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Jennie Hall

The Merry Dionysos

Chapter I

A LONG time ago, among the woods of Greece, a little boy was born. The mother died before she saw her baby. The little fellow lay there alone. Zeus was sitting in Olympos and looking all over the world with his great slow eyes. He saw the boy.

"My dear little son!" he said. "No mother, and I, his father, so far away!"



He strode down the sky and took the wee baby in his great strong arms.

"He is very little," Zeus said, and smiled. "I will wrap him in a corner of the sky until he grows a bit."


The Head of Zeus

So there the baby lay sleeping for many days. The corner of the sky swung gently in the warm breeze. The clean air up there and the sun and the stillness were the very best things for babies. So when Zeus went, after a while, and unwrapped the boy and looked at him, the child laughed and clutched at the beard of Zeus, and Zeus smiled his slow smile and said:

"He is a happy little fellow."

He called Hermes and said to him:

"Take this baby to the nymphs yonder on Mount Nysa. Tell them to care well for him. We will call him Dionysos, 'The one from Nysa.' "

So Hermes took the baby and tossed him in his arms as he flew to Mount Nysa. Oh! it was a pretty place to live in. The great hill was covered with trees. Little brooks tumbled down the sides. There were caves with moss on the floor and vines hanging at the doors. As Hermes walked up the hillside among the trees he called:

"O nymphs of Nysa, come and see what I have brought you."

"What is it? What is it?" and from all the wood women came running.

They dropped their flowers as they ran. Some came from the river, and their bare bodies were dripping and shining with the water. Some came from their trees and they were waving branches over their heads. When they saw the baby, they all cried "Oh!" a thousand times and in a thousand ways.

"A baby!" "The big blue eyes!" "Is he for us?" "To keep?"

"Give him to me," said one, and she held out her arms to him.

He laughed and jumped into them.

"Bless the baby!" and off she ran to the cave.

All the others followed her to see the baby.

Hermes went back to the sky chuckling to himself: "He will be happy there."

And happy he was—rolling on the grass, snuggling up under flowers to sleep, swinging with a nymph in the very top of a tree. Pan and the satyrs used to come and play with him. They ran with him up the rough mountains. They took him to the darkest place of the woods and played on their pipes for him. Old Silenos taught him the names of trees and flowers, showed him where the wild strawberries grew, told him how the earth was made, and showed him what the fruits need to make them ripen.



Indeed, Dionysos could talk to trees and flowers as we people do to one another. He was the friend of all the things in the wood. When he saw a tree dying, he knew just what to do to make it well again.

Chapter II

One day, after Dionysos had grown to be quite a boy, he was wandering alone through the woods. He saw a great vine runnihg to the top of an elm tree. He had never before seen a vine like it. There were clusters of purple berries on it. They were grapes, but he did not know what they were. He tasted them; they were sweet and juicy. He studied the vine carefully to find what kind of soil it liked, how it held to the tree, and whether it needed shade.

"Good vine, I will come to see you again," he said. "But give me some berries to take to the nymphs."

He picked his hands full and started for the cave.

"Here are the sweetest berries you ever tasted!" he shouted when he saw the nymphs.

"Give us some!" they cried and snatched for them and laughed.

"Not until you say 'please,' " and he held them high over his head, laughing.

But he held them so tightly that the juice squeezed out and dropped from his hands. The nymphs caught it in their mouths. They opened their eyes wide when they tasted it.

"That is the best thing I ever tasted," cried one. "Give us more."

"They are all spoiled," Dionysos said, opening his hands and showing them. "Come, let us get some," and they all ran through the wood to the vine.

That was a merry feast they had. Dionysos looked around on the nymphs as they were eating.

"Oh, ho!" he laughed and pointed his finger at them. "See the purple on your lips and hands!"

They looked at one another and laughed. But they said:

"We don't care, the berries are good."

"I will go back and get a basket," said Dionysos. "We can take some home for supper."

How Silenos and the jolly satyrs smacked their lips over the purple grapes that night!

Chapter III

After that, Dionysos studied the vine more and more. He learned how to start new plants, how to make the grapes grow larger. He found that if he picked them and put them in the sun, they would become very sweet and would keep all through the winter. These raisins and the grapes he and his friends ate at their feasts. He remembered the sweet juice that he squeezed from the grapes on that first day.

"That would make a good drink," he thought.

He built a sort of press and squeezed the grapes in it. He caught the juice in a skin bottle. When he tasted it he smiled to himself and went to find the nymphs, carrying the full bottle.

"Come taste my wine," he called.

So the nymphs ran up to him and tasted the wine and clapped their hands and tasted again.

"Surely Zeus in Olympos never drank so sweet a drink," they said. "Dionysos, you shall be our wine-maker and always have wine ready for our feasts."

At one of these banquets Dionysos said:

"The raisins would be cleaner if they did not lie on the floor."

"Oh, it's all right," said the lazy satyrs.

But the next night, when all the people came to supper, there was a low table. The fruits were heaped on this. Beside it were couches of leaves. The nymphs and satyrs opened their mouths in wonder.

"This is a new way to eat," said Dionysos, as he lay down on the leaves.

He did another thing to make their banquets pleasanter. At one of their feasts he said:

"This goat-skin that we have our wine in is a great nuisance. See how Cora must always tie the mouth together. If she forgets to do that, the wine spills out. A wine skin ought to stand up."

The next day he came to the cave all covered with dirt. In his hands he was holding very carefully a big lump of clay. But when the nymphs looked at it closely they saw that it was thin, and that there was a great empty place inside.

"What are you going to do with that dirty thing?" they asked and held their robes away.

He laughed and told them to wait. He walked to the fire at the mouth of the cave. He set the clay down in the hottest place. Then he sat by it and watched it and turned it.

"It is growing red," the nymphs cried.

Dionysos only smiled and turned the clay again. The nymphs were soon tired of watching him.

"Oh, come and play!" they said.

"No," answered Dionysos, "I am busy; you run on."

And so they did. Late in the afternoon they came back. Dionysos walked toward them carrying the red clay thing.

"Drink from my jar," he said.

And sure enough, it was full of water.

"But the water will be muddy," they cried.

"Try it and see," he laughed.

"No, it is good and clean," they said in surprise. "Why, the clay is hard!"

"Yes, indeed," said Dionysos. "And see, it will stand alone and not spill," and he set it on the ground.

Then he and the nymphs and the satyrs joined hands and danced around it. And they made up a song somewhat like this:

"Dionysos is wiser than old Silenos. He found for us a new kind of berry. Wine and raisins he made for us. But this is the best thing of all—a wine skin out of clay that will not roll over and spill. Dionysos! Evoe, evoe! Dionysos!"


Chapter IV

At supper that night Dionysos was very sober.

"What is the matter?" asked his friends.

But he only shook his head. At last he said:

"Dear friends, I think I must leave you."

"Leave us? Where are you going?"

"You know how much happier and more comfortable we are since I found these grapes," and he took up a bunch of them.

"Oh, yes, Dionysos, have we not thanked you a thousand times?"

"Yes, you have indeed. I think, too, that this jar will be a pleasant thing to use. Well, if these things make us happy, I think they will make other people happy, too. So I am going to take a jar of wine and a basket of grapes and slips of the vine all over the world with me. I will plant the vine and teach people to make jars and to make wine."

"But think how we shall miss you, Dionysos," pleaded the nymphs.

"It will be very lonely without you," said old Silenos.

"Yes, I know. And I am sad, too, when I think of leaving you. But I must go and help others."

He would not listen to their pleadings.

"No, I must go," he said.

"Then we will go with you," they all cried. "We will all go together."

"Will you? Oh, then I am happy. All over the world, together!" and he laughed with joy and clapped his hands.

They all jumped up and danced around the cave, singing:

"All over the world together! We will teach men how to raise the grape. We will show them how to make jars out of clay. We will help them to make sweet wine. All over the world together! Oh, we are merry people!"

So they went. Every one took a jar of wine and a basket of grapes or raisins and slips of the vine. They were such gay, kind people that the animals of the forest loved them. That morning when they started, leopards and panthers and fawns and wild asses followed them from the wood.

As they were shouting and running along not far from their forest they saw a little mud-plastered house on a hillside. A young man was spading the ground.

"Hello!" shouted Dionysos, "what are you going to plant?"


"And what are you going to plant on the hill farther up there?"

"Nothing. Grain will not grow there. It is pasture for my sheep.''

"Come with me, my friend/'said Dionysos. "I will show you something."

"Yes, come with us," shouted all the nymphs and satyrs. "We will show you the finest thing you ever saw," and they laughed, thinking of the surprise they would give him.

As they walked up the hill, Dionysos handed the farmer a bunch of grapes. "See how you like these," he said.

The young fellow took them wonder-ingly. He tasted one — he stared; he tasted another.

"Why, this is food for the gods!" he cried.

That is what he called the people who lived in high Olympos —Zeus and Apollo and the others.

"Indeed it is," said all the merry folk. "Oh, this is a pleasant thing, to give these fine grapes to people," and they laughed at the joy of it. When they came to a young elm tree on the hillside, Dionysos stopped. He took the farmer's spade and dug a little hole.

"Do you see this little green twig? I will plant it in this hole. During all this summer I will send the dews and the heat to make it grow. If you take good care of it, you will be picking all the grapes you want from it in a few years. Stick a crooked branch into the ground by it. Teach it to cling to that. But when it grows taller, let it climb this elm tree. Sometime the elm will be heavy with purple grapes."

And he told him how to put a fence around the vine to keep the sheep and goats away. And he taught him how to make raisins. He built a wine press for him and showed him how to make wine. And he gave him a jar and told him how to make others.

Before the merry people left, they and the farmer and his wife joined hands and danced around the little vine. They sang:

"Thank Dionysos for the grapevine. Thank Dionysos for the dew and the heat that make the apples and oranges ripe. Thank Dionysos when you gather the fruit. Dionysos loves you. Dionysos! Dionysos! Evoe!"

And off they danced down the hill and through the valley, and the leopards and fawns and panthers followed.

Wherever these merry folk found a good man working on his farm they planted a vine and left a jar. Sometimes they came to a country where the men were wild hunters and did not live in houses. Then they built a little village for them and planted vines outside the walls. In one of the houses of the village they spread a fine feast. There were grapes and raisins and fruits and beautiful jars on the tables. Then they called the people together in that house and Dionysos said:

"My friends, we have made a feast for you. Let us sit and eat."

As they ate, Dionysos talked to them about farms and vineyards. He told them how pleasant it is to see the fields yellow with grain, and how beautiful an apple tree looks with red apples on it.

"But a vine loaded with purple grapes is the most beautiful of all," he said. "And isn't it pleasant to eat at neat tables, with clean dishes, and to have couches to lie on? Don't you like it better than standing around a bonfire and eating meat out of your hands?"

"Yes, this is a good way to live, but we do not know how," they answered.

So Dionysos stayed with them for a year and taught them how to live in villages and how to care for the orchards and vineyards outside and how to eat at tables and how to use dishes.

When he went away he promised to send dew and heat every year to ripen the fruits. The people followed him far out of the city, singing and shouting: "Dionysos! Dionysos! Evoe, evoe!"

Chapter V

One time Dionysos and his people came to the ocean.

"How shall we cross?" the nymphs cried. Immediately all the great fish of the sea swam to the shore. The merry people jumped upon their backs and went singing through the water until they came to an island.

"Farewell, good fishes!" they cried. "Perhaps we shall need you again."

Through this island they went dancing and singing for many days. When the nymphs grew tired they lay on the backs of panthers, and the panthers were pleased to carry them.

One day Dionysos said:

"We must stay here no longer. We have other work to do."

He led the way toward the shore, but on the edge of the sand he stopped. There on a rock in the shade of a little tree lay a woman sleeping. She was the most beautiful woman Dionysos had ever seen. Her robe was blue. Her yellow hair fell over the brown rock. Dionysos held up his hand, and all the nymphs and satyrs were still. They held their breath, seeing how beautiful she was. Dionysos stood looking at her a long time. Then he went to her and kissed her and said:

"Awake, dear lady."

She started up, greatly frightened.

"Who are you?" she cried.

"Do not be afraid. We are your friends," answered Dionysos.

"Oh!" she cried, "my friends have left me. They have gone away," and she began to weep.

"Do not weep. We will take care of you. Let us be your friends," said Dionysos.

He motioned to the nymphs to come. They came and bathed her hands and feet. Then they gave her fruits and sang to her while she ate. She soon began to smile at their songs.

"Tell us your name, dear lady," they said.

"My name is Ariadne. I was sailing in a ship, but my friends have gone," and she began to look sad again.

"But you shall not be left alone. You shall go dancing all over the world with us. We are Dionysos' merry people. Come with us," said the nymphs and satyrs.

She did go and was very happy, and everybody loved her. The nymphs used to make garlands of flowers and put them on her head. Then they sat on the ground around her and listened while she told them stories. When the noisy satyrs came near her they were still and smiled at her and whispered:

"Is she not beautiful!"

When she slept, the panthers came and lay by her and watched her all night. Whenever Dionysos awoke in the morning, the first thing was:

"Where is Ariadne?" and he went and sat by her and talked.

When they started on a new day's journey he would say:

"Come, walk beside me, Ariadne."

He was never happy except when she was with him.

But one morning when they awoke, Ariadne was dead. The poor sad nymphs and satyrs! Poor sad Dionysos! He looked at her a long time. Then he took the golden crown from her head. He turned it over and over in his hands and kissed it and said:

"This shall shine in the sky to tell how much we loved Ariadne."

He threw it high into the air. It changed into stars and hung there in the sky forever after.

Chapter VI

One day Dionysos wandered away from his people and came to the shore of the sea. He was tired, for he had walked far. So he lay down under a tree and fell asleep.

After awhile a ship full of pirates came to that shore. The men got out and walked along the land. At last they came to Dionysos.

"What is this?" they cried.

"See the golden clasps on his sandals!" said one.

"There are a dozen rubies in his cloak-pin," said another.

"He must be a king's son," they all agreed. "Let us take him on board; we shall get a great ransom for him."

So they lifted him and carried him to the ship. It was strange, but he did not waken. They laid him on the deck. When the pilot saw him he said:

"He is handsomer than a king's son, even. See how tall he is! A king's hair was never so golden. I tell you he must have come from Olympos."

The men laughed and sat down to their oars.

"What are you going to do with him?" asked the pilot.

"Take him far away from his home. Then we will send a man back to tell his father. He will surely give us a shipful of gold for his son," answered one of the men.

"You shall not do it," said the pilot.

Just then Dionysos opened his eyes, but he was still half asleep.

"Where are we going?" he said, drowsily.

One of the men asked him in a smooth voice:

"Where is your home, my lord?"

"In Naxos. Take me to Naxos."

"Very well, you shall go to Naxos," said the man.

He went to the rudder where the pilot was.

"Steer north!" he commanded.

"But he told us to go to Naxos," said the pilot.

"Do as I tell you!"

"I will not!" cried the pilot.

"Then I will!" and the man pushed the pilot aside and took the rudder himself.

Some of the men were trying to put chains on Dionysos, but they could not do it. The chains would not fasten. The men looked at one another in wonder.

"What does this mean?" they were thinking.

After a while Dionysos opened his eyes and sat up.

"We are not going to Naxos," he said, and he was almost weeping.

The pirates all laughed. Then Dionysos stood up. He looked very tall and strong. A strange smile was on his face. The men looked at him and they were amazed. They saw a grapevine start from under his foot. It grew like a flash. It ran up the mast.

"It is twining around my oar!" cried one man.

"It has hold of the rudder. I cannot turn it!" shouted the man who was steering.

"It is pulling in the sail," said the one who held the ropes.

Indeed, the whole ship was turned into a little floating vineyard. Purple grapes hung everywhere; vines trailed through the water. The sailors heard the music of flutes among the vines, and all at once the ship was full of Dionysos' friends—fawns and tigers and panthers and leopards. The men crawled under the seats from fear.

Dionysos smiled and stroked a panther's head while he said:

"Sailors, I am Dionysos."

No one dared answer. The men were more frightened than ever. They were thinking:

"What will he do to us?"

Dionysos spoke to the pilot:

"Take the rudder and steer for Naxos."

The pilot hurried to do it. There were no sails and no oars, but the ship went faster than any ship ever went before. Dionysos walked about the deck and sang gay songs, but spoke to none of the sailors. He stroked the grape leaves and whispered to them and laughed. The tigers and panthers leaped and played around him, and he said to them:

"We will show these sailors something, my friends."

When the sailors heard that, their teeth chattered.

At last the ship ran upon a sandy shore and stopped. Dionysos jumped out and called:

"Come on, my sailors."

The men all tumbled out in a hurry. They were white with fear. They dared not look at Dionysos. He took hold of the end of the ship with his hand. He gave a pull, and the ship came out of the sand and up on the green shore. There the vine rooted in the ground. It grew in a second all over a hundred trees.

Dionysos pointed to it and said to the men:

"Here is a vineyard for you, and here are some jars."

And, surely, there were dozens of red jars lying on the grass.

"This is in return for your kindness to me."

He laughed and ran into the woods, waving his hand to them. The panthers and tigers and fawns and leopards ran with him. The pirates all stood with open mouths, looking after him. They could hardly believe their eyes and ears. At last they turned to one another and said in whispers:

"He has forgiven us; he loves us."

Then they laughed and wept with joy and they danced and sang:

"Dionysos the mighty! Dionysos the loving! Dionysos the merry! Dionysos who gave us the vine! Dionysos who saved us! We will love him always. We will tell his goodness to men. We will teach all people to love him. Dionysos, our friend! Evoe, evoe!"

And so they did. And their neighbors said of them:

"They are good men, they have given us great blessings. They are holy men, the friends of Dionysos."

Chapter VII

So Dionysos had traveled all over the world. He had taught all men how to take care of the grapevine. He had built many cities. He had taught many people to make jars of clay and to eat at tables and to dance and to sing joyful songs. People were sad before he came, but after his coming they were glad. And Dionysos danced and sang with the gay nymphs and satyrs. But sometimes he was sad, thinking of Ariadne.


Head of Dionysos

One day he called all the nymphs and satyrs together.

"We have given the sweet grape to everybody. All men are glad now. My father Zeus came to me in a dream last night. He said: 'Your work is done, come now to Olympos. You are to live forever with the Mighty Ones in heaven.' So I go now. I will always watch you from Olympos; I will send dew and heat to ripen our fruits. Now a dance before I go."

They all joined hands and danced and sang. At the end they cried:

"Dionysos! Evoe, evoe! Dionysos!"

As they shouted that, Dionysos went away and up to Olympos. He could hear them shouting all the distance.

After that he took care of all the grapes and fruits in the world, and people loved him for it. The grapes were ripe in December. The rows of elm trees were full of them. False faces hung among the vines, to scare away the birds. Early in the morning the farmer and his wife and children went to the vineyard. They put wreaths of ivy on their heads, to make them cool. Everybody brought two or three baskets. All day long they worked and sang there, picking the grapes. The boys climbed the trees for the high bunches.


Dionysos in Olympos

The sun was setting when all the grapes were gathered. The pickers carried the full baskets to the house. Some of the grapes were pulled off the stems; they were laid on clean boards and put where the sun would shine on them. These were for raisins. Some were cooked for the winter and put into the store-room. Wine was made from some and poured into skin bottles or into red jars. And for a long time the tables were heaped with fresh grapes.

On the day after the picking, the neighbors from the many little white-plastered houses on the hillsides came together for a holiday. The men went into the woods and heaped up a little mound of earth and covered it with sod. This was the altar. The work was hardly finished when they began to hear singing and laughing from all parts of the woods. Soon women and girls and old men and boys came running to the altar. They all wore their prettiest clothes. Everyone carried a basket heaped with the finest oranges and grapes and melons and figs. Every head was crowned with ivy or with grapevine. Some of the boys were wearing the false faces that had hung in the vineyard. Some of the girls and young men had brought their flutes. Women carried tambourines. Many people had long sticks with pine cones at the end. Everybody was laughing and talking of the good harvest.


A Flute Player in the Procession

After a while a priest in long purple and gold robes came slowly from the woods. The people were quiet. They fell in behind him and all marched around the altar many times. Those with flutes walked nearest the priest and played gay music. The people sang to Dionysos:

"The grapes are gathered in. The store-room is full of fruit. We are ready for winter. Our hard work is over. Thanks to Dionysos. Dionysos! Thanks to Dionysos."


Procession of Gift-Bearers

At last the procession stopped. The people poured all the fruit from their baskets upon the altar. They killed a goat and put it there, too, because it had nibbled their vines and had tried to kill them. Then they set fire to all the pile. The priest stood before it and raised his hands in prayer to Dionysos:

"O, Dionysos, thou loving one, giver of the vine, bringer of joy, ripener of all mellow fruits, hear us! We thank thee for the dew and the fruits. We thank thee for gladness. We dance and sing for thee. We burn for thee this goat and these fruits that thou hast given us. I pour out thy wine. May the smell be sweet to thy nostrils and our prayers to thy ears!"

Then all the people sang again of the goodness of Dionysos. They told stories about Dionysos. The boys in false faces played that they were satyrs.

"We are the jolly friends of Dionysos. We followed him through the whole world. We were there when he found Ariadne, beautiful Ariadne."

So they sang as they danced. Sometimes a young man would play that he was Dionysos. Other people would be the pirates. They would sing:

"This is some king's son. We shall get a great ransom for him."

Then they would carry him to the ship. The women would sing:

"Oh, what will happen to Dionysos? The pirates have taken him away."

The pirates would try to put chains on this play-Dionysos.

"We cannot do it," they would sing, "the chains will not fasten."

Then Dionysos would stand up and sing loudly:

"No, for I am Dionysos."

Then all the people shouted:

"Dionysos! It is Dionysos! Evoe, evoe! Dionysos!"

They ran into the woods and waved branches or torches or the pine-cone staves over their heads. The women beat upon their tambourines. They kept shouting:

"Dionysos! Bringer of joy! Evoe, evoe!"

A poet who had seen this festival many times, said to himself:

"The people like to hear these stories. I will try to sing them."

So next year at the festival there was somebody that looked like Dionysos. He wore rich robes like Dionysos and carried a staff like Dionysos. He wore a mask, so that his face looked like Dionysos' face. He had blocks under his feet, so that he was tall like Dionysos. He stood on a little mound of earth, so that all the people could see him. He said something like this:

"My cradle was a corner of the sky. Zeus is my father. Mount Nysa was my home."

Then the satyrs danced around the mound and sang:

"We played with him on old Mount Nysa. We ran through the woods with him and climbed the hills and hid in the caves."

Dionysos:  The nymphs were my nurses. The satyrs were my playfellows.

Satyrs:  Old Silenos taught him his secrets. The trees talked with him.



Dionysos:  One day I found the grapevine.

And so they went on and told the whole story. The people were delighted.

"It is the best thing we ever heard," they said; "tell us the story again next year."

So he told it next year and the next year. People came from far and near to see and hear it. One year the people from the city said to the poet:

"Bring your satyrs and come and tell us the story."

He promised to do so.

"I must have something fine to show the city people," he thought.

He spent a long while thinking what to do and what to say. Then he and some young men practiced many times. In the city the people built a place for the play. They made seats in the shape of a half-circle. The lines of seats rose one above another. The people sat here with the stage in front of them. Everybody could see well.

At the time of the festival the poet and his men came. The poet himself played Dionysos. Another man was dressed like a woman. He was Ariadne. There were twelve young men dressed like satyrs. So they acted the story. The people were pleased with the play.

"Come again next year," they said.

After that some players came every year to the city. At first they told only the stories of Dionysos. Then the people said:

"Tell us some other stories, too."

So the players told stories of Athene and Herakles and Achilles and other great people. Besides these plays in the theater there were dances and songs and processions out of doors.

This festival of Dionysos was the merriest time of all the year. Indeed, it was almost the only time when the women went out of the house.

The next story tells about a certain festival that people had in the city of Athens a long time after Dionysos had gone to Olympos.