God of:
Wine, theater, ecstasy, fertility and madness
The Thunderer, The Lord, The Ruler, The Liberator
Grapevine, leopard skin, leopard, panther, tiger
Roman Name:
Priapus, Oinopion, many others
Children of Zeus (half-siblings)

Dionysos, better spelled as Dionysus (Greek: Διονυσος) was the god of fertility, revelry, wine and madness; later considered a patron of the arts. He has a dual nature: on one side he brings joy and divine ecstasy and on the other side he wroughts brutal, unthinking rage. Symbolically, his nature reflects the effects of inebriation. If he so chooses, Dionysos could drive a man mad. No normal fetters can hold him or his followers. Dionysus' wife is Ariadne. He invented wine and spread the art of tending grapes.


Birth of Dionysus out of Zeus's thigh

Birth of Dionysus

Conception and Birth

Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Semele. Zeus came to Semele in the night, invisible, felt only as a divine presence. Semele was pleased to be a lover of a god, even though she did not know which one. Word soon got around and Hera quickly assumed who was responsible. Coming to Semele in disguise, Hera convinced her she should see her lover as he really was. When Zeus next came to her she made him show his true form. As mortals are incapable to see the 'true' and divine forms of the gods, she was burnt to ashes.

Infancy and Childhood

According to the myth, Zeus gave the infant Dionysus into the charge of Hermes. One version of the story is that Hermes took the boy to King Athamas and his wife Ino, Dionysus' aunt. Hermes bade the couple raise the boy as a girl, to hide him from Hera's wrath. Another version is that Dionysus was taken to the rain-nymphs of Nysa, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their care Zeus rewarded them by placing them as the Hyades among the stars (see Hyades star cluster). Other versions have Zeus giving him to Rhea, or to Persephone to raise in the Underworld, away from Hera. Alternatively, he was raised by Maro.

Dionysus in Greek mythology is a god of foreign origin, and while Mount Nysa is a mythological location, it is invariably set far away to the east or to the south. The Homeric hymn to Dionysus places it "far from Phoenicia, near to the Egyptian stream." Others placed it in Anatolia, or in Libya ('away in the west beside a great ocean'), in Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus).

Later Life

When Dionysus grew up, he discovered the culture of the vine and the mode of extracting its precious juice; but Hera struck him with madness, and drove him forth a wanderer through various parts of the earth. In Phrygia the goddess Cybele, better known to the Greeks as Rhea, cured him and taught him her religious rites, and he set out on a progress through Asia teaching the people the cultivation of the vine. The most famous part of his wanderings is his expedition to India, which is said to have lasted several years. According to a legend, when Alexander the Great reached a city called Nysa near the Indus river, the locals said that their city was founded by Dionysus in the distant past and their city was dedicated to the god Dionysus. Returning in triumph he undertook to introduce his worship into Greece, but was opposed by some princes who dreaded its introduction on account of the disorders and madness it brought with it (e.g. Pentheus or Lycurgus).Dionysus was exceptionally attractive. One of the Homeric hymns recounts how, while disguised as a mortal sitting beside the seashore, a few sailors spotted him, believing he was a prince. They attempted to kidnap him and sail him far away to sell for ransom or into slavery. They tried to bind him with ropes, yet no rope could hold him. Dionysus turned into a fierce lion and unleashed a bear on board, killing those he came into contact with. Those who jumped off the ship were mercifully turned into dolphins. The only survivor was the helmsman, Acoetes, who recognized the god and tried to stop his sailors from the start.

In a similar story, Dionysus desired to sail from Icaria to Naxos. He then hired a Tyrrhenian pirate ship. However, when the god was on board, they sailed not to Naxos but to Asia, intending to sell him as a slave. So Dionysos turned the mast and oars into snakes, and filled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes so that the sailors went mad and, leaping into the sea, were turned into dolphins.


Pentheus was the king of Thebes at the time of Dionysos' worship. During his reign, no one in Thebes was allowed to worship Dionysos. Pentheus doubted Dionysos' divinity. He thought the person he was dealing with was not a god. So Dionysos made him pay: in disguise, he led Pentheus onto a mountain where a religious cermony was taking place and had him watch from up on a tree. Dionysus' followers mistook Pentheus for a wild animal and Pentheus was torn to pieces as part of their ritual. When Dionysos was satisfied that Pentheus was gone, he brought his followers back to their senses.

The Giant War

Despite merely being the god of wine, Dionysus fought in the Giant War. While Eurytos was the only one of the Gigantes Dionysus killed (which he did with his thyrsos) he did wound some of them and kill several of their allies such as the Gegenees (Earthborn). Dionysus also slowed down other Gigantes.

''"Dionysos slew Eurytos with his thyrsos."
-Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 37 (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)

"Bakkhos repaid the stubble of snakehaired Gigantes, a conquering hero with a tiny manbreaking wand, when he cast the battling ivy against Porphyrion, when he buffelted Enkelados and drove Alkyoneus with a volley of leaves: then the wands flew in showers, and brought the Gegenees (Earthborn) down in defence of Olympos, when the coiling sons of Gaia with two hundred hands [ie there were a hundred Gigantes], who pressed the starry vault with manynecked heads, bent the knee before a flimsy javelin of vineleaves or a spear of ivy. Not so great a swarm fell to the fiery thunderbolt as fell to the manbreaking thyrsus."
-Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25. 85 ff

"Fire was also a weapon of Bakkhos. He cast a torch in the air to destroy his adversaries: through the high paths ran the Bakkhic flame leaping and curling over itself and shooting down corrosive sparks on the Gigante's limbs; and there was a serpent with a blaze in his threatening mouth, half-burnt and whistling with a firescorched throat, spitting out smoke instead of a spurt of deadly poison. There was infinite tumult. Bakkhos raised himself and lifted his fighting torch over the heads of his adversaries, and roasted the Gigantes' bodies with a great conflagration, an image on earth of the thunderbolt cast by Zeus. The torches blazed: fire was rolling all over the head of Enkelados and making the air hot, but it did not vanquish him - Enkelados bent not his knee in the steam of the earthly fire, since he was reserved for the thunderbolt. Vast Alkyoneus leapt upon Lyaios [Dionysos] armed with his Thrakian crags; he lifted over Bakkhos a cloudhigh peak of wintry Haimos.''
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48. 6 ff :

"My sons, make your attack with hightowering rocks against clustergarlanded Dionysos--catch this Indianslayer, this destroyer of my family, this son of Zeus, and let me not see him ruling with Zeus a bastard monarch of Olympos! Bind him, bind Bakkhos fast, that he may attend in the chamber when I bestow Hebe on Porphyrion as a wife, and give Kythereia to Khthonios, when I sing Brighteyes he bedfellow of Enkelados, and Artemis of Alkyoneus."

-Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48. 6 ff


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