The Greek God of Wine and Drunken Revelry

Dionysus holding a cup. Red-figure Amphora, by the Berlin Painter, c. 490-480 B.C.

Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia CC 2.0

Dionysus is the god of wine and drunken revelry in Greek mythology. He is a patron of the theater and an agricultural/fertility god. He was sometimes at the heart of frenzied madness that led to savage murder. Writers often contrast Dionysus with his half-brother Apollo. Where Apollo personifies the cerebral aspects of mankind, Dionysus represents the libido and gratification.

Family of Origin

Dionysus was the son of the king of the Greek gods, Zeus, and Semele, the mortal daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia of Thebes [see map section Ed]. Dionysus is called "twice-born" because of the unusual manner in which he grew: not only in a womb but also in a thigh.

Dionysus the Twice-Born

Hera, queen of the gods, jealous because her husband was playing around (again), took characteristic revenge: She punished the woman. In this case, Semele. Zeus had visited Semele in human form but claimed to be a god. Hera persuaded her that she needed more than his word that he was divine.

Zeus knew the sight of him in all his splendor would prove fatal, but he had no choice, so he revealed himself. His lightning brightness killed Semele, but first, Zeus took the unborn from her womb and sewed it inside his thigh. There it gestated until it was time for the birth.

Roman Equivalent

The Romans often called Dionysus Bacchus or Liber.


Usually, visual representations, like the vase shown, depict the god Dionysus sporting a beard. He is usually ivy-wreathed and wears a chiton and often an animal skin. Other attributes of Dionysus are thyrsus, wine, vines, ivy, panthers, leopards, and theater.


Ecstasy -- madness in his followers, illusion, sexuality, and drunkenness. Sometimes Dionysus is associated with Hades. Dionysus is called the "Eater of Raw Flesh".

Companions of Dionysus

Dionysus is usually shown in the company of others who are enjoying the fruit of the vine. Silenus or multiple sileni and nymphs engaged in drinking, flute-playing, dancing, or amorous pursuits are the most common companions.

Depictions of Dionysus may also include Maenads, the human women made mad by the wine god. Sometimes the part-animal companions of Dionysus are called satyrs, whether meaning the same thing as sileni or something else.


Ancient sources for Dionysus include Apollodorus, Diodorus Siculus, Euripides, Hesiod, Homer, Hyginus, Nonnius, Ovid, Pausanias, and Strabo.

Greek Theater and Dionysus

The development of Greek Theater came out of worship of Dionysus in Athens. The major festival at which the competitive tetralogies (three tragedies and a satyr play) were performed was the City Dionysia. This was an important annual event for the democracy.

The theater of Dionysus was on the south slope of the Athenian Acropolis and held room for an audience of 17,000. There were also dramatic contests at the Rural Dionysia and the Lenaia festival, whose name is a synonym for 'maenad', Dionysus' frenzied worshipers. Plays were also performed at the Anthesteria festival, which honored Dionysus as the god of wine.

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Gill, N.S. "Dionysus." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/dionysus-greek-god-of-wine-and-drunken-revelry-111907. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). Dionysus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dionysus-greek-god-of-wine-and-drunken-revelry-111907 Gill, N.S. "Dionysus." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dionysus-greek-god-of-wine-and-drunken-revelry-111907 (accessed June 5, 2023).