This little project of mine keeps getting crazier and crazier. I am overwhelmed with information and trying to keep focus.

I am going to take this opportunity while I am researching the history of Greek wine culture to talk about the god they associated with the vine: Dionysus.

Tracing his origins have led me down an ancient messy hedonistic path that is full of mystery and decadence.

The stories of Dionysus are very cool. And the history of his associations is an adventure film in the making.

There are various stories of how Dionysus came to be but first lets talk about how far back his name goes.

“DI WO NI SO JO;” this is how the Ancient Minoans called their god of the vine. This is as far back as history has given us as to his origins. The name has been found on Tablets in the ruins of Crete and there are indications of his presence in the Mycenaean civilization following the Minoan’s demise.

What is interesting about this is that he was thought of as an alien God by the Greeks we know of today that created the Olympian Pantheon (Pan was another).

They believed that he was an import from afar arriving late to the Olympians, hailing from the west from place called Nysa. Nysa is what is thought to be Ethiopia today. Some also believe it to be Arabia among other far-off lands including Egypt. There are actually definite similarities between Dionysus and a handful of gods from other cultures.

This idea of a foreign God making his way into Greek culture is supported by the plethora of stories about Dionysus and how he came to be according to the Greek myth.

Generally this is what happened:

Dionysus was born of Zeus and either Persephone, queen of the underworld or Semele daughter of a king. Either way Zeus got one of them pregnant. And Hera, his wife, went APE.

According to the many stories a couple things happened here but generally Hera went out for vengeance and tried to have baby Dionysus killed. In one story Hera came to earth from mount Olympus disguised as nurse and befriended Semele gaining her trust so that she would spill the beans about being preggy with Zeus’ bundle. After succeeding Hera (the nurse) pretended to not believe her and sewed the seeds of doubt in Semele’s mind.

The doubt got to Semele and she called upon Zeus to show his true self to prove he was the baby daddy. He was sad to do so but did anyway knowing that to show a God’s true self to a human would mean the humans immediate death. When he exposed his true self in all his lightening bolt glory she was overwhelmed and died.

Zeus took the unborn Dionysus from her belly and sewed him into his thigh. Months later he was born from Zeus’ thigh on a mountain far away called Pramnos.

Pretty wild stuff.

The other version has Persephone as the mother. When Hera finds out she sends her Titans to the underworld to lure the baby Dionysus after he is born with toys and rip him to shreds and eat him.

The succeed but right before they destroy the baby’s heart Zeus arrives with bolts of lightening and…Zeus driving the Titans away and takes the heart and gives it to Semele to eat to impregnate her and recreate Dionysus in the womb.



Pretty cool.

But why is he the God of Wine?

When Dionysus grows up he learns how to cultivate the vine and extract wine from the juice of the grape. This becomes his attribute. What solidifies him as the god of wine is how he spreads the knowledge to the human world.

A couple things happen here.

Fist of all Zeus put the care of him in the hands of Hermes the messenger God to hide him from the still-pissed Hera. Hermes takes the infant to Nysa (a far off land) to be raised by rain nymphs also called Hyades. After he has grown Zeus rewards the Nymphs with their own cluster of stars called the…wait for it… Hyades.

There are also stories of him being raised as a girl to hide him from Hera. This explains the many depictions of Dionysus as very effeminate.

Hera finds the boy in Nysa and strikes him with madness sending him wandering around the world. In Phrygia, which is part of Anatolia; now modern day Turkey, he meets the Earth Goddess Cybele. She teaches him how to control the madness and sends him on a sojourn across India where he teaches humans how to make wine.

Bear with me…

His travels at some point finally take him to Greece where he comes in the form of a human. A man named Icarius and his daughter Erigone take him in and in return for their hospitality he gives them the secret of winemaking.

He holds his promise to Dionysus to spread the craft among his fellow humans and in turn teaches the Shepards living near him who love the drink but eventually fall into madness (get drunk) and believe Icarius has poisoned them.

In a rage they beat him to death and hide his body. For days Erigone cannot find her father until their dog Morea leads her to his body. She hangs herself in despair but earns her place in the sky along with her father and their faithful dog.

And here is where wine spreads itself into Greek culture. History and mythology tell us various versions of these stories. I just tried to generalize and sum it up for you guys. I hope I didn’t confuse you.

I am learning as I go myself and am having a great time. I think it is time for a Dionysus tattoo.

Next post I might veer off my Greek course and do a little science of tasting. I have ADD wine love. Cheers!

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