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Bacchus







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BACCHUS - Of this fabled divinity, the poets differ much respecting the names of his parents; nor are they better agreed in relating the circumstances connected with his nativity. The more usual custom of mythologists, is to describe him as the son of Jupiter, by Semele, the daughter of Cadmus. And Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, details the wondrous incidents of his fiery birth. Bacchus is said to have been brought up by the daughters of Atlas, and to have afterwards had Silenus for his preceptor. - He became, at length a celebrated warrior; fought valiantly for Jupiter, against the Titans; and made the conquest of India. It was on his return from that famous expedition, that he is related to have found Ariadne, whom Theseus had abandoned, in the isle of Naxos, and by the warmth of his attachment made her forget the ingratitude of her former lover. - See Ariadne.

Bacchus "ever fair and ever young" is generally represented in sculpture and on coins without beard, crowned with vine leaves. He holds the thyrsus (see the word) in one hand, and a bunch of grapes in the other. Sometimes he is depicted naked; at others and as the Indian Bacchus, he wears a long dress (Apamea colonia, p.61). - The panther, as the nurse of Bacchus, was consecrated to him an appears, on coins and bas-reliefs, as his almost inseparable companion. The image of this favourite deity of oriental paganism seldom appears on coins minted at Rome, especially those of the imperial series. There is indeed a large brass of Sept. Severus with the legend of COS. III LVDos SAECulares FECit, inscribed on a cippus, on each side of which Bacchus and Hercules stand with their respective attributes; and to the legend DIS AVSPICIRVS reference may be made, as accompanied by another instance of those two deities being grouped together, on a large brass of the same emperor. But on medallions of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, described below, the God of Wine, as the companion of Apollo, and as the lover of Ariadne is elegantly depictured:


The above cut is copied from an outline engraving in the Galerie Mythologique, vol i, pl. lxxxviii. by Millin, who is himself indebted for it to a plate in Venuti, Mus Vaticanum, xiii.

This reverse of Hadrian's medallion represents Bacchus seated on a thensa (or sacred car) drawn by a panther and a goat, on a double flute. Bacchus, with graceful ease, rests his right arm on the side of the chariot and holds the thyrsus in his left hand. Apollo sits by his side, playing on the lyre. - For another specimen of the grotesque fancy of ancient artists, in harnessing a sulky panther with some animal, real or fabulous, of a more lively and less ferocious disposition, see the wood-cut from a brass medallion of Antoninus Pius, under the head of Ariadne and Bacchus, p.80.

Bacchus was called by the name of Dionysus, (from Nysa, the reputed place of his education); and often by that of LIBER PATER, whose young head crowned with ivy, is also seen on coins of the Titia and Volteia families.

In the list of coins struck under the republic we find the head of Bacchus on a denarius of the Cassia gens, it is crowned with ivy leaves and berries, and behind it is the thyrsus. On a denarius of Blasio, of the patrician branch of the Cornelia family, the figure of Bacchus naked, appears standing, with the thyrsus in his right hand; in his left the stropium (see the word), and a sheaf of arrows. Pallas stands on his left and crowns him. On the right hand of Bacchus stands a woman, holding a wand, or the hasta pura. Engraved in Morell. Thesaur. Fam. Rom. TAB. i. fig.1 - also under Cornelia gens, in this dictionary.

Bacchus is constantly to be recognised by his attribute of the thyrsus, but by no means so readily by the arrows. Nevertheless, by an apt citation from Nonnus, Eckhel shows that the latter as well as the former were attributes of Liber Pater. Pallas addressing him, says

"Ubi tui validi thyrsi, ct viteae sagittae."

He is crowned by the Goddess of Wisdom [Minerva] on account of his victory over the Titans, and of his warlike glory, spread forth to the ends of the world. That the associated worship of these two deities prevailed both at Rome and in Greece is shown by an onyx gem in the imperial museum at Vienna and which exhibits Bacchus armed in a similar manner, with thyrsus and arrow, Pallas, as on the coin minted by Blasio, crowning him. "Who the other female figure in this group may be" says Eckhel (v. 180) "ignoro."

Bacchus was worshipped, as amongst the superior deities, by Gallienus. This is indicated by a coin of that emperor's in billon, exhibiting on its reverse the epigraph of LIBERO P. CONS. AVG> (Libero Patri Conservatori Augusti), with a panther for its type.

Bacchus, with his attributes, is more frequently found on colonial imperial coins; especially on those struck in Syria and Phoenicia, by most cities of which regions he was worshipped, on account of his traditionary expeditions to the East. The following are amongst the colonies whose coins bear Latin legend; and on their reverse types of this deity:-

Besides Apamea, in whose mintages the Indian Bacchus appears (see p. 61), the God of Wine is seen on several coins of Berytus, mostly dedicated to Gordianus Pius. "It is a type (says Vaillant), which denotes the abundance and goodness of the grapes grown in the immediate neighbourhood of that city. On one of these, he stands unclothed, between two vine-shoots; whilst with his right hand he places a garland on his own head, "as the first discoverer of the use of the grape." On his left hand is a satyr, whose love for wine was said to be very great. Squatting at his feet is a lepard, by ancient report equally fond of the inebriating juice.

On a second brass, dedicated at Damascus, to Trebonianus Gallus, Bacchus under the figure of a young man, stands naked, on a plinth, holding a vine tendril in each hand. His image on this coin shows that he was worshipped by the inhabitants of Damascus, in whose terrority he was said to have originally planted the vine. (Engraved in Vallant, Col. ii 214.)

The colony of Deultum, on a second brass of Macrinus, honours this deity with an image designated by his attributes of the cantharus (or wine vase), the thyrsus, and the panther - not an inappropriate reverse for the mint of a terrority, whose abundance of vineyards is a circumstance noticed by Athenaens. (Ibid. ii. 64.)

Olba, a colony in Pamphilia, also contributes a type of Bacchus - who lkewise appears on a small brass coin, consecrated to Severus Alexander, by the pantheistic people of Sidon.


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