Bacchus (mythology)

Bacchus, god of wine
   Bacchus, or Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. The name Bacchus was origi­nally the god Dionysus, but came to be used alone by both Greeks and Romans, and is the name by which the wine god is known usually. There are many per­plexing stories in regard to this god. His worship appears to have been more or less identified with that of Apollo, while some authorities claim that the Phoenicians introduced the worship of Dionysus as a tauriform sun god into Greece. However, it is certain that he was most venerated in his character of wine-god, and in him was worshiped the fruitfulness of the vine and also the generative power in nature.

   Dionysus, in the Greek myth, was the son of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cad­mus. Hera, jealous of Semele, disguised herself as an old woman, and persuaded Semele to request Zeus to show himself to her in all his glory. Semele made Zeus promise to grant her any request she might make. Before he could check the words upon her lips she asked to see him in his splendid array, as he appeared in heav­en. Zeus sadly consented. He appeared to her only in his "lesser panoply," but this was too much for mortal vision and the fires of his glory consumed Semele.

   The infant Bacchus, however, was saved, for cool ivy sprang up about him, protect­ing him from the radiance. Then he was intrusted to Hermes, who carried him to Nysa in India, where the Nysaean nymphs cared for him. Thus he received his name of Dionysus, or god of Nysa. When grown to a beautiful youth, he in­vented a beverage from grapes and trav­eled through the whole world, teaching the cultivation of the vine and the manu­facture of wine. Where he was welcomed and treated with hospitality, the people were rewarded. If he was ill treated they were punished.

   This journey is represented as a march of triumph. The god rode in a chariot drawn by lions or panthers, and was ac­companied by Silenus, his foster father, the god Pan, and a host of men, women, and satyrs, who, crowned with ivy, and brandishing the thyrsus, a rod twined with ivy, danced around him, singing and shout­ing. When he reached Thebes, his birth­place, his divinity was denied. Bacchus inspired the women with a fury which drove them forth to join his followers, but Pentheus, the king, took arms against him. Now Pentheus' mother, Agave, was among the revelers. Bacchus caused her son to appear to her in the form of a wild beast. Gathering her companions to her aid she rushed upon Pentheus and slew him. On the way to Naxos, Bacchus fell into the hands of a band of sailors who took him for a king's son on account of his purple robe and attempted to carry him away. They fettered him, but his bonds fell off. Ivy grew up about the ship in midocean and stopped its progress. The sailors went mad and sprang into the sea, where they became dolphins. On the island of Naxos, Bacchus found and mar­ried Ariadne, who became thenceforth im­mortal. Bacchus descended into Hades, found Semele and led her to Olympus, where she too became immortal. In the terrible war with the giants, Bacchus proved a great fighter and saved the gods from ruin. Zeus greeted him with cries of "Evan, evoe," "Well done, my son," which words were afterward used as a salutation to Bacchus.

   In Boeotia, the god was associated with a great number of incidents, and here was the chief seat of his worship, whence it spread to other parts of Greece, to Asia Minor, and to Italy. As the productive­ness of nature was worshiped in Bacchus, it was natural to observe in connection with him the decay of vegetation in au­tumn and its revival in spring. So yearly Bacchus was supposed to be slain, to de­scend to the lower world, and to return again. This is doubtless the myth which connected his worship with that of Apollo. For the most part the worship of Bacchus was connected with the wildest orgies, which lasted several days and nights. The days were given up to musical and dramat­ic entertainments, the nights to feasting and revels. The procession was an im­portant part of the celebration, commemo­rating Dionysus' triumphal march from India. The Bacchanalia or Dionysia, as these festivals were called, seem to have been celebrated in Attica with peculiar solemnity, and to have reached their high­est expression in the choragic literary con­tests, for which were written most of the masterpieces of the Greek poets.

   In early art, Bacchus is represented as a bearded man of full age, the figure com­pletely draped. Frequently he has small horns on his head, a symbol of force. The thyrsus rod and the drinking cup are his symbols, and, among animals, the bull, goat, lion, and panther. This representa­tion is called the "Indian Bacchus," be­cause it was supposed to have originated in India. Other authorities claim that the beard was given him in Lydia. In later art, Bacchus is a beautiful, black-eyed boy, his .golden hair crowned with ivy, the figure very lightly draped with a pur­ple robe or a panther's skin. Sometimes, too, he is represented as an infant.

   In the noted palace of the Borghese (borga'se) family at Rome, there is a famous statue of Bacchus with a bunch of grapes in his hand and a panther at his feet. A celebrated painting by Titian in the National Gallery at London represents Bacchus descending from his chariot on the island of Naxos, and Ariadne turning away, startled at his approach. There is frequent mention of Bacchus in literature.