THE MINYADES were daughters of King Minyas of Orkhomenos who scorned the worship of the god Dionysos by refusing to participate in his orgies. As punishment for their crime, the god inflicted them with madness causing them to dismember one of their sons and then transformed the three into bats and owls.
[1.1] MINYAS (Antoninus Liberalis 10, Aelian Miscellany 3.42, Ovid Metamorphoses 4.1)
|[1.1] LEUKIPPE, ARSIPPE, ALKATHOE (Antoninus Liberalis 10)
[1.2] LEUKIPPE, ARSIPPE, ALKITHOE (Aelian Miscellany 3.42)
[1.3] LEUKONOE, ALKITHOE (Ovid Metamorphoses 4.1)
MINYADES (Minuades), the three daughters of Minyas, named Alcithoe, Leucippe and Arsippe. Instead of Arsippe, Aelian (V. H. iii. 42) calls the latter Aristippa, and Plutarch (Quaest. Gr. 38) Arsinoë. At the time when the worship of Dionysus was introduced into Boeotia, and while the other women and maidens were revelling and ranging over the mountains in Bacchic joy, these two sisters alone remained at home, devoting themselves to their usual occupations, and thus profaning the days sacred to the god. Dionysus punished them by changing them into bats, and their work into vines. (Ov. Met. iv. 1-140, 390-415.) Plutarch, Aelian, and Antoninus Liberalis, though with some differences in the detail, relate that Dionysus appeared to the sisters in the form of a maiden, and invited them to partake in the Dionysiac mysteries. When this request was not complied with, the god metamorphosed himself successively into a bull, a lion, and a panther, and the sisters were seized with madness. In this state they were eager to honour the god, and Leucippe, who was chosen by lot to offer a sacrifice to Dionysus, gave up her own son Hippasus to be torn to pieces. In extreme Bacchic frenzy the sisters now roamed over the mountains, until at last Hermes changed them into birds. Plutarch adds that down to his time the men of Orchomenos descended from that family were called psoloeis, that is, mourners, and the women oleiai or aioleiai, that is, the destroyers. In what manner the neglect of the Dionysiac worship on the part of Alcathoë and her sister was atoned for every year at the festival of the Agrionia.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Aeschylus, Xantriae (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus lost play the Xantriae or "Wool-Carders" may have dramatized the story of the Minyades. All that is known about the work is that Hera appeared in the guise of a priestess begging alms, the Bakkhic frenzy was personified by Lyssa, and the death of Pentheus took place on Mt. Kithairon (Scholiast on Eumenides 24). The story of Pentheus may have been summarized in the opening scene of the play. In Ovid's Metamorphoses at least, the Pentheus story is used to introduce the Minyades.
Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 10 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Nikandros [Greek poet C2nd B.C.] tells this tale in the fourth book of his Metamorphoses, as does Korinna [Greek poet C6th B.C.]. The daughters of Minyas, son of Orkhomenos, were Leukippe, Arsippe and Alkathoe. They turned out to be startlingly diligent. They strongly criticized other women because they abandoned the city to go as Bakkhai in the hills, until Dionysos took on the likeness of a girl and urged the Minyades not to miss out on the rites or mysteries of the god.
But they paid no heed to him. At this--not surprisingly--Dionysos was angered and instead of a girl became a bull, then a lion, then a leopard. From the beams of their looms there flowed for him milk and nectar.
At these portents terror gripped the maidens. Without delay the three drew lots into a pot and shook it. The lot fell to Leukippe and she vowed to offer a sacrifice to the god her own son Hippasos whom she tore to pieces with the help of her sisters.
Abandoning their paternal home, they went as Bakkhai in the mountains, browsing on ivy, honeysuckle and laurel, until Hermes touched them with his wand and changed them into flying creatures. One of them became a bat, another an owl and the third and eagle owl. And all three continuously avoided the light of the sun."
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 3. 42 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The divinely inspired madness of the Boiotian women has been made notorious by tragedy. They say that only the daughters of Minyas, Leukippe, Arsippe, and Alkithoe, rebelled against the dance in honour of Dionysos, and they did so for love of their husbands; for this reason they did not become Mainades of the god. He was angry. They sat at their looms and toiled industriously in honour of Ergane [Athena], and suddenly ivy and vines began to envelop the looms and snakes made their lair in the baskets of wool. Wine and milk dripped down from the ceiling. But not even these events persuaded the women to join in the worship of the god. Then they committed a terrible act, not on Kithairon, but no less serious than the one perpetrated on Kithairon. The Minyades tore to pieces, as if he were a fawn, the young child of Leukippe, a boy still of tender years. This was their first act of madness, and then they rushed off to join the women who had been Mainades from the first. The latter chased them away because of their pollution, and they then became birds, one changing herself into a crow, the second into a bat, and the third an owl."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 1, 272 & 389 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The Theban women throng the novel rites [of Dionysos], honouring the god divine, and offering incense in his holy shrine. Not so in the judgement of Alcithoe daughter of Minyas : to her Bacchus’ [Dionysos'] wild rites were inadmissible. She still denied, rash girl, that Bacchus was the son of Jove [Zeus], and had her sisters too as allies in that blasphemy. The priest had now ordained a feast day: servant girls must be excused from work, and with their mistresses must swathe their breasts in skins, let down their braided hair, garland their heads, and carry in their hands the leafy staves; and fierce, he prophesied, would be his wrath if Bacchus were defied. The women, old and young alike, obeyed. Weaving, work-boxes and unfinished work they put away, and, burning incense, called on Bacchus by his many names . . . The Ismenides [i.e. women of Boiotia] cry and celebrate the rites commanded.
Only the Minyeides remain indoors and mar the festival by their untimely spinning, as they draw the strings of wood and thumb the twisting threads, or ply their loom and keep the work-girls busy. Then one, as her deft fingers drew the thread, suggested, `While the others have ceased work and throng those spurious rites, let us as well, busy for Minverva [Athene] now, a better goddess, lighten our useful toil with talk, and tell some tale in turn to while the tedious hours away and give delight to idle ears . . . [She relates the tale of Pyramos and Thisbe.]'
The tale had ended; a brief interval had followed; then, her sisters falling silent this time Leuconoe began her tale . . . [She tells the story of Klytie.]
The miracle held them fascinated; one denies such things could happen; others say true gods can do all things--but Bacchus is not one of them. When they were quiet, Alcithoe was called. Running her shuttle through the upright warp . . . [and begins the tale of Salmakis and Hermaphroditos.]
The tale was done but still the girls worked on, scorning the god, dishonouring his feast, when suddenly the crash of unseen drums clamoured, and fifes and jingling brass resounded, and the air was sweet with scents or myrrh and saffron, and--beyond belief!--the weaving all turned green, the hanging cloth grew leaves of ivy, part became a vine, what had been threads formed tendrils, form the warp broad leaves unfurled, bunches of grapes were seen, matching the purple with their coloured sheen. And now the day was spent, the hour stole on when one would doubt if it were light or dark, some lingering light at night’s vague borderlands. Suddenly the whole house began to shake, the lamps flared up, and all the rooms were bright with flashing crimson fires, and phantom forms of savage beasts of prey howled all around. Among the smoke-filled rooms, one here, one there, the sisters cowered in hiding to escape the flames and glare, and, as they sought the dark, a skinny membrane spread down their dwarfed limbs, and wrapped thin wings about their tiny arms, and in what fashion they had lost their shape the dark hid from them. Not with feathered plumes they ride the air, but keep themselves aloft on parchment wings; and when they try to speak they send a tiny sound that suits their size, and pour their plains in thin high squeaking cries. Houses they haunt, not woods; they loathe the light; from dusk they take their name, and flit by night." [N.B. In Greek nykteris "bat," derived from the word for "night" nyx.]
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 422 ff :
"[Dionysos] had power . . . to wrap those three Minyeides in fantastic wings."
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Aelian, Historical Miscellany - Greek Rhetoric C2nd-3rd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here : Plutarch Greek Questions 38