The god Dionysos is in some respects a relative latecomer to the Greek pantheon, at least as far as Olympus is concerned. For he does not make a real showing in the oldest works of Greek literature - the Iliad of Homer contains a brief and somewhat uncomplimentary glimpse of Dionysos, while he is almost completely ignored in the Odyssey. Indeed, this absence has caused many contemporary scholars to claim that Dionysos was not originally a Greek deity at all, but a foreign god who was at some point grafted onto the Olympian family tree. Speculation about this hypothesis aside, Dionysos did manage to become one of the gods of lofty Olympus, and was an important deity in his own right.
Legends of Dionysos
Dionysos plays an active role in many works of poetry, tragedy and comedy (he was the patron god of the theatre, after all), and of course, has his share of mythological stories. And one of the most intriguing is the story of Dionysos at Sea...
One of numerous Homeric hymns tells the tale of the abduction of Dionysos by pirates. The pirates, seeing how gloriously (indeed, divinely...) handsome this young man was, impetuously seized him and dragged him to their black ship. In their greedy minds, the brigands thought that the god was a human prince who could be held for ransom, so they attempted to bind him firmly and carry him away. To their utter surprise, the bonds and shackles could not hold the young man, and would slip off, leaving the darkly handsome youth with a mysterious smile.
Only one of the pirates - the helmsman - recognized the true nature of the captive, and shouted with alarm to his fellows: "We have not a man, but a god in our midst!" But the others refused to heed him, and continued with their mad plan of capturing the son of Zeus. Setting sail, the group of thieves were astounded by a series of miraculous events: first, the ship was filled with wine, running like a river before their eyes; next, from the ship sprouted vines heavy with luscious grapes, and tendrils of the vine wrapped themselves around the sails like garlands. Upon seeing these wonders, the crew finally realized that they held no ordinary prisoner, but indeed a divine creature, and ordered the helmsman to return to shore. But Dionysos had still more in store for the disbelieving pirates, for suddenly he transformed himself into a fierce lion. The lion attacked the captain of the ship, and seeing this, the remaining crew sought to escape by jumping overboard. As they did this, they were changed into dolphins by the god. Only the helmsman, who had recognized the divinity of Dionysos, was spared, and the deity spoke to that man: "Courage! ... you are dear to my heart. I am loud-roaring Dionysos, born of the daughter of Kadmos, Semele, who mingled in love with Zeus."
Dionysos in Art History
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I begin to sing of boisterous Dionysos of the ivy-wreathed head, the noble son of Zeus and glorious Semele.