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Liber, Bacchus

The Madness of Lycurgus | Apulian red-figure vase C4th B.C. | Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Dionysus, Lycurgus, Ambrosia and an Erinys, Apulian red-figure vase C4th B.C., Staatliche Antikensammlungen

DIONYSOS was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and frenzy.

This page contains stories of the wrath of the god, most of which were connected with the introduction of his cult into Greece. The most famous of these myths include the attack of Lykourgos (Lycurgus), metamorphosis of the Tyrrhenian pirates and punishment of the Minyades.

The other major story of this cycle--the impiety of King Pentheus of Thebes--is described on the second "Wrath" page.


KADMEIDES (Cadmeides) The daughters of King Kadmos of Thebes (central Greece)--Ino, Agaue and Autonoe--each suffered the death of a son by dismemberment (Greek sparagmos), possibly as punishment for slandering of Semele, mother of Dionysos, following her death. The three were also nurses of Dionysos, and later (or alternatively) earned the favour of the god.

LYKOURGOS (Lycurgus) A king of Edonia in Thrake (north of Greece) or somewhere in the region of Arabia-Phoinikia (West Asia). He drove Dionysos and his nurses fleeing from their home on Mount Nysa to seek the refuge with the gods of the sea. For this he was punished with madness, driven to hack apart his own wife and child in the belief they were spreading vines, and later driven from his hom was devoured by wild beasts on Mt Pangaios.

MINYADES Princesses of Orkhomenos in Boiotia (central Greece) who spurned the worship of Dionysos, calling him a false god. For their blasphemy Dionysos transformed the three into night-loving bats.

ORPHEUS A bard of Pieria in Thrake (north of Greece) who was torn limb from limb by the Bakkhantes who were aroused against him by Dionysos when he scorned the god's worship.

PENTHEUS A king of Thebes in Boiotia (central Greece) who offended Dionysos with his blasphemies. When the god was introducing his cult to Greece, Pentheus denied his divinity, tried to prevent his subjects from honouring him, and even went so far as to try to have him apprehended. But when he sought to spy upon the orgies on Mt Kithairon, Dionysos drove the king's mother and aunts to tear him limb from limb (sparagmos).

PERSEUS or AKRISIOS (Acrisius) A king of Argos (southern Greece) who barred Dionysos entry to his city, denying the divinity of the god. In retaliation the god inflicted the Argive women (with madness, forcing them to roam like wild beasts in the hills.

PROITIDES (Proetides) Three daughters of King Proitos of Argos (southern Greece), who denied the divinity of the god Dionysos and refused to participate in his revels. They were struck with madness, and rambled through the hills like wild beasts (according to some they were thus inflicted by Hera for an other offence).

TYRRHENIAN PIRATES Pirates from the Italian region of Tyrrenhia who captured Dionysos as he travelled amongst the islands of the Greek Aegean. They planned to violate the pretty boy and then sell him into slavery, despite the warnings of their helmsman who recognised him for a god. In anger Dionysos filled their ship with spreading vines and phantom beasts, and when the pirates leapt into the sea transformed them into dolphins.


ATHENIANS Athenian shepherds earned the wrath of the god Dionysos when they slew his minister Ikarios, who had been appointed by the god to spread knowledge of wine-making amongst mankind. As punishment Dionysos drove Athenian women mad, causing them to hang themselves, until the shepherds were duly punished and appeasing rituals established in the god's honour.

BAKKHANTES THRAKIAN (Thracian Bacchantes) Bakkhante followers of the god Dionysos grew jealous of the god's disciple Orpheus, who spurned their advances in mourning for his lost wife Eurydike. They rose against up him and tore him limb from limb (in an act of Bacchic sparagmos). Dionysos was furious and transformed the trangressors into trees.

MIDAS A king of Phrygia (Asia Minor) who was given a pair of asses' ears by Dionysos as punishment for mistreating one of his attendants, or for judging against the god in a contest. (In the usual version of the story, it was Apollon who punished the king).


PSALAKANTHA (Psalacantha) A nymph of the island of Ikaria (Greek Aegean) who told her friend Ariadne to reject the advances of Dionysos, after she herself was rejected by the god. Dionysos in wrath transformed herself into a plany flower.


ARUNTIUS A Roman nobleman (historical) who scorned the worship of Liber and was punished by the god with a fit of drunkenness in which, he raped his own daughter. The girl later got her father drunk and slew him before the altar of the god.

KYANIPPOS (Cyanippus) A Syracusan nobleman (historical) who scorned the worship of Dionysos. The god inflicted him with a fit of drunkenness and he raped his own daughter. A plague followed, in which the Syracusans were told to sacrifice the impious man. His own daughter then led him to the altar and slew him.


Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 22 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"You, most worshipful [Dionysos], sent to their doom Lycurgus with his two-edged battleaxe, and Pentheus, both blasphemers, you consigned the Tyrrhenian sailors to the sea."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 422 ff :
"[Dionysos] had power to change those Maeonian mariners and sink them in the sea; to make a mother [Euadne] murder the son [Pentheus] she bore; to wrap those three Minyeides in fantastic wings."


Lycurgus, Ambrosia and Dionysus | Greco-Roman mosaic | Naples National Archaeological Museum
Lycurgus, Ambrosia and Dionysus, Greco-Roman mosaic, Naples National Archaeological Museum

LOCALE : Edonia, Thrake (North of Greece)

Homer, Iliad 6. 129 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"I will not fight against any god of the heaven, since even the son of Dryas, Lykourgos the powerful, did not live long; he who tried to fight with the gods of the bright sky, who once drove the fosterers of Mainomenos (rapturous) Dionysos headlong down the sacred Nyseian hill, and all of them shed and scattered their wands on the ground, stricken with an ox-goad by murderous Lykourgos, while Dionysos in terror dived into the salt surf, and Thetis took him to her bosom, frightened, with the strong shivers upon him at the man's blustering. But the gods who live at their ease were angered with Lykourgos and the son of Kronos [Zeus] struck him to blindness, nor did he live long afterwards, since he was hated by all the immortals."
[N.B. The reference to the Nyseian hill and the nurses of Dionysos suggests that Homer placed the story in Boiotia while the god was still a child - contrary to subsequent accounts of the myth in which Dionysos is a youth visiting Thrake.]

Aeschylus, Edonians (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
This lost drama told the story of Lykourgos and the god Dionysos.

Aeschylus, Fragment 28 Edonians (from Pseudo-Longinus, On the Sublime 15. 6) (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Lo, the house [of Lykourgos] is frenzied with the god [Dionsysos], the roof revels, Bakkhante-like."

Aeschylus, The Youths (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
The Youths or Neaniskoi was the third play in Aeschylus' Lykourgos trilogy. According to Smyth (L.C.L.) : "The Youths apparently has its name form the Edonians who celebrated the worship of Dionysus that had gained admission into the kingdom of Lycurgus despite the opposition of that prince."

Aeschylus, Lycurgus (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
The satyric play of the Lycurgean trilogy.

Aeschylus, Fragment 56 Lycurgus (from Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10. 67. 447C) (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"And after this he [Lykourgos] drank beer thinned by age, and made thereof loud boast [against Dionysos] in the banquet-hall."

Aeschylus, Fragment 10 Bassarae (from Hephaestion, Handbook of Metres 13. 43) :
"The bull [Dionysos] was like to butt the goat [Lykourgos] with his horns."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 34-35 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Dionysos] set out eagerly [from Rhea in Phrygia] through Thrake [on his way back to Thebes]. Now Lykourgos, son of Dryas and king of the Edonians, who lived beside the Strymon River, was the first to show his hybris to Dionysos by expelling him. Dionysos fled to the sea and took shelter with Nereus' daughter Thetis, but his Bakkhai were taken captive along with the congregation of Satyroi that accompanied him. Later on, the Bakkhai were suddenly set free, and Dionysos caused Lykourgos to go mad. In this state, thinking he was cutting a vine-branch, Lykourgos killed his son Dryas by cutting off his arms and legs with an axe. Then he regained his senses. When his land remained barren, the god [Apollon] made an oracular pronouncement to the effect that, if Lykourgos were to die, there would again be fertile crops. When the Edonians heard this, they took Lykourgos to Mount Pangaion and bound him, and there in accordance with the will of Dionysos, he was destroyed by his horses and died."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 20. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"There are paintings here [in the temple of Dionysos at Athens] . . . there are represented Pentheus and Lykourgos paying the penalty of their insolence to Dionysos."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 132 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Lycurgus, son of Dryas, drove Liber [Dionysos] from his kingdom. When he denied that Liber [Dionysos] was a god, and had drunk wine, and in drunkenness tried to violate his mother, he then tried to cut down the vines, because he said wine was a bad medicine in that it affected the mind. Under madness sent by Liber [Dionysos] he killed his wife and son. Liber threw Lycurgus himself to his panthers on Rhodope, a mountain of Thrace, over which he ruled. He is said to have cut off one foot thinking it was a vine."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 192 :
"There are those who think they [the five Hyades] are among the stars because they were the nurses of Father Liber [Dionysos] whom Lycurgus drove out from the island of Naxos."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 242 :
"Men who committed suicide . . . Lycurgus, son of Dryas, killed himself in madness sent by Liber [Dionysos]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 21 :
"The Hyades. These, Pherecydes the Athenian [mythographer C5th BC] says, are the nurses of Liber [Dionysos], seven in number, who earlier were nymphae called Dodonidae. Their names are as follows: Ambrosia, Eudora, Pedile, Coronis, Polyxo, Phyto, and Thyone. They are said to have been put to flight by Lycurgus and all except Ambrosia took refuge with Thetis, as Asclepiades [poet C3rd B.C.] says."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 22 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"You, most worshipful [Dionysos], sent to their doom Lycurgus with his two-edged battleaxe, and Pentheus, both blasphemers."

Seneca, Hercules Furens 93 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Dionysos] the tamer of Lycurgus and the ruddy sea [i.e. the Tyrrhenian pirates], who bears a spear-point hidden beneath his vine-wreathed staff."

Seneca, Oedipus 469 ff :
"The Massgetan [a Thrakian tribe] who mingles blood with milk in his goblets has unstrung his vanquished bow and given up his Getan arrows; the realms of axe-wielding Lycurgus have felt the dominion of Bacchus [Dionysos]; the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites."

Other sources not currently quoted here: Nonnus Dionysiaca Bks 20 & 21 (the story is here set in Phoinikia or Arabia); Scholiast on Homer's Iliad 6.129; Sophocles Antigone 955; Tzetzes on Lycophron 273; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 3.14; First Vatican Mythographer 122


Dionysus, Silenus and the Tyrrhenian pirates | Greco-Roman mosaic from Utica | Bardo National Museum, Tunis
Dionysus, Silenus and the Tyrrhenian pirates, Greco-Roman mosaic from Utica, Bardo National Museum

LOCALE : At sea near Naxos (Greek Aegean)

Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysus (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"I will tell of Dionysos, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenoi pirates on a well--decked ship--a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway, put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said : ‘Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollon who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympos. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.’
So said he: but the master chided him with taunting words : ‘Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Aigyptos (Egypt) or for Kypros or to the Hyperboreoi or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.’
When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysos had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him : ‘Take courage, good [text missing]; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying (eribromos) Dionysos whom Kadmos' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.’
Hail, child of fair-faced Semele!"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 37-38 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When he [Dionysos] wanted passage across from Ikaria to Naxos he hired a trireme of Tyrrhenian pirates. But when they had him on board, they sailed past Naxos and headed for Asia where they planned to sell him. He thereupon changed the mast and the oars into snakes, and filled the boat with ivy and the sound of flutes. The men went mad and dove into the sea, where they became dolphins. With events like these, men learned that Dionysos was a god, and they began to honour him."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 19 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[Ostensibly a description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) :] A mission ship and a pirate's ship. Dionysos steers the former, on board the latter are Tyrrhenians, pirates who ravage their own sea. The one is a sacred ship; in it Dionysos revels and the Bakkhai cry out in response to him, and orgiastic music resounds over the sea, which yields its broad surface to Dionysos as readily as does the land of the Lydians; on the other ship they go mad and forget to row and already the hands of many of them are gone. What does the painting mean? Tyrrhenian sailors, my boy, are lying in wait for Dionysos, as word has come to them that he is effeminate and a vagabond and a mine of gold so far as his ship is concerned, because of the wealth it carries, and that he is accompanied only by Lydian women and Satyroi and fluteplayers, and an aged narthex-bearer [i.e. Seilenos], and Maronian wine, and by Maron himself. Hearing that Panes sail with him in the form of goats, they planned to carry off the Bakkhai for themselves and to turn over to the Pans she-goats, such as are raised in the land of the Tyrrhenians.
Now the pirate ship sails with warlike mien; for it is equipped with prow-beams and beak, and on board are grappling-irons and spears and poles armed with scythes. And, in order that it may strike terror into those they meet and may look to them like some sort of monster, it is painted with bright colours, and it seems to see with grim eyes set into its prow, and the stern curves up in a thin crescent like the end of a fish's tail. As for the ship of Dionysos, it has a weird appearance in other respects, and it looks as if it were covered with scales at the stern, for cymbals [i.e. in place of the shields of a warship] are attached to it in rows, so that, even if the Satyroi are overcome by wine and fall asleep, Dionysos may not be without noise on his voyage; and its prow is drawn out in the semblance of a golden leopardess. Dionysos is devoted to this animal because it is the most exciteable of animals and leaps lightly like a Bakkhe. At any rate you see the very creature before you; it sails with Dionysos and leaps against the Tyrrhenians without waiting for his bidding. And the thyrsos here has grown in the midst of the ship and serves as a mast, and sails dyed purple are attached to it, gleaming as they belly out in the wind, and woven in them are golden Bakkhai on Mount Tmolos and Dionysiac scenes from Lydia. That the ship seems to be embowered with vine and ivy and that clusters of grapes swing above it is indeed a marvel, but more marvelous is the fountain of wine, for the hollow ship pours forth the wine and lets it drain away.
But let us turn to the Tyrrhenians while they still remain; for under the maddening power of Dionysos the forms of dolphins are creeping over the Tyrrhenians--not at all the dolphins we know, however, nor yet those native to the sea. One of the men has dark sides, one a slippery breast, on the back of one a fin is growing, one is growing a tail, the head of one is gone but that of another is left, the hand of one is melting away, while another laments over his vanishing feet.
Dionysos on the prow of his ship laughs at the scene and shouts orders to the Tyrrhenians as fishes in shape instead of men, and as good in character instead of bad. Soon, at any rate, Palaimon will ride on a dolphin's back, not awake, but lying prone upon it sound asleep; and the Arion at Taenaron makes it clear that dolphins are the companions of men, and fond of song, and worthy to take the field against pirates in defence of men and the art of music."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 134 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When the Tyrrhenians, later called Tuscans, were on a piratical expedition, Father Liber [Dionysos], then a youth, came on their ship and asked them to take him to Naxos. When they had taken him on and wished to debauch him because of his beauty, Acoetes, the pilot, restrained them, and suffered at their hands. Liber [Dionysos], seeing that their purpose remained the same, changed the oars to thyrsi, the sails to vine-leaves, the ropes to ivy; then lions and panthers leapt out. When they saw them, in fear they cast themselves into the sea, and even in the sea he changed them to a sort of beast. For whoever leaped overboard was changed into dolphin shape, and from this dolphins are called Tyrhhenians, and the sea Tyrrhenian. They were twelve in number with the following names: Aethalides, Medon, Lycabas, Libys, Opheltes, Melas, Alcimedon, Epopeus, Dictys, Simon, Acoetes. The last was the pilot, whom Liber [Dionysos] saved out of kindness."

[N.B. The attempted debauching of the god mentioned by Hyginus is also described in Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 1.67 (not currently quoted here).]

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 17 :
"Aglaosthenes [Greek poet C7th B.C.], who wrote the Naxica, says that there were certain Tyrrhenian shipmasters, who were to take Father Liber [Dionysos], when a child, to Naxos with his companions and give him over to the nymphs, his nurses. Both our writers and many Greek ones, in books on the genealogy of the gods, have said that he was reared by them. But, to return to the subject at hand, the shipmates, tempted by love of gain, were going to turn the ship off course, when Liber, suspecting their plan, bade his companions chant a melody. The Tyrrhenians were so charmed by the unaccustomed sounds that they were seized by desire even in their dancing, and unwittingly cast themselves into the sea, and were there made dolphins. Since Liber desired to recall thought of them to men's memory, he put the image of one of them among the constellations [as Delphinus]."

Dionysus and the Tyrrhenian pirates as dolphins | Athenian black-figure kylix C6th B.C. | Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Dionysus and the Tyrrhenian pirates as dolphins, Athenian black-figure kylix C6th B.C., Staatliche Antikensammlungen

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 572 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The men [soldiers of Pentheus King of Thebes] come back spattered with blood, and when he [Pentheus] asks where Bacchus [Dionysos] is, they say Bacchus they did not see, ‘But this man here, his comrade and his acolyte, we seized’; and hand over a Tyrrhenian, his arms bound behind his back, a follower of the god.
Pentheus, with terrible anger in his eyes, glared at the man, and hardly could delay his punishment. ‘Before you die,’ he cried, ‘And, dying, give a lesson to the rest, tell me your name, your family, your country, and why you practise this new cult of yours.’
He answered undismayed, ‘My name's Acoetes, Maeonia's my country and my parents were humble folk . . . I learnt as well the art of helmsmanship . . . One day, making for Delos, I put in to Chios; we rowed shrewdly to the shore; a light leap, and I stood on the wet sand. We spent the night there; in the first red glow of dawn I rose and sent my men for water, along a track that led them to a spring. I, myself, climbed a knoll and gazed around to judge the promise of the wind, then called my shipmates, and so back to board the ship. Opheltes, in the lead, crying "Here we are!" Brought to the beach a prize (or so he thought), discovered on this lonely spot, a boy, as pretty as a girl. He seemed to reel, half-dazed with wine and sleep, and almost failed to follow along.
‘I gazed at his attire, his face, his bearing; everything I saw seemed more than mortal. I felt sure of it, and said to my shipmates "What deity is in that frame, I'm doubtful, but for sure some deity is there. Whoever you are, be gracious, bless our labours, and forgive these fellows!" "Spare your prayers for us," said Dictys (no man nimbler to swarm up right to the highest yard and slide back down the stays) and Libys backed him, and Melanthus, our fair-haired prow-man, and Alcimedon, Epopeus too, who called the rowers' time, to pull or pause, and kept their spirits up, and all the others to a man: so blind is greed for booty. "No!" I cried, "That freight is holy! Never shall I let my ship commit such sacrilege! I'm master here!" I stood to block the gangway. Lycabas, of all the crew the boldest, was incensed. (He had been banished from a Tuscan town, exiled for a foul murder.) As I stood, he seized me be the throat and would have thrown me overboard, had I not, half-concussed, clung to a rescuing rope. That godless group applauded him and cheered him.
‘Then at last Bacchus [Dionysos] (for it was he), aroused, no doubt, from slumber by the shouting, and his wits regathered from the wine, cried "What's this noise? What are you doing? How did I come here? Where do you mean to take me?" "Have no fear," said Proreus; "Name the port you wish to reach; you shall be landed at the place you choose." "Naxos," said Bacchus [Dionysos], "set your course to Naxos. That is my home, that land will welcome you."
‘Then by sea and every god they swore, those swindling rogues, it should be so, and bade me get the painted vessel under sail. Naxos lay on the right, and for the right I set my canvas. "Fool, what are you doing?" Opheltes said : "What lunacy is this? Steer to the left!" and every man of them supported him. They made their meaning clear by nods and winks and some by whispers. I was staggering. "Someone else shall take the helm," I said--I'd not let my skill serve their crime! All the crew cursed me. "So you think your whole safety," Athalion cried, "depends on you!" He strode and took my duty at the helm, and, turning course from Naxos, steered away. Then the god, making sport of them, as if he'd only just perceived their treachery gazed from the curving poop across the sea and seemed in tears and said "That's not the shore you promised me! That's not the shore I want! What glory can you gain, if you strong men cheat a small boy, so many against one?" I had long been in tears. The godless gang laughed at my tears, and rowed on hastily.
‘Now, by that god himself (for there's no god closer than he) I swear I tell what's true, as true as past belief: the ship stood still upon the sea as fixed as in a dry dock. The crew, bewildered, rowed with dogged strokes and spread the sails, twin means to make her move. But ivy creeping, winding, clinging, bound the oars and decked the sails in heavy clusters. Bacchus [Dionysos] himself, grape-bunches garlanding his brow, brandished a spear that vine-leaves twined, and at his feet fierce spotted panthers lay, tigers and lynxes too, in phantom forms. The men leapt overboard, all driven mad or panic-stricken. Medon's body first began to blacken and his spine was arched into a curse. "What magic shape is this?" cried Lycabas, but, even as he spoke, his mouth widened, his nose curved out, his skin turned hard and scaly. Libys, trying to pull the thwarting oars, saw his hands suddenly shrink--hands no longer--fins they might be called. Another, when he meant to clasp his arms around a hawser, had no arms and jumped limbless and bending backwards into the waves. His tail forked to a sickle-shape and curved like a half moon. All round the ship they leapt in showers of splashing spray. Time after time they surfaced and fell back into the sea, playing like dancers, frolicking about in fun, wide nostrils taking in the sea to flow it out again. Of the whole twenty (that was the crew she carried) I alone remained. As I stood trembling, cold with fear, almost out of my wits, the god spoke words of comfort: "Cast your fear aside. Sail on to Dia [Naxos]." Landing there, I joined his cult and now am Bacchus' faithful follower.’
‘We've listened to this rigmarole,’ said Pentheus, ‘To give our anger time to lose its force. Away with him, you salves! Rush him away! Rack him with fiendish tortures till he dies and send him down to the black night of Stygia.’
So there an then Acoetes was hauled off and locked in a strong cell; but while the fire, the steel, the instruments of cruel death, were being prepared, all of their own accord the doors flew open, all of their own accord the chains fell, freed by no one, from his arms."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 22 ff :
"You, most worshipful [Dionysos] . . . consigned the Tyrrhenian sailors to the sea."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 422 ff :
"[Dionysos] had power to change those Maeonian mariners and sink them in the sea."

Seneca, Hercules Furens 93 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Dionysos] the tamer of Lycurgus and the ruddy sea [i.e. the Tyrrhenian pirates], who bears a spear-point hidden beneath his vine-wreathed staff."

Seneca, Oedipus 449 ff :
"Thee [Dionysos], O boy, a Tyrrhenian band once captured and Nereus allayed the swollen sea; the dark blue waters he changed to meadows. Thence flourish the plane-tree with vernal foliage and the laurel-grove dear to Phoebus; the chatter of birds sounds loud through the branches. Fast-growing ivy clings to the oars, and grape-vines twine at the mast-head. On the prow an Idaean lion roars; at the stern crouches a tiger of Ganges. Then the frightened pirates swim in the sea, and plunged in the water their bodies assume new forms : the robbers' arms first fall away; their breasts smite their bellies and are joined in one; a tiny hand comes down at the side; with curving back they dive into the waves, and with crescent-shaped tail they cleave the sea; and now as curved dolphins they follow the fleeing sails."

Metamorphosis of the Tyrrhenian pirates | Etruscan black-figure hydria C6th B.C. | Toledo Museum of Art
Metamorphosis of the Tyrrhenian pirates, Etruscan black-figure hydria C6th B.C., Toledo Museum of Art


LOCALE : Orkhomenos (Central Greece)

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 1 & 272 & 389 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Not so in the judgement of Alcithoe Minyeias: to her Bacchus' [Dionysos'] wild rites were inadmissible. She still denied, rash girl, that Bacchus [Dionysos] 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 [Dionysos] were defied. The women, old and young alike, obeyed. Weaving, work-boxes and unfinished work they put away, and, burning incense, called on Bacchus [Dionysos] . . . ‘Come in thy mercy, come in gentleness!’ the Ismenides [women of Thebes] 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 tells the tale of Pyramos and Thisbe] . . .’
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 [she teslls 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 [in Greek nykteris (bat), derived from the word nyx (night)] , and flit by night."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 422 ff :
"[Dionysos] had power . . . to wrap those three Minyeides in fantastic wings."

Other references not currently quoted here: Antoninus Liberalis 10, Plutarch Greek Questions 38.


LOCALE : Argos, Argolis (Southern Greece)

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 26 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Proitos and Stheneboia had [three daughters] Lysippe, Iphinoe and Iphianassa. When these three had grown up, they went mad, as Hesiod says, because they did not accept the mystic rites of Dionysos . . . In their maddened state they rambled over all of Argos, then, passing through Arkadia, they ran through the wilderness in total disarray."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 37 :
"After Dionysos had demonstrated to the Thebans that he was a god, he went to Argos where again he drove the women mad when the people did not pay him honour, and up in the mountains the women fed on the flesh of the babies suckling at their breasts."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 559 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Pentheus the sacrilegious king of Thebes demands :] ‘Only stand aside, and here and now I'll force him [Dionysos] to confess his father's name is false, his rites a lie. Why, if Acrisius [King of Argos] was man enough to spurn his sham divinity and shut the gates of Argos in his face.’"

Seneca, Oedipus 486 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"The Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame's very presence, paid homage to Bacchus [Dionysos]."

For the related MYTH of Perseus' war against the troops of Dionysos see:
War of Dionysus Against the Argives


LOCALE : Attika (Southern Greece)

For this MYTH see Dionysus Favour: Icarius & Erigone


Dionysus riding panther | Paestan red-figure vase C4th B.C. | Musée du Louvre, Paris
Dionysus riding panther, Paestan red-figure vase C4th B.C., Musée du Louvre

LOCALE : Mt Pangaion, Rhodope OR Olympos, Thrake (North of Greece)

Aeschylus, Bassarae or Bassarides (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus' lost play Bassarae told the story of the death of Orpheus. Weir Smyth (L.C.L.) summarises evidence for the plot : "Eratosthenes, Catasterismoi [3rd B.C.], says of Orpheus that he paid no honour to Dionysos, but considered Helios (the Sun) to be the greatest of the gods and addressed him as Apollon; that, by making haste during the night, he reached at dawn the summit of Mt. Pangaios, and waited there that he might see the rising of the sun; and that Dionysos, in his wrath, sent against him the Bassarides (as Aeschylus tells the story), who tore him to pieces and scattered his members, which were collected and buried by the Mousai (Muses) in Leibethra. To the same effect, Scholiast Germanicus, 84. 11. The name Bassarai was given to Thracian (and to Phrygian and Lydian) bacchanals, who wore fox-skin caps and long embroidered cloaks. The play is entitled Bassarides in the Scholiast on Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 135, and on Nicander, Theriaca 288."

Aeschylus, Fragment 12 Bassarae (from Scholiast on Euripides, Rhesus 922) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"For his [Orpheus'] gleaming torch doth flood with flashing light Pangaios' headland, silver-seamed [i.e. as he climbs the mountain of his death]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 6 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Orpheus, killed by the Thacian women because he looked on the rites of Father Liber [Dionysos]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 7 :
"He [Orpheus] praised the children of the gods in his song, all except Father Liber [Dionysos]; him he overlooked and forgot, as Oeneus did Diana [Artemis] in sacrifice. Afterwards, then, when Orpheus was taking delight in song, seated, as many say, on Mt. Olympus, which separates Macedonia from Thrace, or on Pangaeum, as Eratosthenes [Greek writer C3rd B.C.] says, Liber is said to have roused the Bacchanals against him. They slew him and dismembered his body. But others say that this happened because he had looked on the rites of Liber. The Muses gathered the scattered limbs and gave them burial."

For an ALTERNATE version of this myth see Dionysus Wrath: Thracian Bacchantes


LOCALE : Mt Rhodope, Thrake (North of Greece)

Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 1 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Threicius [Orpheus] sang his minstrel's songs and charmed the rocks and woods and creatures of the wild to follow, suddenly, as he swept his strings in concord with his son, a frenzied band of Cicones women, wearing skins of beasts, from some high ridge of ground caught sight of him. ‘Look!’ shouted one of them, tossing her hair that floated in the breeze ‘Look, there he is, the man who scorns us!’ And she threw her lance full in Apollineus' [Orpheus] face, but, tipped with leaves, it left a bruise but drew no blood. Another hurled a stone; that, in mid air, was vanquished by the strains of voice and lyre and grovelled at his feet, as if to ask pardon for frenzy's daring. Even so the reckless onslaught swelled; their fury knew no bounds; stark Erinys (Madness) reigned. And still his singing would have charmed every weapon, but the huge clamour, the drums, the curving Berecyntian fifes, hand-clapping, Bacchic screaming drowned the lyre. And then at last, his song unheard, his blood reddened the stones.
The Maenades first pounced on the countless birds still spellbound by his song, the snakes, the host of creatures of the wild, his glory and his triumph. Next they turned their bloody hands on Orpheus, flocking like birds that have seen a midnight owl abroad by day . . . They rushed upon the bard, hurling their leaf-dressed lances, never meant for work like that; and some slung clods, some flints, some branches torn from trees. And, lest they lack good weapons for their fury, as it chanced, oxen were toiling there to plough the land and brawny farmhands digging their hard fields not far away, and sweating for their crop. Seeing the horde of women, they fled and left their labour's armoury, and all across the empty acres lay their heavy rakes, hoes and long-handled mattocks. Seizing these, those frantic women tore apart the oxen that threatened with their horns, and streamed to slay the bard. He pleaded then with hands outstretched and in that hour for the first times his words were useless and his voice of no avail. In sacrilege they slew him. Through those lips (great Lord Juppiter!) that held the rocks entranced, that wild beasts understood, he breathed his last, and forth into the winds his spirit passed . . .
Lyaeus [Dionysos] did not permit this crime to pass unpunished, unavenged. Distressed to lose the minstrel of his Mysteries, at once he fastened in the woods by twisting roots all the women who had seen that wickedness, each at the place of her pursuit, their toes drawn down to points forced deep in the firm soil. And as a bird, its foot held in a snare hidden by a clever fowler, feels it's caught and flaps it wings and by its flutterings tightens the trap, so each of them was stuck fast in the soil and struggled, terrified, in vain, to escape and as she jerked away, the lithe root held her shackled. When she asked where were her toes, her nails, her feet, she saw the bark creep up her shapely calves. She tried, distraught, to beat her thighs and what she struck was oak, her breast was oak, her shoulders oak; her arms likewise you'd think were changed to long branches and, thinking so, you'd not be wrong."

For an ALTERNATE version of this myth see Dionysus Wrath: Orpheus (above)


LOCALE : Ikaria & Naxos (Greek Aegean)

Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 5 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Psalakantha was a Nymphe of the isle of Ikaros who, captured by Dionysos, helped him to obtain Ariane on the condition that he should also belong to her, and Dionysos refused; Psalakantha took herself to Ariane [to turn her away from Dionysos] and the irritated god turned her into a plany; then, feeling remorse, he wanted to honour this plant by placing it in the crown of Ariane, who took her place among the celestial constellations. As for the plant, some say it resembles the armoise, others the melilot."

For the MYTH of the love of Dionysos and his bride see Dionysus Loves: ARIADNE


LOCALE : Phrygia (Anatolia)

Suidas s.v. Midas (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Midas : . . . Some say that because he once gave a judgment against Dionysos, Midas was changed into an ass; or because he wronged the companions of Dionysos, Dionysos in anger forced him to have ass's ears."

N.B. Midas was usually said to have received the asses from Apollon, as punishment for voting against him in a musical contest with Pan.

For the MYTH of Dionysos & the golden touch of Midas see:
Dionysus Favour: Midas


LOCALE : Syrakousa, Sicily (Southern Italy)

Pseudo-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 19 (trans. Babbitt) (Greek historian C2nd A.D.) :
"To Dionysos alone did Kyanippos, a Syrakousan [Syracuse in Sicily], omit to sacrifice. The god was angry and cast upon him a fit of drunkenness, in which he violated his daughter Kyane in a dark place. She took off his ring and gave it to her nurse to be a mark of recognition. When the Syrakousans were oppressed by a plague, and the Pythian god [the oracle of Delphoi] pronounced that they should sacrifice the impious man to the Averting Deities [the Erinyes], the rest had no understanding of the oracle; but Kyane knew, and seized her father by the hair and dragged him forth; and when she had herself cut her father's throat, she killed herself upon his body in the same manner. So says Dositheüs in the third book of his Sicilian History."


LOCALE : Rome, Latium (Central Italy)

Pseudo-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 19 (trans. Babbitt) (Greek historian C2nd A.D.) :
"When the Bacchanalian revels were being celebrated at Rome, Aruntius, who had been from birth a water-drinker, set at naught the power of the god. But Liber [Dionysos] cast a fit of drunkenness upon him, and he violated his daughter Medullina. But she recognized from a ring his relationship and devised a plan wiser than her years; making her father drunk, and crowning him with garlands, she led him to the altar of Divine Lightning, and there, dissolved in tears, she slew the man who had plotted against her virginity. So Aristeides in the third book of his Italian History."






A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.