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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Lord Dionysus and the Dionysia Festival

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Whenever we talk of culture, there are many things that come to our mind simultaneously. Civilization is one of the most important random things amongst that lot.

There have been many civilizations like The Harappan Civilization, The Punt Civilization, The Nok Civilization, The Greek Civilization and many more. Greek Civilization has been one of the most glorious civilizations ever. It is known for it’s pomp and colourful lifestyle.

When it comes to the Greek Civilization, the other thing that comes to our mind is the grotesque revengeful nature of the Greeks which led to so many bloody wars. Apart from all this, that one important thing that comes to our mind is Lord Dionysus and the Dionysus festival.

Earlier there did not use to be so many festivals. There were only a few selective festivals, the Dionysus festival being one of the most important. Before knowing about the Dionysus festival, it becomes really very important to know who Lord Dionysus was.

Dionysus is commonly thought to have been the son of Zeus, the most powerful of all Greek gods and goddesses, and Semele, a mortal woman. Zeus’ wife Hera was extremely jealous and planned a trick on Semele that would have her killed.

She convinced Semele to ask Zeus to reveal himself in his true form. When Zeus revealed himself, Semele was burned to death after looking upon his glory. Luckily, Zeus managed to save the unborn Dionysus by stitching him into his own thigh. Because Zeus carried him until his birth, Dionysus became immortal.

Zeus still had to deal with a jealous wife, though. Hera was now planning the death of Dionysus. Hera had the other Titans rip his body to pieces. Zeus was able to save the child, with the help of Rhea. He then sent Dionysus away with Hermes, who took him to Mt. Nysa to be raised by the half-human, half-goat creatures known as satyrs. Because of his birth story, Dionysus was always associated with rebirth.

When he was older, Dionysus is said to have discovered the grapevine. He taught mankind how to cultivate the vine and make wine from the grapes. Dionysus became the god of wine. He was also associated with the madness and revelry that goes with it.

So four times a year, the Athenians and citizens from all over Greece would gather together to worship Dionysus. The largest and most prolific of these festivals was the City Dionysia, or Great Dionysia, which was held in late March through early April.

Here, the Greeks would sing and dance and revel in a state of madness in worship of the god. Goats were sacrificed in his honor. Men would dress up as satyrs. Large amounts of wine would be consumed.

Theatre was an important part of the Dionysus festival. People came from far off places in large numbers just to watch the plays which were to be staged. Before the play was staged, prayers were offered to Lord Dionysus.

Tragedy began here, at the City Dionysia, in the sixth century B.C.E. The history says that at some point a contest was formed to honor the best tragedy. In 534, Athens made the contests official and offered financial support for their production.

Once made official, the contests and their winners were recorded by the state, giving us much more detail about the tragic contests. On the first day of festivities, a large statue of Dionysus was carried from the temple to the Theater of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis.

This procession was of much importance to the Athenians and Greeks and large numbers of people attended the parade. The procession itself was a spectacle, and intended as a reenactment of Dionysus’ journey to Athens. Once at the theater and prior to the performance of the plays, the theater was sprinkled with the blood of sacrificial pigs for purification.

The festival allowed three playwrights to have their plays performed in the tragic contests. Each contestant was required to submit three tragedies and one satyr play (a form of comedy that required the chorus to dress as the satyr companions of Dionysus).

It is assumed that the tragedies were required to be in the form of a trilogy. While only one complete Greek trilogy remains, many of the surviving tragedies seem to have once been a part of a trilogy. The contest lasted for three days, one for each playwright.

Each playwright presented all three tragedies and the satyr play in one day. The audiences would spend much of the day in the theater, though Greek plays were shorter than modern plays. After the three days of performances, the winner would be put to a vote.

The festival used to end with the prize distribution amongst the playwrights. All the days of the festival would be loaded with fun, pleasure and merry making activities.

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