The third Vatican mythographer and the resurrection of Dionysus

As I was saying earlier, J. G. Frazer in the Golden Bough made some claims (with references) about this.  In particular he said:

In other [stories] it is simply said that shortly after his burial he rose from the dead and ascended up to heaven;[1] … Where the resurrection formed part of the myth, it also was enacted at the rites, [7]…

[1] Macrobius, Commentarium in Somnium Scipionis i, 12, 12; 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 [*]]; Origen, c. Cels. iv. 17 1 [see below], quoted by Lobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 713.
[7] Mythog. Vat. ed Bode, l.c.[*]

The Macrobius is not yet in my hands.  I have written something already on the Third Vatican Mythographer here.  But thanks to a kind correspondant, who emailed me a couple of pages in PDF, I now have the translation of the relevant parts of the Third Vatican Mythographer made in 2008 by Ronald E. Pepin in The Vatican Mythographers.  The text is actually medieval, and seems to be by Alberic of London, who was a canon of St. Pauls in 1160.

So, what does 12:5 actually say?

5. I recall reading nothing that I have judged worthy to be handed on as to why it is said Bacchus was born of Semele, one of the daughters of Cadmus, when Jove’s lightning shone before her. But I have decided not to pass over the fact that there were four sisters: Ina, Autonoe, Semele, and Agave. And, as Fulgentius says, there are four kinds of drunkenness: from wine, forgetfulness of things, lust, and insanity. The first is Ina, which means “wine”; second is Autonoe, “not knowing herself”; third is Semele, which means “unfettered body”; fourth is Agave, whom I pass over, because the meaning of this name happens to seem unsuitable, or it was unknown to the Romans. But we shall compare her to insanity because, as we read in the story, the drunken Agave cut off the head of her own son, Pentheus.

Furthermore, so that we might seem to go more deeply, the story says that the Giants found Bacchus inebriated. After they tore him to pieces limb by limb, they buried the bits, and a little while later he arose alive and whole. We read that the disciples of Orpheus interpreted this fiction. They asserted that Bacchus should be understood as nothing other than the world-soul. The philosophers say that though this soul might be divided among the bodies of the world limb by limb, as it were, it always seems to make itself whole again, emerging from the bodies and forming itself. Always continuing one and the same, it allows no division of its singleness. Also, we read that they represent this story in his sacred rites.

OK: ” rose from the dead and ascended up to heaven” has connotations which are not here, but the idea of resurrection is definitely present, as is the representation of it in the rites.

2 thoughts on “The third Vatican mythographer and the resurrection of Dionysus

  1. I’m more interested in crazy Agave. Who knew that the Greeks had tequila and mescaline?

    (Agave’s apparently the biological name for the American aloes, which indeed include the tequila-type agave plants. No word on whether the biologists were thinking about the drink and drug thing when they picked the name.)

Leave a Reply