Semele was the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, king and
queen of Thebes, and the mother of Dionysus, god of wine. Zeus fell madly
in love with her and made an oath to do anything that she asked.
Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus,realized Zeus was in love with Semele and
tricked Semele into asking Zeus to let her see him in his majesty. Bound
by an oath, Zeus appeared before the unfortunate woman in all his
divine glory. (Morford-Lenardon 187) As she looked at him, she was
consumed by the lightening bolts and light that radiated from him. Zeus
was able to rescue her unborn child, Dionysus, and hid him in his side
until it was ready to be born.
Hermes carried Dionysus to be cared for by the nymphs of Nysa-
the loveliest of earth's valleys.(Hamilton 65) When Dionysus had grown up,
he wandered to many far and strange places.
Everywhere he went he taught
men the culture of the vine and mysteries of his worship and everywhere he
had been, he was accepted as a god.
Dionysus went to Thebes to establish his worship, since that was his
mother's city. He was accompanied by the Maenads. Pentheus, the King of
Thebes, was not happy with the behavior of this group of strangers. He
ordered his soldiers to imprison the visitors, but he had no idea that Dionysus
was a new god.
The soldiers tried to imprison the maidens but said that the doors
unbarred themselves. Pentheus was furious. He ordered his soldiers to
imprison Dionysus but the prison could not hold him. Dionysis tried to show
that the wonders of this new worship of a new and great god was divine but
when Pentheus only heaped insults and threats upon him, Dionysus left him to