How Dionysus Became God of Wine

Karen Frazier
Dionysus, God of Wine

Dionysus was the Greek mythological God of Wine. He was the only Greek god who had a mortal mother along with his father Zeus. Because wine was so important in ancient Greek culture, as the god of the vine, Dionysus was a highly significant figure in Greek mythology. His origin stories explain why and how he became so closely tied to wine.

Biography of Dionysus God of Wine

Dionysus was called Bacchus in Roman mythology. He was one of the twelve Olympians, and the circumstances of his birth differentiated him from his peers. Along with being the God of Wine, Dionysus was also the god of grape cultivation, winemaking, fertility, religious ecstasy, and theater.

Mother Semele

Dionysus had several stories associated with his birth. The first story was about his mother Semele and father Zeus. Semele was a mortal woman who found out she was pregnant with Zeus's child. Hera, Zeus's wife, found out about the relationship and used her wiles to convince Semele that she should ask Zeus to reveal himself in his true form. Semele didn't know what would happen when he did. Zeus tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. Zeus had made a promise that he would reveal himself and true to his word, he did. Zeus revealed himself as a brilliant light with lightning bolts around his head, burning Semele to death. Zeus sewed baby Dionysus into his own thigh. Several months later, Zeus removed a fully-grown Dionysus from his thigh, which explains how he was twice born.

Mother Persephone

An alternate story about Dionysus is that his mother was Persephone. In this story, Persephone, queen of the underworld, gave birth to Dionysus. Hera, learning of Zeus's relationship with Persephone, decided to kill Dionysus by luring him with some toys when he was a baby. She enlisted the help of the Titans who lured the child, ripping him to bits and eating him, all except for his heart. Zeus learned of the deception and took the heart to remake his child, then implanted it in Semele. Dionysus was then born of Semele, thus being twice born in this story as well.

Dionysus as an Adult

Dionysus, having survived his childhood, discovered grapes and how to turn the juice into wine. Legend holds that Dionysus was the first ever to turn grapes into wine. Unfortunately, Hera once again entered his life and drove him mad. He began wandering the earth until the goddess Cybele (Rhea) found him and cured him of the madness. Dionysus began traveling and teaching people about grapes and wine. He had many followers, including the Maenads, who worshipped him and enjoyed what is described as divine ecstasy, wild parties and of course, consumption of wine. Dionysus never forgot his mother, Semele. He went into the underworld to locate her and faced down Thanatos. When he was victorius, Semele was then able to go with her son to Mount Olympus to live with the gods.

Festival for Dionysus

The Ancient Athenian festival for Dionysus (Dionysia) took place in the spring when the leaves reappeared on the grapevines. One of the main aspects of the festival was the theatre. Many of the Greek plays were written in order to be performed during this spring festival. Those who wrote or participated in the plays were considered sacred servants of Dionysus. It is reported that everyone enjoyed wine during this festival, including men, women and their children. There are many modern adaptations of Dionysia, often festivals featuring Greek theater.

Symbols of Dionysus

There are many symbols associated with the Greek god Dionysus.

  • Snake - Zeus gave Dionysus a crown of snakes when he emerged from his thigh. Dionysus and the Maenads are often depicted with a snake around their heads.
  • Grape Vine - Often depicted around the head of Dionysus.
  • Grapes - Dionysus is usually depicted holding grapes or having them on the vines around his head.
  • Panther - The favorite animal of Dionysus. He is sometimes depicted as riding one or having a panther hide wrapped around his shoulders.

God of the Vine

Dionysus the God of Wine is still recognized today, mainly through the many artifacts that exist from Greece. You'll find his image on many ceramic vessels and statues, especially those from the Hellenistic era. Even today, crafters make many plaques and miniature statues with Dionysus' image on them. Original statues of this god can be seen in art museums around the world including in the British Museum, Corfu Museum, and the Museo Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme in Rome, Italy.

How Dionysus Became God of Wine