The Dancing Outsider
Wine, Dance, Ecstasy, Freedom, Theatre
Grapevine, Leopard, Thyrsus
"He holds this office, to join in dances, to laugh with the flute, and to bring an end to cares, whenever the delight of the grape comes at the feasts of the gods, and in ivy-bearing banquets the goblet sheds sleep over men."
Dionysus is the youngest Olympian, the outcome of an affair between Zeus and Demeter. This incensed Hera, Zeus' wife, who vented her rage on the baby god. She created monsters hungry for flesh and lured the godling into a trap with toys. The creatures ripped the child apart and ate his flesh before Zeus could save his son. Sifting through the remains, Zeus found that only the heart of Dionysus remained intact.
To give his son a second chance at life, Zeus secretly gave the heart to his latest mortal love, Semele, princess of Thebes. Eating the heart, she became pregnant and gave birth to a reformed Dionysus. Hera discovered the child had survived, so she disguised herself as a nurse and infiltrated Semele's household. After gaining the princess' trust she sowed seeds of doubt that her lover was Zeus. Desperate to know the truth, Semele called on Zeus to honour his sworn oath to obey her wishes and demanded he show his divinity. Forced by the oath Zeus appeared but the power of his form overwhelmed Semele and killed her.
Semele's death left Dionysus vulnerable, but he was saved from Hera's anger by Demeter. She smuggled the baby away from Thebes and asked Hermes to take him far east to Mount Nysa. Beyond even the reach of Hera's spies, the rain nymphs raised the child on milk and nectar. On Mount Nysa Dionysus discovered how to cultivate the vine and create wine from its fruits. As an adult he took this knowledge and shared it with mortals as he travelled the far east holding celebrations and festivals. During these travels he learned foreign mannerisms which have stayed with him throughout his life.
On return to his homelands of Greece he continued his endless travelling festival but found himself dismissed as a foreigner and stranger in his own land. Many even doubted his divinity since they had never heard of him as the child of Zeus and Demeter. Chief among the doubters were those leaders who found his festivals disruptive to their lands. King Lycurgus of Thrace saw Dionysus as a threat and imprisoned his worshippers. Unwilling to ask Zeus for help, Dionysus resolved to prove his divinity himself. He fled out to sea and cursed Thrace with a drought which would continue until Lycurgus was dead. The people of Thrace revolted once an oracle revealed the cause of the drought and they deposed the oppressive king. With Lycurgus drawn and quartered, Dionysus lifted the curse and demonstrated his power.
Moving on from Thrace, Dionysus entered Athens and again found his divinity denied. The city was less oppressive than Thrace, with no king to kill, so rather than punish them Dionysus taught the Athenians winemaking.
The last doubters were pirates who mistook him for a prince as he sat at the shore of the Mediterranean. They tried to throw a net over him, planning to ransom the supposed prince. At first he took offence but began laughing when no rope nor binding could hold him. The pirates resorted to manhandling him on to their ship and Dionysus ran out of patience with those attempting to curtail his freedom. He turned into a leopard and killed any who had dared to touch him. Driving the remaining pirates into the sea Dionysus mercifully transformed them into dolphins to save them from drowning. The only survivor was the helmsman, who had recognised Dionysus and tried to stop his fellow pirates. He carried this story far and wide and the people of Greece recognised Dionysus as a god.
Dionysus sees himself as the champion of the alternative and the unconventional. He works to release people from their constraints, using wine and ecstatic dance to free them from their worries. The libertarian god fears the return of Cronus whose rule is one of absolute law and regulation. The champions of Dionysus work ceaselessly to prevent the return of the Titan and his despotic rule. They also fight against oppressive regimes and promote the ideas of free will and determination.
The young god appears as a beardless, sensuous and androgynous youth wearing just a leopard skin across his shoulders. Dionysus' foreign manners appear strange to most Greeks. His detractors consider him to be indolent and troublesome, an opinion he cares little for. Freedom-loving, wild-spirited, impulsive and cheerful, Dionysus is easy going and light-hearted. It is the denial of his divinity or the curtailing of his freedom which will provoke the god's wrath. Dionysus has no fixed abode, preferring to wander Greece and the wider world, attending and hosting festivals. These interest him much more than the squabbles between the gods on Olympus. Only pressing business or the occasional party will force him to the mountain home of the gods.
The worship of Dionysus with its energetic festivals, is popular throughout Greece. His cult has a very different feel from the staid and serious followers of other gods. All members of society are welcome, particularly those marginalised or rendered powerless by society, such as slaves, outlaws and foreigners. The Dionysian priesthood is small and many functions are filled by eager volunteers. The temples welcome anyone who wishes to be a priest no matter what their background and there is no hierarchy of status among the priesthood.
Dionysus' temples are found in many major cities and sacred groves throughout Greece. The relaxed nature of the cult makes anywhere suitable for a site of worship. Unlike the temples of the other gods, Dionysus' temples are round and open to the sky, to facilitate dancing.
The celebrations of Dionysus start with a procession to the festival site which is deliberately disorganised and chaotic, mimicking Dionysus's own arrival at Olympus. Once at the temple the worshippers dance to drums and flutes and make small offerings of ivy, grapes, wine and honey to the altar. The dancing carries on through the day and night as the worshippers lose themselves in revelry and shed their mortal cares.