From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In ancient Greek religion and myth, the obscure and ancient figure of Zagreus (Template:Lang-el) was identified with the god Dionysus and was worshipped by followers of Orphism, whose late Orphic hymns invoke his name.

A single early appearance of Zagreus is in a quoted line from the lost epic Alkmeonis, written in the sixth century BCE if not earlier: "Mistress Earth and Zagreus who art above all other gods." An invocation linking him with the earth goddess Gaia and placing him above all other gods, could not fit easily into the Olympian religion of Zeus.

In Greek a hunter who catches living animals is called zagreus, Karl Kerenyi notes, and the Ionian word zagre signifies a "pit for the capture of live animals"

Greeks in Crete preserved a tradition that Zagreus was the son of Zeus and Persephone. Two passing references by Aeschylus link Zagreus with Plouton (Hades) and identify him as Hades' son; in his Cretan Men, which survives in quoted fragments, Aeschylus mentions the "thunders of the noctural Zagreus". "We may justifiably ask," observes Kerenyi, "Why was this great mythical hunter, who in Greece became a mysterious god of the underworld, a capturer of wild animals and not a killer?" Kerenyi links the figure of Zagreus with archaic Dionysiac rites in which small animals were torn limb from limb and their flesh devoured raw, "not as an emanation of the Greek Dionysian religion, but rather as a migration or survival of a prehistoric rite." Accoding to Robert Graves it could originate from the sacrafice and consumption of a child dressed as a bull.

Orphic Zagreus

According to the followers of Orphism, Zeus had lain with Persephone — who, by the tradition ascribed to Orpheus, was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter — in the form of a serpent. The result of their union was Zagreus.

Zeus had intended Zagreus to be his heir, but a jealous Hera persuaded the Titans to kill the child. Like the infant Zeus in Cretan myth, the child Zagreus was entrusted to the Titans who distracted him with toys. While he gazed into a mirror they tried to seize him and he fled, changing into various animal forms in his attempt to escape. Finally he took the form of a bull, and in that form they caught him, tore him to pieces, and devoured him.

Zeus, discovering the crime, hurled a thunderbolt at the Titans, turning them to ashes, but Persephone (or in some accounts Athena, Rhea, or Hermes) managed to recover Zagreus' heart. From the ashes of the Titans, mixed with the divine flesh they had eaten, came humankind; this explains the mix of good and evil in humans, the story goes, for humans possess both a trace of divinity as well as the Titans' maliciousness.

Zeus implanted the still-beating heart into the mortal woman Semele, from whom the child was eventually born again, despite Hera's intervention. Some accounts say that he was reassembled and resurrected by Demeter; others, that Zeus fed his heart to Semele in a drink, making her pregnant with Dionysus.

In Orphic tradition, Persephone was the mother of Zagreus (Dionysus) by Zeus; in the Iliad, Persephone's consort Hades, king of the underworld, is called Zeus Katachthonios, "Underground Zeus". In Hesiod's account, it was by Zeus' decree that Hades abducted Persephone, suggesting that their roles are sometimes interchangeable. Both Zeus and Poseidon were rarely consorts of Demeter. "Underworld Zeus" is linked with Demeter by Hesiod. It is this that has generated some suggestions that Zagreus may be a son of Persephone with her husband Hades. The name Zagreus is also an old epithet of Hades.

In popular culture

In Big Finish Productions' Doctor Who audio dramas, Zagreus is a nursery rhyme villain on Gallifrey. According to the legendary Book of Zagreus he is a creature of anti-time whose domain is at the end of the universe, and who is being fought by Rassilon for eternity. Zagreus is also the title of an audio drama concerning this character.

In Wyndham Lewis' 1930 satirical novel The Apes of God, there is a character named Horace Zagreus. A 60-something albino observer of the art world critically described in the novel, he serves as mentor of the hapless protagonist, Daniel Boleyn. Later, Zagreus drops Boleyn in favor of another young protégé, Archie Margolin, before finally marrying the wealthy, elderly Lady Fredigonde, generally considered to be a parody of Dame Edith Sitwell. Horace Zagreus himself is thought by some to be a caricature of Aleister Crowley or a similar figure of the period.

In the HBO drama True Blood, the character Maryann, a maenad, uses this origin story for Dionysus during a ritual. Zagreus' heart being the only remaining part of him is the reason she ritually steals the hearts of her victims in sacrifice to her god.

The character Zagreus plays a critical part in In Albert Camus' Novel, A Happy Death, .

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Zagreus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools