In mythology, Semele was the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. Scholars agree that the name Semele is not a native Greek word, and several compelling theories about the origin of this name have been offered over the years. One possibility is that Semele is derived from the Thracian/Phrygian name Zemelo (an earth goddess).
And while there is some controversy about the precise origin of this legendary figure, one thing about Semele is certain - her story. For Semele's tale was quite popular in Greek myth.
According to the legend, Semele was one of the many love interests of Zeus. Indeed, Zeus engaged in an affair with this lovely mortal despite the fact that his wife Hera was aware of her husband's treachery. Hera was so angry with Zeus's infidelity that she decided to get her revenge. And in this case, Hera's target was the unfortunate Semele.
So the Queen of the Olympian gods disguised herself and appeared to Semele one day. Hera made Semele doubt her lover's claims to immortality, and convinced the poor mortal woman to demand proof of his divinity. Unfortunately, Semele accepted this piece of deadly advice. The next time she was visited by Zeus, she requested that she be granted whatever she asked of him. Zeus reluctantly agreed. And so Semele ordered Zeus to reveal himself in all of his divine glory. As much as Zeus wanted to resist, he could not - and when the god showed himself to the woman, she was incinerated by the heat of his thunderbolts.
Semele, who was pregnant at the time, died immediately. But Zeus rescued the unborn child and placed him in his thigh. When the child was ready to be born, the immortal Dionysos emerged.
Semele in Art
Gallery | for pictures and information about Semele in art, visit the Mythography gallery!
Who's Who in Classical Mythology