Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

Categories: History

These women were called bacchantes by the Romans, and maenads by the Greeks. In ancient times, when women were in the shadow of men, they personified freedom, creativity and intemperance. They got away with all this, because the ladies were under the patronage of Bacchus (Bacchus or Dionysus). And he was the most cheerful and life-loving deity of the Ancient world.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

Women usually became maenads of their own free will. Very rarely, Bacchus, through his priests and oracles, himself chose followers in one of the cities. It was impossible to refuse God, because, despite his cheerful disposition, he could punish the inhabitants with madness.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

It was believed that the first maenads came from Thebes, the ancient homeland of Bacchus. There God had a large female retinue called tiasos. The legend said that the girls came to Bacchus from different parts of the Ancient world. They were led away from home by a secret but irresistible call.

In some myths, bacchantes were called god's nurses, mad, but passionately devoted to him. In different periods of ancient history, maenads were persecuted for their devotion to their lord. Many were annoyed by their drunkenness and erratic behavior. Most famous for his intolerance of bacchantes, King Lycurgus is a bitter enemy of the cult of the god of wine and excesses.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

It was not difficult to pursue the bacchantes, since these women differed in their appearance. When all Greek and Roman women wore tunics, maenads were dressed in animal skins. They did not recognize shoes, and their heads were decorated with wreaths of vine or ivy. Their hair fluttered freely, and their laughter was loud and defiant. The appearance of bacchantes was almost always accompanied by libations, noise and riots.

Often in the hands of maenads there was a thyrsus – a long wooden staff braided with dill. The top of it usually became a pine or cedar cone. In general, given the fashion and the rules of decency of those times, the bacchantes looked untidy and even indecent. But it was this freedom and dissimilarity from contemporaries that made maenads favorite characters of ancient art. They were depicted on ceramic jugs, frescoes and mosaics, statues were sculpted from them, poems were dedicated to them.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

No event accompanied by libations was complete without dishes with the image of bacchantes and their patron. Thus the Greeks and Romans honored Bacchus, Bacchus, Dionysus, who gave them intoxication and fun. Drinking toasts in honor of God was also an obligatory part of the holiday, at which wine was drunk.

Bacchus was the Roman counterpart of the Greek Dionysus, so the myths and legends dedicated to them are very similar. One of the most ancient and detailed legends was described in his play "Bacchae" by the playwright Euripides. The premiere of the play took place in 405 BC. According to the plot, the god Dionysus returned with his retinue to his native Thebes to teach the townspeople bacchanalian rites.

But a mortal stood in the way of God – the king of Thebes Pentheus. He categorically refused to let Dionysus and his unbridled company into the city and told the guests to get out. For this, God punished Thebes by the fact that the townspeople went mad and went with him to the mountains. A significant part of the play is devoted to the fun in the camp of the god of winemaking and his glorification.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

Euripides described how intoxicated maenads danced naked among the mountain firs. They had enough alcohol, because when they hit a rock with a thyrsus staff, a spring with wine appeared. The spy who reported to the king of Thebes about what was happening in the camp of the bacchantes told terrible things. According to him, the priestesses of the god tore wild animals with their bare hands and used babies for rituals. They allegedly stole children from nearby villages.

Legends say that the main ritual of the maenads was sparagmos - tearing or dismemberment. One of the victims of the fanatical rage of the female priestesses was the very king of Thebes Pentheus. Another unfortunate torn apart was the mythical musician and poet Orpheus. Many legends, poems and frescoes are dedicated to the death of this hero at the hands of maenads.

The myth says that the sweet-voiced Orpheus paid for refusing to worship Bacchus and became an adept of Apollo. For this, Thracian maenads waylaid him and dismembered him with their bare hands. At the same time, his head continued to sing even separately from his body, and the harp played itself.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

Orpheus' head and instrument were taken to the island of Lesbos and became the Oracle of Orpheus. All the other parts were collected by the Muses and, after mourning properly, buried with honors. Given such traditions, it is not surprising that the maenads were treated with caution or even hostility.

The word "bacchanal" is known to many and usually it means violent revelry and disorder. Of course, it got such a value for a reason. The maenads worshipping Bacchus not only tore apart people and animals. Their rituals included ecstatic dancing, unrestrained fun and immoderate libations.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

During their festivals, the maenads showed incredible endurance, which their god gave them as a sign of favor. The dances of the bacchantes were accompanied by loud senseless screams and music that seemed like a wild cacophony to the uninitiated. The purpose of this noise was to fall into ecstasy, bringing the maenads closer to Bacchus. From the outside, it all looked wild and crazy, and was called a bacchanal.

The Roman writer Livy claimed that the bacchanalia were held at a certain time and lasted for three days. Only women could participate in the celebration of Bacchus, and the holiday was held in a secluded place in complete secrecy. It was believed that a casual witness to the bacchanal could pay with his life.

Who were the mysterious maenads - women who dedicated their lives to Bacchus, the god of wine and excess

In Rome, bacchanals have been held independently of the state for centuries. But in 186 AD, the Senate considered that meetings of dangerous conspirators could take place under the guise of celebrating the days of Bacchus. Therefore, bacchanalia began to be held only with the permission of senators. This led to significant changes in this ancient cult and it gradually declined.

They say that in ancient times people were able to relax, not like now. In addition to the bacchanalia, there were other fervent events, during which not only wine was in use.

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