Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Semele

Semele (play /ˈsɛməliː/; Greek: Σεμέλη, Semelē), in Greek mythology, daughter of the Boeotian hero Cadmus and Harmonia, was the mortal mother of Dionysus by Zeus in one of his many origin myths. In another version of his mythic origin, he is the son of Persephone. The name "Semele", like other elements of Dionysiac cult (e.g., thyrsus and dithyramb), is manifestly not Greek but Thraco-Phrygian;, derived from a PIE root meaning "earth". Her son was a god who died in order to be reborn as it happens in the religions of the Orient and in the religion of Minoan Crete.

It seems that certain elements of the cult of Dionysos and Semele were adopted by the Thracians from the local populations when they moved to Asia Minor, where they were named Phrygians. These were transmitted later to the Greek colonists. Herodotus, who gives the account of Cadmus, estimates that Semele lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 B.C.

In one version of the myth, Semele was a priestess of Zeus, and on one occasion was observed by Zeus as she slaughtered a bull at his altar and afterwards swam in the river Asopus to cleanse herself of the blood. Flying over the scene in the guise of an eagle, Zeus fell in love with Semele and afterwards repeatedly visited her secretly.

Zeus' wife, Hera, a goddess jealous of usurpers, discovered his affair with Semele when she later became pregnant. Appearing as an old crone, Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that her lover was actually Zeus. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele's mind. Curious, Semele asked Zeus to grant her a boon. Zeus, eager to please his beloved, promised on the River Styx to grant her anything she wanted. She then demanded that Zeus reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he was forced by his oath to comply. Zeus tried to spare her by showing her the smallest of his bolts and the sparsest thunderstorm clouds he could find. Mortals, however, cannot look upon Zeus without incinerating, and she perished, consumed in lightning-ignited flame.

Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus, however, by sewing him into his thigh (whence the epithet Eiraphiotes, "insewn", of the Homeric Hymn). A few months later, Dionysus was born. This leads to his being called "the twice-born".

When he grew up, Dionysus rescued his mother from Hades, and she became a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the new name Thyone, presiding over the frenzy inspired by her son Dionysus

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