Chapter 32

Heracles and Dionysus

In this chapter, you encounter Heracles (the Greek version of his name; Latin is Hercules) and Dionysus and learn their stories as the first step toward becoming familiar with the rituals associated with each. Both were sons of Zeus and mortal women. Each was later considered divine, although they took different paths toward that status. Heracles was a hero figure of great power, but one who could also be dangerous to himself and others, murdering his wife and children, for example. Yet he served as a guardian of community life and a role model for Greek youth and became a participant in the Eleusinian mysteries (see Chapter 28). Although Dionysus was certainly the god of wine, in classical times he was experienced more as a god of inspiration in whose honor dramatic festivals were held. The rituals of Dionysus contained subversive elements such as cross-dressing, drunkenness, exchanges of insults, obscene songs, and the acting out of sexual acts.

As you read the stories of these two sons of Zeus, consider the similarities and differences between them. With respect to Dionysus, reflect on what you have learned about the Greek gender gap in Chapters 3 and 28 in the light of what you are learning with respect to his relationship to women. Consider these two deities in the light of the motif Claude Levi-Strauss (Chapter 22) found in Greek myth of a tension between overvaluing kinship and undervaluing kinship.

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