18. homeric hymn to dionysus


In our current episode of MythTake we discuss the ‘arrival’ of Dionysus as depicted in the Homeric Hymn #7. The Hymn describes a young, strong and beautiful god who is abducted by pirates for ransom. Long story short, it doesn’t quite work out for the pirates and yet again we see the after effects of a divine encounter.

In the course of a few lines these men and their vessel are transformed, literally in the case of the crewmen, into dolphins; and figuratively – the helmsman will become the prototypical priest of Dionysus. The Captain– well let’s just say that he too becomes transformed. He is consumed, digested by the god. 

These metamorphoses as a result of a divine epiphany are again quite common in the mythical corpus. Hesiod’s encounter with the Muses on the slopes of Mt. Helicon, The Cretan sailors in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and others. In the presence of divinity humans often find themselves ‘altered’. Their paths through life take a turn, they become something else. Shepherds become poets, sailors become priests, helmsman become baccantes, predators become prey – you get the picture.

As we discussed the passage it became quite evident that there are many mythological elements that this small hymn (of 49 lines) has in common with other sources. These metonymical connections spread out from this hymn (like the ivy covering the ship’s mast) and work their way into Hesiod, Euripides, Ovid, Apollodorus and beyond. [DS]



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Source Passage

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus (Hymn 7)

Ovid. Metamorphoses. 3. 845-863.

Apollodorus. Library of Greek Mythology. 3.5.3

Translation Sources

Apollodorus. The Library of Greek Mythology. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford World’s Classics: 1997.

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. Translated by Susan C. Shelmerdine. Focus Publishing: 1995.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by Charles Martin. Norton: 2004.


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This week’s theme music: “Super Hero” by King Louie’s Missing Monuments from the album “Live at WFMU” (2011). Used under Creative Commons license. Music used under Creative Commons license and available from Free Music Archive.