Oh, Thebes, nurse of Semele, crown your hair with ivy! Grow green with bryony! Redden with berries! O city, with boughs of oak and fir, come dance the dance of god! Fringe your skins of dappled fawn with tufts of twisted wool! Handle with holy care the violent wand of god! And let the dance begin! He is Bromius who runs to the mountain! To the mountain! Where the throng of women waits, driven from shuttle and loom, possessed by Dionysos!Dionysos is a strange god. Although he is best known as the god of wine, he is also a vegetation deity, a god of the liquid element, a death god, a god who comes into and changes, often irrevocably, the normal community life, and lastly the god of the theatre. His role as vegetation deity is obvious; he introduced the grapevine and taught the secrets of its cultivation and of fermenting wine. He is also associated with the fir tree and with ivy-- his symbol the thrysus, which his worshippers carry, is a branch or stalk of fennel tipped with ivy leaves or sometimes a pine cone. He is often paired with Demeter, goddess of grain.
Euripidies, The Bacchae, trans. Richmond Lattimore
Water is also a part of Dionysos's domain. The myth of Lycurgus, related in the Iliad, tells how a young Dionysos and his foster mothers were attacked and chased by the impious Lycurgus. Dionysos fled into the sea and was sheltered by Thetis. The god is also a sailor; there is a myth which tells how he was once kidnapped by pirates and taken aboard a boat. The god then turned the pirates into dolphins. The sea is a refuge for Dionysos. Water, according to W. F. Otto, is the element in which Dionysos feels at home, as like him it betrays a dual nature: being bright, joyous, and vital for life, while also having a side that is dark, mysterious and deadly.
But those at whose hands Persephone accepts atonement for her ancient grief, their souls in the ninth year she sends up again to the sun of this world � and for all time to come they are called of men holy heroes.
Pindar, fragment quoted by Plato.
In Orphic theology, Dionysos is the son of Persephone, Queen of the underworld, rather than Semele. Zeus remains his father; he is said to have impregnated his daughter Persephone in the form of a snake. The Orphics both identified the soul as separate from the body, and gave a reason for it being present in the body: it is being punished. The reason for the punishment is alluded to in the passage above. The ancient grief of Persephone, according to one arguement, is sorrow for the death of her son Dionysos at the hands of the Titans. Humans pay the punishment because they were formed from the Titan�s ashes and have a Titanic nature. By living an Orphic life and avoiding the bloodshedding which is the legacy of the Titans, humans may pay the penalty and achieve freedom.
It has been suggested that every tragic hero who suffers and dies on stage at the Dionysia, the great dramatic festival at Athens, is in fact Dionysos himself, being killed. In conjunction with this, it has also been proposed that the sacrifice plot was the original plot of tragedy, and the festival of the Dionysia honoured Dionysos by re-enacting his death. It is interesting to note that a surprising number of children are killed in tragedy, as the child-god himself was killed. The most obvious parallel is with Atreus, who killed the children of Thyestes, cooked them, and then fed them to their father. This story is told in lost plays and is mentioned in Aeschylus's Agamemnon. Medea kills her children to revenge herself on Jason in the Medea of Euripides, Heracles kills his wife and children in a fit of madness in his play, also by Euripides, and Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigeneia to Artemis, as is told in Aeschylus's Agamemnon, among other places.
And there takes place every other year during the Agriona a flight and pursuit of these women by a priest of Dionysos holding a sword. And he is permitted to kill anyone he catches, and in our own time Zolius the priest did so.According to legend, the daughters of Minyas refused to take a part in the dances in Dionysos' honour. In revenge, the god drove them mad. They developed a craving for human flesh, and drew lots to determine whose child they would devour. Leukippe drew the unlucky lot, and the Minyades tore her son Hippasus to pieces and ate him, raw. The women were later driven away, and the god Hermes transformed them into owls and bats.
Plutarch, Quaest. Graec.
The women were given the name Oleiai, or "Destructive Ones". The supposed descendants of this family retained the name, and Plutarch records that their banishment was re-enacted in a perverse, bloody ritual in which they were chased and occasionally, killed.