Libyans: Dionysios of Mytilene and Diodoros on competing claims about the god Dionysos (third / mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Libyans: Dionysios of Mytilene and Diodoros on competing claims about the god Dionysos (third / mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 15, 2024,

Ancient authors: Dionysios of Mytilene (third century BCE), Libyan Stories, as discussed in Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 3.62-74 (link).

Comments: Although this site is by no means focussed on myths in the sense of stories about the gods, this very lengthy passage inspired by Diodoros’ discussion of Libyans illustrates very well how an ethnographic mindset was at work in myth-telling not only in the case of DIodoros and the authors of his written sources, but also among the populace generally in various parts of the Mediterranean. Different populations told, re-told and re-shaped their own local stories in oral or written form about the gods or kings of old in competition with stories told by other communities (whether other Greeks or foreigners further still). Not only do these varying myths speak of local traditions and rivalries with others (as also clearly seen in Pausanias’ Guide to Greece, for instance), they also show how an imagination about more exotic places like Arabia, India, and Libya might become important elements in these oral (and sometimes written) stories about the gods. This is ethnography – in the sense of imagining, engaging, and representing peoples, though not necessarily in writing – at the local level.

Works consulted: J.S. Rusten, Dionysius Scytobrachion (Viesbaden: Springer, 1982).


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of supposed myths of the Atlantians, go to this link]

Book 3 

[Rival Dionysoses]

62  In connection with our discussion of Egypt, we have previously made mention of the birth of Dionysos (or: Dionysus) and of his deeds as they are preserved in the local histories of that country [1.23 – link]. So we are of the opinion that it is appropriate in this place to add the myths about this god which are current among the Greeks. (2) But since the early composers of myths and the early poets who have written about Dionysos do not agree with one another and have committed to writing many monstrous tales, it is a difficult undertaking to give a clear account of the birth and deeds of this god. For some have handed down the story that there was only one Dionysos, others that there were three. There are those who state that there was never any birth of him in human form whatsoever, and think that the word Dionysos means only “the gift of wine (oinou dosis).” (3) For this reason we will attempt to briefly survey only the main facts as they are given by each writer.

[Dionysos as god of the vine]

Those authors, then, who use the phenomena of nature to explain this god and call the fruit of the vine “Dionysos” speak like this:

The earth brought forth of itself the vine at the same time with the other plants and it was not originally planted by some man who discovered it. (4) And they allege as proof of this fact that to this day vines grow wild in many regions and bear fruit quite similar to that of plants which are tended by the experienced men. (5) Furthermore, the early men have given Dionysos the name of “Dimetor,”​ [i.e. twice-born] reckoning it as a single and first birth when the plant is set in the ground and begins to grow, and as a second birth when it becomes laden with fruit and ripens its clusters. So the god is considered to be born once from the earth and again from the vine. (6) Even though the writers of myths have handed down the account of a third birth as well. In that account, as they say, the sons of Gaia​ [i.e. the Titans] tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him. But his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time. They trace back such accounts to certain causes found in nature. (7) For he is considered to be the son of Zeus and Demeter, they hold, by reason of the fact that the vine gets its growth both from the earth and from rains and so bears as its fruit the wine which is pressed out from the clusters of grapes. And the statement that he was torn to pieces, while yet a youth, by the “earth-born” [i.e. the Giants] signifies the harvesting of the fruit by the labourers. The boiling of his members has been worked into a myth by reason of the fact that most men boil the wine and then mix it, thereby improving its natural aroma and quality. Again, the account of his members, which the “earth-born” treated with contempt, being brought together again and restored to their former natural state, shows that the vine, which has been stripped of its fruit and pruned at the yearly seasons, is restored by the earth to the high level of fruitfulness which it had before. For, in general, the ancient poets and writers of myths spoke of Demeter as Ge Meter (Earth Mother). (8) With these stories the teachings agree which are set forth in the Orphic poems and are introduced into their rites, but it is not lawful to recount them in detail to the uninitiated.

[Dionysos as born from Semele]

(9) In the same manner the account that Dionysos was born of Semele they trace back to natural beginnings, offering the explanation that Thuone​ was the name which the ancients gave to the earth, and that this goddess received the appellation Semele because the worship and honour paid to her was “dignified” (semnē), and she was called Thuone because of the “sacrifices” (thusiai) and “burnt offerings” (thuelai) which were offered (thuomenai) to her. (10) Furthermore, the tradition that Dionysos was born twice of Zeus arises from the belief that these fruits also perished in common with all other plants in the flood at the time of Deukalion. The belief is that, when they sprang up again after the deluge, it was as if there had been a second epiphany of the god among men. So the myth was created that the god had been born again from the thigh of Zeus.​ However this may be, those who explain the name Dionysos as signifying the use and importance of the discovery of wine recount such a myth regarding him.

[Dionysos as previously human]

63 Those mythographers,​ however, who represent the god as having a human form agree in ascribing to him the discovery and cultivation of the vine and all the operations of the making of wine, although they disagree on whether there was a single Dionysos or several. (2) Some, for instance, who assert that he who taught how to make wine and to gather “the fruits of the trees,”​ as they are called, he who led an army over all the inhabited world, and he who introduced the mysteries and rites and Bacchic revelries were one and the same person. But there are others, as I have said, who conceive that there were three persons, at separate periods, and to each of these they ascribe deeds which were peculiarly his own.

[1. Indian Dionysos as inventor of cultivating fruit and grapes]

(3) This, then, is their account:

The most ancient Dionysos was an Indian. Since his country produced the vine in abundance without cultivation because of the excellent climate, Dionysos was the first to press out the clusters of grapes and to devise the use of wine as a natural product. Likewise he gave the proper care to the figs and other fruits which grow on trees and, speaking generally, he devised whatever pertains to the harvesting and storing of these fruits. The same Dionysos is, furthermore, said to have worn a long beard. The reason for this report is that it is the custom among the Indians to give great care, until their death, to the raising of a beard.

(4) Now this Dionysos visited with an army all the inhabited world and gave instruction both as to the culture of the vine and the crushing of the clusters in the wine-vats (lenoi), which is the reason why the god was named “Lenaios.” Likewise, he allowed all people to share in his other discoveries, and when he passed from among men, he received immortal honour at the hands of those who had received his benefactions. (5) Furthermore, there are pointed out among the Indians even to this day the place where it came to pass that the god was born, as well as cities which bear his name in the language of the natives. And many other notable testimonials to his birth among the Indians still survive, but it would be a long task to write about them.

[2. Dionysos son of Persephone as inventor of the plough]

64  The second [human] Dionysos, the writers of myths relate, was born to Zeus by Persephone, though some say it was Demeter. He is represented by them as the first man to have yoked oxen to the plough, with human beings tilling the ground by hand before that time. Many other things also, which are useful for agriculture, were skilfully devised by him, whereby the masses were relieved of their great distress. (2) In return for this, those who received these benefits granted him honours and sacrifices like those offered to the gods. This was because everyone was eager to accord to him immortality due to the magnitude of his service to them. As a special symbol and token, the painters and sculptors represented him with horns, at the same time making manifest thereby the other nature of Dionysos and also presenting the magnitude of the service which he had devised for the farmers by his invention of the plough.

[3. Dionysos son of Semele of Thebes in Boiotia / Nysa in Arabia]

The third Dionysos, they say, was born in Boiotian Thebes of Zeus and Semele, the daughter of Kadmos.​ The myth runs as follows: Zeus had become enamoured with Semele and often, lured by her beauty, had slept with her. However, Hera, who was jealous and anxious to punish the girl, assumed the form of one of the women who was an intimate of Semele’s and led her on to her ruin. (4) For she suggested to her that Zeus should sleep with her while having the same majesty and honour in his outward appearance as when he slept with Hera. So, at the request of Semele that she be shown the same honours as Hera, Zeus appeared to her accompanied by thunder and lightning. However, Semele was unable to endure the majesty of his grandeur and died, giving birth before the appointed time.

(5) This baby Zeus quickly took and hid in his thigh. Afterwards, when the period which nature prescribed for the child’s birth had completed its growth, he brought it to Nysa in Arabia. (6) There the boy was reared by nymphs and was given the name Dionysos after his father (Dios) and after the place (Nysa). And since he grew to be of unusual beauty, he at first spent his time at dances and with bands of women and in every kind of luxury and amusement. Then, forming the women into an army and arming them with wands (thyrsoi),​ he engaged in a campaign over the entire inhabited world. (7) He also instructed all men who were pious and cultivated a life of justice in the knowledge of his rites and initiated them into his mysteries. Furthermore, in every place he held great festive gatherings and celebrated musical contests. And, in a word, he controlled the quarrels between the peoples and cities and created concord and deep peace where there had existed civil strife and wars [i.e. on the model of Panhellenic cooperation].

65  Now since the presence of the god, the myth goes on to say, disseminated to every region, and the report spread that he was treating all people honourably and contributing greatly to the refinement of human social life, the whole populace everywhere thronged to meet him and welcomed him with great joy. (2) There were a few, however, who, out of disdain and impiety, looked down upon him and kept saying that he was leading the female bacchic-devotees (bacchai) around with him because of his lack of self-control. They were saying that he was introducing the rites and the mysteries so that he could seduce the wives of other men. However, persons who said such things were punished by him very quickly. (3) For in some cases he made use of the superior power which attended his divine nature and punished the impious, either striking them with madness or causing them while still living to be torn limb from limb by the hands of the women. In other cases, he destroyed such as opposed him by a military device which took them by surprise. For he distributed to the women, instead of the wands (thyrsoi), lances whose tips of iron were covered with ivy leaves. Consequently, when the kings in their ignorance and for this reason were unprepared, he attacked them when they did not expect it and killed them with the spears.

[Punishment of Greek, Indian, and Thracian kings]

(4) Among those who were punished by him, the most renowned, they say, were Pentheus among the Greeks, Myrrhanos the king of the Indians, and Lykourgos among the Thracians. For the myth relates that when Dionysos was on the point of leading his force over from Asia into Europe, he concluded a treaty of friendship with Lykourgos, who was king of that part of Thrace which lies upon the Hellespont.

[Orphic rites introduced among Thracians

Now when he had led the first of the female bacchic-devotees over into a friendly land, as he thought, Lykourgos issued orders to his soldiers to attack them at night and to kill both Dionysos and all the maenads [i.e. “crazed women”]. After learning about the plot from a man of the country who was called Charops, Dionysos was struck with dismay because his army was on the other side of the Hellespont and only a mere handful of his friends had crossed over with him. (5) Consequently he sailed across secretly to his army. Then Lykourgos, they say, attacked the maenads in the city known as Nysion and killed them all. However, bringing his forces over, Dionysos conquered the Thracians in a battle. Taking Lykourgos alive, Dionysos plucked out his eyes and inflicted upon him every kind of violence, and then crucified him. (6) At that point, out of gratitude to Charops for the help the man had offered him, Dionysos travelled over to him in the kingdom of the Thracians and instructed him in the secret rites connected with the initiations. And Oiagros son of Charops then took over both the kingdom and the initiatory rites which were handed down in the mysteries. These were the rites which Orpheus son of Oiagros, who was the superior of all men in natural gifts and education, later learned from his father. Orpheus also made many changes in the practices and for that reason the rites which had been established by Dionysos were also called “Orphic.”

[Alternative set in Nysa among Arabians]

(7) But some of the poets, one of whom is Antimachos [of Colophon, fifth century BCE],​ state that Lykourgos was king, not of Thrace, but of Arabia, and that the attack upon Dionysos and the female bacchic-devotees was made at the Nysa which is in Arabia. However this may be, Dionysos, they say, punished the impious but treated all other men honourably, and then made his return journey from India to Thebes upon an elephant. (8) The entire time consumed in the journey was three years. For this reason they say that the Greeks hold his festival every other year.​ The myth also relates that he gathered a great mass of plunder, such as would result from such a campaign, and that he was the first of all men to make his return to his native country in a triumph.

[Rival claims about Dionysos birth-place, with Homer cited in favour of Arabia]

66 Now these accounts of the birth of Dionysos are generally agreed upon by the ancient writers. But rival claims are raised by not a few Greek cities to having been the place of his birth. The peoples of Elis and Naxos, for instance, and the inhabitants of Eleutherai and Teos and several others, state that he was born in their cities. (2) The Teans advance as proof that the god was born among them the fact that, even to this day, at fixed times in their city a fountain of wine,​ of unusually sweet fragrance, flows of its own accord from the earth. And as for the peoples of the other cities, they in some cases point out a plot of land which is sacred to Dionysos, in other cases shrines and sacred precincts which have been consecrated to him from ancient times. (3) However, generally speaking, since the god has left behind him in many places over the inhabited world evidences of his personal favour and presence, it is not surprising that in each case the people should think that Dionysos had had a peculiar relation­ship to both their city and country. And testimony to our opinion is also offered by the poet in his Hymns,​ when he speaks of those who lay claim to the birthplace of Dionysos and, in that connection, represents him as being born in the Nysa which is in Arabia: “Some Drakanon, wind-swept Ikaros some, / some Naxos, Zeus-born one, or Alpheius’ stream / deep-eddied, call the spot where Semele / bore thee, Eiraphiotes, unto Zeus / who takes delight in thunder. Others still / would place your birth, Lord, in Thebes. It’s false. / The sire of men and gods brought you to light / unknown to white-armed Hera, far from men. / There is a certain Nysa, mountain high, / with forest thick, in Phoenike afar, / close to Aegyptos’ streams” [Homeric Hymns 1.1-9].

[Libyan claims about Dionysos, drawing on Dionysios of Mytilene’s Libyan Stories]

(4) I am not unaware that also those inhabitants of Libya who live on the shore of the ocean lay claim to the birthplace of the god, and point out that “Nysa” [i.e. another Nysa, not the Arabian one] and all the stories which the myths record are found among themselves. Many witnesses to this statement, they say, remain in the land down to our own lifetime. And I also know that many of the ancient Greek writers of myths and poets, and not a few of the later historians as well, agree with this in their accounts. (5) Consequently, in order not to omit anything which history records about Dionysos, we will present in summary what is told by the Libyans and those Greek writers whose writings are in agreement with these and with that Dionysios​ who composed an account out of the ancient fabulous tales. (6) For that writer has composed an account of Dionysos and the Amazons, as well as of the Argonauts and the events connected with the Trojan war and many other matters, in which he cites the versions of the ancient writers, both the composers of myths and the poets.

67  This, then, is the account of Dionysius:

[Linos’ contributions regarding the alphabet, poetry and singing, in the “Libyan” version]

Among the Greeks, Linos was the first to discover the different rhythms and song. When Kadmos brought from Phoenicia the letters, as they are called, Linos was again the first to transfer them into the Greek language, to give a name to each character, and to fix its shape. Now the letters, as a group, are called “Phoenician” because they were brought to the Greeks from the Phoenicians, but as single letters the Pelasgians were the first to make use of the transferred characters and so they were called “Pelasgian.”​ (2) Linos also, who was admired because of his poetry and singing, had many pupils and three of greatest renown, Herakles, Thamyras, and Orpheus. Of these three Herakles, who was learning to play the lyre, was unable to appreciate what was taught him because of his lazy soul. Once when he had been punished with rods by Linos, he became violently angry and killed his teacher with a blow of the lyre. (3) Thamyras, however, who possessed unusual natural ability, perfected the art of music and claimed that in the excellence of song his voice was more beautiful than the voices of the Muses. At that point, the goddesses who were angry at him took from him his gift of music and maimed the man, even as Homer also attests when he writes: “There met the Muses Thamyris of Thrace / and made an end of his song” [Iliad 2.594‑595]. And again: “But him, enraged, they maimed, and from him took / the gift of song divine and made him quite / forget his harping [Iliad 2.599‑600].

(4) About Orpheus, the third pupil, we will give a detailed account when we come to treat of his accomplishments. Now Linos, they say, composed an account in the Pelasgian letters of the accomplishments of the first Dionysos and of the other mythical legends and left them among his memoirs. (5) In the same way, Orpheus and Pronapides – who was the teacher of Homer and a gifted writer of songs – used these Pelasgian letters too. This is also the case with Thymoites son of Thymoetes and grandson of Laomedon, who lived at the same time as Orpheus, wandered over many regions of the inhabited world, and reached to the western part of Libya as far as the ocean. He also visited Nysa [in Libya or adjacent regions], where the ancient natives of the city relate that Dionysos was reared. After Thymoites had learned from the Nysaians every single accomplishment of this god, he composed the “Phrygian poem,” as it is called, in which he made use of the archaic manner both of speech and of letters.

[Ammon king of Libya and Amaltheia]

68  Dionysios, then,​ continues his account as follows:

Ammon, the king of that part of Libya, married a daughter of Ouranos who was called Rhea and was a sister of Kronos and the other Titans. Once when Ammon was going around his kingdom, near the Keraunian mountains, as they are called, he came upon a young woman of unusual beauty whose name was Amaltheia. (2) Becoming enamoured with her, he slept with the young woman and had a son of marvellous beauty as well as bodily vigour. Amaltheia herself he appointed mistress of all the surrounding region, which was shaped like the horn of a bull and for this reason was known as Hesperoukeras (“Horn of Hesperos”). Because of the excellent quality of the land, the region abounds in every variety of the vine and all other trees which bear cultivated fruits. (3) When the woman whom we have just mentioned took over the supreme power the country was named after her Amaltheias Keras (“Horn of Amaltheia”). Consequently, the men of later times, for the reason which we have just given, likewise call any especially fertile bit of ground which abounds in fruits of every kind “Amaltheia’s Horn.”

[Description of the alternative Nysa as the setting for Dionysos origin in the “Libyan” version]

(4) Now Ammon, fearing the jealousy of Rhea, concealed the affair and brought the boy secretly to a certain city called Nysa, which was at a great distance from those parts. (5) This city lies on a certain island which is surrounded by the river Triton and is precipitous on all sides save at one place where there is a narrow pass which bears the name “Nysaian Gates.” The land of the island is rich, is traversed at intervals by pleasant meadows and watered by abundant streams from springs, and possesses every kind of fruit-bearing tree and the wild vine in abundance, which for the most part grows up trees. (6) The whole region, moreover, has a fresh, pure and exceedingly healthy air.  For this reason, its inhabitants are the longest lived of any in those parts. The entrance into the island is like a glen at its beginning, being thickly shaded by lofty trees growing close together, so that the sun never shines at all through the close-set branches but only the radiance of its light may be seen.

69  Everywhere along the lanes, the account continues, springs of water gush forth of exceeding sweetness, making the place most pleasant to those who desire to pause there. Further in there is a cave, circular in shape and of marvellous size and beauty. For above and all about it rises a crag of immense height, formed of rocks of different colours. For the rocks lie in bands and send forth a bright gleam, some like that purple which comes from the sea,​ some bluish and others like every other kind of brilliant hue, the result being that there is not a colour to be seen among men which is not visible in that place. (2) Before the entrance grow marvellous trees, some fruit-bearing, others evergreen, and all of them fashioned by nature for no other end than to delight the eye, and in them nest every kind of bird of pleasing colour and most charming song. Consequently the whole place is suited for a god, not merely in its aspect but in its sound as well, since the sweet tones which nature teaches are always superior to the song which is devised by art. (3) When one has passed the entrance the cave is seen to widen out and to be lighted all about by the rays of the sun, and all kinds of flowering plants grow there, especially the cassia and every other kind which has the power to preserve its fragrance throughout the year. In it are also to be seen several couches of nymphs, formed of every manner of flower, made not by hand but by the light touch of Nature herself, in a manner appropriate for a god. (4) Moreover, throughout the whole surrounding area not a flower or leaf is to be seen which has fallen. Consequently those who gaze upon this spot find not only its aspect delightful but also its fragrance most pleasant.

[Raising of Dionysos in the “Libyan” version]

70  Now Ammon came to this cave, the account runs, and brought the child [Dionysos] and gave him into the care of Nysa, one of the daughters of Aristaios. And he appointed Aristaios to be the guardian of the child, he being a man who excelled in understanding, self-control, and every kind of learning. (2) The duty of protecting the boy against the plottings of his step-mother Rhea he assigned to Athena, who a short while before had been born of the earth and had been found beside the river Triton, from which she had been called Tritonis.​ (3) According to the myth, this goddess, who chose to spend all her days unmarried, excelled in virtue and invented most of the crafts, since she was exceedingly smart. She also cultivated the skills of war.

[Aigis monster and Athena]

Since she excelled in courage and in bodily strength, she performed many other deeds worthy of memory and killed the Aigis, as it was called, a certain frightful monster which was a difficult antagonist to overcome. (4) For it was sprung from the earth and in accordance with its nature breathed out terrible flames of fire from its mouth. At its first appearance it went around Phrygia [central Turkey] and burned up the land, which to this day is called “Burned Phrygia.” Afterwards it constantly ravaged the lands about the Taurus mountains [in central Turkey] and burned up the forests extending from that region as far as India. Then, returning again towards the sea round around Phoenicia, it sent up in flames the forests on mount Lebanon, and making its way through Egypt it passed over Libya to the regions of the west and at the end of its wanderings fell upon the forests about Ceraunia. (5) The surrounding country was going up in flames and the inhabitants in some cases were being destroyed and in others were leaving their native countries in their terror and removing to distant regions. So Athena, they say, overcoming the monster partly through her intelligence and partly through her courage and bodily strength, killed it. Covering her breast with its hide, she wore this around with her, both as a covering and protection for her body against later dangers, and as a memorial of her valour and of her well-deserved fame. (6) Ge (Earth), however, the mother of the monster, was enraged and sent up the Giants, as they are called, to fight against the gods. But they were destroyed at a later time by Zeus, Athena and Dionysos and the rest of the gods taking part in the conflict on the side of Zeus.

[Dionysos’ contributions and inventions for humanity]

(7) Dionysos, however, being reared according to the account in Nysa and instructed in the best pursuits, became not only conspicuous for his beauty and bodily strength, but skilful also in practical skills and quick to make every useful invention. (8) For while still a boy he discovered both the nature and use of wine, in that he pressed out the clusters of grapes of the vine while it still grew wild, and such ripe fruits as could be dried and stored away to advantage, and how each one of them should be planted and cared for was likewise a discovery of his. Also it was his desire to share the discoveries which he had made with humankind in the hope that by reason of the greatness of his benefactions, he would be accorded immortal honours.

[Conflict between Dionysos and Kronos near Nysa]

71  When the valour and fame of Dionysos became spread abroad, Rhea, it is said, angered at Ammon, strongly desired to get Dionysos into her power. However, being unable to carry out her design she left Ammon and, departing to her brothers, the Titans, married Kronos her brother. (2) Kronos, then, upon the solicitation of Rhea, made war with the aid of the Titans upon Ammon. In the pitched battle which followed, Kronos gained the upper hand, whereas Ammon, who was hard pressed by lack of supplies, fled to Crete. There he married Crete, the daughter of one of the Kouretes, who were the kings at that time; he gained the sovereignty over those regions; and, he named the island, previously called Idaia, after his wife, Crete.

(3) As for Kronos, the myth relates, after his victory he ruled harshly over these regions which had formerly been Ammon’s, and set out with a great force against Nysa and Dionysos. Now Dionysos, on learning both of the reverses suffered by his father and of the uprising of the Titans against himself, gathered soldiers from Nysa. Two hundred of these soldiers were foster-brothers of his and were distinguished for their courage and their loyalty to him. He added to these from neighbouring peoples, both the Libyans and the Amazons. Regarding the [Libyan] Amazons, we have already observed​ that it is reputed that they were distinguished for their courage and first of all campaigned beyond the borders of their country and subdued with weapons a large part of the inhabited world. (4) These women, they say, were urged on to the alliance especially by Athena, because their enthusiasm for their ideal of life was like her own, seeing that the Amazons clung tenaciously to manly courage and virginity.

The force was divided into two parts, the men having Dionysos as their general and the women being under the command of Athena, and coming with their army upon the Titans they joined battle. The struggle having proved sharp and many having fallen on both sides, Kronos finally was wounded and victory was attained by Dionysos, who had distinguished himself in the battle.

[Beginnings of Dionysos being honoured as a god, according to the “Libyan” version]

(5) Then the Titans fled to the regions which had once been possessed by Ammon, and Dionysos gathered up a multitude of captives and returned to Nysa. Here, drawing up his force in arms about the prisoners, he brought a formal accusation against the Titans and gave them every reason to suspect that he was going to execute the captives. But when he got them free from the charges and allowed them to make their choice either to join him in his campaign or to go totally free, they all chose to join him. Because their lives had been spared contrary to their expectation, they venerated him like a god. (6) Dionysos, then, taking the captives singly and giving them a libation (spondē) of wine, required of all of them an oath that they would join in the campaign without treachery and fight manfully until death. Consequently, these captives were the first to be designated as “freed under a truce” (hypospondoi). In later times, men imitated this ceremony which had been performed at that time, speaking of the truces in wars as “spondai” (libations).

72  Now when Dionysos was on the point of setting out against Kronos and his force was already passing out of Nysa, his guardian Aristaios, the myth relates, offered a sacrifice and so was the first man to sacrifice to him as to a god. His companions on the campaign, they say, were also the most nobly born of the Nysaians, those, namely, who bear the name Seilenoi. (2) For the first man of all, they say, to be king of Nysa was Seilenos, but his ancestry was unknown to all men because of its antiquity. This man had a tail at the lower part of his back and his descendants also regularly carried this distinguishing mark because of they shared this natural trait.

[Dionysos slays the Kampe monster near Zabirna in Libya and Libyans join the campaign]

Dionysos, then, set out with his army, and after passing through a great extent of waterless land, no small portion of which was desert and infested with wild beasts, he encamped beside a city of Libya named Zabirna. (3) Near this city an earth-born monster called Kampe, which was destroying many of the natives, was killed by Dionysos, so that he won great fame among the natives for courage. Over the monster which he had killed he also erected an enormous mound, wishing to leave behind him an immortal memorial of his personal bravery, and this mound remained until comparatively recent times. (4) Then Dionysos advanced against the Titans, maintaining strict discipline on his travels, treating all the inhabitants kindly. To put it briefly, he made it clear that his campaign was for the purpose of punishing the impious and of conferring benefits upon all of humankind. The Libyans, admiring his strict discipline and high-mindedness, provided his followers with supplies in abundance and joined in the campaign with the greatest eagerness.

(5) As the army approached the city of the Ammonians, Kronos, who had been defeated in a pitched battle before the walls, set fire to the city in the night, intending to destroy utterly the ancestral palace of Dionysos. Kronos himself also took with him his wife Rhea and some of his friends who had aided him in the struggle, escaping unobserved out of the city. Dionysos, however, showed no such an attitude as Kronos’. For even though he took both Kronos and Rhea captive, not only did he waive the charges against them because of his kinship to them, but he entreated them for the future to maintain both the good will and the position of parents towards him and to live in a common home with him, held in honour above all others. (6) Rhea, accordingly, loved him like a son for all the rest of her life, but Kronos was only pretending to have good-will towards Dionysos. And about this time there was born to both of these a son who was called Zeus, and he was honoured greatly by Dionysos. At a later time, because of his high achievements, Zeus was made king over all.

[Establishment of the oracle of Ammon]

73  The Libyans had said to Dionysos before the battle that, at the time when Ammon had been driven from the kingdom, Ammon had prophesied to the inhabitants that at an appointed time his son Dionysos would come; that he would recover his father’s kingdom; and, after becoming master of all the inhabited world, would be looked upon as a god. So Dionysos, believing him to have been a true prophet, established there the oracle of his father [i.e. the famous oracle of Ammon],​ rebuilt the city, ordained honours to him as to a god, and appointed men to have charge of the oracle. Tradition also has recorded that the head of Ammon was shaped like that of a ram, since as his device he had worn a helmet of that form in his campaigns. (2) But there are some writers of myths who recount that there were, truly, little horns on both sides of his temples and that therefore Dionysos also, being Ammon’s son, had the same aspect as his father. So the tradition has been handed down to succeeding generations of mankind that this god had horns.

[Conquest of Egypt and contributions to civilization there]

(3) However this may be, after Dionysos had built the city and established the oracle, they say that he first of all asked the god about his expedition. He received from his father the reply that, if he showed himself a benefactor of humankind, he would receive the reward of immortality. (4) Consequently, elated in spirit at this prophecy, he first of all directed his campaign against Egypt. As king of the country he set up Zeus, the son of Kronos and Rhea, though he was still only a boy. And at his side as guardian he placed Olympos, by whom Zeus had been instructed and after whom he came to be called “Olympian,” when he had attained pre-eminence in high achievements. (5) As for Dionysos, he taught the Egyptians, it is said, both the cultivation of the vine and how to use and to store both wine and the fruits which are gathered from trees, as well as all others. Since a good report about him spread around everywhere, no one opposed him as if he were an enemy. Instead, everyone rendered him eager obedience and honoured him like a god with praises and sacrifices.

[Further conquests and contributions to the world]

(6) In like manner as in Egypt, they say, he visited the inhabited world, bringing the land under cultivation by means of the plantings which he made and conferring benefactions upon the people for all time by bestowing upon them great and valuable gifts. For this reason it comes about that, although not all men are of one belief with one another concerning the honours which they accord to the other gods, in the case of Dionysos alone we may almost say that they are in complete agreement in testifying to his immortality. For there is no man among Greeks or barbarians who does not share in the gift and favour which this god dispenses. Even those who possess a country which has become a wilderness or altogether unsuited to the cultivation of the vine learned from him how to prepare from barley a drink which is little inferior to wine in aroma [i.e. beer – making me thirsty].

[Dionysos returns from India and Zeus becomes king of the world]

(7) Now Dionysos, they say, as he was marching out of India to the [Mediterranean] sea, learned that all the Titans had assembled their united forces together and had crossed over to Crete to attack Ammon. Already Zeus had passed over from Egypt to help Ammon and a great war had arisen on the island. Immediately, Dionysos and Athena and certain others who had been considered to be gods rushed over together to Crete. (8) In a great battle which followed, Dionysos was victorious and killed all the Titans. And when after this Ammon and Dionysos exchanged their mortal nature for immortality, Zeus, they say, became king of the entire world, since the Titans had been punished and there was no one whose impiety would make him bold enough to dispute with him for the supreme power.

[Conclusion on the various Dionysoses and their campaigns]

74  As for the first Dionysos, the son of Ammon and Amaltheia, these, then, are his accomplishments as the Libyans recount the history of them. The second Dionysos, as men say, who was born to Zeus by Io, the daughter of Inachos, became king of Egypt and appointed the initiatory rites of that land. And the third and last was sprung from Zeus and Semele and became, among the Greeks, the rival of the first two. (2) Imitating the principles of both the others he led an army over all the inhabited world and left behind him not a few pillars to mark the bounds of his campaign. The land he also brought under cultivation by means of the plantings which he made, and he selected women to be his soldiers, as the ancient Dionysos had done in the case of the Amazons. This Dionysos went beyond the others in developing the orgiastic practices, and as regards the rites of initiation, he improved some of them, and others he introduced for the first time. (3) But since in the long passage of time the former discoverers had become unknown to the majority of men, this last Dionysos inherited both the plan of life and the fame of his predecessors of the same name. And this Dionysos is not the only one to whom the things we related has happened.

[Comparison with the many Herakleses]

However, in later times Herakles likewise experienced the same fortune. (4) For there had been two persons of an earlier period who had had this same name: There is the most ancient Herakles who, according to the myths, had been born in Egypt, had subdued with arms a large part of the inhabited world, and had set up the pillar which is in Libya. The second Herakles, who was one of the Idaian Dactyls of Crete and a howler of chants (goēs) with some knowledge of general­ship, was the founder of the Olympic games. But third and last, who was born of Alkmene and Zeus a short time before the Trojan war, visited a large part of the inhabited world while he was serving Eurystheus and carrying out his commands. (5) And after he had successfully completed all the “labours,” he also set up the pillar which is in Europe. However, since he bore the same name as the other two and pursued the same plan of life as they did, in the course of time and upon his death he inherited the accomplishments of the more ancient persons of the name, as if there had always been only one Herakles.

[Final further evidence]

(6) To support the view that there were several different figures named Dionysos, the effort is made to cite, along with the other proofs, the battle waged against the Titans. For since all men agree that Dionysos fought on the side of Zeus in his war against the Titans, it will not do at all, they argue, to date the generations of the Titans in the time when Semele lived or to declare that Kadmos son of Agenor was older than the gods of Olympos.

Such, then, is the myth which the Libyans recount concerning Dionysos. But for our part, now that we have brought to an end the plan​ which we announced at the beginning, we will close the third book at this point.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of the _________, go to this link (coming soon)].


Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (passed away in 1954 and copyright not renewed), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.

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