Originally Dionysus was the Greek god of fertility. Later, he came to be known chiefly as the god of wine and pleasure. The Romans called him Bacchus. Dionysus was the son of the supreme god Zeus and Semele, the daughter of a king. He journeyed far and wide. Everywhere he went he planted vines and taught the people viniculture. On his travels Dionysus was accompanied by satyrs (demons) and ‘Maenads’ or ‘Bacchae’; ‘possessed women’ who gave themselves to ecstasy.

Excessive drinking and debauchery generally accompanied the cult of Dionysus, giving rise to the word ‘bacchanalia’ for a party featuring drunken revelry. Initially Dionysus was often portrayed as a dignified, elderly man with a beard, and later as a beautiful, nude youth or as a small, fat man. A barrel of wine, a bunch of grapes in his hand or a wreath of vines crowning his head are rarely missing in these depictions.



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