Dionysus

This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.

Yesterday I told you the story of Semele, which ended in Dionysus’s birth (twice). Now we move on to his youth. When I first read about this, I was surprised: Dionysus was one of the twelve Olympian gods, yet he started his life as a mortal. It is a little unclear how Dionysus turned divine, exactly, but I think the myth usually associated with it is this one.

Do not, I repeat, do not abduct a god

Young Dionysus didn’t do much in the way of heroic feats, the kind of thing you might expect from a demigod. He spent most of his time traveling and inventing how to make wine. That invention gained him a lot of love and support wherever he traveled, which was all around Asia. After a couple of years, however, he decided it was time to go back to his roots and introduce the Greeks to the wonderful art of wine making.

If you have ever looked at a map of the Mediterranean (or live in Greece), you know Greece has a lot of islands. To get to those islands, you need a boat, and unfortunately not every ship is sailed by honest people. While island-hopping, Dionysus had unwittingly boarded a pirate ship. The pirates had no idea who Dionysus was, but his extraordinary beauty led them to think he must be an important person – perhaps royalty. So instead of bringing him to the island he wanted to go, they abducted him. I don’t know what they planned to do; find out who his family was and ask for a ransom, maybe, or selling him to other ill-intentioned people. Maybe they were still figuring it out. Whatever they were planning, they didn’t get a chance to do it.

The ship started to act weird. It looked like the wood was growing. Vines were sprouting from the boards all over the ship; suddenly, the ropes and rigging had turned into snakes; the ship was attacking the pirates! Those who hadn’t already been caught and/or killed by the vines and snakes jumped overboard in fear, but even there they weren’t safe. As soon as they touched the water, they started to transform. A moment later, the ship was surrounded by angrily chittering dolphins.

No one on the ship was left alive except for Dionysus and the friendly helmsman, the only one who had recognised the god – for he had indeed, somehow, become a god – and advised his crewmates against abducting him. He sailed Dionysus to his intended destination.

So, the moral of the story is: next time you want to abduct anyone, be 100% sure that they are not a god. Or, just don’t abduct people, I guess.

Dionysus – recommend a book from your country

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Even after this impressive feat of divine power, Dionysus had a long way to go before he was accepted by all of Greece. This was in part because his cult involved female worshippers going in a trance-like state of madness and respectable Greek men don’t like their women partying like crazy, but also because he came from the East. Even though his parents were Greek as can be, he was regared as a foreigner (and that’s another thing respectable Greek men don’t like). In the end he managed to secure a solid place in the Greek pantheon, however, through the magic of booze and partying (and a few gruesome deaths).

The book I recommend is De Brief voor de Koning (The Letter for the King) by Tonke Dragt. It’s a teen/YA adventure novel set in an imaginary place in medieval times, about a boy who gets an important mission. (He has to deliver a letter to a king.) It’s been translated to English, and so has the sequel, both in these beautiful editions. The other book in the picture isn’t Dutch (it’s in there for other bookstagram prompts), but I would also recommend it.

What book from your country would you recommend?

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