How did Dionysus die and come back to life?

Statue of Dionysus, or perhaps his roman name: Bacchus

The Birth and Death of Zagreus

Dionysus, under his original name of Zagreus, was born to Zeus and Persephone after Zeus took the shape of a serpent and came to her while she was still a virgin. Persephone was sought after by many gods because of her beauty, virginity, and hidden state from the world by her mother Demeter.

Soon Persephone gave birth to a child and named him Zagreus, and he was with her in the Underworld before the young child was suddenly swept up to the Heavens by Zeus. Zeus wanted to make sure the heir was his, and so he sat the child in his throne. The young Zagreus was able to sit in the throne and even brandished lightning bolts as he sat in it, which marked him as the true heir of Zeus.

Hera became greatly upset when she realized that Zeus had produced another kid with someone else, and so she sought to kill this baby so that he could not be Zeus’s heir. Hera enlisted the help of unnamed Titans that tracked the child down to where Zeus was keeping him and then killed him, cut his body apart, and ate him.

The only part of Zagreus that was not eaten was his heart which was saved by Athena who had secretly followed the Titans but was unable to stop them from killing her younger half-brother. Athena brought the heart to Zeus and told him what had happened and Zeus swallowed the heart to keep it safe then burned those Titans to ashes with his lightning.

Resurrecting the Child

The heart that Zeus received from Athena was still beating, which meant that there was a possibility that the young Zagreus could be saved. Zeus went to Apollo, who was known to heal wounds, but Apollo had no solutions.

After trying Apollo, Zeus went to his mother Rhea to see if she could heal the child. However, Rhea was also unable to perform the feat and advised Zeus to see the Oracle as that was the only possible way to know if a method truly existed at all.

Zeus followed her advice and went to the Oracle at Delphi who told him that there was in fact a way to resurrect the child. She told Zeus that he needed to crush Zagreus’s heart into a drink and feed that drink to a woman and that she would give a new birth to the child.

Zeus went to Semele, who was the daughter of the goddess Harmonia and King Cadmus of Thebes, and visited her in a dream because she believed faithfully in him and sacrificed bulls to him. He convinced her in the dream to give birth to his child for him, and in return he would make her immortal. She awoke and Zeus met with her in person and she agreed to drink the crushed up heart.

Semele and Zeus were happy together and Semele rejoiced and lived among the meadows and surrounded by beautiful music while pregnant. Hera became incredibly upset by this development and feared that Zeus was intent on replacing her for going against him and having Zagreus killed, so Hera disguised herself and planted doubt in Semele’s mind that Zeus did not really love her and that she should have him prove his love.

Semele, convinced that she needed to prove the legitimacy of Zeus’s love, sought him out. She requested to him that he do something to her to prove that he truly loved her. Zeus swore to her on the river Styx that he would grant any request she asked immediately, and so she requested to see his true form like Hera had told her to ask.

Zeus begged and pleaded with her not to request this, but she insisted and so he was bound by his word to do it. Zeus tried to only show her the tiniest glimpse of himself but it was still too much and she was burned to ashes by the sight of him. However, the unborn child inside of her survived due to the divine nature.

The Second Birth

Zeus took the child up out of the flames and sewed him into his own thigh until he was finally ready to be truly born, making Zeus in a way both the mother and father of the child. He was born and had a pair of horns on top of his head that were in the shape of crescent moons. The Seasons crowned him with flowers and snakes accompanied him.

In order to keep the child safe from Hera, he was given to the demigod Nysus who lived at Mount Nysa. Because of this, the child was named Dionysus after Nysus. However, he was unable to stay with him because Hera sought to track down and destroy the child again.

Dionysus and Hermes

Zeus gives the still very young Dionysus to the care of Hermes to raise and keep safe. Hermes is a very busy god and so he looked for locations to keep the boy safe in.

Hermes first took the child to the Lamides who were a group of river nymphs, and they loved the child. However, Hera discovered that he was with them and drove them mad so that they would attack the boy but Hermes rescued him before they could actually hurt him.

Next, Hermes brought the child to Queen Ino of Boetia who agreed that she would raise him on the condition that she and Hermes exchange mysteries. They did so, and Hermes instructed her to raise the child as a girl to keep him out of Hera’s sight.

This did not work, Hera arrived and flooded Boetia to destroy the child once again. But Hermes once again swooped in just in time to save the child and flee once more.

Finally, Hermes arrived with Dionysus in the mountains of Lydia but Hera arrived to confront them. Hera insisted that Hermes finally give up the child to her and end this game of hiding because she would always be able to find him somehow. In response, Hermes transformed into Phanes, the first of all gods, and told Hera that she must stand down which she promptly did so and would never seek to take Dionysus’s life again (though she did continue to hate him).

With Hera off of his tail, Hermes was finally able to decide where he would take Dionysus. Taking the child on one final journey, he brought him to his grandmother Rhea who agreed to care for him and did so until Dionysus was through with adolescence.

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