Dionysus is an intriguing Greek god from the ancient world. One that still to this very day, is time honored and revered in all sorts of art and mediums. He appears in TV shows, movies, books both fiction and philosophical, and permeates throughout our entire culture.
Even when Dionysus is not present, there is often talk in art about other works of the ensuing Western conflict that appears in almost all Western art – the conflict of order and chaos. Apollo is often represented as order in art. While Dionysus is the chaos, as is befitting the god of ritual madness.
How did Dionysus come to be though? How did this strange, drunk god of revelry come to be born in our world?
The myth of Dionysus tells a tale of an affair. Zeus, the god of gods, had a relationship with a mortal woman named Semele. During their time together, Semele became impregnated by Zeus, a baby began to grow in her and her fate became tied with the gods themselves. Hera, the wife of Zeus, in her jealousy disguised herself as an old crone. Or in some other tales Hera comes to Semele as a nurse during Semele’s pregnancy.
Herea breeds doubt into Semele that Zeus was indeed the father. Because Hera knows what is to come in the poor fate that Semele finds herself trotting willfully into. In desperation for proof, Semele begs of Zeus to come and show his godhood to them, to prove that he is indeed the god of gods up on high. Zeus begs her not to ask this of him, but in her doubt, Semele will not relent.
Zeus eventually caves to Semele’s pleading and comes down from the heavens wreathed in bolts of lighting and clouds of thunder. Semele is given verified proof that Zeus is indeed the father of her unborn child. However, as Hera had likely planned it, no mortal can witness an undisguised god without dying. Semele is killed by witnessing Zeus descend, and her baby begins to die inside of her.
Zeus opens up the womb of Semele and cuts open his thigh. When he does this, he places the unborn baby into his thigh and sews up the wound. There, the baby is given the nutrients of the king of gods and its life is saved.
Eventually this baby will be born once it is full grown, and that baby’s name is Dionysus. Because of these strange events around his birthing, Dionysus is also known as the twice born god – born once from mortals and once from the gods.
This traumatic experience could explain quite bit about Dionysus feverish nature, and perhaps explain some of his insanity as well. In other stories, Dionysus is born of Demeter and Zeus. Simialrly, a jealous Hera comes to kill Dionysus. Hera summons Titans to rip the baby to pieces.
In this alternative, Zeus comes to the rescue and turns the titans to dust with his lightning bolts. However, he is too late. Dionsysus has been killed. Zeus takes Dionysus’s heart and embeds into his thigh to regrow the dead god child. In this way, Dionysus is still the twice born god.