Friday, February 24, 2012


Lord of Trees

E.R. Dodds, Euripides. Bacchae. Edited with Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. x-xi:
To the Greeks of the classical age Dionysus was not solely, or even mainly, the god of wine. Plutarch tells us as much, confirming it with a quotation from Pindar,1 and the god's cult titles confirm it also: he is Δενδρίτης or Ἔνδενδρος, the Power in the tree; he is Ἄνθιος the blossom-bringer, Κάρπιος the fruit-bringer, Φλεύς or Φλέως, the abundance of life. His domain is, in Plutarch's words, the whole of the ὑγρὰ φύσις—not only the liquid fire in the grape, but the sap thrusting in a young tree, the blood pounding in the veins of a young animal, all the mysterious tides that ebb and flow in the life of nature. Our oldest witness, Homer, nowhere explicitly refers to him as a wine god;2 and it may be that his association with certain wild plants, such as the fir and the ivy, and with certain wild animals, is in fact older than his association with the vine. It was the Alexandrines, and above all the Romans—with their tidy functionalism and their cheerful obtuseness in all matters of the spirit—who compartmentalized Dionysus as 'jolly Bacchus' the wine-god with his riotous crew of nymphs and satyrs.3 As such he was taken over by Renaissance painters and poets; and it was they in turn who shaped the image in which the modern world pictures him.

1 Is. et os. 35, 365 A, quoting Pindar, fr. 140 Bowra.

2 This may of course be accidental; but it odd, as Farnell says, that Maron, though a Thracian and a vine-rgower [sic, read vine-grower], is represented as a priest not of Dionysus but of Apollo.

3 Horace is an exception: Odes, 2.19 and 3.25 show a deeper understanding of the god's true nature.
Id., pp. 80-81 (on lines 109-110 καὶ καταβακχιοῦσθε δρυὸς / ἢ ἐλάτας κλάδοισι, i.e. 'and consecrate yourselves with twigs of oak or fir'):
For Dion. as Lord of Trees cf. his cult titles Ἔνδενδρος (in Boeotia, Hesych. s.v.), Δενδρεύς (Studemund, Anecd. Varia, i.268), Δενδρίτης (Plut. Q. Conv. 5.3.1, 675 F), and Jeanmaire, Dionysos, 12 ff. There were in Hellenistic times δενδροφορίαι in his honour (Strabo 10.3.10, Artemidorus, p. 141.13 Hercher), though these may be due in part to the influence of the Attis-cult. Oak and fir are the typical trees of Cithaeron (Sandys), as of many Greek forests; but there may be ritual reasons for their frequent appearance in the Bacchae (oak 685, 703, 1103; fir 684, 1061, 1098). A θίασος of Dionysus Δρυοφόρος existed at Philippi close to Mt. Pangaeum, one of the original homes of the cult (Bull. Corr. Hell. 1900, pp. 322 f.); on a fifth-century coin of Abdera we see the god carrying a fir-tree in his hand (Münzer-Strack, Münzen von Thrakien, I.i, pl. 2, No. 4); and the fir-tree on which Pentheus sat was a holy tree (1058 n.).
Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 35 = Moralia 365 A-B (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
To show that the Greeks regard Dionysus as the lord and master not only of wine, but of the nature of every sort of moisture, it is enough that Pindar be our witness, when he says
May gladsome Dionysus swell the fruit upon the trees,
The hallowed splendour of harvest time.
For this reason all who reverence Osiris are prohibited from destroying a cultivated tree or blocking up a spring of water.

ὅτι δ' οὐ μόνον τοῦ οἴνου Διόνυσον, ἀλλὰ καὶ πάσης ὑγρᾶς φύσεως Ἕλληνες ἡγοῦνται κύριον καὶ ἀρχηγόν, ἀρκεῖ Πίνδαρος μάρτυς εἶναι λέγων
δενδρέων δὲ νομὸν Διόνυσος πολυγαθὴς
αὐξάνοι, ἁγνὸν φέγγος ὀπώρας.
διὸ καὶ τοῖς τὸν Ὄσιριν σεβομένοις ἀπαγορεύεται δένδρον ἥμερον ἀπολλύναι καὶ πηγὴν ὕδατος ἐμφράττειν.
Plutarch, Convivial Questions 5.3.1 = Moralia 675 F (tr. Paul A. Clement and Herbert B. Hoffleit):
Practically all Greeks sacrifice to Poseidon the Life-Giver and to Dionysus the Tree-god.

καὶ Ποσειδῶνί γε Φυταλμίῳ Διονύσῳ δὲ Δενδρίτῃ πάντες ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν Ἕλληνες.
See also Valdis Leinieks, The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides Bakchai (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1996), pp. 179-180.

Related post: Arboreal Epithets of Greek Gods.

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