Dionysos was the son of Zeus and Semele. He was the god of wine, of growing grapes, of getting drunk, and generally having a good time.

He is usually shown with grapevines around him, or in his hair, and a cup of wine in his hand.

Myths of Dionysos

Once Dionysos was travelling in a ship and was captured by pirates. He turned the mast into grapevines, the oars into snakes, and the pirates into dolphins (see the picture on the kylix left).

Dionysos once punished Lycurgus, a king who refused to let him pass through his lands and imprisoned his followers. Dionysos miraculously freed his followers of their chains, and drove the king mad. Lycurgus chopped off his son's legs and one of his own, thinking he was cutting grapevines. The god also sent a severe drought on his land.

Dionysos by Caravaggio

Worship of Dionysos

Dionysos was much loved as the god of wine and merrymaking. He was followed everywhere by satyrs (half men half goats) and by the maenads. Maenads were women who got themselves into an ecstatic trance in their worship of the god. Priestesses of Dionysos would follow these same rites.

The Dionysia

Each March in Athens a festival of Dionysos - the Dionysia - was celebrated, with song, dance, sacrifices, and plays. The plays were held at the Theatre of Dionysos next to the Acropolis.


right: a priestess of Dionysos. She carries the thyrsus, the sacred wand wreathed in ivy and topped with a pine cone. Click here to see a sculpture of maenads at the Eden Project. At first Dionysos was not one of the gods of Olympus but he became so important he was allowed a special place there.