Dionysian Context

Dionysus is well known as the god of wine, but his religious significance goes far beyond this; being the god of religious ecstasy itself, the significance of Dionysius in mystic contexts and the imagery associated with him is a complex subject of continued interest. Painted vases were the primary expression of the image of Dionysus and commonly depict scenes from the Dionysia or Lenaia, festivals dedicated to Dionysus. In the Lenaia vases, Dionysus can be recognised as a primitive masked pillar, or sometimes a pole or tree, to which sacrifices are offered by his followers. Such followers which are significant to Dionysian iconography include; maenads, female followers inspired to a state of ecstasy or even frenzy, they are depicted as wild, wearing ivy wreaths or snakes; satyrs, drunken and lustful woodland spirits depicted with vulgar beards, tails and horses’ ears; and Silenus, Dionysus’ older compatriot and tutor. Vases relating to the Dionysia festival, being the context of the development of Greek theatre, may include theatrical scenes and processions. The context of the use of vases of such imagery were various but the social ritual of the symposium, a sophisticated drinking party, commonly made appropriate use of them.

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