Sunday, August 23, 2015

Obscure Myth Spotlight: REBIRTH OF DIONYSUS

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with Greek mythology. Later on, my interest in mythology expanded into Norse mythology, the King Arthur legends, and even now, I've begun to explore Egyptian mythology. My interest in these myths have led me to some fairly obscure stories that you don't usually see in mythology textbooks. I decided I'd share some of these unheard of tales on my blog in a series of posts called Obscure Myth Spotlights.

The first obscure myth I'd like to share with you relates to Dionysus, the god of wine, grapes, and drunkenness. Most textbooks detail Dionysus's fairly odd birth. Keep in mind, this is one of the more well-known Greek myths. Dionysus was one of the many children of Zeus, god of lightning, lord of the heavens, and king of the gods. Dionysus's mother was a mortal woman named Semele. When Zeus's wife Hera found out about his latest infidelity, she disguised herself as an old nurse and visited Semele. When Semele bragged about being pregnant with Zeus's child, Hera pretended not to believe her. She asked how Semele knew for sure that Zeus was the father if he had never shown Semele his true form. Semele began to doubt the identity of her child's father, and when Zeus visited Semele again, Semele demanded that he prove who he was by showing her his true godly form. Zeus initially refused, explaining that mortals couldn't survive seeing a god's true form. Semele insisted, and Zeus shed his mortal disguise. As expected, Semele was consumed by Zeus's lightning and died. To save their unborn child, Zeus removed the fetus from Semele's womb and inserted it into his own thigh until the child was ready to be born. That's the most common version of Dionysus's birth.

However, there's a lesser known story from Orphic Greek mythology that says Dionysus was born before Zeus's affair with Semele. According to this story, Zeus seduced Persephone by disguising himself as either Hades or a serpent. Persephone gave birth to Zeus's son Zagreus, who Zeus chose to be his heir. As expected, Hera decided to murder the child, colluding with the Titans to do so. The Titans were an older tribe of gods who were at war with the Olympians. Hera sent the Titans after Zagreus and they lured the child with toys. They tried to grab the baby, but Zagreus fled and changed into several different animals to try and escape. When he took the form of a bull, the Titans caught him and sliced him into pieces. The Titans ate all of Zagreus except his heart. Enraged by his son's murder, Zeus defeated the Titans with his thunderbolts and sent them to Tartarus. Zeus later took Semele as his lover, and he fed Zagreus's heart to her so that his son Zagreus could be reborn as Dionysus.

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