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Homeric world (2)
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.
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).
- Perseus: Apollodorus, Library and Epitome (ed. Sir James George Frazer)
- Perseus: Walter Leaf, Commentary on the Iliad, 6.130
- Perseus: Homer, The Iliad