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Homeric world (2)

Ancient myths

The death of King Lycurgus of Edonians

  Dionysus discovered the vine, and being driven mad by Hera he roamed about Egypt and Syria. At first he was received by Proteus, king of Egypt, but afterwards he arrived at Cybela in Phrygia. And there, after he had been purified by Rhea and learned the rites of initiation, he received from her the costume and hastened through Thrace against the Indians. But Lycurgus, son of Dryas, was king of the Edonians, who dwell beside the river Strymon, and he was the first who insulted and expelled him. Dionysus took refuge in the sea with Thetis, daughter of Nereus, and the Bacchanals were taken prisoners together with the multitude of Satyrs that attended him. But afterwards the Bacchanals were suddenly released, and Dionysus drove Lycurgus mad. And in his madness he struck his son Dryas dead with an axe, imagining that he was lopping a branch of a vine, and when he had cut off his son's extremities, he recovered his senses. But the land remaining barren, the god declared oracularly that it would bear fruit if Lycurgus were put to death. On hearing that, the Edonians led him to Mount Pangaeum and bound him, and there by the will of Dionysus he died, destroyed by horses.
For the story of the hostility of Lycurgus to Dionysus, see Hom. Il. 6.129ff., with the Scholia; Soph. Ant. 955ff.; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 273; Hyginus, Fab. 132; Serv. Verg. A. 3.14; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 39 (First Vatican Mythographer 122). According to Sophocles, it would seem that Lycurgus suffered nothing worse at the hands of his subjects than imprisonment in a cave, where his frenzy gradually subsided. According to Hyginus, Servius, and the First Vatican Mythographer, the furious king, in attempting to cut down the vines, lopped off one of his own feet or even both his legs. It appears to be a common belief that a woodman who cuts a sacred tree with an axe wounds himself in so doing. It is said that when the missionary Jerome of Prague was preaching to the heathen Lithuanians and persuading them to cut down their sacred woods, one of the converts, moved by his exhortation, struck at an ancient oak with an axe, but wounded himself in the legs and fell to the ground. The accident to this zealous convert closely resembles the one which is said to have befallen the Edonian king in a similar attempt on the sacred vine.
Commentary on Hom. Il. 6.129ff
The legend of Lykoergos is one of a series which tell of the introduction of the orgiastic worship of Dionysos, the opposition it encountered, and the punishment inflicted on those who withstood it. The cult was of the nature of a mystic and spiritual revival, and passed into Greece from Thrace. In the present passage it is at home, for Lykoergos was king of the Edones, Soph. Ant.955.This great religious movement spread over Greece apparently in the 7th cent. From its nature it cannot but have aroused the bitterest antagonism among the established authorities. It is highly probable that it absorbed, and in form was coloured by, more or less related popular village customs springing from a primitive nature and vegetation worship, but that in this more spiritual form it was essentially foreign there can be little doubt. Other forms of the legend occur in Thebes (Pentheus), Patrae ( Paus.vii. 18. 3), Orchomenos (Minyadae), Argos (Proitidae).


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