Also known as “The Great Dionysia” By: Sarah M Smith
Dionysus was known as the “Greek God of Wine, Theatre, Ecstasy, and Fertility. Dionysus was one of the most popular Greek Gods who was recognized in most religions and cultures in the Ancient Times. The Romans referred to Dionysus as Bacchus- most stories and myths refer to him by both names. He was the born son of Zeus and Semele. Unlike other Greek Gods, Dionysus was born from Zeus himself because his mother (a mortal woman) was killed. Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh and kept him there until he was a fully grown baby, and then released him (could be one major factor to the quote “Fruit of my loins”)
Stories of Dionysus’s childhood talk about his study of “the vine” (referring to grapes) and making wine. He is the creditor of discovering and making wine according to Ancient Greek Myths. One of his obvious character traits were his looks. He was said to be extremely handsome and was a model for several works of art thru out history. Many famous sculptures, paintings, and models were created for centuries after his times. There are several famous works of art to honor him in museums all over the world. Dionysus was often associated with satyrs (a troop of male companions who were half-man and half-goat). According to myth, satyrs are lovers of women, wine, and physical pleasure of any kind. This contributes to Dionysus’s “God of Fertility” reputation.
Dionysus is the God that the Dionysia Festival was created to honor and celebrate. Most festivals in the ancient times were solely for worshiping their “Gods” and were set up more like a ritual (acting out an established procedure which has to do with religion). After Eleutherae (bordering town of Attica and Boeotia) became part of Attica, the statue of Dionysus was brought to Athens by the former Eleuthereans. The Athenians rejected the statue and God immediately. Due to the rejection, the Athenians were punished by Dionysus with a “plague” which affected the male genitalia, and made reproduction impossible.
2nd century Roman statue ofDionysus, after a Hellenistic model
Athenians accepted Dionysus after the “plague”, and were cured immediately. Each year the Athenians recalled the events that took place, and started to worship Dionysus. The worshiping was done thru a procession (comparable to a modern day parade), where worshipers carried “phalloi” (objects that resembled an erect penis) to show their appreciation for the gift of fertility. These events took place in approximately 7th century BC, but the festival and its traditions evolved later.
Do you remember the story from childhood toldabout King Midas? If you don’t remember, King Midas wasgreedy and his love for gold made him lose the importantthings in life. He was awarded “anything his heart desired” for doinga good deed. His one request was that anything he touched beturned to gold. The God who offered this request warned himthat it wouldn’t be a good idea, but King Midas insisted. Asthe story goes, he wasn’t able to enjoy food, other humans, oranything that needed to be touched. His own daughter wasturned into a gold statue. Well, the God that made King Midas the offer wasDionysus. I found that to be an interesting fun fact that Inever knew before.
Satyr giving agrapevine to Bacchuschild. Cameo glass,1st half of the 1stcentury. From Italy.
The official City Dionysus Festival is brought to life in 6th century BC by the “Archons of Athens”. The festival from start to finish lasted about 5 full days. The first day of the festival was when the “pompe” took place, and following were the sacrifices of the bull to honor the God Dionysus. All plays took place at the Theatre of Dionysus. The most popular plays were Tragedies- three playwrights were to present three tragedies with one satyr play , and were judged for an award.
At least three full days were set aside for tragic plays. Each year a playwright would be awarded the “top prize” for their works-the top prize was a goat. The next two days were for “dithyrambic” contests which were Greek hymns and dances that were done to honor Dionysus. The music that was sung and danced to is very comparable to the music that is playing in this presentation. The dances and chorusus for Dionysus were upbeat rhythms and sounded differently from any other music in that time. In 449 BC, actors started getting awards for their performances for the first time.
Shortly after actors were recognized, comedies were welcomed into the festival and awards were given to honor comedy playwrights. The final day of the festival was when the winners were announced . The winners at each City Dionysia were given a wreath of ivy (to represent wine and the process of making it), as well as the goat (satyrs) in the honor of Dionysus. The fertility part of the ceremony was the beginning procession/parade where worshipers carried “phalloi” , as well as baskets of fruit and wine to resemble Dionysus and what he had done for the people.
484 BC - Aeschylus 472 BC - Aeschylus (The Persians) 471 BC - Polyphrasmon 468 BC - Sophocles (Triptolemus) 467 BC - Aeschylus (Seven Against Thebes) 463 BC - Aeschylus (The Suppliants) 458 BC - Aeschylus (The Oresteia) 449 BC - Herakleides 442 BC - Sophocles (Antigone) (year approximate) 441 BC - Euripides
431 BC - Euphorion, son of Aeschylus, Sophocles took 2nd place, Euripides took 3rd with Medea 428 BC - Euripides (Hippolytus) 427 BC - Philocles, nephew of Aeshyclus, Sophocles took 2nd place 416 BC - Agathon 415 BC - Xenocles 409 BC - Sophocles (Philoctetes) 405 BC - Euripides (The Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis, Alcmaeon in Corinth) 372 BC - Astydamas
486 BC - Chionides 472 BC - Magnes 458 BC - Euphonius 450 BC - Crates 446 BC - Callias 437 BC - Pherecrates 435 BC - Hermippus 422 BC - Cantharus
421 BC - Aristophanes (Peace (2nd prize)) 414 BC - Ameipsias (The Revellers) 402 BC - Cephisodoros 290 BC - Poseidippus 278 BC - Philemon 185 BC - Laines 183 BC - Philemon 154 BC - Chairion
Dionysus and the festivals in his honor were the start of Theatre, and the basis of evolution of theatre from ancient times to present all over the world. The first theatrical presentations were performed at the ancient theatre, “Theatre of Dionysus”. The theatre was where the parades ended, shows were performed, and awards were given. The original theatre still exists today. In November 2009, it was announced that renovations were being started to the original Theatre of Dionysus and are expected to be finished in 2015.
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