The Derveni Krater




It has usually been claimed that Dionysos was a late arrival among the Greek gods, on the grounds that the XII Olympians as known to Homer do not yet (or ever) admit or know of Dionysos, and that his cult-places seem to point to the north (Thrace and Macedonia), to Asia Minor, or to Asia. Evidence has come to light, however, from the Mycenaean Linear-B tablets, to show that Dionysos was already known in Greece before 1200 B.C. at Pylos (the home of Nestor in the Iliad of Homer), as DI-WO-NI-SO-JO .


: There are two (incompatible) stories, one obviously a Theban story, the other Orphic in origin:

  • (1) DIONYSOS, son of ZEUS and SEMELE,

    princess of Thebes (daughter of Kadmos and Harmonia, and thus the granddaughter of Ares and Aphrodite, and great-granddaughter of Poseidon (through the line Poseidon 5 Agenor 5 Kadmos). Poseidon had had relations with Libya, who was a daughter of Epaphus, son of Io and Zeus, and thus Semele is great-great-great grandaughter of Zeus too. Angry (as usual) that ZEUS had been fooling around and gotten a girl pregnant, HERA disguised herself as a nurse of Semele (BEROE) and talked Semele into asking her lover Zeus to show himself to her in his full heavenly glory. After much whining he did so, and Semele was consumed by the divine emanations (or a thunderbolt). Dionysos was six months along at the time, and Hermes snatched him up (cf. Apollo and Coronis) and sewed him up in Zeus' thigh, from which he was born three months later (cf. Athena from Zeus' forehead). Semele had a tomb in THEBES, which is in the orchestra and referred to in Euripides play, the Bacchae. Her sisters (Autonoe, Ino, and Agave) were not prepared to believe that their sister's lover was Zeus, or that Dionysos was at least semi-divine. This is the reason why Dionysos visits Thebes in the Bacchae. Dionysos later rescued his mother from Hades, and she was installed in heaven under the name THYONE.

  • (2) DIONYSOS, son of Zeus and PERSEPHONE.

    In this story Persephone slept with Zeus in the form of a serpent, and the `original' name of the child was Zagreus. But at HERA's instigation the TITANS seized the child, tore him apart, and ate him (cannibalism). Only his heart was preserved, and Athena took it to Zeus,
    (a) who swallowed it (as he swallowed Metis, Athena's mother);
    (b) who served it up to Semele in a drink, which made her pregnant.

    The result was DIONYSUS, the `TWICE-BORN' (one of his cult-titles at Thebes).
  • Dionysus was born (alphabetically) at Dracanum, Icarus, Naxos and on a Mount Nysa (which is apparently in Ethiopia, Libya, India, Thrace, or somewhere else). Apparently Dionysos was raised by Nymphs on this Mount Hyades (though he was also raised elsewhere by Aunt Ino, who was given the child by Hermes; and also at Macris in Euboea).


(Homeric Hymn to Dionysos, Hymn I): One day the god, who was on the Island of Icarus, was captured by Tyrrhenian pirates, who had agreed to give him passage to Naxos, but decided to hold him for ransom instead (Arion and the dolphin story: Herodotus I). Since he was (of course!) very handsome, they also tried to rape him. Suddenly flutes were heard; ivy and grapevines fouled the oars and sails; wild beasts appeared on the deck (lions, panthers, bears). The sailors jumped into the sea, but were transformed into dolphins. One of them was put in the sky as a constellation (Delphinus) as a warning to sailors to behave.


Hera finally caught up with young Dionysos, and like 4x great-grandmother Io, he goes mad. He runs away from
his nurses (a) to Egypt; (b) through Syria; (c) Phrygia (where Cybele (=Rhea) cured him of his madness).
He adopted Phrygian clothing out of gratitude. He even visited India at some point (wild ecstatic dancing).


He and his women are frightened at `male aggression' and run away into the sea (near Thasos) where they
are put up for the night in the home of THETIS.


The story of Dionysos and his first-cousin PENTHEUS, king of Thebes, and the god's revenge for his own and his mother’s
disgrace at the hands of his family. The story is told in full in Euripides' last play The Bacchae (produced in 405 B.C.).

[Separate Outline provided in this collection]



January 23, 2010 9:52 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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