Dionysos: twice-born son of Zeus

Dionysos was not one of the original Olympians. He was the son of Zeus and Semele, a Theban princess. When Semele was pregnant, Hera persuaded Zeus to show himself in his real form. Zeus agreed, but his power was too great for the mortal princess, who was killed by his thunderbolts.

Zeus saved his son by sewing him up in his thigh and keeping him there until he reached adulthood, thus he was “twice born.” Dionysos was then carried by Hermes to be brought up by maenads in the East.

Dionysos was associated with fertility, wine, theatre, and revelry. To celebrate his role as god of theatre, the Athenians held an annual drama festival in his honour, the Great Dionysia (see Festivals topic).

As god of wine and revelry, Dionysos was a very popular god who brought release from the hardship of everyday existence. However, if humans resisted the power of the god then he would happily destroy them.

Dionysos is often depicted with his followers in art. His female followers are called maenads, and his male followers are called satyrs (human-like creatures with tails and pointed ears). He often carries a thyrsus, a wand of fennel wrapped with ivy leaves and topped with a pine cone.


  • Wine: Dionysos brings release to humans through the effects of wine. He is often depicted with a wine-cup and grape vines.
  • Theatre: the Athenians held many drama festivals in honour of Dionysos. The most famous was the City Dionysia, which took place every March.
  • Revelry: a formal term for partying: a suitable responsibility for the god of wine.

Dionysos iconography

Vines, wine-cup, thyrsus, maenads, satyrs.