Hymns and Poems for Dionysos

A collection of ancient hymns and more modern poetry for Dionysos.

HOMERIC HYMNS

TO DIONYSUS (fragment)

For some say, at Dracanum; and some, on windy Icarus;
and some, in Naxos, O Heaven-born, Insewn; and others by the
deep-eddying river Alpheus that pregnant Semele bare you to Zeus
the thunder-lover. And others yet, lord, say you were born in
Thebes; but all these lie. The Father of men and gods gave you
birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera. There
is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with
woods, far off in Phoenice, near the streams of Aegyptus.
…and men will lay up for her many offerings in
her shrines. And as these things are three, so shall mortals
ever sacrifice perfect hecatombs to you at your feasts each three years.’
The Son of Cronos spoke and nodded with his dark
brows. And the divine locks of the king flowed forward from his
immortal head, and he made great Olympus reel. So spake wise
Zeus and ordained it with a nod.
Be favourable, O Insewn, Inspirer of frenzied women!
we singers sing of you as we begin and as we end a strain, and
none forgetting you may call holy song to mind. And so,
farewell, Dionysus, Insewn, with your mother Semele whom men call
Thyone.

VII. TO DIONYSUS

I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele,
how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the
fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of
manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his
strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came
swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian pirates on a well-
decked ship — a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him
they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and
seizing him straightway, put him on board their ship exultingly;
for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They
sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold
him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he
sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood
all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:
`Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and
bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry
him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver
bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the
gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon
the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow
angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.’
So said he: but the master chid him with taunting
words: `Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship:
catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him:
I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the
Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out
and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now
that providence has thrown him in our way.’
When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted
on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled
taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were
seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming
throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that
all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And
all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail
with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant
twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich
berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with
garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade
the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a
dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly:
amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear
which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion
glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled
into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded
helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and
seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard
one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate,
and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had
mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to
him:
`Take courage, good…; you have found favour with my
heart. I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus’ daughter Semele
bare of union with Zeus.’
Hail, child of fair-faced Semele! He who forgets you
can in no wise order sweet song.

XXVI. TO DIONYSUS

I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-
crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-
haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his
father and fostered and nurtured him carefully in the dells of
Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-
smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals. But when the
goddesses had brought him up, a god oft hymned, then began he to
wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed
with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train with
him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.
And so hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant
clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season,
and from that season onwards for many a year.

ORPHIC HYMNS

30. TO DIONYSOS (incense–storax)

I call upon loud-roaring and reveling Dionysos,
primeval, two-natured, thrice-born, Bacchic lord,
savage, ineffable, secretive, two-horned and two-shaped.
Ivy-covered, bull-faced, warlike, howling, pure,
you take raw flesh, you have triennial feasts, wrapt in foliage, decked
with grape clusters.
Resourceful Eubouleus, immortal god sired by Zeus
when he mated with Persephone in unspeakable union.
Hearken to my voice, O blessed one, and with your fair-girdled nurses
breathe on me in a spirit of perfect kindness.

45. HYMN TO DIONYSOS

Come, blessed Dionysos, bull-faced god conceived in fire,
Bassareus and Bacchos, many-named master of all.
You delight in bloody swords and in the holy Maenads,
as you howl throughout Olympus, O roaring and frenzied Bacchos.
Armed with thyrsus and wrathful in the extreme, you are honored
by all the gods and by all the men who dwell upon the earth.
Come, blessed and leaping god, and bring much joy to all.

46. TO LIKNITES (incense – powdered frankincense)

I summon to these prayers Dionysos Liknites,
born at Nysa, blossoming, beloved and kindly Bacchos,
nursling of the nymphs and of fair-wreathed Aphrodite.
The forest once felt your feet quiver in the dance
as frenzy drove you and the graceful nymphs on and on,
and the counsels of Zeus brought you to noble Persephone
who reared you to be loved by the deathless gods.
Kind-heartedly come, O blessed one, and accept the gift of this sacrifice.

47. TO PERIKIONIOS (incense – aromatic herbs)

I call upon Bacchos Perikionios, giver of wine,
who enveloped all of Kadmos’ house
and with his might checked and calmed the heaving earth
when the blazing thunderbolt and the raging gale
stirred all the land. Then everyone’s bonds sprang loose.
Blessed reveler, come with joyful heart.

50. TO LUSIOS-LENAIOS

Hear, O blessed son of Zeus and of two mothers, Bacchos of the vintage,
unforgettable seed, many-named and redeeming daimon,
holy offspring of the gods born in secrecy, reveling Bacchos
plump giver of the many joys of fruits which grow well.
Mighty and many-shaped god, from the earth you burst forth to reach the wine-press
and there become a remedy for man’s pain, O sacred blossom!
A sorrow-hating joy to mortals, O lovely-haired Epaphian,
you are a redeemer adn a reveler whose thyrsus drives to frenzy
and who is kind-hearted to all, gods and mortals, who see his light.
I call upon you now to come, a sweet bringer of fruit.

52. TO THE GOD OF TRIENNIAL FEASTS (incense – aromatic herbs)

I call upon you, blessed, many-named and frenzied Bacchos,
bull-horned Nysian redeemer, god of the wine-press, conceived in fire.
Nourished in the thigh, O Lord of the Cradle, you marshal torch-lit processions
in the night, O filleted and thyrsus-shaking Eubouleus.
Threefold is your nature and ineffable your rites, O secret offspring of Zeus;
primeval, Erikepaios, father and son of gods,
you take raw flesh and, sceptered, you lead into the madness of revel and dance
in the frenzy of triennial feasts that bestow calm on us.
You burst forth from the earth in a blaze…O son of two mothers,
and, horned and clad in fawnskin, you roam the mountains, O lord worshipped in annual feasts.
Paian of the golden spear, nursling, decked with grapes,
Bassaros, exulting in ivy, followed by many maidens…
Joyous and all-abounding, come, O blessed one, to the initiates.

53. TO THE GOD OF ANNUAL FEASTS (incense- all but frankincense – and milk)

I call upon the Bacchos we worship annually, chthonic Dionysos
who, together with the fair-tressed nymphs, is roused.
In the sacred halls of Persephone he slumbers
and puts to sleep pure, Bacchic time every third year.
When he himself stirs up the trienniel revel again
he sings a hymn, accompanied by his fair-girdled nurses,
and, as the seasons revolve, he puts to sleep and wakes up the years.
But, O blessed and fruit-giving Bacchos, O horned spirit of the unripe fruit,
come to this most sacred rite with the glow of joy on your face,
come all-abounding in fruit that is holy and perfect.

Choral Ode from Antigone (Sophocles)

God of the many names, Semele’s golden child,
child of Olympian thunder, Italy’s lord.
Lord of Eleusis, where all men come
to mother Demeter’s plain.
Bacchus, who dwell in Thebes,
by Ismenus’ running water,
where wild Bacchic women are at home,
on the soil of the dragon seed.

Seen in the glaring flame, high on the double mount,
with the nymphs of Parnassus at play on the hill,
seen by Kastalia’s flowing stream.
You come from the ivied heights,
from green Euboea’s shore.
In immortal words we cry
your name, lord, who watch the ways,
the many ways of Thebes.

This is your city, honored beyond the rest,
the town of your mother’s miracle-death.
Now, as we wrestle our grim disease,
come with healing step from Parnassus’ slope
or over the moaning sea.

Leader in the dance of the fire-pulsing stars
overseer of the voices of night,
child of Zeus, be manifest,
with due companionship of Maenad maids
whose cry is but your name.

Philodamos’ Paian to Dionysos

I. Come here, Lord Dithyrambos, Bakchos, god of jubilation, Bull, with a crown of ivy in your hair, Roarer, oh come in this holy season of spring – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! Once upon a time, in ecstatic Thebes, Thyona bore you to Zeus and became mother of a beautiful son. All immortals started dancing, all mosrtals rejoicing at your birth, o bacchic god. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

II. On that day Kadmos’ famous country jumped up in bacchic revelry, the vale of the Minyans, too, and fertile Euboia – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! Brimful with hymns, the holy and blessed country of Delphi was dancing. And you yourself, you revealed you starry shape, taking position on the crags of Parnassos, accompanied by Delphic maidens. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

III. Swinging your firebrand in your hand – light in the darkness of night – you arrived in your enthusiastic frenzy in the flower-covered vale of Eleusis – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! There the entire Greek nation, surrounding the indigenous witnesses of the holy Mysteries, invokes you as Iakchos: you have opened for mankind a haven, relief from suffering. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

IV…….

V. From that blessed country you came to the cities of Thessaly, to the sacred domain of Olympos and famous Pieria – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! and forthwith did the Muses crown themselves with ivy; they all sang and danced around you, proclaiming you to be ‘Forever immortal and famous Paian’! Apollo had taken the lead in this dance. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

VI….VII….VIII…..

IX. The god commands the Amphiktyons to execute the action with speed, so that he who shoots from afar may restrain his anger – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! – and to present this hymn for his brother to the family of the gods, on the occasion of the annual feast of hospitality, and to make a public sacrifice on the occasion of the panhellenic supplications of blessed Hellas. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

X. O blessed and fortunate the generation of those mortals who build for Lord Apollo, a never-decaying, never-to-be-defiled temple – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! – a golden temple with golden sculptures where the goddesses encircle Paian, his hair shining in ivory, adorned with an indigenous wreath. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

XI. To the organizers of his quadrennial Pythian Festival the god has given the command to establish in honour of Bakchos a sacrifice and a competition of many dithyrambs – euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian! – and to erect an attractive statue of Bakchos like the bright beams of the rising sun, standing on a chariot drawn by golden lions and to furnish a grotto suitable to the holy god. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

XII. Come on then, and welcome Dionysos, god of the bakchants, and call upon him in your streets with dances performed by people with ivy in their hair who sing ‘Euhoi, o io Bakchos, o ie Paian!’ All over blessed Hellas…dithyrambs. Hail thou, Lord of Health. – Ie Paian, come o Saviour, and kindly keep this city in happy prosperity.

Anakreon’s request to Dionysos

Lord, with whom conqueror Eros
and the blue-eyed Nymphs
and radiant Aphrodite
like to cavort, you who haunt
precipitous mountain tops,
I beseech you, graciously
join me, take pleasure
in my prayer and fulfil it:
give Kleoboulos a piece
of good advice: to return
my love, o Dionysos.

Pindar’s Dithyramb to Dionysos

Come here to our dance, Olympian gods,
and bestow upon it your famous beauty,
you who are accustomed to visit in holy Athens the navel of the city,
where people throng and incense in burnt,
and also the renowned market-place,
which shows on all sides the products of its artists.
Take your share of wreaths, bound with violets, and of spring-plucked songs.
Be my audience, now that I, having taken my start from Zeus,
have travelled here a second time with splendour of songs
towards the god who is expert in ivy,
whom we mortals call Roarer and Loud-shouting
whenever we celebrate him, offspring of the Supreme Father
and of the Kadmeian Lady.
Like a seer, I perceive the distinct signs which tell
when the chamber of the purple-robed Horai opens
and honey-sweet plants introduce fragrant spring.
This, this is when people scatter lovely petals of violets on immortal earth
and mingle roses with their locks;
when voices of songs resound, accompanied by pipes,
and choruses approach crown-wearing Semele…

Confessions of a Bacchos from The Cretans (Euripides)

Lord of Europa’s Tyrian line,
Zeus-born, who holdest at thy feet
The hundred citadels of Crete,
I seek to thee from that dim shrine,

Roofed by the Quick and Carven Beam,
By Chalyb steel and wild bull’s blood
In flawless joints of cypress wood
Made steadfast. There in one pure stream

My days have run, the servant I,
Initiate, of Idaean Jove;
Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove;
I have endured his thunder-cry;

Fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts;
Held the Great Mother’s mountain flame;
I am Set Free and named by name
A Bacchos of the Mailed Priests.

Choral Ode to Iakchos from The Frogs (Aristophanes)

Iakchos, much-loved resident of these quarters,
– Iakchos, O Iakchos! –
come to this field for the dance
with your holy followers,
setting in motion the crown
which sits on your head, thick
with myrtle-berries, boldly stamping the beat
with your foot in the unrestrained
fun-loving celebration –
the dance overflowing with grace,
dance sacred to the holy initiates!

Wake the fiery torches which you brandish in your hands,
– Iakchos, O Iakchos! –
brilliant star of the all-night celebration!
The meadow is aflame with light;
old men’s knees cavort!
They shake off the pain
of long years in old age
in their holy excitement.
Hold your light aloft
and lead the youthful chorus, Lord,
to the lush flowers of the sacred ground!

FRAGMENTS

The nightingale haunts the glades, the wine-dark ivy, dense and dark the untrodden, sacred wood of god rich with laurel and olives never touched by the sun, untouched by storms that blast from every quarter – where the reveler Dionysos strides the earth forever, where the wild nymphs are dancing round him, nymphs who nursed his life. (Oedipus at Colonnus)

I am raised up and I will not reject the flute,
O ruler of my mind. Look, he stirs me up,
Euhoi, the ivy now whirls me round in Bacchic contest. (Trachinian Women)

And I know how to lead off the sprightly
dance of the lord Dionysos, the dithyramb.
I do it thunderstruck with wine. (Archilochus)

Come, Lord Dionysos,
to the sacred temple of Elis’ people
accompanied by the Graces,
to the temple
storming on your bovine foot,
worthy bull,
worthy bull. (Anonymous)

MODERN POETRY

“Drinking Song” by Longfellow

Fauns with youthful Bacchus follow;
Ivy crowns that brow, supernal
As the forehead of Apollo,
And possessing youth eternal.

Round about him fair Bacchantes,
Bearing cymbals, flutes and thyrses,
Wild from Naxian groves of Zantes
Vineyards, sing delirious verses.

“Evoe!” by Edith M. Thomas

“Many are the wand-bearers, few are the true Bacchanals.”

Many are the wand bearers;
Their windy shouts I hear,
Along the hillside vineyard,
And where the wine runs clear;
They show the vine-leaf chaplet,
The ivy-wreathen spear;
But the god, the true Iacchus,
He does not hold them dear.

Many are the wand bearers;
And bravely are they clad;
Yes, they have all the tokens
His early lovers had.
They sing the master passions;
Themselves unsad, unglad;
And the god, the true Iacchus,
He knows they are not mad!

Many are the wand bearers;
The fawn-bright skin they wear;
There are among them maenads
That rave with unbound hair.
They toss the harmless firebrand-
It spends itself in air;
And the god, the true Iacchus,
He smiles – and does not care.

Many are the wand bearers
And who (ye ask) am I?
One who was born in madness,
“Evoe!” my first cry-
Who dares, before your spear-points,
To challenge and defy;
And the god, the true Iacchus,
So keep me till I die!

Many are the wand bearers;
I bear with me no sign;
Yet, I was mad, was drunken,
Ere yet I tasted wine;
Nor bleeding grape can slacken
The thirst wherewith I pine;
And the god, the true Iacchus,
Hears now this song of mine.

“The Greater Dionysia” by Louise Burton Laidlaw

Is Dionysus dead?
No! still his essences inviolate
All that is bleak and dull annihilate.
For ages men have bade him bow his head,
Imprisoned in the vicious vats of earth;
Today he has regained his godly height,
And true immortals, radiant with delight,
Revel again in Dionysian mirth.

Is Dionysus dead?
No! volatile and gay and free he stands –
Free to dispense the vintage of his hands,
To waken summer with his buoyant tread,
To flood fall sunsets full of lambent wine,
With nature’s ripe exuberance again
To play blithe havoc in the hearts of men
Until their passions soar above his shrine.

~ by Dver on February 14, 2013.

One Response to “Hymns and Poems for Dionysos”

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