Greetings Dionysians, your resident hipster here to show you something obscure

Lots of fragmented plays of Greek Tragedy have survived that you probably never heard of. Aeschylus wrote over 80 plays, and only 7 survive in complete form. Meanwhile we have 300 some pages of fragments.

The question here is what or who was the god Dionysus BEFORE the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes were performed.

The Homeric Hymn to Dionysus isn’t even 3 pages, and he’s only mentioned a few times in passing in Homer. Like I’ve written about before, Dionysus was the eventual crystallization of Greek religion, sort of like a Jesus-type, being the son of Zeus. The festival the tragedies and comedies were performed at was called the Great Dionysia, and Aeschylus is regarded as the founder of performed drama. So it’s interesting that there are extant fragments from a play of his on Dionysus himself. Thus, if you’re a fan of film or shows this might be up your alley.

By the way, if you haven’t read the Bacchae yet, get on that (there’s a general consensus it’s one of the best plays from the Greek world)

as early as the first century bce it became commonplace to mention Lycurgus and Pentheus together in poetic catalogues of Dionysus’ feats.

This might be disturbing to some- the premise [spoiler] of the Bacchus is that if you mess with Dionysus you’re getting your head ripped off your body. Yes, this is the god that is at the origin of movies. It is King Pentheus that is killed. And Lycurgus also has a similar fate. Aeschylus wrote a tetralogy on the Lycurgus myth and it can be at least partially reconstructed.

The Ancient Greeks aren’t exactly known for being “Gandhis”

intended to make worshippers of Dionysus sing the song about Lycurgus during festivals of the god, thus making the hero an example of what awaits those who fail to be initiated into the mysteries.

I remind you that, at least in my opinion, another way of framing the debate between “Athens and Jerusalem” is as Dionysus versus Yahweh.

The names of the plays of the tetralogy are Edonoi, Bassarai, Neaniskoi, and Lycurgus. In the Edonoi, Lycurgus attempts to imprison Dionysus. In the Neaniskoi, he is punished. Then, the Lycurgus is a satyr-play.

ZOG does something like that with neech by interpreting him through a liberal lens.

Ever heard of Orphism? This tetralogy is the first time Orpheus appears on stage

What is Orpheus’ place in this story? Both he, as well as his father or grandfather, could appear at various points in the play as a wise advisor to the king (who ignored his admonitions, as tragic tyrants usually did). What remains clear is that Orpheus himself, as Apollo’s personal protégé, was the most likely person to bring the oracular response.

With only fragments our conclusions can only be tentative. Orpheus possibly counseled Lycurgus on how to avoid being made a victim of the Bacchic frenzy. I interpret Socrates in the Symposium as expressing a type of Bacchic frenzy. Alcibiades arrives in the Symposium dressed as Dionysus and it is soon made clear that Socrates is the “true Dionysus”, Alcibiades being the foil.

Ahhh this is disappointing- this is the main thing I was wondering about

In the majority of texts available to us, Lycurgus opposes Dionysus without a clearly stated reason.

Here’s an example of the main sort of material we have to piece this tetralogy together

Keeping secrets relating to the mystery cult?

It seems Dionysus was more of a military figure in Aeschylus.

Here he is mentioned in the Eumenides

the god lead the troops of Bacchae, contriving a hare’s fate for Pentheus

or alternatively

the god led the bacchants into battle and stitched up a death like a hare for Pentheus

You probably have to be obsessive about the Greeks/Germans to really care about this. Again though, it’s the origin of theatre and cinema.

Look, a vase with a maenad holding a hare

Another detail from these fragments is that Dionysus drove Lycurgus into a frenzy that led him to behead his own son. They don’t call it tragedy for nothing. Orpheus is also beheaded by maenads. Sorry if this is scattered around, this is just the nature of the material we have available to us.

The mysteries of the origins of drama

This vessel features the divine couple of Dionysus and Ariadne, two maenads pulling a fawn, a maenad with a child on her shoulder, and a man (originally) with two javelins and a net who wears one sandal. The motif of so-called monosandalism has suggested to Robertson (1972) that the man could be Lycurgus, who was at least occasionally represented with one foot unshod

This vessel is the Derveni Krater

Strikingly this tetralogy seems similar to the Old Testament in its prominent theme of vengeance. Revenge and punishment for impiety hasn’t died, if you look at our puritanical cancel-culture.

Well at least we have the Bacchae

The liberty with which artists seem to have combined the motifs of the Lycurgus and Pentheus myths may suggest that the conceptual boundary between the two was not felt to be particularly strong.

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