In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dionysus

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Collections of Essays
  • Dionysus and Greek Religion
  • Dionysus and Mystery Cult
  • Orphism
  • Dionysian Associations
  • Dionysian Festivals
  • Forms of Dionysian Ritual
  • Comedy, Satyr Play, and Dithyramb
  • Dionysus in other Greek Literature
  • Dionysus in Roman Literature
  • Dionysus in Rome, Italy, and the Roman Empire
  • Local Worship of Dionysus
  • Dionysus and Christianity
  • Reception of Dionysus

Classics Dionysus
Fiachra Mac Góráin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0284


Dionysus/Bacchus is the most widely-studied of the Greco-Roman divinities. For long it was believed that he was a late addition to the Greek pantheon, partly due to his minor role in the Homeric poems, and partly because of the many myths in which the god arrives, often from Thrace or Phrygia. The appearance of his name on Linear B tablets from Crete and Pylos proved his great antiquity. Nowadays most scholars consider the motif of the god’s arrival a structural feature of the god’s myth rather than a historical reminiscence: he is “the god who comes” (Hölderlin, “Brod und Wein”), the epiphanic “étrange étranger” (Detienne, Dionysus at Large), both native and outsider. Dionysus has been abundantly attested in myth, art, literature, and cult from the archaic age onward. The version which took shape in Athens during the Archaic and Classical periods continues to dominate our picture of Dionysus, god of wine, fertility and nature, theater, and ritual madness. Nonetheless, the god cannot be reduced to this or any single version, and still less to an unchanging essence. There were many local variations, and Dionysus was often identified with or influenced aspects of local deities such as Osiris, Fufluns, or Liber. Since the time of the later Roman Empire, Dionysus has continued to enjoy a rich and varied afterlife (perhaps we should rather say evolution) from Christian discourse through medieval allegory, Renaissance painting, and German philosophy to modern art and aesthetics. Scholars have discussed and interpreted Dionysus in countless ways, using many different theoretical approaches including Religionsgeschichte, Jungian psychology, and anthropology. A number of more or less recent studies have analyzed the history of the god’s interpretation. Of the rich critical literature on Dionysus the best work is interdisciplinary, combining philological and archaeological methods with an awareness of how the god is being understood and, to some extent, reconstructed. Because Dionysus defies boundaries and categorization, many topics are referred to in more than one section of this bibliography; for example, for maenadism see Dionysus and Tragedy, Forms of Dionysian Ritual, and Dionysus in Ancient Art, as well as the General Studies and Collections of Essays.

General Studies

Seaford 2006 is a concise synoptic introduction. Otto 1965 is a classic study of Dionysian myth and ritual with Nietzschean inflections. Bernabé, et al. 2013 is ample, source-based, detailed and wide ranging.

  • Bernabé, Alberto, Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, and Marco Antonio Santamaria, eds. 2013. Dioniso. Los orígenes. Textos e imágenes de Dioniso y lo dionisíaco en la Grecia antigua. Madrid: Liceus, Servicios de Gestión y Comunicación.

    Multiauthored, comprehensive evidence-based discussion of Dionysus in archaic Greece, covering subjects not always well treated elsewhere. Chapters on Mycenaean Greek documents; archaic Greek archaeology and epigraphy; archaic Greek poetry, philosophy, and mythography; interpretative essays on synoptic questions about the nature and interpretation of Dionysus, and Dionysus as compared with Near Eastern gods; corpus of textual evidence for Dionysus (111 pp. Greek with facing-Spanish translations); corpus of visual evidence (38 pp.). In Spanish.

  • Daraki, Maria. 1985. Dionysos. Paris: Arthauld.

    A general study of Dionysian myth and ritual, inflected with structural anthropology. Chapters: Dionysus the traveller; Dionysus the nourisher; the lover of the queen; the kingdom of the earth; the wheel and the irreversible; Dionysus the just. In French.

  • Ivanov, Vjačeslav Ivanovič. 2012. Dionysos und die vordionysischen Kulte. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.

    Introduction and appendices by M. Wachtel, and Chr. Wildberg. German translation of the Russian poet, scholar, and translator’s 1923 Dionis i pradionisijstovo. Before the decipherment of Linear B, Ivanov argued that the earliest Achaeans worshipped a synthetic early version of Dionysus with orgiastic cult (chap. 12). Argues for Dionysus as symbol of suffering and resurrection, associating his travails with those of other Greek heroes; tragedy as art form that purifies heroic suffering. New introduction on intellectual context.

  • Jeanmaire, Henri. 1951. Dionysos. Histoire du culte de Bacchus. Paris: Payot.

    History of Bacchic cult from the archaic age (published before decipherment of Dionysus’ name on Linear B tablets) to the Christian Roman empire. Sections include: Dionysus on Greek pottery (unillustrated); god of vegetation and the vine; Athenian cult; Dionysus in myth and literature, with emphasis on Euripides’ Bacchae; orgiastic religion; divine mania; maenadism; dithyramb; the thiasos and the origin of tragedy; Dionysus in Hellenistic and Greco-Roman worlds. Visionary, groundbreaking and influential, and still worth consulting. In French.

  • Kerényi, Carl. 1976. Dionysos: Archetypal image of indestructible life. Translated from the German by Ralph Mannheim. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    A profoundly erudite history of Dionysus as god of life (zoe as distinct from bios), with Jungian inflections, as suggested by the subtitle. The first part argues suggestively for the Cretan-Minoan origins of Dionysus. The second part considers myths of arrival, the trieteric Dionysus (including Delphic festivals and Orphic mysticism), and the Athenian Dionysus (including Attic festivals, tragedy and comedy). Index. Brief biography and full bibliography of Kerényi.

  • Otto, Walter F. 1965. Dionysus: Myth and cult. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

    Translated from the German of 1933. De-historicized seminal reading, with inspired Nietzschean inflections, of Dionysian myth and its relation to Dionysus cult and its sublime phenomenology. Chapters consider Dionysus in Greek religion, the god’s origins, epiphanies, festivals, ecstatic Dionysian madness, modern theories of Dionysus, Dionysus as god of vegetation and moisture, and Dionysus’ relationship with women, including Semele and Ariadne, and with Apollo. Subject of an essay by Jan Bremmer in Bernabé, et al. 2013, pp. 4–22 (cited under Collections of Essays).

  • Seaford, Richard. 2006. Dionysos. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203358016

    Engaging introduction to Dionysus. Justifies why Dionysus matters today, and covers a wide range of themes: nature, communality, epiphany, mystery cult, death, theater, psychology and philosophy, Christianity, Dionysus after antiquity (Renaissance Italy, 19th-century Germany), and Dionysus and money. Seven illustrations; index.

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