"otheruses":"Stimula redirects here. For the genus of grass skipper butterflies, see "Stimula (butterfly).

In Greek mythology, Semele, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, was the mortal mother [Although Dionysus is called the son of Zeus (see [ The cult of Dionysus : legends and practice] , [ Dionysus, Greek god of wine & festivity] , [ The Olympian Gods] , [ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology] , [ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2007] , etc.), Barbara Walker, in "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," (Harper/Collins, 1983) calls Semele the "Virgin Mother of Dionysus", a term that contradicts the picture given in the ancient sources: [ Hesiod] calls him "Dionysus whom Cadmus' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus", [ Euripides] calls him son of Zeus, [ Ovid] tells how his mother Semele, rather than Hera, was "to Jove's embrace preferred", [ Apollodorus] says that "Zeus loved Semele and bedded with her".] of Dionysus by Zeus in one of his many origin myths. (In another version of his mythic origin, he had two mothers, Persephone and Semele.) The name "Semele", like other elements of Dionysiac cult ("e.g.", thyrsus and dithyramb), is manifestly not Greek [Burkert 1985] but apparently Thraco-Phrygian; [Kerenyi 1976 p 107; Seltman 1956] the myth of Semele's father Cadmus gives him a Phoenician origin. Herodotus, who gives the account of Cadmus, estimates that Semele lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 B.C. [Herodotus, Histories, II, [;query=chapter%3D%23367;layout=;loc=2.144.1 2.145] ]

eduction by Zeus and birth of Dionysos

In one version of the myth, Semele was a priestess of Zeus, and on one occasion was observed by Zeus as she slaughtered a bull at his altar and afterwards swam in the river Asopus to cleanse herself of the blood. Flying over the scene in the guise of an eagle, Zeus fell in love with Semele and afterwards repeatedly visited her secretly. [Nonnus, "Dionysiaca" 7.110-8.177 Harv|Dalby|2005|pp=19-27, 150]

Zeus' wife, Hera, a goddess jealous of usurpers, discovered his affair with Semele when she later became pregnant. Appearing as an old crone, [Or in the guise of Semele's nurse, Beroë, in Ovid's "Metamorphoses" III.256ff and Hyginus, "Fabulae"167.] Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that her lover was actually Zeus. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele's mind. Curious, Semele demanded of Zeus that he reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he agreed. Mortals, however, cannot look upon Zeus without dying, and she perished, consumed in lightning-ignited flame. [Ovid, "Metamorphoses" III.308-312; Hyginus, "Fabulae" 179; Nonnus, "Dionysiaca" 8.178-406]

Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysos, however, by sewing him into his thigh (whence the epithet Eiraphiotes, "insewn", of the Homeric Hymn). A few months later, Dionysus was born. This leads to his being called "the twice-born". [Apollodorus, "Library" 3.4.3; Apollonius Rhodius, "Argonautica" 4.1137; Lucian, "Dialogues of the Gods" 9; compare the birth of Asclepius, taken from Coronis on her funeral pyre (noted by L. Preller, "Theogonie und Goetter", vol I of "Griechische Mythologie" 1894:661).]

When he grew up, Dionysos rescued his mother from Hades, [Hyginus, "Astronomy" 2.5; Arnobius, "Against the Gentiles" 5.28 Harv|Dalby|2005|pp=108-117] and she became a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the new name "Thyone", presiding over the frenzy inspired by her son Dionysos. [Nonnus, "Dionysiaca" 8.407-418]

"Virgin" impregnation by Zeus

In another version of the same story, Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the underworld, is called Zagreus, and was dismembered by the Titans, at the instigation of Hera. Gaius Julius Hyginus, or a later author whose work has been attributed to Hyginus, ["Fabulae" 167.1] said Zeus created mead out of Zagreus's heart, which he gave to Semele to drink, and that this was how she became pregnant. [ [ Orphic Creation] ]

Dionysus, who was called "the twice-born" because of being sewn, when still a foetus, into his father's thigh (see above), "was also called Dimetor [of two mothers] ... because the two Dionysoi were born of one father, but of two mothers" [(Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 4. 5, quoted in [ Zagreus] )] According to [ Ellie Crystal] , the rebirth in both versions of the story is the primary reason he was worshipped in mystery religions, as his death and rebirth were events of mystical reverence, and this narrative was apparently used in certain Greek and Roman mystery religions. Variants of the narrative are found in CallimachusFact|date=September 2007 and the Fifth Century CE Greek writer Nonnus. ["Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24. 43 ff" - translation in [ Zagreus] ] In the passage in question Nonnus does not present the conception as virginal; rather, the editor's notes imply Zeus swallowed Zagreus' heart, and visited the mortal woman Semele, whom he seduced and made pregnant. In [ Dionysiaca 7.110] he classifies Zeus's affair with Semele as one in a set of twelve, the other eleven women on whom he begot children being Io, Europa, the nymph Pluto, Danaë, Aigina, Antiope, Leda, Dia, Alcmene, Laodameia, mother of Sarpedon, and Olympias.


The most usual setting for the story of Semele is the palace that occupied the acropolis of Thebes, called the "Cadmeia". [Semele was "made into a woman by the Thebans and called the daughter of Kadmos, thoughh her original character as an earth-goddess is transparently evident" according to William Keith Chambers Guthrie, "Orpheus and Greek Religion", rev. ed. 1953:56. Robert Graves is characteristically speculative: the story "seems to record the summary action taken by Hellenes of Boeotia in ending the tradition of royal sacrifice: Olympian Zeus asserts his power, takes the doomed king under his own protection, and destroys the goddess with her own thunderbolt." (Graves 1960:§14.5). The connection "Semele"="Selene" is often noted, nevertheless.] When Pausanias visited Thebes in the second century AD, he was shown the very bridal chamber where Zeus visited her and begat Dionysus. Since an Oriental inscribed cylindrical seal found at the palace can be dated 14th-13th centuries BC, [Kerenyi 1976 p 193 and note 13] the myth of Semele must be Mycenaean or earlier in origin. At the Alcyonian Lake near the prehistoric site of Lerna, Dionysus, guided by Prosymnus or Polymnus, descended to Tartarus to free his once-mortal mother. Annual rites took place there in classical times; Pausanias refuses to describe them. [Pausanias, "Description of Greece" 2.37; Plutarch, "Isis and Osiris" 35 Harv|Dalby|2005|p=135]

Though the Greek myth of Semele was localized in Thebes, the fragmentary Homeric Hymn to Dionysus makes the place where Zeus gave a second birth to the god a distant one, and mythically vague::"For some say, at Dracanum; and some, on windy Icarus; and some, in Naxos, O Heaven-born, Insewn; and others by the deep-eddying river Alpheus that pregnant Semele bare you to Zeus the thunder-lover. And others yet, lord, say you were born in Thebes; but all these lie. The Father of men and gods gave you birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera. There is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with woods, far off in Phoenice, near the streams of Aegyptus..."

Semele was worshipped at Athens at the Lenaia, when a yearling bull, emblematic of Dionysus, was sacrificed to her. One-ninth was burnt on the altar in the Hellenic way; the rest was torn and eaten raw by the votaries. [Graves 1960, 14.c.5]

"Semele" was a tragedy by Aeschylus; it has been lost, save a few lines quoted by other writers, and a papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus, P. Oxy. 2164. [Timothy Gantz, "Divine Guilt in Aischylos" "The Classical Quarterly" New Series, 31.1 (1981:18-32) p 25f.]

emele in Roman culture

When the initiatory cult of Dionysus was imported to Rome, shortly before 186 BCE, to great public scandal, [The scandal was reported in Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita" 39.12, where the consul advised the prostitute Hispala Faecenia "that she ought to tell him what was accustomed to be done at the Bacchanalia, in the nocturnal orgies in the grove of Stimula."] Semele's name was rendered Stimula. The groves in which the initiation rites took place were deemed sacred to Semele/Stimula. Ovid's "Fasti" shifts the origin of the Bacchanalian rites in Rome to a mythic rather than a historic past:

:"There was a grove: known either as Semele’s or Stimula’s::Inhabited, they say, by Italian Maenads.:Ino, asking them their nation, learned they were Arcadians,:And that Evander was the king of the place.:Hiding her divinity, Saturn’s daughter cleverly:Incited the Latian Bacchae with deceiving words:" [Ovid, "Fasti" , 6.503]

emele in later art

In the 18th century, the story of Semele formed the basis for three operas of the same name, the first by John Eccles (1707, to a libretto by William Congreve), another by Marin Marais (1709), and a third by George Frideric Handel (1742). Handel's work, (based on Congreve's libretto but with additions), while an opera to its marrow, was originally given as an oratorio so that it could be performed in a Lenten concert series; it premièred on February 10, 1744.


External links

* [ Homeric Hymns]
* [ On Thyone]


*Harvard reference | Surname=Burkert | Given=Walter | Authorlink=Walter Burkert | Title=Greek Religion | Publisher=Harvard University Press | Place=Cambridge, Mass. | Year=1985 | ISBN=0-674-36280-2
*Harvard reference | Surname=Dalby | Given=Andrew | Authorlink=Andrew Dalby | Title=The Story of Bacchus | Publisher=British Museum Press | Place=London | Year=2005 | ISBN=0714122556 (US ISBN 0-89236-742-3)
*Graves, Robert, 1960. "The Greek Myths"
*Kerenyi, Carl, 1976. "Dionysus: Archetypal Image of the Indestructible Life," (Bollingen, Princeton)
*Kerenyi, Carl, 1951. "The Gods of the Greeks" pp 256ff.
*Seltman, Charles, 1956. "The Twelve Olympians and their Guests". Shenval Press Ltd.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sémele — (en griego Σεμέλη) es un personaje perteneciente a la mitología griega y su contraparte romana era la diosa Stimula. Hija de Cadmo, rey de Tebas y Harmonía; es hermana de Ágave, Autónoe, Ino y Polidoro, pero se la conoce por ser la madre de Baco… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Semele — ist eine Figur der griechischen Mythologie, siehe Semele (Mythologie) ein Oratorium von Georg Friedrich Händel, siehe Semele (Händel) ein Drama von Friedrich von Schiller, siehe Semele (Schiller) als Semele androgyna eine Pflanzenart als… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Semele — SEMĔLE, es, Gr. Σεμέλη, ης, des Kadmus und der Harmonia Tochter. Apollod. l. III. c. 4. §. 2. Sie war von einer ganz sonderbaren Schönheit, und wurde daher auch selbst vom Jupiter geliebet. Weil aber solches die Juno ungemein ärgerte, so… …   Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

  • Sémele — Sémele, en griego Σεμελη, es un personaje perteneciente a la mitología griega y romana. Hija de Cadmo, rey de Tebas y Harmonía; es hermana de Ágave, Autonoe, Ilirio y Polidoro, pero se le conoce por ser la madre de Baco o Dionisos. Era la más… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Semele — Semele,   griechisch Semẹle, griechischer Mythos: Tochter des Kadmos, in die sich Zeus verliebte. Auf Anstiften der eifersüchtigen Hera äußerte Semele den Wunsch, Zeus in seiner vollen Majestät zu sehen, und wurde bei seinem Anblick von der Glut …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Sémélé — is an opera by Marin Marais first performed on April 9 1709. The opera is in the form of a tragédie en musique with five acts and a prologue. Marais s opera has been published in a modern performing score by France s Centre de Musique Baroque de… …   Wikipedia

  • Semele — {{Semele}} Tochter des Kadmos* und der Harmonia*, Geliebte des Zeus*, Mutter des Dionysos*, von der eifersüchtigen Hera* in Gestalt ihrer alten Amme dazu beredet, sich von der Göttlichkeit des Liebhabers zu überzeugen. Darum erbat sich Semele von …   Who's who in der antiken Mythologie

  • Semĕle — Semĕle, 1) Tochter des Kadmos u. der Harmonia, Geliebte des Zeus. Here, eifersüchtig auf ihre Nebenbuhlerin, kam in der Gestalt von deren Amme, Beroë, zu ihr, suchte in ihr Zweifel gegen die Göttlichkeit ihres Geliebten zu erregen u. forderte sie …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • SEMELE — Cadmi, Thebarum Regis filia, ex qua Iuppiter Bacchum genuit. Propert. l. 2. El. 28. v. 27. Narrabis Semele quô sit formosa periclô. Vide Fabulam apud Ovid. Met. l. 3. Hinc Semeleius, unde Semeleia proles Ovidio, l. 5. Metam v. 329. et Semeleus… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Semele — daughter of Cadmus and mother of Dionysus, from L., from Gk. Semele, a Thraco Phrygian earth goddess, from Phrygian Zemele mother of the earth, probably cognate with O.C.S. zemlja earth, L. humus earth, ground, soil …   Etymology dictionary

  • Semele — [sem′ə lē΄] n. [L < Gr Semelē] Gr. Myth. a daughter of Cadmus and the mother of Dionysus: seeing Zeus in all his glory, she is consumed in his lightning …   English World dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.