The Indian Triumph of Dionysus traces its origin back to Rome. This was a special creation of a wealthy follower of Dionysus in the later stages of the 2nd Century AD. This worshipper’s aim was to pay a tribute to the accomplishment of Dionysus after spreading the wine culture miracle to India and the East. Dionysus is also surrounded by characters within the cult mystery as a way of depicting who the creators is with. The art sheds light to the historical pieces of the Greeks and Romans evident at this time as well as the cultural contexts around this time. From the artwork, one can notice a merger between Indian, Greece and Roman cultures. This essay places the Triumph of Dionysus into a Greco-Roman context.
The main character, Dionysus, depicted in the work of art was the god of grape harvest in the Greek culture. Much of the central uses of grapes were in wine-making, rituals, theatres as well as religious reverence (Giuliani 24). The worship of Dionysus became prominent during the 17th century BC. The focus on the worship of Dionysus during this time took cult forms of artwork such as the triumph of the Dionysus. The piece displaying festivity of Dionysus is a symbol of the celebrations that evoked his thankfulness from n expedition. In the artwork, one can see the people standing around him in a celebration mood through their bodily motions which appears uniform and unique (Giuliani 27). This form of religious ecstasy was a common form of reverence accorded to the gods of Rome and Greece. The depiction of Dionysus as a beardless, half naked and sensuous portrays the man-womanish ecstasy that lay in such kind of religious celebrations of the time. The usage of exotic animals to draw the chariots also symbolizes religious to denote the unforeseeable actions of god and nature at this time of the Roman and Greece culture (Hölscher 35).
The artwork also illustrates the mythic analogy of an actual expedition made by Alexander and his actual expedition to the Indus in the 327-326 BC. At this point in history, Dionysus already took his place as the conqueror of the regions in the Asian territory. According to Hölscher, Dionysus, had invaded India supported with Satrys, Pans and Maenads from all around the region (42). The invasion left the people of India with a several cultural artifacts from Greece hence the inclination of an elephant and the modern day Indian music and dance (45). Such a work of art therefore illustrates a historical context of Alexander’s conquest of the Indus. In the piece, the theme of homecoming of the divinity is evident in the piece with a glory as well as spoils of the conquest quite typical of the imperial Rome. The mood, evident in the faces of those in the art depicts a sarcophagi sculptor, quite similar to the triumph of Antoine or Aurelius (Giulian 52).
Further, the Roman and Greek empire at this time had a strong sense of sensuality to depict fine religious ecstasy. In some cases, the impact of wine was an exuberated human experience that showed in the mood, graceful movements and undressing of the personalities. Dionysus, in the art is depicted wearing on his head, grapes and grape leaves as a headdress. The pose which appears languorous as well as relaxed almost undressed suggests a sensuality which was one of the cultural influences of this time. The graceful females around the god are called maenads who would dance as the satyrs try to interest the maenads. One of the social trends of this time in the era of religious ecstasy was songs and dances. This kind of expression from the god of wine can also be witnessed in the captives taken from India riding on an exotic elephant. The elephant at this time Indian culture and even today symbolizes intellectual strength as well as sturdy strength that is earthly. The sacredness of this animal shows the nature of people in the entourage with the Roman god of Dionysus. Perhaps the symbol of the elephant notes the historical refusal of the Indus who refused to worship Dionysus at the time of invasion and their stubborn preference of their ancestral gods of water and fire. The elephant was in fact an incarnation of Lord Ganesh in the Indian culture (Guilian 32).
One of the gods in Greek culture is Dionysus, who was the Olympian god of wine. He had a history of being depicted as pleasure deriving, madness and festivities inclined. He was often accompanied by Maenads, who were a troop of female devotees. The nature and personality of Dionysus’s character is often associated with wine drinking which is a libertine behavior of this time. In fact, the wine culture of this time, associated with Dionysus is currently taken the pop culture today with several wine outlets naming their businesses after Dionysus. Wine, according to Hölscher (51) briefly elevates the experience of people to have godliness temporarily. Dionysus nature which is both divine and mortal may correspond to this purpose of wine for which the people of Greece and Rome had wine. It is vital to note the fusion between religious reverence and social ecstasy. A person needed not to drink wine to evoke such an ecstatic state. As is present, in this culture and even in contemporary times, humans often experience this kind of ecstasy while dancing, frenzied, worshipping, practicing sex, battles, cheering or within political rallies (Guiliani 31).
The artwork of Dionysus also reflects the classical Greek theatre that was among the social culture at this time. As found in Hölscher, Apollo reflected the epic of lyric and poetry which had similar effects of frenzy and godliness as Dionysus (61). The major drama festival at this time was called Dionysia after the god of wine. It is believed in the myths of this time that so much pride and reason for worship and drama was the triumph that Dionysus would have being half mortal and divine (Guiliani 30). The wine culture is symbolic of not only the frenzy and sensuality of wine, rather he reverence and worshiping of Dionysus in India and the East. It is recorded that the emergence of certain religious practices in the East, including various worships and practices came as a result of the conquest of Dionysus. Some of cultural aspects which spread across various countries at this time were the dances and play of music as a result of Dionysus’ conquest. The graceful maenads who would celebrate with Dionysus formed a major part of the Greek drama often musical and offering dramatic effects to the theatres of Greece and Rome. The satyrs who had both human and animal traits had a role of interesting the maenads. Sensuality was a revered aspect this time in history as the work of art depicts.
In conclusion, the Triumph of Dionysus is a direct picture of the cultural influence of religion, theater, music and dance as well as sensuality to the Greek classical era. It is evident that at this time, theater and performance was a highly valued to explain and exonerate mythical characters in the Greek and Roman history. In fact, the element of divinity was revered so much that, the characters of Dionysus would possess both mortal and divine traits and exude power and reverence that was almost sensual and inebriation in nature. To express the ecstasy of worship, music and dance became a way to invoke religious frenzy among the Greeks and Romans at this time. It is evident too, that around this period, political dominance took center stage with Greece and Rome taking dominance in the regions of Europe and Asia. In fact, the artwork-Triumph of Dionysus reflects the conquest of Alexander on Indus around 327-326 BC. It is evident that the bravado of Alexander is equated to a mythical god Dionysus who commands political, social and religious frenzy in the region. It is no doubt that conquests carried with them intercultural influence and exchanges evident in the elephant carrying the captives from India. In fact, as the elephant signifies the deity Ganesh in India, we see the coming of dance and music to India as a result of the actual Alexander conquest. On the other hand, the emergence of elephant deities in Greco-Roman times appears to come from such conquests as with the captives riding an elephant into Greece.
Giuliani, Luca. “Image and Myth: a history of Pictorial narration in Greek art/Luca Giuliani; translated by Joseph O’ Donnell.” University of Houston Architecture & Art Library (2013): Page (s) 23-57. Bild und Mythos. English. Web. Accessed on 7th November 2018.
Hölscher Tonio. Visual Power in Ancient Greece and Rome: between Art and Social Reality. University of California Press., 2018.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Indian Triumph of Dionysus