previous next

Dionysus discovered the vine,1 and being driven mad by Hera2 he roamed about Egypt and Syria. At first he was received by Proteus, king of Egypt,3 but afterwards he arrived at Cybela in Phrygia.4 And there, after he had been purified by Rhea and learned the rites of initiation, he received from her the costume and hastened through Thrace against the Indians. But Lycurgus, son of Dryas, was king of the Edonians, who dwell beside the river Strymon, and he was the first who insulted and expelled him.5 Dionysus took refuge in the sea with Thetis, daughter of Nereus, and the Bacchanals were taken prisoners together with the multitude of Satyrs that attended him. But afterwards the Bacchanals were suddenly released, and Dionysus drove Lycurgus mad. And in his madness he struck his son Dryas dead with an axe, imagining that he was lopping a branch of a vine, and when he had cut off his son's extremities,6 he recovered his senses.7 But the land remaining barren, the god declared oracularly that it would bear fruit if Lycurgus were put to death. On hearing that, the Edonians led him to Mount Pangaeum and bound him, and there by the will of Dionysus he died, destroyed by horses.8


1 As to the discovery of the vine by Dionysus and the wanderings of the god, see Diod. 3.62ff., Diod. 4.1.6ff., Diod. 4.2.5ff.; Strab. 15.1.7-9 The story of the rovings of Dionysus, and in particular of his journey to India, was probably suggested by a simple observation of the wide geographical diffusion of the vine. Wherever the plant was cultivated and wine made from the grapes, there it would be supposed that the vine-god must have tarried, dispensing the boon or the bane of his gifts to mortals. There seems to be some reason to think that the original home of the vine was in the regions to the south of the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea, where the plant still grows wild “with the luxuriant wildness of a tropical creeper, clinging to tall trees and producing abundant fruit without pruning or cultivation.” See A. de Candolle, Origin of Cultivated Plants (London, 1884), pp. 191ff. Compare A. Engler, in Victor Hehn, Kulturpflanzen und Hausthiere in ihrem Ubergang aus Asien (Berlin, 1902), pp. 85ff. But these regions are precisely those which Dionysus was supposed to have traversed on his journeys. Certainly the idea of the god's wanderings cannot have been suggested, as appears to be sometimes imagined, by the expedition of Alexander the Great to India (see F. A. Voigt, in W. H. Roscher's Lexikon der griech. und röm. Mythologie, i.1087), since they are described with geographical precision by Euripides, who died before Alexander the Great was born. In his famous play, The BacchaeEur. Ba. 13-20), the poet introduces the god himself describing his journey over Lydia, Phrygia, Bactria, Media, and all Asia. And by Asia the poet did not mean the whole continent of Asia as we understand the word, for most of it was unknown to him; he meant only the southern portion of it from the Mediterranean to the Indus, in great part of which the vine appears to be native.

2 Compare Eur. Cyc. 3ff.

3 The visit of Dionysus to Egypt was doubtless invented to explain the close resemblance which the ancients traced between the worships of Osiris and Dionysus. See Hdt. 2.42; Hdt. 2.49, and Hdt. 2.144; Diod. 1.11.3, Diod. 1.13.5, Diod. 1.96.5, Diod. 4.1.6; Plut. Isis et Osiris 28, 34, and 35; Tibullus 1.7.29ff. For the same reason Nysa, the place where Dionysus was supposed to have been reared, was by some people believed to be in the neighbourhood of Egypt. See HH Dion. 8ff.; Diod. 1.15.6, Diod. 4.2.3.

4 For the association of Dionysus with Phrygia, see Eur. Ba. 58ff.; Eur. Ba. 78ff., where the chorus of Bacchanals is represented escorting Dionysus from the mountains of Phrygia to Greece. According to one account, Dionysus was reared by the great Phrygian goddess Rhea (Stephanus Byzantius, s.v. Μάσταυρα). These legends were probably intended to explain the resemblances between the Bacchic and the Phrygian religions, especially in respect of their wild ecstatic and orgiastic rites.

5 For the story of the hostility of Lycurgus to Dionysus, see Hom. Il. 6.129ff., with the Scholia; Soph. Ant. 955ff.; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 273; Hyginus, Fab. 132; Serv. Verg. A. 3.14; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 39 (First Vatican Mythographer 122). According to Sophocles, it would seem that Lycurgus suffered nothing worse at the hands of his subjects than imprisonment in a cave, where his frenzy gradually subsided. According to Hyginus, Servius, and the First Vatican Mythographer, the furious king, in attempting to cut down the vines, lopped off one of his own feet or even both his legs. It appears to be a common belief that a woodman who cuts a sacred tree with an axe wounds himself in so doing. See W. Mannhardt, Baumkultus, pp. 36ff. It is said that when the missionary Jerome of Prague was preaching to the heathen Lithuanians and persuading them to cut down their sacred woods, one of the converts, moved by his exhortation, struck at an ancient oak with an axe, but wounded himself in the legs and fell to the ground. See Aeneas Sylvius, Opera (Basel, 1571), p. 418 [wrongly numbered 420]. The accident to this zealous convert closely resembles the one which is said to have befallen the Edonian king in a similar attempt on the sacred vine.

6 Greek murderers used to cut off the extremities, such as the ears and noses, of their victims, fasten them on a string, and tie the string round the necks and under the armpits of the murdered men. One motive assigned for this custom, and probably the original one, was the wish by thus mutilating the dead man to weaken him so that he, or rather his ghost, could not take vengeance on his murderer (ἵνα, φασίν, ἀσθενὴς γένοιτο πρὸς τὸ ἀντιτίσασθαι τὸν φονέα, Scholiast on Soph. El. 445; διὰ τούτων ὥσπερ τὴν δύναμιν ἐκείνων [scil. τῶν ἀναιρεθέντων] ἀφαιρούμενοι, διὰ τὸ μὴ παθεῖν ἐς ὕστερόν τι δεινὸν παρ᾽ ἐκείνων, Suidas, s.v. μασχαλισθῆναι. On this barbarous custom see the Scholiast on Soph. El. 445; Suidas, s.v. μασχαλισθῆναι; Hesychius and Photius, Lexicon, s.v. μασχαλίσματα;; Scholiast on Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.477. According to one account (Scholiast on Soph. El. 445), the murderer fastened the extremities of his victim about his own person, but the better attested and more probable account is that he tied them about the mutilated body of his victim. Compare E. Rohde, Psyche(3), i.322-326; Jebb on Soph. El. 445, with the Appendix, pp. 211ff. The practice is perhaps illustrated by an original drawing in the Ambrosian manuscript of the Iliad, which represents the Homeric episode of Dolon (Hom. Il. 10.314ff.); in the drawing the corpse of the slain Dolon is depicted shorn of its feet and hands, which lie beside it, while Ulysses holds Dolon's severed head in his hand. See Annali dell' Instituto di Correspondenza Archeologica (Rome, 1875), tav. d'agg. R.; Baumeister, Denkmäler des klassischen Altertums, i.460ff., fig. 506. It appears to be a widespread belief that the ghost of one who has died a violent death is dangerous to his slayer, but that he can be rendered powerless for mischief by maiming his body in such a way as would have disabled him in life. For example, some of the Australian aborigines used to cut off the thumbs of the right hands of dead enemies to prevent their ghosts from throwing spears. See A. Oldfield, “The Aborigines of Australia,” Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, iii. (1865) p. 287. In Travancore the spirits of murderers who have been hanged are thought to be very mischievous; hence, in order to prevent them from doing harm, it used to be customary to cut off the heels of the criminal with a sword or to hamstring him as he swung on the gallows. See S. Mateer, The Land of Charity (London, (1871), pp. 203ff. In Armenia, when a person falls sick soon after the death of a member of the family, it is supposed that the sickness is caused by the dead man, who cannot rest in his grave until he has drawn away one of his kinsfolk to the spirit land. To prevent this catastrophe, the body of the deceased is disinterred and decapitated, and to make assurance doubly sure the head is smashed or a needle is stuck into it and into the heart. See Manuk Abeghian, Der armenische Volksglaube (Leipsig, 1899), p. 11. In some parts of West Africa it is similarly customary to disinter and decapitate a corpse of a person whose ghost is supposed to be causing sickness, “because the deceased, having his head cut off, will not have the same strength as before, and consequently will not be in a position to trouble him (the patient).” See J. B. Labat, Relation Historique de l'Ethiopie Occidentale (Paris, 1732), i.208.

7 So Orestes, driven mad by the Furies of his murdered mother, is said to have recovered his senses on biting off one of his own fingers (Paus. 8.34.2). By the sacrifice he may be supposed to have appeased the anger of his mother's ghost, who was thought to be causing his madness. Compare Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, iii.240ff.

8 The king thus done to death was perhaps supposed to die in the character of the god; for Dionysus himself was said to have been rent in pieces by the Titans. See Adonis, Attis, Osiris, 3rd ed. ii.98ff.; Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i.24ff.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (Sir James George Frazer)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Phrygia (Turkey) (4)
Egypt (Egypt) (4)
Asia (3)
India (India) (2)
Thrace (Greece) (1)
Syria (Syria) (1)
Prague (Czech Republic) (1)
Nysa (Turkey) (1)
Lydia (Turkey) (1)
Indus (1)
Greece (Greece) (1)
Caucasus (1)
Caspian Sea (1)
Bactria (Afghanistan) (1)
Armenia (Armenia) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (10 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 957
  • Cross-references to this page (8):
  • Cross-references in notes to this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: