Saturday, 22 January 2011


I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt when I was at university and, although I don't usually enjoy fiction, I found it interesting to learn about Dionysus – the Greek God of wine and music . . the Pete Doherty of the time. The main character in The Secret History studies the Classics among a select group of students – an exclusive class of individuals who dangerously mix curiosity with their freshly digested knowledge of ancient Greece.

This curiosity leads them to explore the idea of a bacchanal – what I understand to be a whirling, violent frenzy of body and mind, usually fueled by alcoholic intoxication and usually ending in the brutal mutilation of anyone or anything that hinders the rush of the group or individual. Bacchus (Dionysus) is often portrayed alongside his maenads – his female followers who would partake in festivals and dancing in his honour.

The images I've included below, however, are merely inclusive of the women themselves and say very little about any violent or aggressive nature of the bacchanal – perhaps due to their having been painted in the 19th century. The first, by Auguste Leveque, appears primarily to represent the bacchanal with a general air of lust but, at closer inspection, you see some revelers in a drunken stupor,  some in desperation, others grappling, and still others who seem to be sharing a gentle embrace. Confusion might be a better description.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema treats not the bacchanal itself but the aftermath in his own work – his maenads are only just waking. They stretch and come to terms with their dehydrated, aching limbs – the rewards to those who spend the moonlight on alcohol and vicious sprints through the country that precede the ruin of some unfortunate creature.

The antithesis of Dionysus, Apollo, was the bringer of order. During the Vienna Secession, Klimt explored the concept of music in relation to Dionysus early on in his life. He coordinated the complementary measures of the two deities in his paintings for the theaters and art galleries in Vienna at the time.

1 comment:

  1. this is so interesting.

    thanks for sharing :)


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