Bacchus, the Greek god Dionysus, was credited with introducing to mankind
the cultivation of the vine and was worshipped as the god of wine and
ecstasy. True to the nature of wine, Bacchus could bring joy and soothe
anxiety through intoxication, but his worship also held the possibility of
excessive behavior once inhibitions were removed. Bacchus is usually
pictured with attributes of the vine and is often accompanied by his
votaries (satyrs, sileni, Bacchantes) dancing around him in intoxication or ecstacy.
The Bacchantes, Bacchus' female worshipers, are portrayed clothed in the
skins of fawns or panthers, wearing wreaths of ivy, and carrying the thyrsus
(a wand wreathed in ivy and vine leaves and tipped with a pine cone). The
Bacchantes roamed the mountains or the uninhabited countryside, where, freed
from the conventions of "civilized" behavior, they were rumored to perform
such "savage" feats as uprooting trees, tearing wild animals apart, and eating these animals'
raw flesh. The Bacchanalia, the Latin name for the rites of Dionysus, apparently
led to such wild excesses that in 186 B.C.E. the Senate banned the rites
except as private devotions.
Head of Dionysus (mosaic, long load)
Dionysus on a panther