A ship lay in a harbour; on a headland that overlooked the harbour a youth appeared. He wore a purple cloak; his hair was rich, dark, and flowing; his face was beautiful. The sailors on the ship thought that he must be a king's son, or a young king's brother. They were Tyrrhenian sea-rovers, and they knew that they could never be called to account for anything that they did in that place. So they made a plan to seize the youth and hold him for ransom, or else sell him into slavery in some far land.
They seized him and they brought him on board the ship in bonds. He did not cry out; he sat upon the deck with a smile on his lips and a gleam in his dark eyes. And when the helmsman looked upon him he cried out to his companions, "Madmen, why have ye done this? I tell you that the one whom you have bound is one of the Olympians! Come! Let us set him free at once! Do not have him turn his rage against us, or the winds and the sea may be stirred up against our ship. I tell you that not even our well-built ship can carry such a one as he!"
But the master of the ship laughed at the words of the helmsman. "Madman yourself," he said, "with your talk of Olympians!" He gave command to have the ship taken out of that harbour. Then to the helmsman he said, "Leave the business of dealing with our prize to
us. Mark the wind, you, and help to hoist the sail. As for the youth we have taken, I know what kind of a fellow he is. He will say nothing; he will keep smiling there. But soon he will talk, I warrant you! He will tell us where his friends and his brothers are, and how much we are likely to get by way of ransom for him. Or else he will stand in the market-place until we find out what price he will fetch."
So the master of the sea-rovers spoke, and the mast went up; the sail was hoisted; the wind filled it, and the ship went over the sparkling sea. The sea-rovers sang, well content with all they had accomplished. Then, as they went here and there, making taut the sheets, they saw things that made them marvel. What was this that poured upon the, deck, giving such fragrance? Could it be wine? Wine it was, and of a marvellous taste! Could that be fresh ivy that was spreading around the mast-ivy with dark-green leaves and berries? Could that be a vine that was growing along the sail--a vine with bunches of grapes growing from it? And what was this greenery that was garlanding the thole-pins? The sea-rovers marvelled. Then, suddenly, their marvelling was turned to affright. There was a lion on the ship--it was filled with his roarings. The sailors fled to where the helmsman was and they crowded about him. "Turn back--turn back the ship!" they cried. And then the lion sprang upon the master of the ship and seized him; the lion shook him and then flung him into the sea. The sailors waited for no more; they sprang into the sea, every man of them. The helmsman was about to spring into the sea after them. He looked around him; there was no lion there. He saw the youth they had taken aboard; the bonds were no longer upon him; there was a smile on Ins lips and in his dark eyes, and on his brow was a wreath of ivy rich with berries. The helmsman threw himself on the deck before him. "Take courage, man," said the youth, now known, indeed, for one of the Olympians. "The others have been changed to dolphins in the sea. You have found favour with me. And I am Dionysos whom Semele bore to Zeus."
He was that God who was so marvellously born. Zeus, lord of the thunder, had loved Semele, the daughter of King Kadmos. She had begged her lover to show himself to her in all the splendour of his godhead. Zeus came to her in his radiance; then Semele was smitten and consumed and the life went from her.
Zeus took her unborn child; opening his thigh he laid the unborn thing within and had the flesh sewn over it. The child was born from the thigh of Zeus upon Mount Nysa, in a secret place, remote from the presence of Hera, the spouse of Zeus. The nymphs of the mountain received the child from Zeus; they took him to their bosoms and reared him in the dells of Nysa. He was fed on ambrosia and nectar, the food of the Immortals. He grew up in an ivy-covered cave that was filled with the scent of flowers and of grapes.
He grew into a stripling; then he wandered through the wooded valleys of Mount Nysa, a wreath of ivy always upon his brow. The nymphs followed him, and the woods and valleys were filled with their outcries. A king who heard these outcries, who saw the ivy-crowned stripling and the nymphs following him with wands in their hands, became enraged at the sight. Lykourgos was that king's name. He had his men chase them, striking at the nymphs and at Dionysos with their heavy ox-goads. The nymphs flung their wands upon the ground and flew to the mountain-top. Dionysos went down to the seashore. As for Lykourgos, he was smitten with blindness; he did not stay long amongst men afterwards, for he was hated by the immortal Gods.
Now the ship with the faithful helmsman in charge of it brought Dionysos to the island of Naxos. There the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, became his bride. He went to Egypt and was received with honour by the King of Egypt; he went to India and had his dwelling-place by the River Ganges. And everywhere he went he showed men how to grow the vine and how to make wine that gladdens hearts and liberates minds from their close-pressing cares.
And everywhere he went women followed him; they had a frenzied joy from being near him; they danced; they clashed cymbals; they kept up revels that were hidden from men. With trains of women attending him Dionysos turned back to the land he was born in. He went riding in a car that was drawn by leopards that the King of India had given him, and on his brow was a wreath of ivies and of vine-leaves.
So he came back to Thebes--to Thebes that had been ruled over by Kadmos, the father of Semele. Kadmos was an old man now, and he had given the rule of the country to Pentheus, his daughter's son.
[paragraph continues] Dionysos came, saying that he was the son of Semele, and Pentheus denounced him as an impostor. Then the women of Thebes, neglecting their households, joined the band that followed Dionysos and had their revels in the mountains--revels which no man was allowed to look upon. Pentheus became more and more angered at what his subjects, under the influence of this rover from India, were being brought to think and do.
He forbade the growing of the vine in Thebes; he would not allow the Thebans to make or to drink wine. And this he did, although his father, a wine-cup in his hand, came before him, and warned him against persecuting the followers of Dionysos.
He shut Dionysos in his prison-house, and he followed the women of Thebes to their secret meeting-place on the top of the mountain. He climbed a pine-tree so that he might overlook their revels. And he was there when the women saw him. In a frenzy they dashed to the tree; they tore the man out of its branches. Pentheus saw the women threatening him; he saw his own mother Agave there--the foremost amongst them. She did not know him, but kept crying, "A boar, a boar has come amongst us; destroy this boar." They tore at him; they tore the body of Pentheus to pieces, his own mother, Agave, in her frenzy, leading the others on. So Pentheus perished, and so Dionysos triumphed in the land where Semele saw her divine lover in his splendour and was crushed by his radiance and his might.