Pagan Regeneration, by Harold R. Willoughby, , at sacred-texts.com
IN A characteristic passage in the Bacchae, Euripedes, "the Rationalist," speaks of Demeter and Dionysus as the greatest of the gods. He puts into the mouth of the aged prophet Teiresias this preachment for the instruction of the honest but irreconcilable Pentheus:
Two chiefest powers,
Prince, among men there are: Divine Demeter--
Earth is she, name her by which name you will.
She upon dry food nurtures mortal men;
Then follows Semele's son, to match her gift
The cluster's flowing draught he found and gave
To mortals, which gives rest from grief to men,
So that through him do men obtain good things.
This juxtaposition of Demeter and Dionysus is not at all surprising; for among the friendly rivals of the Eleusinian mysteries in Greece the most vigorous, the most distinctive, and the most widespread was the worship of Dionysus. Three centuries before Alexander made his conquest of the Orient, Dionysus had made his conquest of Greece. Coming as an immigrant from Thrace, attended by a wild crew of satyrs and maenads, he took Greece by storm, and sometime between Homer and Phidias, he won a place for himself on Olympus and the patronage of the most dignified city-states in Greece. The type of religious experience exemplified by his cult is of exceptional interest to the student of personal religion. In order to understand the Dionysian experience, however, it is necessary to know who Dionysus himself was.
Notwithstanding his elevation to Olympus, Dionysus was anything but an aristocratic sky-god. He was rather an earth-deity, a god of the peasantry. Though his father was Zeus, the sky- and rain-god, his mother was of the earth earthy. Dionysian mythology named her Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, and this name betrays her real significance as a personification of the earth (cf. Nova Zembla, "new earth"). In the Hope collection there is a vase painting representing the youthful Dionysus rising out of an earth mound--the vase-painter thus emphasizing the earth-born nature of the god.
But Semele, the god's earth-mother, was not only the fertile earth of springtime absorbing the warm showers of the sky and naturally productive; in local legend at Thebes see was represented as the thunder-smitten earth also. For Hera in her jealousy had craftily persuaded Semele to ask her lover to prove his deity by appearing in all his power and glory as god of heaven. Zeus acceded to her request appearing to her armed with all his terrors, destroyed her with his lightnings. Even as the mother was dying, however, Zeus rescued their unborn child from her tortured body.
In birth-bowers new did Zeus Cronion
Receive his scion;
For hid in a cleft of his thigh,
By the gold clasps knit, did he lie
Safe hidden from Hera's eye
Till the Fates' day came.
Lucian, in his usual satirical vein, made the most of his opportunity to parody this mythological theme. Thus, in popular legend the earth-born Dionysus, the son of Semele, was himself represented as a twice-born deity. He was dithyrambus, which for the Greeks meant "he who entered life by a double door." In this peculiarly artificial sense he was Dionysus, the son of Zeus, as his name suggests.
Quite naturally this son of earth and sky functioned as the personification of vegetable life. As such he was a yearly divinity, who came and went with the seasons. His experience in relation to men was characterized by recurrent theophanies and recessions as the life of nature died and revived year after year. Plutarch noted among various peoples this characteristic conception of Dionysus:
"The Phrygians think that the god is asleep in the winter and is awake in summer, and at one season they celebrate with Bacchic rites his goings to bed and at the other his risings up. And the Paphlagonians allege that in the winter he is bound down and imprisoned and in the spring he is stirred up and let loose."
In the popular phrases of his worship, Dionysus was apprehended in very concrete terms. He was, on the one side, the god of vegetation in general and the wine-god in particular. Thus he made his chief impression on the Greeks. It may be, as Miss Harrison has suggested, that in his native Thracian home he functioned as a beer-god, Sabazius or Bromius, the god of a cereal intoxicant; but certainly he came to Greece and won his signal triumph there as the wine-god. Even as the olive was constantly associated with Athena, so the vine was characteristically associated with Dionysus. Other familiar symbols of Dionysus were the grape cluster and a two-handled drinking cup. By these accessories the god may easily be identified in Greek vase paintings and on cult monuments. The various cult appellatives emphasizing this aspect of Dionysus are far too numerous to be listed. Greek literature, too, rang with the praises of the god who "made grow for men the clustered vine," but the fact is so familiar that it does not demand special citation.
What is particularly noteworthy is this, that the relation of the god to the drink was not merely that of creator to the thing created. Many times the relationship expressed was that of identification even. The god was in the wine; he was the wine, even. He was not merely the god of libation. To quote Euripides statement, he was the libation, "The god who himself is offered in libation to the other gods." In this passage the identification of the god with the wine is as absolute as the identification of Christ in Catholic thought with the consecrated wine of the mass, or, to cite an illustration from the far away religious system of the Vedas, the identification of the god Soma with the soma drink. It is not surprising, therefore, to find in Attica the festival of the theoinia or the "god wine," celebrated by those families who were believed to be the direct descendents of Dionysus' original followers, in whose vineyards grew vines which were offshoots from the vine spray that the god himself had given them. Under such circumstances the devotees of Dionysus would be sure of the presence of the very god himself in the consecrated wine made from the sacred grapes. That this realistic identification of the deity and the fruit of the vine was not merely a primitive conception is proved by the existence at Philippi in Paul's time of a religious brotherhood dedicated to Dionysus Botreus ("Dionysus the Vine Cluster").
Dionysus was the god of animal life as well as of vegetable life. As such he was variously represented in different animal forms. It was inevitable that these animal embodiments should be varied in different localities. In a goat-raising country the normal representation of the power of life and generation would be the goat. Similarly, in a cattle-raising country the embodiment of the divine power in the form of a bull was to be expected. And so we have various animal theophanies of Dionysus recorded in Greek literature. Euripides chorus of Bacchanals, for example, thus variously invoke their god in their moment of supreme anxiety:
Appear, appear, whatso thy shape or name
O Mountain Bull, Snake of the Hundred Heads,
Lion of the Burning Flame!
O God, Beast, Mystery, come!
Of the less frequent animal forms under which Dionysus was revered, that of the goat should especially be noted. What makes this conception of Dionysus peculiarly important is the fact that as a goat-god he was involved in the obscure beginnings of Attic tragedy, and thereafter he remained the patron deity of this highly artistic literary form (trag-odia, goat-song). Another less familiar animal embodiment of Dionysus was that of a kid. There was a common legend that Zeus, in order to save his son from the jealous wrath of Hera, transformed him into a kid. A mystic expression nebrizein, "to play the fawn," was common in the Dionysus cult. While it is an expression of doubtful import, yet it is clearly reminiscent of another primitive conception of Dionysus as a fawn.
By far the most generally accepted and most significant of the animal embodiments of the god, however, was that of a bull. There were a multitude of cult appellatives emphasizing this conception of Dionysus. He was variously addressed as the "horned child," the "horned deity," the "bull-horned," and the "bull-browed." The Argives worshiped him as "the son of a cow" or "bull-born," and the ancient Elean chant addressed him directly as a bull. "Come, hero Dionysus, come with the Graces to thy house by the shores of the sea; hasten with thy bull-foot." So ran the hymn itself, while the chorus repeated "goodly bull, goodly bull." One readily recalls, also, that the residence of the king-archon at Athens, where the sacred marriage between Dionysus and the basilinna was celebrated, was called the boukolion, or "ox stall."
With all this background of realistic thought, it is strange that we do not have a representation of the bull-Dionysus in Greek vase paintings. Plutarch, however, states that the Greeks not infrequently imaged the god in bull form in sculpture, and in classical literature this representation of the god was a stock one. Thus the Bacchae of Euripides is permeated with the conception of Dionysus as a bull-god. Of Dionysus' second birth it is said:
Then a God bull-horned Zeus bare, And with serpents entwined his hair.
When Pentheus attempted to imprison Dionysus, "a bull beside the stalls he found." And finally when the god led the king in a hypnotized state out to his doom, Pentheus seemed to see a bull going before him. In his hallucination the king exclaimed:
A bull you seem that leads on before;
And horns have sprouted upon your head.
How, were you a brute?--Truly you are a bull now!
These passages reflect perfectly the realism of primitive thought about the god. Far more than being represented by the bull, Dionysus was thought of as being actually embodied in the bull, so that the animal, like the wine, was the god.
With these primitive conceptions of Dionysus in mind, it is possible for the modern student, even, to appreciate something of the vivid, central experience of the god's devotees. Wine played a prominent part in Dionysian worship. Bacchic literature reeks with wine and rings with the joys of intoxication. The chorus in Euripides' Bacchae sings:
The cluster's flowing draught....
....gives rest from grief to men
Woe-worn, soon as the vine's stream fills them
And sleep, the oblivion of our daily ills,--
There is none other balm for toils.
This Bacchic joy puts an end to woe.
When blent with the flute light laughters awaken,
And the children of care have forgotten to weep
Whensoever is revealed the cluster's splendour
In the banquet that men to the high Gods tender
And o'er ivy-wreathed revellers drinking deep
The wine bowl drops the mantle of sleep.
The truth is that sheer physical intoxication from the drinking of wine was the essence of Dionysian religion. In the service of their god the Bacchanals drank wine until they were intoxicated. There was indeed point to Plato's criticism that an immortality of drunkenness seemed to be considered the Dionysian reward of virtue. For the Bacchanals themselves, however, the experience was something more and higher than drunkenness. It was spiritual ecstasy, not mere physical intoxication. The wine they drank was for them potent with divine power--it was the god himself, and the very quintessence of divine life was resident in the juice of the grape. This the devotees of Bacchus knew as a matter of personal experience when, after drinking the wine, they felt a strange new life within themselves. That was the life and power of their god. Their enthusiasm was quite literally a matter of having the god within themselves, of being full of and completely possessed by the god. So they themselves described it in their own language (entheos, enthusiasm). They might be intoxicated; but they felt themselves possessed by the god. The drinking of wine in the service of Dionysus was for them a religious sacrament. Even Plato, who had few kind words to say for intoxication, made one exception to his usual rule that it was unfitting for a man to drink to the point of drunkenness. That one exception was "on the occasions of festivals of the god of wine." At such times drunkenness was a matter of communion with the god. So Euripides could say that he who knows the Dionysian mysteries "is pure in life, and revelling on the mountains, has the Bacchic communion in his soul."
The devotees of Dionysus had other realistic means of attaining to communion with their god. They had a sacrament of eating as well as a sacrament of drinking. This rite was the "feast of raw flesh." To be an initiate into the mysteries of Dionysus one must be able to avow
I have .... Fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts.
The victim varied. Sometimes it was a goat, as was probably the custom in Thrace. The Bacchanals of Euripides follow this practice and know
The joy of the red quick fountain
The blood of the hill-goat torn.
Quaff the goat's delicious blood,
A strange, a rich, a savage food.
Sometimes the victim was a fawn, and the sacred fawn-skins with which the maenads were clothed were the skins torn from these luckless animals. One of the familiar depictions of the maenads on Greek vases was to show them carrying a fawn in their arms or tearing it to pieces in frenzy. More frequently, however, the Dionysian victim was a bull. This was particularly the case in Crete where, to quote Firmicus Maternus, "the Cretans rend a living bull with their teeth, and they simulate madness of soul as they shriek through the secret places of the forest with discordant clamors."
This quotation well suggests the orgiastic character of the feast of raw flesh. The denvotees tore asunder the slain beast and devoured the dripping flesh in order to assimilate the life of the god resident in it. Raw flesh was living flesh, and haste had to be made lest the divine life within the aniinal should escape. So the feast became a wild, barbaric, frenzied affair. In the Bacchae one of the herdsmen describes to Pentheus an attack of the maenads upon the royal herd. Doubtless the description gives an adequate impression of one of the Bacchic feasts.
Down swooped they then
Upon our pasturing kine with swordless hand,
Then had you seen your mother with her hands
Rend a deep uddered heifer bellowing loud:
And others tore the calves in crimson shreds.
Ribs had you seen and cloven hoofs far hurled
This way and that, and flakes of flesh that hung
And dripped all blood bedabbled, 'neath the pines.
Bulls chafing, lowering fiercely along the horn
Erewhile, were tripped and hurled upon the earth
Dragged down by countless clutching maiden hands
More swiftly was the flesh that lapped their bones
Stripped, than you could have closed your kingly eyes.
This orgiastic rite furnished the Fathers of the early church with just the material for which they were looking to use in discrediting paganism. With genuine satisfaction they described the barbarous ceremonial in all its revolting detail. Clement of Alexandria said:
"I will not dance out your mysteries as they say Alcibiades did, but I will strip them naked, and bring them out on the open stage of life, in view of those who are spectators at the drama of truth. The Bacchi hold orgies in honor of a mad Dionysus. They celebrate a divine madness by the eating of raw flesh. The final accomplishment of their rite is the distribution of the flesh of butchered victims. They are crowned with snakes, and shriek out the name of Eva, that Eve through whom sin came into the world, and the symbol of their Bacchae orgies is the consecrated serpent."
In a similar vein, Arnobius wrote of the "feasts of raw flesh in which with feigned frenzy and loss of a sane mind you twine snakes about you, and to show yourselves full of the divinity and majesty of the god, you demolish with gory mouths the entrails of goats bleating for mercy."
The fact should not be blinked that in its primitive this rite probably involved the sacrifice of a human victim. Porphyry knew a tradition that in Chios a man was torn to pieces in the worship of Dionysus Omadius, the "Raw One." At Potniae, according to Pausanias, a priest of Dionysus was once slain by the inhabitants and a plague was sent upon them in punishment. They sought relief, and the Delphian oracle told them that a beautiful boy must be sacrificed to the deity. Immediately afterward, Dionysus let it be known that he would accept a goat as a substitute. This story records the ancient transition in cult practice from the cannibal to the animal feast. Also in the fearful fate that met Pentheus at the hands of his own mother, as recorded by Euripides, there is a late literary echo of the primitive cannibalistic ritual.
To focus attention on these savage features, however, is to miss entirely the significance of the crude ceremonial. The real meaning of the orgy was that it enabled the devotee to partake of a divine substance and so to enter into direct and realistic communion with his god. The warm blood of the slain goat was "sacred blood," according to Lactantius Placidus. The god Dionysus was believed to be resident temporarily in the animal victim. One of the most remarkable illustrations of this ritual incarnation of the god was described by Aelian. Of the people of Tenedos, he said: "In ancient days they used to keep a cow with calf, the best they had, for Dionysus, and when she calved, they tended her like a woman in childbirth. But they sacrificed the newborn calf, having put cothurni on its feet." The use of the tragic buskins symbolized the conviction that the god was temporarily incarnate in the calf--pious opinion did not doubt that. Primitive logic easily persuaded men that the easiest way to charge oneself with divine power was to eat the quivering flesh and drink the warm blood of the sacred animal. Some went farther and sought to assimilate themselves to deity by wearing the skin of the animal. The central meaning of the celebration was that it enabled the devotee to enter into direct and realistic communion with his god.
Another means of inducing the divine possession, and the usual concomitant of the sacraments of eating and drinking just described, was the vertigo of the sacred dance. In preparation for the Bacchic revel, the devotees of the god properly equipped themselves with the gear of Dionysus. Like him they carried the thyrsus, a wand tipped with a pine cone and usually entwined with ivy. In their hair serpents were twisted and over their shoulders was thrown the sacred fawn-skin. Sometimes they wore horns on their foreheads. In clothing and equipment they were as like their god as possible.
The dances in honor of Dionysus were usually held at night time by torchlight and were preceded by fasting. They were accompanied by the weird music of wind instruments and the clashing of tambourines. Mingled with this strange music were the shouts of the Bacchanals themselves as they waved their torches in the darkness, thus giving to the scene an unearthly light. The dances were wild and irregular and were characterized by a tossing of the head and a violent, whirling bodily motion. Thus, by the very movements of the dance a physical frenzy was quickly induced, quite as the "dancing dervishes" of Mohammedanism lose control of themselves in the delirium of their ritual. It was for this ecstatic experience that the Bacchae of Euripides were yearning when they sang together:
Ah, shall my white feet in the dances gleam
The livelong night again? Ah, shall I there
Float through the Bacchanal's ecstatic dream,
Tossing my neck in the dewy air?
Significant of the maddening experience of the sacred dance were the names applied to the female followers of Dionysus. They were the maenads or "mad ones," and the thyiads or "rushing distraught ones." These epithets were but different ways of describing the female devotees who were under the influence of and possessed by their god. A more frequent designation was the more intimate one which called the devotees after the name of the god himself. The women who shared in the frenzied rites of Bacchus were themselves called Bacchae even as the men were Bacchi. Each one, without distinction of sex, by the very experience of divine possession became a personification of the god. Their delirium, induced by purely physical means, was for them a spiritual experience, and eventuated in the conviction, deep and strong, that they had their god within themselves. Plutarch connected the Dionysian frenzy with the Bacchic custom of chewing ivy leaves during this ceremonial, and affirmed that thus "the violent spirits which caused their enthusiasm entered into them.", Dionysus was god of the ivy quite as much as god of the vine. By the realistic ritual act of chewing ivy, then, the maenads of Dionysus incorporated his spirit within themselves. Herodotus, in speaking of the initiation of the Scythian king, Scyles, cited a particular and notable instance of Dionysian possession. The historian said of the king that "the god took possession" of him so that "he was maddened by the god and played the part of Bacchus." Thus, in the frenzy of the ritualistic revel, as in the orgy of eating raw flesh and drinking wine, the Bacchanals experienced communion with their god.
Apparently, in later times, at least, a sharp distinction was drawn between those who merely indulged in the physical excitement of the Bacchic revel and those who really shared in the spiritual experiences of the cult. At least we are acquainted with a familiar proverb, quoted by Plato, to the effect that "many are the bearers of the thyrsus, but the Bacchanals are few." Unless the initiate himself was conscious of contact with the divine de did not shared in the genuine Bacchic experience.
This predominantly emotional experience, whether induced by the dizziness of dancing or the crude sacraments of wine and raw flesh, marked for the Bacchanal the beginning of a new life. In a very real sense it was a new birth for the individual who experienced it. Hitherto he had been a man merely. Now he was something more; he was man plus god, a divinized human. Certain aspects of his new divine life deserve to be noted in order to emphasize the contrast with life as it was lived at the ordinary levels of human experience.
In its temporary emotional aspect it was characterized by excessive indulgence as contrasted with the reasoned moderation that was typical of Greek life generally. For Greek self-control was one of the four cardinal virtues and "nothing in excess" was a fundamental Hellenic principle of life. The Bacchic experience, however, cut sheer across this principle. In the Bacchae, Euripides said of Dionysus, "By halves he cares not to be magnified." And Plato admitted that "madness sent by god is better the moderation of men." Such was clearly the conviction of the followers of Dionysus.
Bacchic experience also caused a break with the customs and conventions of ordinary life and a return to the freedom of nature. The devotees of Dionysus deserted their homes temporarily, wandered free on the mountains, and indulged in certain wild, primitive, half-animal passions. Euripides gave a picture of the matrons of Thebes leaving their homes, their work, their babies even, to wander and revel in the mountains. They dressed themselves in fawnskins and wound snakes around their bodies.
Some cradling fawns or wolf cubs in their arms
Gave to the wild things of their own white milk
Young mothers they, who had left their babies.
With this return to the life of nature there was mingled a recrudescence of certain very primitive impulses. There was a lust for hot blood and a certain ferocious cruelty in the tearing to pieces of hapless victims.
The Bacchic revel also caused the joy and abandon of self-forgetfulness. The Bacchanals were no longer themselves, and this very fact brought a sense of freedom from former limitations and restraints. To what ridiculous extremes this self-abandon might be carried Euripides gave illustration when he represented aged Cadmus and blind Teiresias clad in fawnskins and gamboling off to join the. Bacchic revel. The ancient founder of Thebes gleefully affirms:
I shall not weary, nor by night nor day
Smiting on earth the Thyrsus. We forget
In joy our age.
Again, in a beautiful strophe by the chorus, Euripides glimpsed in more serious and appreciative fashion the sense of freedom which characterized the Bacchanal's experience. The simile he used was appropriately that of the faun escaping nets and huntsmen:
Till sheltering arms of trees around her close
The twilight of the tresses of the woods;-
O happy ransomed one, safe hid from foes
Where no man tracks the forest solitudes!
Altogether, therefore, the new Bacchic life was one of joyful self-abandon, of freedom from the complexities and restraints of civilization, of return to the direct simplicities of nature.
More than all this it was a life of miraculous power; for by the very fact of divine possession the Bacchanal believed himself to have acquired the power of the god. Hence, he could heal diseases, control the forces of nature, and even prophesy. Plato reflected the popular conviction that the Bacchae could work miracles in his famous comparison of the lyric poets to the maenads. He said:
Lyric poets are not in their right minds when they are composing their beautiful strains; but when failing under the power of music and meter they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind.
The Bacchae of Euripides literally teems with miracles. There
flows with milk the plain,
and flows with wine,
Flows with the wild bees' nectar dews divine.
The credulous herdsman of Pentheus tells of particular wonders wrought by the maenads:
One grasped her thyrsus staff, and smote the rock,
And forth upleapt a fountain's showry spray:
One in earth's bosom planted her reed-wand,
And up there through the god a wine-fount sent:
And whoso fain would drink white-foaming draughts
Scarred with their finger tips the breast of earth,
And milk gushed forth unstinted: dripped the while
Sweet streams of honey from their ivy staves.
In the battle between the Theban folk and the Bacchae, later narrated, this strange portent occurred: the javelins of the townspeople drew no blood while the wands of the maenads caused wound after wound. The same drama of Euripides also tells of the prophetic power of one who was possessed by Dionysus. Again it is Teiresias, himself a professional prophet, who thus testifies of Bacchus:
A prophet is this god, the Bacchic frenzy
And ecstasy are full fraught with prophecy:
For, in his fullness when he floods our frame
He makes his maddened votaries tell the future.
The life of the Bacchant was, therefore, a dynamic life in which the peculiar power of the deity operated to perform wonderful deeds through men.
Most important of all, the new Bacchic life in its emotional and dynamic aspects was viewed as but the foretaste of a happy existence in the future. The Thracians, among whom the Dionysian cult originated, seem to have early attained the belief in a blessed future life with the gods. In speaking of the Getae, a tribe of the Thracians, Herodotus affirmed, "They were the most valiant and most just of the Thracians," and then he added in explanation of these characteristics that "they believe themselves immortal; they think that they do not die, but that the dead go to join their god Zalmoxis." Pomponious Mela, a Latin geographer of the early imperial period, repeated a similar testimony concerning the Getae, only more in detail. There is considerable probability that this Zalmoxis was an indigenous Getan divinity, and was related to Sabazius, the Thracian prototype of the Greek Dionysus. Whatever may have been the relationship, it is clear that Dionysus functioned in Hellenistic cults as god of the underworld, and his devotees had the same expectation in relation to him that the ancient Getae had concerning Zalmoxis.
Being a yearly divinity Dionysus was a natural candidate for this function. His experience in nature was characterized by a constant dying and rising again. Yet it was only by proxy that Dionysus passed through these experiences; just as he was immolated by proxy in the rending of the sacred victim. The real Dionysus was the permanent spirit back of the phenomena of nature which caused the recurrent revival of life. He was a god, and immortality was one of the distinguishing characteristics of godhead. Immortality and divinity were all but interchangeable terms in primitive Greek thought.
Thus when the Bacchanals by the sacraments of eating and drinking entered into direct communion with their god, they became partakers of his immortality. In assimulating the raw flesh wherein the god was temporarily incarnate and in drinking the juice of the grape, they received into their bodies an undying substance. In life mystically united with their god, in death they could not be divided, and when the time came for them to go to the invisible world, they were sure of sharing the blessed life of their god. So the unusual emotional experiences fostered by the Dionysian rites, the intoxication of wine or of the dance, the frenzy of the orgy, the divine gift of foresight or miracle-working power--these were more than merely proofs of divine possession. They were a definite foretaste and assurance of a blessed future life. In the crude physical emotionalism of Bacchic ecstasy, therefore, the devotees of the wine-god found a new birth experience which guaranteed them a happy immortality.
The question of the influence of the Dionysus type of experience in the Graeco-Roman world remains to be discussed. As early as the seventh century before the Christian era the state religions of the serene and placid Olympians were failing to satisfy the religious needs of great masses of the common people in Greece. In their dissatisfaction they turned to the more intimate gods of the earth who had to do with the common things of life: to Demeter, the goddess of grain, and to Dionysus, the god of the vine. These were divinities who suffered with men in their toil and who gave them joy at harvest time. The cult of Dionysus coming from the northland spread in a great wave of religious enthusiasm over Greece proper, over the island states of the Aegean, and across to the mainland of Asia Minor. At first it met with violent opposition, as the legends of Lycurgus and Pentheus prove. In those early days rarely was the god graciously received as he was, for example, by Icarus in Attica. In spite of opposition, however, the contagious enthusiasm of the wine-god spread with unusual rapidity throughout Greece. In order to restrain Bacchic excesses the city-states of Greece had no other alternative than to adopt the Cult, bring it under state patronage, and by official regulation temper its enthusiasm somewhat. At Delphi Dionysus was associated with Apollo, and there the sacred maidens went mad in the service of the two gods. In Athens he entered into civic partnership with Athena and yearly wedded the Basilinna. At Eleusis he was brought into relation with Demeter and led the march of the candidates along the Sacred Way from Athens. In Teos and Naxos he even became the paramount state deity, the "god of the city" and "protector of the most holy state."
It was as a private cult, rather than as a state religion, however, that the worship of Dionysus made its deepest impression on both Hellenic and Hellenistic life. In the private brotherhoods, the natural emotions aroused by the cult practices were allowed free play and the guaranties offered to initiates were of a very realistic order; hence the appeal of the cult was strong, particularly to the masses and to women generally. At the beginning of Aristophanes' comedy, Lysistrate, impatient with waiting, complains that if the women had been invited to the shrine of Bacchus "there would be no getting along for the crowd of timbrels." Indeed, the prominence of women in the worship of Dionysus is one of the most striking features of the cult.
Such a religion as this, which overflowed the political boundaries of states and appealed not to local interests but to certain elemental human desires and emotions, had a great opportunity in the Helenistic period. With the conquests of Alexander the eastern Mediterranean world was thrown open to Dionysian influence. It is difficult, however, to trace the independent existence and influence of Bacchic mysteries for the simple reason that they fused so readily with similar cults all over the Mediterranean area. The religion of Dionysus lived on in altered form in Orphism. In Asia Minor it merged with the cults of Attis and Sabazius. Plutarch noted the affinity between the rites and legends of Adonis and their Dionysian counterparts, while Tibullus, in one of his elegies, clearly recorded the identification of Dionysus and Osiris.
Notwithstanding this widespread syncretism, the literature of the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman periods is full of references which show the strength and extent of peculiarly Dionysian influences. At the very beginning of the Hellenistic period stands the classical instance of the estrangement of Philip of Macedon and his queen Olympias. Plutarch was of the opinion that Bacchic orgies had much to do with this unfortunate situation. He said that Olympias was more zealous than all the rest of the women of that country in her devotion to Dionysian orgies and
"carried out these rites of possession and ecstasy in very barbarous fashion. She introduced huge tame serpents into the Bacchic assemblies, and these kept creeping out of the ivy and mystic likna and twining themselves around the thyrsi of the women and their garlands and frightening the men out of their senses."
Philip was jealous and suspicious of his queen's exclusive devotion to the Dionysus cult. In Italy, at the beginning of the second century B.C., Dionysus worship spread with such rapidity and created such a disturbance in society that the Senate, as a result of reported excesses, took strenuous measures for the suppression of the cult. The affair ended with the promulgation of rigid regulations governing the conditions under which meetings of the brotherhood might be held. The Sicilian Diodorus, writing in the Augustan age, said, "In many of the Hellenic states every other year, Bacchic bands of women collect, and it is lawful for maidens to carry the thyrsus and join in the enthusiasm; while the women forming in groups, offer sacrifices to the god, and revel, celebrating with hymns the presence of Dionysus." Plutarch, in his writing, made many references to Dionysian practices and told strange tales concerning the Bacchantes of Delphi especially. Once when the thyiades on Parnassus were overtaken by a violent snowstorm, the good people of Delphi went out to rescue them, and their coats actually crumbled to pieces they were frozen so hard. Again, during a sacred war between Phocis and Delphi, the thyiades lost their way and came to Amphissa without realizing where they were. Here they threw themselves down in the agora and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. The women of the city guarded them so long as they were asleep, refreshed them when they awakened, and set them on their homeward way in safety. These tales are recalled in order to show the reverence with which the devotees of Dionysus were held in the first Christian century. Pliny told of the popularity of the Dionysian cult in Thrace even in his day, while Pausanias referred to the worship of the god in many widely scattered localities. Even in the later days of paganism, Firmicuss Maternus said that the Cretans still practiced their orgiastic rites in honor of Dionysus.
These are but samples of an array of evidence which might be assembled to prove the widespread influence of the Bacchic type of experience with all of its excessive emotionalism in the first-century Graeco-Roman world. People in general were thoroughly familiar with it, as contemporary literature fully proves. Accordingly, in reckoning up the satisfactions offered by pagan religions to the seekers for salvation in the day of Jesus and Paul, the emotional rebirth experience in the Dionysian cult be counted as significant.