May 13, 2009

Twice born

Gustave Moreau's "Zeus and Semele." Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Welcome to the latest installment of Goat Rope's Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Greek Tragedy (or not) series. Below you'll find links and comments about current events and the occasional random item.

As mentioned previously, tragedies in Athens were performed during the spring festival of the god Dionysus, who is associated with wine, the vine, growing things, mass frenzy, and other cool stuff.

Dionysus is interesting among the gods. According to some evidence, his cult is ancient and may even go back to the heyday of Cretan civilization. But in the myths, he is generally portrayed as a recent arrival.

As the story goes, he was the product of an affair between Zeus and the human woman Semele, daughter of King Kadmos of Thebes. His jealous wife Hera got wind of the tryst and disguised herself as an old woman who told Semele that she should require her mysterious lover to reveal himself in his true nature and form. When Zeus paid another visit, she begged for this favor and denied him access to her bed with he refused it.

In another example of a Be-Careful-What-You-Ask-For myth, Zeus in anger and frustration appeared as thunder and lightning and burned her to a crisp. With the help of the god Hermes, Zeus sewed the six month old fetus of the future god into his thigh, from whence he was born in three months. This earned him the title of the "twice born."

He thus stands in marked contrast to the wisdom goddess Athena, who was born from Zeus' head. He works on a lower level, but is not without wisdom and power of his own.

More of his story to come.

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