The Dionysus Phenomenon and the Metamorphoses in Macedonian Oral Literature

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The Dionysus Phenomenon and the Metamorphoses in Macedonian Oral Literature

The cult of Dionysus came to the Hellenists from Trakia and Macedonia1F and according to some, it originates from Asia Minor2F. The myth about the torn apart child Dionysus – Jagerus was made known by Christian authors3F. On Hera’s command, the newborn son of Zeus was torn apart by the Titans, and a tree sprout immediately on the ground where his blood dropped. The Titans placed the torn body into a cauldron and boiled him. But the goddess Rhea put the pieces back together and brought him back to life. Later on, by the order of his father Zeus, through Hermes, Dionysus was transformed into both a goat and a ram, and was given to the care of the nymphs in one of the caves on the hill of Nis. The Epicurean Philodem, from Cicerone’s time, talked about the tree births of Dionysus, i.e.: the first of a mother, the second of Zeus’ hip bone, similar to the Hittite god of the winds born in Kumbaya – where any existence of a mother was excluded. This ceremonial birth, of male sex only, is a well know Jewish ceremony borrowed from the Hittites (Book of Ruth 3:9)4F. The third birth of Dionysus was when his grandmother – the goddess Rhea saved the heart of the torn child and joined the pieces together. In this „crime of the Titans“ the old scenario through which the child was given a divine immortality can be recognized. Also, the most dramatic episode of the myth is the tearing and the boiling part. The passing of the human body through fire and it’s metamorphosis also represents an initiation ceremony through which immortality was achieved. The tearing, boiling or passing through fire was a feature of the Shaman initiation.
The initiation character of the Dionysus ceremony can be easily recognized in Delphi where the women were celebrating the rebirth of the god. While they were celebrating, the torn body of Dionysus was placed into a basket, ready to be reborn. Later on, Orpheus was considered as a reformer of Dionysus mysteries, and in the fifth century they adopt „orphic“ elements. Dionysus was a god who was different from the Olympian gods, and who was amazing with his appearances and variety of transformations. Always moving about, he was always ready to be connected with different, even antagonistic, divinities such as e.g. Demitrus and Apollon5F. This god is known by his physical metamorphoses of a lion, bull, or a snake. His calendar escort show that he was born in winter as a snake, from which follows the garland of snakes; he became a lion in spring and was killed and eaten as a bull, goat or dear in the middle of the summer. Those are the forms he used while the Titans attacked him. Appearing in different metamorphosis, he was the only Greek god who equally carried away and attracted the people such us the intellectual elite, the politicians, the contemplators, the practitioners and ascetics. His way of existence expresses the paradoxical unity of life and death, pointing out the unforgettable – presence of god, through trances to dislodge human provision.
Walter Otto6F connects his appearances with the subject, „banishment“ of Dionysus. Those appearances as well as the periodical disappearing, place him between the gods of vegetation. He fulfils certain connections with the life of the plants, for e.g. ivy and pine were his attributes. With his appearances and disappearances however, Dionysus reveals the secret and holiness of life and death. The revelations have a religious nature because they happen in the very presence of god. We can noted similar episodes of divine presence in Spiro Ivanov’s tale, were at the very end the divine disguised healer discloses himself: „He was an angel of god“; or in the folk song told by the blind man Jovan Mihailov from village Brodi, Sersko, where the girl recognizes her beloved, butchered and placed into the saddlebag on the horse. Afterwards:

„Cry did the young girl
in the arms of his old mother,
they took out Momcilo heroe
placed him on the grass,
collected his pieces;
put him as he was.
Still she cried and shouted:
– Dear god I beg of you,
give me back Momcilo heroe!
She cried for three days,
raised her voice up to heaven,
two angels heard,
transformed into two hawks,
and came down to Arbanaza,
they asked the mother:
– Why are you crying, why are you shouting,
We’ll revive Momcilo again“.7F

The periodical disappearance and appearance of the god Dionysus as well as the hero in the Macedonian examples, are not always connected with the change of the season. As mythological phrases, the disappearing and appearing refers to plunging into the Underworld where death reigns. The story noted by Spiro Ivanov, about the dead and the two times revived princess, contains a double metamorphosis, while the disappearing from this world is interpreted through the elements of Christianity, e.g.: „Don’t cry father; I was not dead, I was just asleep and in the dream came an angle of the Lord, and he took me into the heavens and into paradise. I saw many wonders, so much that I cannot tell all of them“. (SBNU, XIX, pg. 26).
The spiritual origin of the cult of Dionysus, and the similar ones, underlie the feeling of definity of humanity and individual existence, but also in the fear of destruction, because generations disappear and go away forever inevitable. „I am dry and perishing of thirst“ was written on the golden leaf found in a grave in Petelia. The endless sorrow springs out from under the surface of the otherwise optimistically realized life in this note, breaking through the silky esthetic concept of the universe. The individual human being is not satisfied with the knowledge of being only a bubble through the river of life, but insists on overcoming its own fragility. The substitute of the earthly human „I“, for the higher, the divine, becomes a goal of the individual. That unprotected human being is found in the mystical-ecstatical cult of Dionysus, the god of nature who is always undergoing some kind of metamorphosis and rejuvenating himself. During the feasts celebrating Dionysus, the religious believers were giving in into the most religious ecstasy, thinking that they are detaching themselves from the limitations of the everyday life and uniting with the essential divine nature. In addition to that unity, as an everlasting creative source of nature in the glory of the god Dionysus, the „crime“ of tearing apart was performed, of course, through ecstasy. It was a believe that in such a way, it was possible for man to break the human and earthly boundaries and unite with the true and higher order. Euripides, towards the end of his life, wrote about that divine unity in his work „Bahanatkini“8F.
The phenomenon called Dionysus Nietzsche, who called himself the last student of the philosopher Dionysus, pointed out that the same „can only be explained by the surplus of strength“. The Dionysus mysteries, the psychology of the condition of Dionysus, express the fundamental fact to the Hellenistic instinct – his „will to live“9F. Obviously, the Dionysus rituals will take part in literature. The development of the dithyramb, tragedy, satiric drama, e.g. is considered to be immediate work of Dionysus10F. We ran into hidden tracks of Dionysus tracks most of the folk works of art. The ballad about the love of the two brothers and the only sister, disrupted by the jealous and evil sister-in-law, encompasses a great deal of shocking episodes in its structure. The falsely accused sister for the murder of her brother’s child, before being punished, she will ask for a specific kind of a Dionysus destruction, a „self-sacrifice“ that indicates the awareness of the inexhaustible will to live, to be:

„–Take me my brother, take me away,
take me to the mountains
cut me piece by piece
the biggest that an ant can carry.
If I have done it,
let my hands fall,
let them become long bridges;
let my eyes drop,
let them become two cold springs
but where my body falls,
let there be build church Marica. –
As she said, it all happened“. 11F

1. Milosh N. Gjuric, Orfizam I helenska filozofija I Dionisov kult I njegovo oblagorogjivanje u orfizmu, vo: Kroz helensku istoriju, knjizhevnost I muziku (studije I ogledi), Beograd, 1955, 227.
2. Vojin Matikj, Sveti vuk, vo: Zaboravljena bozhanstva, Beograd, 1972, 59.
3. Mircha Elijade, Istorija verovanja I religiskih ideja I, Od kamenog doba do Eleusinskih misterija. Prevela Biljana Jukic. Beograd, 1991, 312.
4. Robert Grevs, Grchki mitovi, prva knjiga. Beograd, 1974, 104-105, 109-110.
5. Mircha Elijade, Istorija verovanja I religijskih ideja I, … Str. 314. ; Robert Grevs, Grchki mitovi, prva knjiga… Str. 109.
6. Mircha Elijade, op. cit, p. 304.
7. Стефан И. Верковиќ, Македонски народни умотворби. Книга трета. Јуначки и трапезарски песни, Скопје, песна бр. 19, стр. 97.
8. Milosh N. Gjuric, Orfizam I helenska filozofija I Dionisov kult I njegovo oblagorogjivanje u orfizmu, vo: Kroz helensku istoriju, knjizhevnost I muziku, str. 227-230.
9. Fridrih Niche, Sumrak idola ili kako se filozofira chekicem, Beograd, 1988, 97-99.
10. Mircha Elijade, Istorija verovanja I religijskih ideja … I, str. 314; Fridrih Niče, Rođenje tragedije, Beograd, 1983; Olga Mihajlovna Frejdenberg, Mit I antichka knjizhevnost, Beograd, 1987.
11. Малеш и Пијанец, III. Кирил Пенушлиски, Малешевски фолклор, МАНУ, Скопје, 1980, песна бр. 68, 138.

AuthorLenka Tatarovska
2018-08-21T17:23:57+00:00 October 1st, 1999|Categories: Literature, Reviews, Blesok no. 10-11|0 Comments