Classical Texts Library >> Nonnus, Dionysiaca >> Book 9




Love of Zeus & Europa
Typhoeus & Cadmus


Battle of Zeus & Typhoeus


Cadmus on Samothrace


Winning of Harmonia
The Founding of Thebes


Wedding of Harmonia
Death of Actaeon


Birth & Death of Zagreus
The Great Deluge


Love of Zeus & Semele


Death of Semele


Birth & Fostering of Dionysus
Madness of Ino


Madness of Athamas
Love of Dionysus & Ampelus


Death of Ampelus
Love of Calamus & Carpus


Tablets of Phanes
Discovery of Wine


Human Army of Dionysus


Divine Army of Dionysus

BOOKS 15 - 48


[1] Zeus the Father received Dionysos after he had broken out of his mother’s fiery lap and leapt through the delivering thunders half-formed; he sewed him in his manly thigh, while he waited upon the light of the moon which was to bring him to birth. Then the hand of Cronides guiding the birth was his own midwife to the sewn-up child, by cutting the labouring threads in his pregnant thigh. So the rounded thigh in labour became female, and the boy too soon born was brought forth, but not in a mother’s way, having passed from a mother’s womb to a father’s. No sooner had he peeped out by this divine delivery, than the childbed Seasons crowned him with an ivy-garland in presage of things to come; they wreathed the horned head of a bullshaped Dionysos with twining horned snakes under the flowers.

[16] Hermes Maia’s son received him near the birthplace hill of Dracanon,1 and holding him in the crook of his arm flew through the air. He gave the newborn Lyaios a surname to suit his birth, and called him Dionysos, or Zeus-limp, because while he carried his burden lifted his foot with a limp from the weight of his thigh, and nysos in the Syracusan language means limping. So he dubbed Zeus newly delivered Eiraphiotes, or Father Botcher, because he had sewed up the baby in his breeding thigh.2

[25] Thus Hermes carried upon his arm the little brother who had passed through one birth without a bath, and lay now without a tear, a baby with a good pair of horns like the Moon. He gave him in charge of the daughters of Lamos, river nymphs – the son of Zeus, the vineplanter. They received Bacchos into their arms; and each of them dropt the milky juice of her breast without pressing into his mouth. And the boy lay on his back unsleeping, and fixt his eye on the heaven above, or kicked at the air with his two feet one after the other in delight; he stared at the unfamiliar sky, and laughed in wonder to see his father’s vault of stars.

[37] The consort of Zeus beheld the babe, and suffered torments. Through the wrath of resentful Hera, the daughters of Lamos were maddened by the lash of that divine mischiefmaker. In the house they attacked the servants, in the threeways they carved up the wayfaring man with alienslaying knife; they howled horribly, with violent convulsions they rolled the eyes in their disfigured faces; they scampered about this way and that way at the mercy of their wandering wits, running and skipping with restless feet, and the mad breezes made their wandering locks dance wildly into the air; the yellow shift round the bosom of each was whitened with drops of foam from the lips of the girls. Indeed they would have chopt up little Bacchos a baby still piecemeal in the distracted flood of their vagabond madness, had not Hermes come on the wing and stolen Bacchos again with a robber’s untracked footsteps: the babe lately brought he caught up, and carried in his lifeprotecting bosom, until he brought him to the house where Ino had lately brought forth a son.

[55] She was nursing her boy Melicertes,3 lately born and a baby still, and held him in her arms with caressing hands; her swelling breasts dropt the dew of the bursting milk. The god spoke to her in friendly coaxing tones, and let pass a divine message from his prophetic throat:

[61] “Madam, receive a new son; lay in your bosom the child of Semele your sister. Not the full blaze of the lightning destroyed him in her chamber; even the sparks of the thunderbolt which killed his mother did him no harm. Let the child be kept safe in a gloomy room, and let neither the Sun’s eye by day nor the Moon’s eye by night see him in your roofed hall. Cover him up, that jealous resentful Hera may never see him playing, though she is said to have eyes to see a bull.4 Receive your sister’s boy, and you shall have from Cronion a reward for his nurture worthy of your pains. Happy are you among all the daughters of Cadmos! for already Semele has been brought low by a fiery bolt; Autonoë shall lie under the earth with her dead son, and Cithairon5 will set up one tomb for both; Agauë shall see the fate of Pentheus among the hills, and she shall touch his ashes all deceived.6 A sonslayer she shall be, and a banished woman, but you alone shall be proud; you shall inhabit the mighty sea and settle in Poseidon’s house; in the brine like Thetis, like Galateia, your name shall be Ino of the Waters. Cithairon shall not hide you in the hollow earth, but you shall be one of the Nereïds. Instead of Cadmos, you shall call Nereus father, with happier hopes. You shall ever live with Melicertes your immortal son as Leucothea, holding the key of clam waters, mistress of good voyaging next to Aiolos.7 The merchant seaman trusting in you shall have a fineweather voyage over the brine; he shall set up one altar for the Earthshaker and Melicertes, and do sacrifice to both together; Seabluehair shall accept Palaimon8 as guide for his coach of the sea.”

[92] With these words Hermes was off into the sky unapproachable, twirling in the air the windswift soles of his shoes. And Ino was not disobedient. With loving care she held the motherless Bacchos in her nursing arm, and laying out the pair, the two children, upon it offered her two breasts to Palaimon and Dionysos. She gave the baby in charge to Mystis her attendant maid, Mystis the finehaired Sidonian, whom Cadmos had brought up from a girl to attend in Ino’s chamber. She then took Bacchos away from those godfeeding breasts, and hid him from all eyes in a dark pit. But a brilliant light shone from his face, which declared of itself the offspring of Zeus: the gloomy walls of the house grew bright, and the light of unseen Dionysos hid the darkness. All night long Ino sat beside Bromios as he played. Often Melicertes jumped up with wavering steps and pressed his lips to pull at the other breast as he crawled close to Bacchos babbling “Euoi!”

[111] Mystis also nursed the god after her mistress’s breast, watching by the side of Lyaios with sleepless eyes. The clever handmaid taught him the art that bears her name, the mystic rites of Dionysos in the night. She prepared the unsleeping worship for Lyaios, she first shook the rattle, and clanged the swinging cymbals with the resounding double bronze; she first kindled the nightdancing torch to a flame, and cried Euion to sleepless Dionysos; she first plucked the curving growth of ivy-clusters, and tied her flowing hair with a wreath of vine; she alone entwined the thyrsus with purple ivy, and wedged on the top of the clusters an iron spike, covered with leaves that it might not scratch Bacchos. She thought of fitting plates of bronze over the naked breast, and fawnskins over the hips. She taught Dionysos to play with the mystical casket teeming with sacred things of worship, and to use them as his childish toys. She first fastened about her body a belt of braided vipers, where a serpent coiling round the belt on both sides with encircling bonds was twisted into a snaky not.

[132] Here behind the many keys and seals of the palace allseeing Hera spied him with her infallible eyes, guarded by Mystis in that hidden corner of the house. Then she swore by the infernal water of afteravenging Styx, that she would drown the house of Ino in a flood of innumerable woes. Indeed she would have destroyed the son of Zeus; but Hermes caught him up and carried him to the wooded ridge where Cybele dwelt. Moving fast, Hera ran swiftshoe on quick feet from high heaven; but he was before her, and assumed the eternal shape of firstborn Phanes.9 Hera in respect for the most ancient of the gods, gave him place and bowed before the radiance of the deceiving face, not knowing the borrowed shape for a fraud. So Hermes passed over the mountain tract with quicker step then hers, carrying the horned child folded in his arms, and gave it to Rheia, nurse of lions, mother of Father Zeus, and said these few words toe the goddess mother of the greatest:

[149] “Receive, goddess, a new son of your Zeus! He is to fight with the Indians, and when he has done with earth he will come into the starry sky, to the great joy of resentful Hera! Indeed it is not proper that Ino should be nurse to one whom Zeus brought forth. Let the mother of Zeus be nanny to Dionysos – mother of Zeus and nurse of her grandson!”

[155] This said, Hermes rose quicknee to the sky, rounding his wings under the rushing breezes. There he put off the higher shape of selfborn Phanes and put on his own form again, leaving Bacchos to grow a second time10 in the Mother’s nurture.

[160] The goddess took care of him; and while he was yet a boy, she set him to drive a car drawn by ravening lions. Within that godwelcoming courtyard, the tripping Corybants11 would surround Dionysos with their childcherishing dance, and clash their swords, and strike their shields with revounding steel in alternate movements, to conceal the growing boyhood of Dionysos; and as the boy listened to the fostering noise of the shields he grew up under the care of the Corybants like his father.

[169] At nine years old the youngster went a-hunting his game to the kill. He passed the coursing hare with feet quicker still; following after the strong pricket’s speed, he would lift with childish hand the dappled fawn and carry it over his neck; he would hold lightly aloft stretched on his shoulders a bold fellstriped tiger unshackled, and brought in hand to show Rheia the cubs he had torn newborn from the dam’s milky teats. He dragged horrible lions all alive, and clutching a couple of feet in each hand presented them to the Mother that she might yoke them to her car. Rheia looked on laughing with joy, and admired the manliness and doughty feats of young Dionysos; his father Cronion laughed when he saw with delighted eyes Iobacchos driving the grim lions.

[184] The time of boyhood just come, Euios draped furry tunics upon his body, and carried to cover his shoulders the dappled skin of a stag, imitating the sky spotted with stars. He drove lynxes to his stables in the Phrygian plain, and yoked speckled panthers to his cart as if to make it look the place where his father dwelt. Often he stood in the chariot of immortal Rheia, and held the flowing reins in his tenderskin hand, and checked the nimble team of galloping lions. The boldness of Zeus high and mighty grew in his heart, until he stretched his right hand to the snout of a mad she-bear and laid fearless fingers on the terrible jaws, playful fingers: gentle stood the beast, and left her mouth a slave of youthful Lyaios, and kissed Bacchos’s fingers with rough kisses.

[200] Thus he grew up beside cliffloving Rheia, yet a boy in healthy youth, mountainbred. Circles of Pans among the rocks came about the dancebeating son of Thyone, skipping around the crags on shaggyknee legs and crying “Euoi!” to Bacchos; and the goatfoot hooves rattled in their capers, as they went round and round in the dance.

[206] And Semele in Olympos, with a breath of the thunderbolts still about her, lifted a proud neck and cried with haughty voice – “Hera, you are ruined! Semele’s son has beaten you! Zeus brought forth my son, he was the mother in my place! The father begot, the father brought forth his begotten. He brought forth a child from a makeshift womb of his own, and forced nature to change. Bacchos was stronger than Enyalios; your Ares he only begot, and never childed with his thigh! Thebes ahs eclipsed the glory of Ortygia!12 For Leto the divine was chased about, and brought forth Apollo on the sly; Leto brought forth Phoibos, Cronion had no labour for him; Maia brought forth Hermes, her husband did not deliver him; but my son was brought forth openly by his father. Here’s a great miracle! See Dionysos in the arms of your own mother, he lies on that cherishing arm! The Dispenser of the eternal universe, the first sown Beginning of the gods, the Allmother, became a nurse for Bromios; she offered to infant Bacchos the breast which Zeus High and Mighty has sucked! What Cronides was ever in labour, what Rheia was ever nurse for your boy? But this Cybele who is called your mother brought forth Zeus and suckled Bacchos in the same lap! She dandled them both, the son and the father. No fatherless Hephaistos could rival Semele’s child, none unbegotten of a father whom Hera brought forth by her own begettomg – and now he limps about on an illmatched pair of feeble legs to hid his mother’s bungling skill in childbirth! Maia was not quite like Semele; for her son, crafty, armed himself like Ares, and looking like him, deluded Hera until he sucked the milk of her breast.13 Give place to me all! for Semele alone had a husband, who got and groaned for the same child. Semele is happiest, because of her son: for my Dionysos will come without scheming into the company of the stars; he will dwell in his father’s heaven, because he drew milk from the godnursing teat of that mighty goddess. He will come selfsummoned into the heavens; he needs not Hera’s milk, for he has milked a nobler breast.”

[243] She spoke exulting even in the sky; but the angry consort of Zeus fell heavily in surprise upon the house of Athamas and scared Ino into flight. She still resented the childhood of Dionysos.

[247] Ino, unhappy wife, escaped from her chamber and fled, rushing unshod over the rough mountains and searching for a trace of Dionysos, but without tidings. The nymph wandered passing from hill to hill, until she entered the ravine of Delphian Pytho. At last after intolerable wanderings she turned her step into the dragonbreeding copse.14 She tore the shift from her naked breast in token of mourning, and roamed madly about: the shepherd trembled to hear her distracted lamentation in a language he did not know. Often she seized the serpent which coiled thrice around the divine tripod-seat, and wreathed it in spirals on her squalid hair, fastening the long tresses about the delicate head with a snaky ribbon. She drove away the maidens of the temple service: nor more libations, nor more public worship, no man of Delphoi danced near the temple – the women were scourged with limbscoring tangles of longplaited ivy. The huntsmen who saw Ino running on the hills left the traps of string on their stakes and fled. The goatherd drove his goats under cover of a hole in the towering rocks; the old plowman as he drove the sweating oxen under the yoke shivered at Ino’s leaps. The Pythian prophetess herself choked down the foreign sounds of the underworld voice15 and ran into the mountains, with her customary Panopeian16 laurel shaking upon her head: she plunged between the deepkneed peaks of the ravine, and took refuge in the Delphic cavern, in her fear of maddened Ino.

[275] But Apollo Allseeing did not miss the woman, as she went through the twinings and twistings of the open forest where she sojourned. He pitied her, and came quickly near the grove. Taking the shape of a man he approached Ino, and with gentle hands wreathed her head with leaves of clever17 laurel, and brought sleep upon her. Then he anointed with ambrosia the whole body of mourning Ino in her sleep, bathing her maddened limbs in the grief-assuaging drops. Long she remained there in the Parnassian wood, until the fourth lichtgang. Then she founded dances for Bacchos yet a young boy, hard by the rock of prophecy, by the oracle of Phoibos; with unsleeping torches the Corycian Bacchants18 followed their fragrant rites, and gathered healing drugs with their divine hands, and healed the woman of her madness.

[290] Meanwhile at the call of Athamas the servants had been scattered, hunting everywhere for Ino. The women wandered over the hills like her, passing by many a winding path in search of any footstep of their missing lady, who moved leaving neither trace nor tidings. The women wept and wailed, cruel nails tore the reddened cheeks, willing fingers attacked the rosy breasts. The house plunged in mourning and sorrow cried aloud, and sent the loud sound of lamentation through the city. Most of all the inventive mind of Mystis felt the hard oppression, for she had a double grief, when unhappy Ino was still lost with all her troubles to bear, and Dionysos was stolen away.

[302] However, Athamas did not mourn his afflicted bride. He forgot his fickle passion for untraced Ino, and after the bed of his first wife Nephele had given him two children,19 he sought the luxurious couch of deepbosomed Themisto, and took as a third wife the daughter of Hypseus – and thus threw off Ino’s love. Once as he played prettily nurse-like to comfort Melicertes calling for papa, lifting and throwing him up and up in the air with high somersaults, when the boy cried for the milky teat, he offered his man’s breast and made him forget his mother.

[312] From the bed of Athamas, Themisto bred two warrior sons, a sure defence against battle, Schoineus and Leucon, a fine new manly breed, the fruit of her first births. After these two, the mother bore twin offspring of one common birth, and nursed at her rich breast Porphyrion and Ptoios, boyish blossoms of foe-defying youth both beloved and of one gage: these boys Themisto herself destroyed in later days, like stepmother’s children, believing them to be the twin offspring of Ino the glorious mother.20

1. In the island of Icaros.
2. It need hardly be said that these etymologies are wrong.
3. See note to v. 556.
4. Nonnos seems to play with Hera’s epithet boôpis, “cow-eyed,” making it taurôpis and giving the sense of “bull-eyeing,” i.e. able to see the young bull god Dionysos.
5. A mountain between Boiotia and Attica.
6. Sense and reading are alike most uncertain here.
7. God of the winds.
8. Melicertes.
9. A mystic divinity in the system of the Orphics, often called by this epithet, because hew as the first-born of the primeval world-egg.
10. Because he was Zagreus reborn.

11. See note on ii. 695. The boy is hidden as Zeus was.
12. The older name of Delos.
13. He thus became her foster-son and disabled her from showing hostility to him.
14. Where Python (or Delphyne), the dragon of Delphi, had lived till killed by Apollo.
15. Nonnos follows the late theory according to which the prophetess was inspired by a gas rising from a cleft in the ground.
16. i.e. Phocian; Delphi is in Phocis, Panope is another city of the same region.
17. As being the mark of poets and such.
18. The Corycian cave on Parnassos was associated with the Bacchic dances; it was named after the dancers, who took their title from Corycia in Asia Minor. All this is intended to explain why Dionysos, and not Apollo, was worshipped at Delphi for three months of the year; it is no doubt the result of an old (seventh century?) compromise between the two cults.
19. Phrixos and Helle. In this account, Nephele was his first wife, then Ino, then Themisto, daughter of Hypseus, but the names and number of the rest vary.
20. The four sons of Themisto became eponymous heroes in Boeotia. Ino, disguised as a nurse, returned to the house and hearing that Themisto meant to kill her children. Changed them and Themisto’s children into each other’s clothes. Themisto was thus deceived and killed her own children, and in despair at the deed killed herself. This is apparently Euripides’ version of the story: see Hyginus, Fab. 4.