Dionysus and Apollo

Or how two brothers....ok,half brothers...represent the creative clash of two opposites in every human soul: Reason and ecstasy, structure and chaos, moderation and excess, the sacred and the profane.


I spend some time this morning reading about Domna Samiou, a tireless researcher and singer of traditional Greek folk songs. She passed away some days ago, aged 84. She had been honored and venerated for decades.But she had also been attacked by some critics for recording the so called "F****songs". In fact that was the album's title...

Lalique Crystal Bacchantes Vase
Bacchantes or Maenades, female worshipers and followers of Dionysus in crystal by Rene Lalique, 1927.

These are very very old traditional folk songs of the Carnival season. They are satirical and unashamedly pornographic and it is so funny to watch and hear a bunch of absolutely respectable scarf-wearing old ladies singing : " a p***sy is sitting on an apple tree and a phallus is begging it to come down...". I haven't seen anything more surrealistically funny and touching in my life. Flash back 2.500 years and these same old ladies would be taking part in Dionysus celebrations, letting out in profane song and dance, all the frustrations of their everyday lives.
 It is obvious that Dionysus is still strong and kicking and ruling the human psyche along with his more illustrious, logical and artistic brother, Apollo!

In fact the two gods shared the same house: The Temple and Oracle of Delphi. For nine months, Apollo lived there, on the slopes of the sacred mountain of Parnassus with his faithful Muses.
 But the sun God spent the winter months in the land of the Hyperboreans (that is somewhere in Scandinavia). For the three winter months his half brother, Dionysus, took over the management! And, Zeus, did he have a good time!!!
He roamed the forests of Parnassus riding his wild panther mount with his, mostly female, followers (interesting how his first and most faithful fans had always been women). During the winter celebrations of the god in Delphi, woman envoys gathered from all over Greece for some wild night hunting.

Anthony Wardle a Bacchant with panthers 
Both gods were depicted as extremely handsome young men and shared the same father,yes you've guessed it, the King of Gods, Zeus. But Dionysus' mother was a mere mortal,so he was not among the 12 main deities in Olympus.And although Apollo's origins are clearly patriarchal and Dorian, Dionysus's seem to be much much older and very controversial. 
Some say that this ,almost always, intoxicated god of grapes and nature, originated in Lydia or Phrygia (on the southern side of today's Turkey),others claim he came from India via Egypt (one of his main childhood myths-dismemberment,death,resurrection- bears a striking similarity to the Osiris one)

 His was a disturbing presence. According to the ancients, he turned tame housewives into wild, mad, sensuous creatures ,who run naked through the wilderness, having sex and killing animals with their bare hands...He was a god adored by women, both in rural areas and in cities. He was a shamanistic figure, full of passion and irrationality, who withstood the onslaught of reason, enlightenment, moderation, harmony and structure his Dorian blond brother symbolised. Interestingly, the two opposites do not exclude each other as in Good-Bad religions, but coexist like Yin and Yang.

Women of Amphissa  having a nasty hangover after a night hunting with the god.
By Sir Lawrens Alma Tandema.

In Greek mythology and everyday life Apollo and Dionysus represent the eternal clash of reason and ecstasy (a Greek word meaning "to step outside one's self").Euripides honored Dionysus in his-very bloody-tragedy "Bacchae" (one of the by-products of the very ancient festivals and mysteries of Dionysus is theatre). Jung and Nietche recognised the archetypal qualities of the divine brothers and the tango they dance in our souls.


 It is not wise to deny our respect to either. Apollo is our civilized persona. Dionysus is the wild one, lurking beneath the veneer, inspiring awe and terror to our oh- so -rational mind. Ancient Greeks had the wisdom to accept both aspects. Christianity embraced the bright faced Apollo's attributes of harmony, reason, healing, moderation and comfort. But it painted the archenemy of all creation, the Devil, using characters from Dionysus entourage:Goat legged Satyr and Pan, both with horns and a tail, intoxicated, ready for sex ,wild, unpredictable and unreasonable (lesser god Pan was striking humans with bouts of unreasonable terror: Panic).
Apollo, being the doctor God, would have explained that there is a time for reason and moderation and a time to let it all go, step out of  boundaries, let the wild one have is't way. It will sleep satisfied and wake up renewed.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful post, Desi! I really enjoyed reading about these two brothers and about Domna and her naughty folk songs! I think I would have a hard time trying to stop laughing if I heard an old woman sing such lyrics, and if *I* had to sing them, I would certainly die of embarrassment! :D

    I think it's interesting that Western religions made one brother the hero and the other the evil villain, even though the fact is that both of them live in our hearts. You cannot have good without bad, and like you say, it is much more Yin/Yang than good/bad!

    I enjoyed the pictures too, wonderful artwork and I especially loved the Oracle at Delphi, partly because I've been there! :D Thank you for this interesting story and post!