The Transformations of Dionysus

Dionysus, free son of Zeus,
From every shackle was cut loose.
The unhinged fury of the god
Brought down on Pentheus the rod;
The mortal soul who tried to peep
Was found and Maenads, then, did leap
On him and tore him limb from limb,
With fury putting end to him:
Thus Pentheus fulfilled his course,
And was destroyed with violent force;
The god also of drunken fits,
He too was torn to little bits.
His body lost, Zeus took his heart,
And in a drink, he gave this part
To Semele, who pleased the king
Of heaven, but did Juno bring
Her wrath on her; she gained her trust,
Encouraging the mortal’s lust,
She caused Semele to beseech
The king of heaven with her speech,
To know his full divinity,
She asked in her simplicity.
But she could not withstand the king,
So she was slain by his lightning.
But Bacchus bore she in her womb;
The drink Zeus gave her made her bloom:
The former heart had formed the child,
A second time to birth the wild.
So Zeus sowed Bacchus in his thigh,
That his own son would not then die;
He carried him, till he was born,
That god whom Pentheus would scorn.
He rendered what he underwent,
But he, divine, could not be rent
Asunder wholly, for his soul
Was ever living, ever whole.


Dionysus Agrios, truly wild,
Forgoing restraint, forsaking the mild,
This god of the vine taught men to make wine,
Some thought it madness, but it was divine.
Outsiders who peep, beholding his rites,
He swiftly o’erthrows; with fury he spites.
What wisdom, unleashed from thought, can reveal,
No cunning magician, no thief can steal;
There logic and learning have no recourse,
Only the fury of Bacchus has force.
When Pentheus went and hid in the grove,
The Maenads to madness the wild god drove;
They ripped him to pieces, and carried his head
To Cadmus, who mourned to see he was dead.
The boundaries men had set with their hands,
Ignored he; he traveled to far-away lands,
Even to India, he made his way,
And there by his art, he also held sway;
For once they were drunken, then were they bound:
Though spared of their lives, his subjects were they found.
So, they that deny his godhood are slain,
While his devotees follow in his train.

Lycurgus Drives Out Bacchus

Lycurgus, king of Thrace, son of Oak,
From peaceful sleep to frantic cries awoke,
And straight inquired the meaning of the uproar.
“Sire, Bacchus’ ship has landed on our shore.
To him have all the women resorted,
And without license has he exhorted
That they abandon home and run about
And in the woods and mountains statutes flout;
To drink till they are drunken from the wine,
Which they have seasoned with extract of pine:
But they have not diluted it with snow;
With unmixed wine their giant cups o’erflow.
These drunken revels overthrow their sense:
Thus Bacchus’ has his rites at our expense.”
Lycurgus swelled with rage and was aghast:
“I’ll seize th’ invader and he’ll feel the blast
Of fury and of rage and martial skill;
He’ll flee or on the ground his blood I’ll spill.”
He seized an ox-goad then and hunted down
The rebel who with wine had tried to drown
All sense and reason for to overthrow
The kingdom, which by riot is brought low.
He found the Maenad followers and drove
Them into prison, cursing them by Jove:
But Bacchus to the border did he hound
And thought his tearful cries a joyful sound;
Though Bacchus claimed himself to be a god,
Yet flew he thence before Lycurgus’ rod.