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Bacchus Dionysus

Mythology

According to mythology, Dionysus or Bacchus was the ancient Greeks’ god of wine and his worshipping was transferred to Greece along with the cultivation of vineyards in approximately the 15th century B.C., when he was given the name “Lyaios” or “Lysios” because he was able to make all bitterness and sadness go away. He was symbolised by the most powerful animals such as lions, tigers and bulls, as well as plants like vines, ivies and roses. His emblems included a torch, a wand, a crater, a flute and drums.   

There are several legends referring to Dionysus and which actually differ a lot from each other. Nevertheless, the impact this god had on the development of the Greek civilisation was huge and from the 6th century B.C. onwards art, religion and poetry were under his own strong influence.  

Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cadmus. Semele was actually burnt be Hera who sought revenge for her husband’s infidelity. However, before dying, Semele gave a premature birth to Dionysus, son of Zeus. In turn, Zeus implanted Dionysus in his thigh until the nine months of pregnancy were completed and after his birth, Zeus gave Dionysus to the Nymphs who raised him secretly in a valley called “Nysa”, which is where his name actually derived from [Dionysus = Dias (the Greek name of Zeus) + Nysa].

Dionysus or Bacchus was the god who inspired and brought enthusiasm to bright rural and urban celebrations from where satirical drama, comedy, tragedy and generally theatre originated. In fact, this form of art initially dealt with glorifying and narrating the miracles and the adventures of the god. Dionysus or Bacchus gave life to music and dancing, spread the horizons of sculpture and painting and made each artistic event held by the ancient Greeks passionate and vibrant, elements which were unknown to the peaceful art of the previous centuries. All legends concerning Dionysus symbolise various natural phenomena which assist vines to produce and mature their crop. The god can also be considered a representative of a new humanitarian religion which elevates the human and frees them from their earthly chains through ecstasy, love and music.        

Embossed limestone displaying the head of Dionysus from Mathiatis (2nd – 1st century B.C.). Cyprus Archaeological Museum, E468

Discovered tens of years ago in the area of the northern mine of Mathiatis was the embossed limestone head of Bacchus. It is dated back to sometime between the 2nd and 1st century B.C. and it is displayed in the Cyprus Archaeological Museum, while it also constitutes the emblem of the State Theatre and the Cyprus Theatrical Organisation. 

The bearded face of the god is embossed and somewhat flat, placed on a rectangular 11 cm thick and 51.2 cm high plaque, with full cheeks and a flat nose, full lips and large eyes. His beard is flat and rectangular, symmetrically trimmed with 12 curly tresses. His thick moustache outlines his well-formed mouth. The god is wearing a wide filet which almost entirely covers his forehead. On the right and left of the filet there are ivy leaves with berries hanging in the middle of the filet and the forehead.   

Below the ivy leaves hang two bunches of grapes which cover the ears. The rich creased filet hangs from the two sides of the beards and under the ivy leaves and grape brunches. On the filet there are some traces of purple colour, while traces of green colour are found on the grape brunches and the ivy leaves. 

At the back, the limestone is flat and ashlar. The embossed face of god Dionysus was possibly placed on a pedestal and against a wall. 

The face of Dionysus from Mathiatis bears an impressive resemblance to one of the sides of another embossed plaque also displayed in the Cyprus Archaeological Museum. The back side of the second plaque depicts a love scene (Cyprus Archaeological Museum, no. 1983/x-4/1). It is possible that both embossed findings are linked to a place of worship in honour of Dionysus which is located in Cyprus. The bacchanalian worship of Dionysus was possibly introduced from the Ptolemaic Alexandria, where the god was popular, since the Ptolemeans considered themselves as descendants of Dionysus.

Source: Karageorghis 1984, 215-216, pl. XI.1; idem 1998b, 229-230 no.178.

 
 
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