Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Andrew Dalby's 'Bacchus: A Biography' (2003)

While still slowly going through a hefty book on Mary and her many manifestations, I finished two nifty books by Andrew Dalby, one on Venus / Aphrodite here and here, and one on Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus: Bacchus: A Biography (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004). There's intertwining of content in all three. An important shared element is wine.  
Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus has a rich life story throughout the Mediterranean regions that is depicted widely in art and text. Dalby shows how the Macedonians took this mythology with them through the Middle East and all the way to India, breathing new wine into old wineskin, as it were. 
The origins of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus proceed backward from the present through artists, poets, philosophers, dramatists and various other types of writers, through the Romans and Greeks to at least 3200 years ago -- probably further back than that. 
What is the origin of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus? As Dalby succinctly puts it: "You can try to find the original story, but there is no original story." (Bacchus: A Biography, p. 146). That's daunting, haunting, mysterious -- and cool. 
The mythology of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus was well-known to early Christians, and to observant later Christians, too.  One of the more interesting connections is through "The Marriage of Cana" in the Bible (Book of John 2: lines 1-11). This scene is discussed in the Mary book, too, because Mary inspires the action. When the wedding party runs out of wine, Mary makes note of it, and Jesus performs the miracle of turning water into wine.

Which makes me wonder how some later Christian sects could ever justify their rejection of wine or any other spirits in their formal gatherings or even at home. Jesus didn't turn wine into water, he turned water into wine. But these eccentric sects reject drinking completely. For instance, the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints); Methodists (traditionally); Southern Baptists; "Dunkers" (at least the Dunker from Maryland I once knew); Seventh-day Adventists (Ben Carson is a member, and Mitt Romney is a Mormon); certain Evangelicals; and so on. 

Islam is against wine and spirits in principle, although Sufis and various artist and mystic types have demonstrated different interpretations that allow and celebrate it. 

Finally, Jains and Sikhs shun wine and all spirits. 

Personally, I can't become too excited about any religion or sect that shuns wine or its alternatives, nor would I want to join them -- any of them.  

And so, back to Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus: a salute, with wine, is in the offing. 

Today's Rune: Joy.      

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I should read about Bacchus. I've been known to engage in a bit of drunken revelry.