Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 79

Birth of Bacchus.

Refer to caption

BACCHUS. (Vatican, Rome.)

[176] “And near him rode Silenus on his ass,
Pelted with flowers as he on did pass.”

Bacchus’ train was very large indeed, and composed of men and women, nymphs, fauns, and satyrs, all crowned with ivy leaves, who drank wine,—a drink compounded for their express use out of water and sunshine,—ate grapes, danced and sang, and loudly proclaimed him their chosen leader.

“‘We follow Bacchus! Bacchus on the wing,
A conquering!
Bacchus, young Bacchus! good or ill betide,
We dance before him thorough kingdoms wide.’”

The most unruly among his female followers were the Bacchantes, who delighted in revelry, and were in a perpetual state of intoxication as they went with him from land to land, where he taught the people the cultivation of the vine and the art of making wine. He traveled thus, it is said, throughout Greece and Asia Minor, and even ventured as far as India and Ethiopia.

Bacchus and the pirates.

During these long journeys, Bacchus, as was inevitable, met with many adventures, which have been fertile themes for poetry and art. On one occasion, having strayed away from his followers and lost his way, Bacchus laid himself down upon the sand on the seashore to rest. Some pirates, sailing by, saw the handsome young sleeper, and noiselessly bore him off to their vessel, intending to sell him as a slave in Egypt.

They were already quite far out at sea when the god awoke, and gazed around him in mute wonder at his surroundings. When fully roused, he bade the seamen take him back to land, but they merely replied by laughter and mockery. Their amusement was cut short, however, for the ship came to a sudden standstill; and, when they leaned over the sides to ascertain why their oars could no longer propel it onward, they saw a vine [177] grow out of the sea, and twine its branches and tendrils with lightning-like velocity around oars, mast, and rigging, thus transforming the vessel into a floating arbor. Then a sound of music and revelry greeted their astonished ears, and Bacchus’ followers came thronging over the ship’s sides, riding on wild beasts, and chanting the praises of their god and of his favorite beverage.

“In chorus we sing of wine, sweet wine,
Its power benign, and its flavor divine.”
Martinez de la Rosa.

These extraordinary sights and sounds so bewildered the poor sailors, that they lost all presence of mind, and jumped overboard into the sea, where they were drowned and changed into dolphins.

On another occasion, Silenus, after a great carousal, lost his way in the forest, and helplessly wandered from place to place in search of his companions, until he finally came to the court of Midas, King of Lydia, of ass’s ears fame (p. 75).

The curse of gold.

Midas no sooner beheld the red nose and bloated appearance of the wanderer, than he recognized him as Bacchus’ tutor, and volunteered to lead him back to his divine pupil. Delighted to see Silenus again, Bacchus promised Midas any reward he wished; whereupon Midas, who was an avaricious old king, fell upon his knees, and humbly besought the god to grant that all he touched might be changed into gold.

“‘Give me,’ says he (nor thought he ask’d too much),
‘That with my body whatsoe’er I touch,
Changed from the nature which it held of old,
May be converted into yellow gold.’”
Ovid (Croxall’s tr.).