The third Vatican mythographer on the resurrection of Dionysus

In my last post, we saw that one of the sources given by J. G. Frazer for the ‘resurrection’ of Dionysus was an anonymous text found in a medieval Latin manuscript in the Vatican.

Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini tres Romae nuper reperti (commonly referred to as Mythographi Vaticani), ed. G. H. Bode (Cellis, 1834), iii. 12, 5, p. 246 [actually vol. 1 – RP];

The text is as follows:

5. Cur de Semele, una fíliarum Cadmi, Jove fulminante, natus perhibeatur, nihil me quod tradi dignum judicaverim legisse memini. Hoc tamen non praetermittere duxi, quod IV erant sorores, Ino, Autonoë, Semele et Agave; et IV sunt, ut ait Fulgentius, ebrietatis genera, id est vinolentia, rerum oblivio, libido, insania. Prima namque est Ino, quae vinum interpretatur; secunda Autonoë, id est, se ipsa non cognoscens; tertia Semele, quae corpus solum solutum interpretatur; quarta Agave, quam, quia nominis ejus interpretatio vel incongrua fortasse visa est, vel Latinis incognita, praetereo; tamen insaniae comparabimus, quia Penthei filii sui caput, sicut in fabula legitur, violenter abscidit. Ut autem paulo altius ordiri videamur, habet fabula, Gigantes Bacchum inebriatum invenisse, et discerpto eo per membra, frusta sepelisse, et eum paulo post vivum et integrum resurrexisse. Quod figmentum discipuli Orphei interpretati leguntur, nihil aliud Bacchum quam animam mundi intelligendum asserentes; quae, ut ferunt philosophi, quamvis quasi membratim per mundi corpora dividatur, semper tamen se redintegrare videtur, corporibus emergens, et se formans, dum semper una eademque perseverans, nullam simplicitatis suae patitur sectionem. Hanc etiam fabulam in sacris ejus repraesentasse leguntur.


… the fable says that the giants found Bacchus drunk, and after tearing him limb from limb, he could not be buried, and a little time afterward he was resurrected alive and intact. … They say that this fable was (re)enacted in his rites.

The narrative goes on to give the Orphic interpretation of this, that Bacchus is to be understood as the soul of the world.

There’s no resurrection of Dionysus in the spring here, although there is certainly a resurrection, and also its representation in the mysteries of Dionysus.

I wish we knew when this text was written.  I have not been able to find any information on this.  But I note the mention of “Fulgentius”.  This must be Fulgentius Mythographicus, the 5th century writer of a compendium of myths and legends in Vandal Africa.  The text, therefore, cannot be earlier than this, and is probably medieval rather than ancient.

11 thoughts on “The third Vatican mythographer on the resurrection of Dionysus

  1. Hey, I’m a long-time reader and I just wanted to say that I really appreciate what you do by making all of this classical literature available on the internet. You have helped my own studies out immensely. So, in that spirit I’d like to return the favor a little.

    You are committing a grave linguistic error. The name of the Greek deity is Dionysos or Dionysus if you’re going by the Latinized version. It should never be rendered Dionysius, as you’ve been doing on these last couple posts. The Greek suffix -ios (-ius) means “belonging to”, “derived from”, “similar to” or “coming from.” We find it as part of a theophoric i.e. a name chosen to honor a deity (Apollon>Apollonios) or designating the city or region where a person came from (Rhodes>Rhodios). Dionysos was one of the most popular deities during the Hellenistic era, thus we find an immense number of theophorics employing a variety of his epithets and allonyms. This naming convention stretches even further back – there was, for instance, several important Sicilian tyrants named Dionysios – and it survived long after Christianization. There are many Popes named after him and of course the great Christian Platonist Dionysios the Areopagite.

    So please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop using this form of the name for the god! Sorry for my vehemence, but it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. 😀

    Anyway, I love what you do and greatly enjoy reading your blog as well.

  2. As far as pet peeves go, it’s a pretty minor and trivial one, but still …

    I do appreciate your whole debunking of the annual dying-and-rising-in-the-spring trope. It bothers me immensely when people try to cram Dionysos into a limited and artificial category, especially when they do so with the sole purpose of “discrediting” Jesus. Dionysos was worshiped in a great many places in the ancient world, and there was a significant amount of regional variation. So while some forms of his cult centered around his death and rebirth you don’t find that everywhere and where you do find it it’s rarely that simple. Often it’s part of a trieteric cycle, with a festival that recurs every three years and has a fallow period in between just like the lifecycle of the grapevine he’s so closely identified with. But people ignore all of that so they can make Dionysos seem like the twin of Jesus in an effort to “prove” that Christians made their savior up. There are plenty of similarities between them, so there’s no need to fabricate new ones or twist the evidence, ignoring whatever inconveniently doesn’t fit, to prove one’s theory. Probably the thing that annoys me the most is when I see claims that Dionysos was born on December 25th. This is wrong on so many levels. 1) The Greeks used a lunar, not a solar calendar which means festivals shifted around considerably. 2) Which birth would that be again? Dionysos had no less than a dozen of them, with different women or goddesses credited as his mother. 3) While there were festivals of his birth celebrated, you generally don’t find them held during winter. 4) The winter festivals of Dionysos either celebrate his potency and virility or maintain that he is slumbering or dead beneath the earth. Very different from the coming of bouncing baby Bacchus! And I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’d prefer I didn’t.

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to your Eusebius book. It’s been exciting watching this whole process unfold and I can’t believe that it’s nearing the final stages of completion! Congratulations! It’s an exciting time for independent scholarship.

  3. The anachronism pains me too. It’s only possible to those who have never read a line of Greek mythology and have no feeling whatever for how the ancient world worked.

    The “December 25” thing is very curious, I agree. Do you have references for the points you make? Someone needs to write all this up and document it, you know.

    The Eusebius book has been a long time coming, but it will appear very shortly now!

  4. Oh yes. I actually started putting together a massive article that went through all their silly assertions and refuted them point by point with copious amounts of primary source material to back it up. But, alas, I didn’t finish it in time for the Christmas season because there were a couple obscure quotes I still had to track down, and then I got preoccupied with other things and, well, time passes and now it’s the middle of March! However I’ll probably dig that stuff back out next year because, inevitably, there’ll be need for it with all those people making their standard pointless accusations. I really do wonder what they think they get out of saying stuff like that.

  5. It does turn up every year, so please do finish it up. Whatever you can reference is worth doing.

    What do those who say such things get out of it? Well, pleasure at discomfiting those they hate, from the tone of their posts.

  6. Well, you’ve inspired me, friend. Once I put the finishing touches on my latest book (right now we’re in the process of editing, formatting and designing the cover, etc.) I’ll go back and finish up that article. Timely or not, I think it’s worth getting that information out there.

    And sadly, I suspect you’re right. So many of these people are trapped in a phase of adolescent rebellion. They’ve decided they’re no longer Christian and yet they define themselves wholly by their opposition to it. If Christianity proposes X then I must believe Y, whether or not Y actually makes sense to them or is consistent with the views they claim to espouse. They spend a great deal of time and energy railing against Christianity, trying to debunk it and offend it – which is sad. Either make your peace with it, move on and live your life the way you want to or just accept that you’re Christian and live according to those principles. Bah. The stupidity of man truly is limitless.

    On a more pleasant topic (and sorry if I’m monopolizing your time, but I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a couple years now but haven’t thought of anything meaningful to comment other than you’re cool and I love what you do!) I know it’s a little late for that now, but have you looked into Createspace for your self-publishing needs? They’re very efficient and professional but a whole lot cheaper than the company you’re presently using. I’ve used them for all of my books in the past and been quite pleased with the results. Not sure if they’d be a perfect match for you (I believe you wanted to release the Eusebius as a hardback and I’m not sure that’s an option they provide, though I will be looking into it for my next book) but I figured I’d bring them up as a possibility. I was going to mention them earlier, but by the time it occurred to me you were already pretty involved with the production aspects and I figured it was too late to change then. But I believe I saw you mention that you had plans for additional books at some point, so figured I’d bring it up.

  7. I’m glad that you’ll run with this one. Solid facts can only benefit everyone.

    The funny thing about all these people is that they do not consider, even for a second, what it is that they propose to do instead. The choice always amounts to conformity to some subset of the customs and habits and ideas of the place and time in which they happen to be living. Query this, and you always get a curt denial followed by a swift change of subject back to “why Christianity is wrong.”

    Thank you for your suggestion on Createspace, which I will look at in future. I am pretty much now committed to Lightning Source, not least because of their distribution options as a subsidiary of Ingram. But they are quite hard to deal with!

  8. The Third Vatican Mythographer wrote in the 12th century. A dozen of the more than 40 manuscripts attribute the work of the Third Vatican Mythographer is one “Alberic”; four mss add “Londinensis.” Scholars have suggested this might be a Master Alberic, Canon of St. Paul’s (fl. c. 1160). Other mss, however, list the author as “Nequem” (i.e., Alexander Neckam, 1157-1217).

    Although the most recent edition of the Third Vatican Mythographer is the 1834 edition by Bode that you cite, there is a recent English translation of all three Vatican Mythographers by Ronald E. Pepin as The Vatican Mythographers (New York, Fordham University Press, 2008). The text you cite is translated on pages 321-322, and Pepin discusses authorship on pages 9-10.

  9. Thank you very much indeed for this. And … oh bother. For I was at Cambridge University Library today, and could perfectly well have accessed Pepin’s translation, had I known of it! Bother bother bother.

    I don’t know if I might presume further on your kindness? Any chance of a PDF of those pages? (I will quite understand if that is not possible)

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