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Dionysus Myth And Cult Pdf

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Detail from a wine cup attributed to Phei- dippos ca.

Dionysus. Myth and Cult- Walter F. Otto

To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Download Free PDF. Walter F. Jan N. Download PDF. A short summary of this paper. The first modern, book-length study of the god Dionysos, Walter F.

Otto's Dionysos. Mythos und Kultus of that fateful year , is not a very big book. Yet its pioneering character and its modern influence warrant a fresh look at this, Otto's Meisterwerk.

I will then survey the rest of the book and concentrate on a few questions, which have not received sufficient attention in recent times, namely the nature of Semele and the festival of the Agrionia. I will conclude by asking if Otto's book can still be considered a valuable contribution to the study of Dionysos. Myth and RitualAlthough Otto's first chapter is called 'Mythos und Kultus,' it actually offers much more than a discussion of these two well-known concepts.

Otto starts by claiming that the study of ancient Greek religion wavers between two opposing schools, the anthropological and philological ones. The first school compares the beliefs and practices of 'primitives' and outlying European peasants. It tries to go back to the earliest stages of a divinity and looks for its primeval uses, an approach that has given us terms like Vegetationsgott, 'fertility god' Not unreasonably, Otto fulminates against an all too historicising approach that leaves us only rather blutleere Schemen That is why we also have to take into account what myth tells about the gods From a contemporary point of view, it is highly interesting to note that Otto, who had followed Usener's lectures in Bonn, 8 took myth very seriously.

He noted that in the cult of Dionysos, but also in that of other gods, myths often reflected rituals But whereas it is often naively assumed that rituals reflect myths, the neuere Wissenschaft explains myth from ritual, an idea that Otto seems to accept in the case of aetiological myths In the end, though he rejects a dependency of myth on ritual or ritual on myth But what is his alternative?

Otto first discusses what Kultus means according to him. Mythos only started to originate when Kultus had lost its freshness 24 , and it is also more informative as the forms of the cult are often less known to us; in fact, it is the most important aspect of Greek religion Sometimes, Otto seems to identify cult and myth, as when he notes in his discussion of the scapegoat ritual: Ihr Mythos war die kultische Handlung selbst 40 ; both, in fact, sind aus demselben Geiste geboren In any case, Otto stresses that we cannot separate myth from cult, and thus comes close to a position defended, in a well-known article, by Henk Versnel, who also noted the 6 Otto , , , cf.

Cancik , Otto's Dionysos similarity, to some extent, with Otto's position. Dionysos' BiographyHaving looked at myth and ritual, as we would say today but Otto also uses Usener's terminology of Heilige Handlung where we would say 'ritual' , 11 albeit in a rather unusual manner, Otto proceeded with a discussion of Dionysos along rather traditional lines.

Otto rightly observes that Homer knows the cult and mythology of Dionysos well, from which he concludes that he must have been indigenous at least at the end of the second millennium 56 , a date confirmed by the discovery of Dionysos' name in the Linear-B tablets.

We should note the date proposed by Otto, as Cancik reproached him for never mentioning a date, 12 which is clearly not true.

As regarding Dionysos' place of origin, Otto rightly remained sceptical of the possibility of determining a precise place and rightly rejected the current proposals of Thracia and Asia Minor as unconvincing 60 61 Otto's subsequent discussion of Semele 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 is neglected in recent discussions, just as is Semele herself.

Otto does not figure in the study of heroine cult by Larson, who has dedicated some unsatisfactory pages to her, nor does Semele even figure in the index of Seaford's recent book on Dionysos. Thebes clearly belongs to the oldest tradition, even though many other places claimed to be the birthplace of the god, such as Naxos, Kos and Ikaros, in the later seventh-century Homeric Hymn to Dionysos A West.

She clearly was still a girl when Zeus approached her, as Euripides Ba. Of the names of these sisters -Semele, Ino, Agaue and Autonoethe last three are all connected with the sea, Ino being a marine goddess, 17 and Agaue and Autonoe being names of Nereids West ad loc. This seems to suggest that the names have been invented relatively recently, and that Semele does not originally belong to this group.

With his attention to myth and ritual, Otto 64 notes that Semele is treated differently from the other three sisters in Pindar P. In Thebes, Semele may well have played an important role in such maenadic thiasoi, as Euripides Ph.

We find the name Thyone first in Sappho As his parents are Zeus and Hera, Sappho clearly has the same Lesbian divine triad in mind as Alcaeus The name Thyone for Dionysos' mother also occurs in the somewhat later ending of the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos D 12 West , was probably mentioned in Aeschylus' Semele or the Watercarriers, 19 is certainly used by Pindar P. Finally, Dionysos was worshipped as Thyonidas on Rhodes Hsch.

However, Panyassis fr. It can hardly be separated from the Thyiades, a different name of the maenads, 22 and the rather rare month name Thyios with its festival Thyia, which is attested in Elis Paus. Did the theme perhaps develop in Bacchic mysteries?

Euripides fr. The variety is once again an interesting illustration of the fact that in Greek mythology the names of women In any case, all agree that Semele perished through the lightning of Zeus, but that Dionysos was saved. There are a few Greek iconographic representations of her death, starting around BCE, but in Roman times Semele's death became a popular theme in art. On the other hand, according to Pausanias the tomb of Semele was found in the Lower Town near the Proetid Gate, a location that is confirmed by a passage from Hyginus that has been overlooked in the commentaries.

Hesiod already mentions her divine status, and this is confirmed by a series of later authors. Not only was the acropolis the most important place of Thebes, but its inhabitants could also see there the remains of a Mycenaean palace that had been destroyed by a big fire.

She is most likely an old goddess, who must be related to the Indo-European Plataia, 'Broad earth,' the eponymous nymph of Boeotian Plataiai and a consort of Zeus Paus. In any case, the evidence we have, however debated sometimes, clearly points into a different direction than Otto's insistence on Semele being a purely human girl Walter Burkert, who, strangely enough, discusses Dionysos twice in his history of Greek religion, situates the death of Semele in the maenadic complex, but that is hardly persuasive.

His birth suggests something of the ambivalent nature of Dionysos between Olympos and Thebes, order and disorder, nature and culture. After Semele, Otto proceeds to discuss the myths of Dionysos' epiphany. One must immediately grant him that in this respect he was ahead of his time, as he rejected the idea that the myths of Dionysos' arrival reflected a historical truth 72 , as Welcker and Rohde had argued before him and Nilsson still maintained after him.

Cult and myth thus reflected the same nature of the god The arrival was imagined in all kinds of ways, which Otto persuasively analyses in a kind of structural approach avant la lettre; especially the role of noise as breaking normality is interestingly elaborated Janko on Il. What does all this emotion and noise announce? Otto now combines a number of aspects of Dionysiac myth and ritual, a way of proceeding that we find repeated in Versnel's excellent discussion of the Bacchae.

On the one hand, there is the appearance of milk, honey and wine that shows that the god has manifested himself. Their appearance is a typical product of the mythical imagination, even if later on transposed into cult, at least to some extent, as we do not find Dionysiac wells of milk or water.

Yet, claims Otto 96 , the splendour of the wonderful gifts is suddenly overcast by a profound darkness, which is expressed in all kinds of ritual acts. As before, Otto stresses the oppositions within the persona of Dionysos, as he is both the nurturing and enchanting god as well as the 'eater of raw flesh' and 'render of men.

This is of course not true, 51 as the epithet is already used by Homer Il. Similarly unconvincing is his connection of Dionysos with the Erinyes because both share the epithet melanaigis, 52 and his comparison of Euripides' expression 'hellish Bacchants' in the Hecuba Admittedly, Dionysos is connected to Persephone by the Orphics, 53 but that connection should not be generalised to Greek religion tout court.

The only certain connection between Dionysos and death seems to be found on the black seems to be on funerary black-figure lekythoi, but even here the god disappears with the arrival of redfigure. Cancik argues not only that Otto much too often uses the term grausam, 'cruel,' in his analysis, but also that the festival is attested only in Plutarch, far too late a testimony to be valid for the Urzeit. Its ancient character is not proven and the Lycurgus myth from the Iliad wrongly adduced in this connection.

Let us take a fresh look at the festival. The first aspect that must strike every student that comes new to the problem is that all recent scholars call the festival Agrionia in their texts. Yet the tradition also presents the name Agriania, though the variants Agrionia Plu. The festival is called Agrionia in Boeotia. Here it is attested in Orchomenos Plu. Plutarch Ant.

On the other hand, the festival is called Agriania in Dorian areas. Here we find the festival itself mentioned only for Argos, but the corresponding month name Agrianios has recently been found there as well, as was to be expected. The fact that the festival is attested rather lately is no argument against Otto, and in this respect Cancik is certainly in the wrong.

Now what do we know about the festival? As far as I can see, we have more detailed information only for four places: Peloponnesian Argos and Boeotian Orchomenos, Chaironeia and Thebes. This is not the place to analyse in detail all the myths and rituals of the festival.

Here I want to concentrate especially on the structure of the whole and its message. Let us start with the Boeotian ones as they are the most detailed.

In Orchomenos the Agrionia was connected with the myth of the Minyads. The myth focuses on the refusal of the daughters of Minyas to join the other women in the Dionysiac dances.

When they finally gave in and joined the other women in the mountains, they were chased away, as they had killed the son of one of them, and changed into birds. In the ritual we hear of women from a specific Orchomenian family, called the Oleiai, who are pursued by a priest who tries to catch them. In Plutarch's time, the priest Zoilos was swept away by Dionysiac frenzy and actually killed one of the women.

Dionysus : myth and cult

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I I DIONYSUS MYTHANDCULT Dionysus. Detail fromawinecup attributed to Phei​- dippos(caB.C.).TheMetropolitanMu- seum of Art.

Walter F. Otto’s Dionysos (1933)

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His thyrsus , sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey, is both a beneficent wand and a weapon used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. As Eleutherios "the liberator" , his wine, music and ecstatic dance free his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are believed to become possessed and empowered by the god himself. In his religion, identical with or closely related to Orphism , Dionysus was believed to have been born from the union of Zeus and Persephone , and to have himself represented a chthonic or underworld aspect of Zeus.

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His birth alone sets him apart. Snatched prematurely from the womb of his dying mother and carried to term by his father, he was born from the paternal thigh. Perceived as both man and animal, male and effeminate, youthful as well as mature, he is the most versatile and elusive of all Greek gods.


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