DIONYSUS

Dionysus, newborn son to Zeus
A horned child crowned with serpents
His transformations served no good excuse
At Hera's orders the Titans
Tore him into shreds, bringing them to boil
In a cauldron, while his blood
Sprouted pomegranate trees in soil.

Rescued by grandmere Rhea
Reconstituted he returned to life
Entrusted to Persephone
By Zeus, she gave him to Orchemenus' king's wife
Ino, and King Athamas
For to raise him in the women's quarters
Dressed and mannered as a girl.

But Hera, who saw clearly through the ruse
Made the royal pair go mad
So Athamas killed their son Learchus
Mistaking him for a stag
On Zeus' orders Hermes transformed him
Into the kid of a goat
Then presented him to mountain nymphs
Who tended him in a cave.

They fed him honey, cosseting so fine
(So Zeus preserved them in the stars)
On Mount Nysa the kid invented wine
(Which we now serve in bars.)

Hera recognized him as Zeus' son
When he grew to full manhood
Despite the force of his education
Making him effeminate
She made him mad, too, and thus he wandered
With his tutor Silenus.

His wild army of Maenads and Satyrs
Roamed the world with odd weapons
The ivy-twined staff tipped with a pine cone
(Called a thyrsus) and the swords
Serpents with bull-roarers of fearful tone
All spreading a cult of wine.

They sailed to Egypt where they were received
Hospitably by a king
Across from there an alliance achieved
With certain Amazon queens
Whom Dionysus invited to march
With him against the Titans
Who'd expelled King Ammon into the parch
Now to regain his kingdom
Launching of victories a string.

Turning east he made for India
Coming to Euphrates
Damascus king opposed his idea
So he flayed him alive.

With vine and ivy he bridged the river
Ever watched by his father
He crossed the Tigris with Zeus-sent tiger
One step closer to his goal
Reaching India he conquered the country
Teaching it viniculture
Giving it laws and founding great cities
So they could all get drunk.

Now with Indian elephants as mounts
Upon their return they met
Opposing Amazons waiting to pounce
They had changed their minds (of course)
One horde he chased as far as Ephesus
Just past his home at Nysa
Some hid in the Temple of Artemis
Where they say they're living still.

He chased in boats those who fled to Samas
There a great battle did occur
He killed legions, but lost some elephants
Whose bones still lay at Phlaeum.

By way of Phrygia making his return
Where he met grandmere Rhea
She purified him of his foul murders
Teaching him her mysteries.

Invading Thrace, at the mouth of Strymon
He encountered Lycurgus
This most fierce king of the Edonians
Who opposed them savagely
Armed with ox-goad, single-handedly
He captured the whole army
Save their fine leader who jumped in the sea
Hiding in Thetis' grotto.

Grandmere Rhea, by this reverse much vexed
Helped the prisoners escape
Turning on Lycurgus whom she hexed
Driving him completely mad
With axe he struck dead his son Dryas
Then began to prune the corpse
Of his fingers, his toes, his nose, and ears
Believing he cut a vine.

Thrace grew barren in horror of this crime
Until Dionysus said
The barrenness would remain till the time
Lycurgus were put to death.

To Mount Pangaeum Edonians led
Their crazy King Lycurgus
Where wild horses pulled him apart till dead
Leaving four bloody pieces.

Having cleared Thrace of all opposition
He travelled to Boeotia
He called to join him on Mount Cithaeron
At revels, Theban women.

But Pentheus, King of Thebes, disliked his
So dissolute appearance
Arresting him along with his Maenads
He suffered now common doom.

Like so many before him he went mad
And so failed in his object
Wishing to jail the drunken orgy dad
Instead he shackled a bull.

The Maenads, escaping capture again
Tore baby cows to pieces
As they went raging into mountains
They did the same to Pantheus.

When he rushed up the mountain to stop them
Inflamed by way too much wine
In ecstasy they rent him limb-from-limb
His own mother Agave
Led the riot, wrenching off her son's head
(Best to go with hugs not drugs.)

Refusing to join him in his revels
Now back at Orchomenus
Three daughters of Minyas, the rebels
Turned down his invitation
To them Dionysus appeared as girl
He then changed for them his shape
Becoming a lion, bull, and panther
With this he drove them insane.

Leucippe offered her very own son
Hipposus as sacrifice
By lot he had first of all been chosen
The three sisters tore him up
Into small pieces, then him devoured
They skimmed mountains in frenzy
Till the god Hermes changed them into birds
So wretched their demeanor.

When they'd acknowledged his divinity
All those found in Boeotia
He toured Aegean with his trinity
Bringing joy, terror, and wine.

Finding to be unseaworthy his ship
Icaria arriving
He entered into a relationship
With Tyrrhenian sailors
For journey to Naxos their ship he hired
That's where they claimed to be bound
In a great treachery he would be mired
Other ideas they had
They turned toward Asia, every one a knave
Secretly they were pirates
Who intended to sell him as a slave
(They failed to catch his godhead.)

From the deck Dionysus grew a vine
That rose to enfold the mast
About the rigging the ivy entwined
He turned the oars to serpents
Filling pirate ship with phantom beasts
He himself became a lion
Leaping pirates became dolphin beasts
Overboard they went to flutes.

'Twas at Naxos he met Ariadne
Whom Theseus deserted
Marrying her spawned the family tree
Of children she gave him six
Oenopion, Thoas, Tauropolus
Tumbled out the first three
Then Staphylus, Latromis, Enanthes
Rounded out the family.

Releasing Naxos, on Argos he fell
Perseus resisting him
As punishment he cast a spell
The Argive women to craze
They began to devour their infants raw
Till Perseus claimed his wrong
Then appeasing Dionysus with awe
Building to him a temple.

Having by then his worship established
Throughout the entire world
To Heaven Dionysus ascended
Where he sits at the right hand
Of father Zeus, one of Twelve Great Ones
(Resigning her seat on high
Godess Hestia would escape the fun
Of jealous family wranglings.)

By way of Lerna he then descended
To Tartarus where he bribed
Fair Persephone to release his dead
Sweet mother Semele
She ascended with him into Troezen
At temple of Artemis
He introduced her to Olympians
With the name of Thyone
(Lest other ghosts be aggrieved or jealous
At the apartment provided by Zeus.)
He then fell into mad silence.

© 2004 by Michael J. Farrand


Adapted from "Dionysus's Nature and Deeds" in Robert Graves' The Greek Myths (Volume 1), first printed in 1955 by Penguin Books.

| contact | author | gifts | Narrative | "Orpheus" |