Homer

Homer

Centuries prior to the appearance of Moses in the literary record, Dionysus is included around 900 BCE in The Iliad and The Odyssey. In The Iliad (6.130– 141), Homer depicts the Trojan War hero Diomedes—expressing trepidation at battling the gods—as describing the Spartan king and lawgiver Lycurgus’s encounter with Dionysus:

…for even the son of Dryas, mighty Lycurgus, lived not long, seeing that he strove with heavenly gods—he that on a time [drove] down over the sacred mount of Nysa the nursing mothers of mad Dionysus; and they all let fall to the ground their wands, smitten with an ox-goad by man-slaying Lycurgus. But Dionysus fled, and plunged beneath the wave of the sea, and Thetis received him in her bosom, filled with dread, for mighty terror gat hold of him at the man’s threatenings. Then against Lycurgus did the gods that live at ease wax wroth, and the son of Cronos made him blind; and he lived not for long, seeing that he was hated of all the immortal gods. So would not I be minded to fight against the blessed gods.875

Here we find mention of Dionysus on Mt. Nysa, born of two mothers, and fleeing into the sea from a tyrant who is killed, indicating these motifs date back to at least the 10th century BCE. This subduing of Lycurgus under Dionysus may reflect a political change or desire, such as raising the “Dionysian” city of Thebes above Sparta.

In The Odyssey (11.321–325), the myth of Ariadne, Theseus and Dionysus is briefly mentioned, relevant especially because Bacchus’s wife, Ariadne, is the Cretan lawgiver Minos’s daughter. This “marriage” possibly reflects a merger between peoples, one of whose lawgivers was Minos and the other Bacchus.

In consideration of how the Greek poet treats his subject matter, as if such well-developed stories were common knowledge, we can evince that various of these mythical themes in some form may be centuries to millennia older than the period of Homer.

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