus in Italy call
And in Deo's sheltered plain
Of Eleusis lord dost reign,
Whither worshippers repair!
O Bacchus that dwellest in Thebes,
On whose broad and fertile glebes
Fierce warriors from the dragon's teeth rose,
Where Ismenus softly flows,
The city that Semele bare!"
Among all the Greek deities none appealed more vividly to the imagination than Dionysus. Greek tragedy is a form of worship, the ritual cult of the god of wine, who makes the initiate wise and the ungodly mad. Dionysus speaks most strongly to the sense and to the spirit at the same time. There is nothing monotonous in the Dionysiac legend; it is replete with both joy and sorrow--in some aspects it is a "passion" in others a triumph. All the passion plays of the world (even the Oberammergau Schauspiel) are in the ancient spirit. One Dionysus after another has been substituted, but from the first there has been a desire on the part of the devotee to realize his god vividly with thrilling nearness, to partake of his joys and sorrows and triumphs in his manifold adventures. In the early myths Dionysus was one of the lesser gods; he is mentioned only twice in the Iliad and twice in the Odyssey; but he is always represented as being more nearly akin to man than the great august deities of Olympus. He is a man-god, or god-man. To the inhabitants of the vine-clad slopes of Attica, to which his cult had been brought from Phrygia through Thracian Boeotia, he was particularly dear. At their vintage feasts last year's cask of wine was opened; and when the new year brought life again to the vines, the bountiful god was greeted with songs of joyful praise. The burial of the wine in the dark tomb of the jars through the winter, and the opening of these jars at the spring festival symbolized the great awakening of man himself, the resurrection of the god's worshippers to a fuller and more joyous life. The vine was not the only manifestation of the god--oil and wheat were also his; he was the god of ecstasy, the giver of physical joy and excitement, the god of life, the god of certain laws of Nature, germination and extinction, the external coming into being and the dying away of all things that are, fructification in its widest aspect whether in the bursting of the seed-grain that lies intreasured in the earth, or in the generation of living creatures. Hence, the prominence given to the phallus in the solemn processions in honor of the god.
Nicanor (2 Macc 14:33) and Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Macc 6:7) thought that the cult of Dionysus would not be objectionable to the Jews. Ptolemy Philopator branded the Jews with an ivy-leaf (3 Macc 2:29), which was sacred to Dionysus.
See also BACCHUS.
J. E. Harry