Mything Words – Thyrsos

by Erin on December 7, 2011

Dionysos, the Greek god of wine and the theater, was often depicted in mythology and art with a thyrsos (also spelled thyrsus). The thyrsos was in fact one of the god’s primary symbols. This rather odd looking attribute was basically a staff upon which ivy or grape vines were wound, topped with what appears to be a large pine cone – and if you use your imagination, you might notice that the thyrsos resembles a giant stalk of asparagus.

In addition to the images of Dionysos carrying the thyrsos in ancient Greek vase painting and relief sculpture, there are many examples of Maenads or Bacchantes holding this distinctive staff. So it is important to remember that these female followers of the frenzied god of wine also carry the thyrsos in art and myth. Occasionally, satyrs (those creatures, half man and half goat, who form the male portion of Dionysos’s entourage) and/or Sileni are portrayed holding this distinctive symbol as well.

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