Dionysos, Deity of Drama
This fall I began giving tours of the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was built in 1921 and it is truly a historic treasure, from its ornate foyer to the spectacular house (main room where seats & stage are) There are some interesting parallels between the history of the theatre and polytheistic revival. At one time, when it was no longer being used as a theatre, it was used by the Jesus People church, and they covered up nude artwork. The theatre was almost torn down in the late 80′s, but a group of people managed to save it, starting the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which also maintains the Pantages and Orpheum theatres. Uncovering what was hidden and taboo, and saving something from destruction.
Like many theatres it is decorated with a Greco-Roman theme, and while this is generally common with older buildings it is particularly apt since Western theater originates in Greece. In ancient Greece, plays were put on to honor Dionysos, the God of Wine. Dionysos himself is not depicted in the theater (from what I’ve noticed) but there are grapes and other kinds of fruit draping from chandeliers and wall sconces and decorating walls symbolizing abundance.
Why him? It seems he is not just the god of wine, but of celebration of the pleasures of life: beauty, the arts, sexuality, great food and drink.
Another commonality with Dionysos and theater is that they both attract controversy. He was a later god to appear on the scene, and to begin with, many kings tried to suppress his worship because of the wild behavior of his followers, the Maenads, often joined by their daughters! They would get smashing drunk, scantily dress in animal skins, and run wild through the hills. Especially scandalous in a culture that had a very conservative view of women’s roles. There are many stories of this in Greek myth, always ending with the king in question being punished by Dionysos, and/or his father, Zeus. Likewise, theatre has often been subversive, satirizing authority, events and cultural mores, often laced with ribald humor.
The word “satire” comes from satyr- a mischievous and well, horny half-man, half-goat spirit of the woods depicted as companions to Dionysos and the Maenads. (Note: the Romans called him Bacchus, and the satyrs fauns) You may remember good ol’ Mr. Tumnus from the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project- the idea is you write a blog post every 2 weeks about a topic starting with a particular letter. I’m starting a little late (not as bad as last year when I started with P!)
I saw that a couple other PBP bloggers wrote about Dionysos as well-