Monday, March 23, 2015

TFBT: Zagreus, the Heir of Zeus

"This god [Dionysus-Zagreus] was born in Crete, men say, of Zeus and Persephone, and Orpheus has handed down the tradition in the initiatory rites that he was torn in pieces by the Titans."  Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 75. 4

Let me see if I can explain this; Zeus in the form of a snake seduced his daughter Persephone.  This resulted in a child of course, because the beds of the gods’ are always fruitful.  Zeus placed the little boy upon his throne, much to the displeasure of his always jealous wife Hera.  She summoned the Titans, who enticed the lad away with various toys and then ripped him apart and ate him.  (That sort of death happens a lot in Greek mythology, especially if you are a Theban prince, which Zagreus will be.  Sorry getting ahead of myself.)  Of course, Zeus shows up with thunderbolts to deal with the cannibals.  Zagreus’ heart is the only part left unconsumed by the Titans.  Apparently the heart contained the soul and divinity of Zagreus.   

Either Zeus or his next love Semele consumed the heart. (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24. 43, or  Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 167)  Semele was a Theban princess, daughter of Cadmus.  Zeus’ son by Semele was Dionysus.  Unfortunately she died while pregnant.  So…

"Dionysus is a god . . . once stitched into the thigh of Zeus--Dionysus, his mother burnt up by the flame of lightning."  Euripides, Bacchae 245   

In other words, the unborn child was sewn into Zeus’ thigh to finish the gestation period.  Dionysus was the god of wine and frenzy.  Persephone was his divine mother. This might explain why she released his mortal mother Semele from death. 
"Dionysus retrieved Semele from (Persephone and) Hades' realm, gave her the name Thyone, and escorted her up to the sky." Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 38  

All this is better explained at  You can find original texts on Orpheus, Persephone and Zagreus at Theoi and  at



  1. "...The beds of the gods’ are always fruitful."
    This fact allows us, knowing the genealogy of gods, to count how many times they had sex. I remember the joke about two old gentlemen talking:
    "To me, there is no happier occasion than Christmas."
    "Christmas is good, but sex is even more enjoyable."
    "Yeah, sex is also good, but too rare, so I prefer Christmas."

  2. Ha ha! Maya!

    Did you watch Ami Seemee's presentation on the golden cloud in Book XIV? I asked what god as born of Hera and Zeus' tryst atop Mt. Ida. And her response was a "new dispensation". Homeric Hymns are all about "new dispensations" in divine society. She argues that the fruits of their labors that morning was more peace and understanding between the two of them and the divine factions; with the Achaeans or Trojans. It was a good presentation.

  3. Unfortunately for me, most of the Hour 25 information is on videos. Of them, I've watched only one, the discussion on Oedipus at Colonus for which you gave me a link. Of course, I understood almost nothing. The written text is my medium.
    Your question was good, very good!
    I suppose that the answer is actually simpler. The ancient authors who said that "the gods' beds are never barren" didn't figure out that this would make gods very fertile indeed, but at the same time almost impotent. When Homer sent Hera to seduce Zeus with Aphrodite's pheromone-soaked girdle, he definitely didn't think that this act would produce offspring which must be accounted for.
    If every sexual intercourse indeed results in a conception, this means that goddesses differ from mortal women by having induced ovulation:

    My gods have human-like reproduction pattern. Most of them use family planning with the exception of Zeus and, of course, Oceanus and Tethys who produce a new baby every year and soon start forgetting and confusing the names of their offspring.

  4. Zagreus is a mystery to me. Some scholars say that if a god is zoomorphic, he must be ancient. Zagreus is horned, maybe even bull-shaped. Nevertheless, the earliest preserved reference to him is by Aeschylus. Maybe Zagreus was picked by some Barbarian mythology; but which one?

    If Zagreus were mythologically old, we could suppose that Persephone was married off to Hades in order to cover up the story of her rape-incest by Zeus and the baby.

  5. "If every sexual intercourse indeed results in a conception, this means that goddesses differ from mortal women by having induced ovulation:" Oddly enough, I read something on this a while back. In fact the goddesses were always fertile. That was their greatest power.

    As to Zagreus being zoomorphic; aren't we all. In fact, animals and us are theomorphic. Every god and goddess had some animal avatar. I think Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 139 explains it most clearly, how they all had an animal form to assume when fleeing Typhon.

    As to Zagreus having a bullish shape, (his parents created him in the forms of serpents) this is real common in River Gods. "`For my suitor was a River-god, I mean Akheloüs, who would demand me of my father in three shapes, coming now as a bull in bodily form, now as a gleaming serpent in coils, now with trunk of man and front of ox.' Strabo, Geography 10. 2. 19

    But all this is part of the Orphic Mysteries, which were .... mysteries, so who knows what it really means.


  6. We see that Zeus shows up to the cannibal party conveniently too late to save his child, the alleged threat to his throne.
    In some versions of the myth, the ashes of Titans incinerated by Zeus' thunderbolt are used as raw stuff to create humans. So we contain, in addition to the Titanic components, some first-rate divine components from Zagreus.

    This reminds the Akkadian story of human creation: a god was killed by more powerful gods and humans were made from his flesh and blood mixed with clay.

    Here, the victim is a rebel unrelated to the supreme god. His name comes in several variants, none resembling Zagreus. Still, the story is similar.

    Did Zeus arrange the entire affair to produce raw stuff for human creation, like clones are produced in dystopian novels just to serve as organ donors? Zeus pronouncing Zagreus as his heir and putting the toddler on the throne is, as we said before, so unlike him. (And he never made Dionysus his hair. Actually, though it is claimed that Dionysus triumphantly brought his mother and wife to Olympus, we never see not only them but even Dionysus himself on Olympus.)

    Maybe Zeus was bluffing and provoking others to do what he wanted to be done but didn't want to do by himself. Like when he told Hera that Menelaus had won the single combat with Paris and now the war had to end.

    1. Maya M,

      “The Titans, they who tore him to pieces, placed a cauldron upon a tripod, and casting the limbs of Dionysus into it first boiled them down” Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks 2. 15 Tossing Zagreus into the cauldron puts him in the company of Pelops for whom things worked out well. Make Hera the cause of all this mischief is almost cliché. However, the whole thing puts Zagreus into the dying vegetative god, that Frazer so loves to discuss in The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, But maybe it was time for a change in the mythical/magical/ religious realm and that’s what Zeus (the poets) for saw. The time came for a more spiritual and intellectual view of the divine, hence the rise of other dying gods like Osiris, (my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ) Adonis and finally Dionysus.

      As to the lack of reference for Thyone and Adriane in Heaven; the same can be said of Heracles and Diomedes. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, got me thinking that our vision of Olympus is rather simply. Generally, Olympus is imagined as a dozen gods attended by a cupbearer and Cupid. Instead we should be imagining the French court at Versailles with a cast of thousands. In defense of Homer though, as I writer I can tell you that too many characters will loss and confuse your audience.

      Finally, if we are made of the stuff of Titans, that explains our tendency to always over-reach and to never know our place.

    2. As for over-reaching and not knowing one's place - I don't think Olympians are immune from this, either. In the Iliad, we see (in retrospect) Olympians trying to bind Zeus, and then (in the present) Hera, Poseidon, Athena and Ares disobeying him, some more than once. On the other hand, we see Zeus in retrospect crippling his son and torturing his wife, and in the present, threatening everyone. We also see funny scenes of Olympians fighting each other like drunken villagers.

      Even if Olympus id Versailles-like, I cannot imagine Diomedes there. Unless other gods decide they want to rebuild the entire place and need a wreckage expert. Diomedes is a destroyer pure and simple, like ISIS.
      The most elaborate description of life on Olympus are by Homer, to whom Dionysus is a minor godling and Heracles is a dead hero. Heracles' spirit resides in his proper place, i.e. Hades (there is an opinion that the lines in the Odyssey about Heracles on Olympus are a later interpolation. Lucian mocks them well.)
      However, from vases that I have seen, I've got the impression that married Heracles is on Olympus while married Dionysus is among satyrs, i.e. in the mortal lowlands. Ancient artists were not fond of Semele/Thyone - there are few depictions of her; even doesn't give any.
      On the other hand, Dionysus is connected to Olympus in the myth of the Return of Hephaestus.

      How do you think, is Dionysus Dumuzi? When Kumarbi was imported as Cronus, a "m" changed into "n". Maybe the same happened here.

  7. Maya M,

    As to the Olympians "over-reaching" well they were second generations titans.

    As to interpolation; everyone who finds a line of Homer that doesn't fit their pet theory proclaims it an interpolation. If you took everything out of Homer that someone some where claimed was an interpolation all you would have left is the love scene on Mt Ida.

    I think we don't see Thyone because she was part of the mysteries and saying (or painting) too much about such things could get you stoned. (And not in a good way.)

    Kumarbi-Cronus; maybe, but those Hittite/Sumerian/Assyrian myths wander all over the place plot wise and geographically. I don't know if you could ever make sense out of the mess.


    1. Say what you like, but it is difficult to deny that the lines:

      "Then I caught sight of mighty Heracles, I mean his phantom, since he joys in feasting among the deathless gods, with slim-ankled Hebe for wife..."

      make little sense. I remember that you had an issue with the alleged words of Achilles from the same text (though you explained them simply by Odysseus' tendency to invent and lie).

      Lucian's dialog is e.g. at Let me cite a little of it:

      "Surely this is Heracles I see?...Mighty Conqueror, are you dead? I used to sacrifice to you in the other world; I understood you were a God!"
      "Thou didst well. Heracles is with the Gods in Heaven, and hath white-ankled Hebe there to wife. I am his phantom."
      ..."Why, we may find it's the other way round, that you are Heracles, and the phantom is in Heaven, married to Hebe!..."

  8. I see that the same discussion - how often exactly gods make sex - is not going on at Hour 25.

    About the 30,000 year period: There was a tradition, found in Pythagoras and later in Empedocles, that gods and demigods, after a seious transgression, were punished with having their souls exiled into the mortal world and possibly undergoing a series of reincarnations in mortal bodies for 30,000 years (or maybe for 30,000 horai, i.e. 10,000 years).
    Empedocles himself claimed to be such a soul:

    "...An ’oracle of Necessity’... condemns guilty spirits (daimones) to wander apart from the blessed for 30,000 years, in all manner of mortal forms. They conclude with a dramatic confession: ‘Of these I too am now one, an exile from the gods and a wanderer, having put my trust in raving Strife’ (fr. 115 )."

    It seems that Aeschylus' lost satyr-play "Prometheus the fire-bearer" had, in its final part, a line - retold from memory by later authors and scholiasts - that Prometheus would be punished for 30,000 years. (I guess, spectators were not expected to waste any empathy on characters of satyr plays.) When later either Aeschylus himself or someone else developed the same plot into a tragedy, the term was dramatically shortened to 13 human generations, maybe to prevent it from looking quite absurd.

    Generally, the Greeks (like all pre-Enlightenment Europeans) imagined the world with a short history. A combined chronology of mythical and historical events has been engraved on a stone known as "Parian marble" or "Parian chronicle". It doesn't give a date for the beginning of the world, but implies that it has been recent:

    "The name of the compiler of the Parian Marble is lost, but he covers the period from the accession of King Cecrops in Athens in, according to him, 1581/0 BC to 264/3 BC, doubtless the date of composition and of the inscription itself. For over a hundred of these thirteen hundred years, he found events to record of a very varied nature. He dates Deucalion's flood to 1528/7, the invention of corn by Demeter to 1409/8 and the fall of Troy to 1209/8."

    I once took part in an evolution-creation debate (a rare event in my country, actually the only one I know about so far). I knew of course that my opponent was a creationist, but had no idea that he was a "young Earth" creationist. I admit that I was stunned when, in the middle of the public discussion, he stated that isotope dating is bogus and the true age of the Earth is about 6,000 years.

  9. Maya,

    I found several Greek mythic timelines on line;

    Thanks for recalling the “13 human generations” rule. I’d forgotten about that.

    Hesiod points out that guilty spirits who break the oath of styx; “And whoever of the gods, who keep the summits of snowy Olympos, pours of this water, and swears on it, and is forsworn, is laid flat, and does not breathe, until a year is completed; nor is this god let come near ambrosia and nectar to eat, but with no voice in him, and no breath, he is laid out flat, on a made bed, and the evil coma covers him. But when, in the course of a great year, he is over his sickness, there follows on in succession another trial, yet harsher: for nine years he is cut off from all part of the everlasting gods, nor has anything to do with their counsels, their festivals for nine years entire, but in the tenth he once more mingles in the assemblies of the gods who have their homes on Olympos. Such an oath did the gods make of the imperishable, primevil water of Styx; and it jets down through jagged country."

    Your stated, “Generally, the Greeks (like all pre-Enlightenment Europeans) imagined the world with a short history.” That is an interesting generalization. Vedic Mythology is comfortable discussing million of years, I assume Assyrian mythic timelines are long because of the generations of gods there. Greek is shorter and the Nordic timeline feels even shorter. Hence the further west the Indo-Europeans go, the shorter the mythic timeline.

    Of course, all the Abrahamic faiths see a short timeline too. “I was stunned when, in the middle of the public discussion, he stated that isotope dating is bogus and the true age of the Earth is about 6,000 years” Really? Ha ha! I thought everyone knew first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, according to the research of James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland).

    Great hearing from you. I've missed our conversations.


  10. Thank you!
    I think Ussher has been a remarkable personality. When two pieces of the Parian marble were brought to Britain in the 17th century, most of the deciphering of the inscriptions was done by a scholar named Selden, but Ussher also helped.
    Unfortunately, one of the pieces was later lost and only the transcription remained.