Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Dionysus, the God of Wine-Making

T HE gods of Mount Olympus did not always remain high up in heaven, out of the reach and sight of men. The Greeks told many stories of what they did on earth as well. You have read that Artemis loved to wander over the mountains, and hunt the deer in the forests. Hephaestus had his workshops wherever there were great volcanoes. Hermes often appeared to men as a messenger from Zeus; and the other gods also would often come down in the shape of men or women to give advice or reproof to their favorites.

But the god Dionysus did much more than this. For many years he lived on earth among men He was the son of Zeus, though he was brought up on earth by forest-spirits. Perhaps it was from these that he learned to love fresh growing plants and climbing vines full of fruit; but however that may be, he became the god of the grape and of wine. When he was grown, he did not join the other gods on Mount Olympus, but set out on a long, long journey, through all the countries of the world, teaching men everywhere how to plant and tend the grapevine, and how to press the juice from the ripe fruit, and make it into wine.

With him, in his journeys, went bands of strange wood-spirits, who danced and made music before him, and waited upon him. Wherever he and his band were well treated, the god was kind and generous to all, and taught many useful things. But sometimes the kings did not want their people to learn the new things which he taught, and then he would punish the selfish rulers very severely.

At one time during his journey, Dionysus was wandering alone upon a sea-beach, when a ship came sailing by near the shore. The men in the ship were pirates; and as soon as they saw the beautiful youth they sent men ashore, who seized him, and carried him aboard the ship. They expected to sell him as a slave in some distant country, for in those days any one who happened to be made a prisoner could be sold into slavery. But the pirates soon discovered that their prisoner was not an ordinary person. When they tried to tie him so that he could not escape, the ropes fell off his hands and feet of their own accord. Then suddenly the masts and sails became covered with climbing vines full of bunches of rich, ripe grapes, and streams of bubbling wine flowed through the ship. This was all very astonishing to the pirates; and when the prisoner changed from a slender young man into a roaring lion, and sprang upon their captain, they became very much frightened. When a great bear also appeared in their midst, they could stand it no longer, and all jumped overboard except one who had wanted to set the prisoner free. As he, too, was about to jump, Dionysus changed back into his own form, and told him to stay and have no fear The god even took pity on the others, and saved them from drowning by changing them into a sort of fish called dolphins.

When Dionysus had finished his long journey he went up to Mount Olympus, and took his place among the other gods. The people of the earth worshiped him in temples, as they did the other gods; but besides this they held great festivals in his honor each year. One of these festivals came in the springtime, when the vines began to grow; and another when the grapes had ripened, and the wine had been made. At these festivals the people had great processions, and men would go about singing and dancing as the wood-spirits had sung and danced before Dionysus on his journey Poets, too, would sing verses to the music of the lyre, and in these they told about the adventures of the god. At length they began to have theaters, and regular performances in them, at these festivals. So Dionysus became not only the god of the grape and of wine, but also of the theater.

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