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Greek god of vegetation and fruitfulness, known especially as the god of wine and ecstasy. His Roman equivalent was Bacchus. He was known to the ancient Mycenaens, and he became one of the most important of all the Greek gods. A son of Zeus and (according to the standard tradition) Semele, he was brought up by the maenads, or bacchantes. The first creator of wine, he traveled widely teaching the winemaking art, with a following of satyrs, sileni (seesatyr and silenus), and nymphs. Festivities called Dionysia or (among the Romans) Bacchanalia were held in his honour; in their earlier years they were wild, ecstatic occasions, and they have often been the subject of artistic representation. Dionysus originally appeared as a bearded man, but later more often as a slim youth. His principal attribute was the thyrsus, a wand bound with vine leaves. The dithyramb, a choral hymn in his honour, is often seen as the basis of Western drama.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Dionysus, visit Britannica.com.