Mythology - Dionysos at Sea

by Erin on February 22, 2012

Dionysos plays an active role in many works of poetry, tragedy and comedy (he was the patron god of the theater, after all), and of course, has his share of mythological stories. And one of the most intriguing is the story of Dionysos at Sea.

One of numerous Homeric Hymns tells the tale of the abduction of Dionysos by pirates. The pirates, seeing how gloriously (indeed, divinely…) handsome this young man was, impetuously seized him and dragged him to their black ship. In their greedy minds, the brigands thought that the god was a human prince who could be held for ransom, so they attempted to bind him firmly and carry him away. To their utter surprise, the bonds and shackles could not hold the young man, and would slip off, leaving the darkly handsome youth with a mysterious smile.

Only one of the pirates – the helmsman – recognized the true nature of the captive, and shouted with alarm to his fellows: “We have not a man, but a god in our midst!” But the others refused to heed him, and continued with their mad plan of capturing the son of Zeus. Setting sail, the group of thieves were astounded by a series of miraculous events: first, the ship was filled with wine, running like a river before their eyes; next, from the ship sprouted vines heavy with luscious grapes, and tendrils of the vine wrapped themselves around the sails like garlands. Upon seeing these wonders, the crew finally realized that they held no ordinary prisoner, but indeed a divine creature, and ordered the helmsman to return to shore.

But Dionysos had still more in store for the disbelieving pirates, for suddenly he transformed himself into a fierce lion. The lion attacked the captain of the ship, and seeing this, the remaining crew sought to escape by jumping overboard. As they did this, they were changed into dolphins by the god. Only the helmsman, who had recognized the divinity of Dionysos, was spared, and the deity spoke to that man: “Courage! … you are dear to my heart. I am loud-roaring Dionysos, born of the daughter of Kadmos, Semele, who mingled in love with Zeus.”

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