Maenad

Ecstatic maenad with thyrsus attributed to Kleophrades, c. 500 - 490 BC
Antiken Sammlung, Munich / Germany.

In Greek mythology, Maenads [MEE-nads] were female worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of mystery, wine and intoxication. The word literally translates as "raving ones". They were known as wild, insane women who could not be reasoned with. The mysteries of Dionysus inspired the women to ecstatic frenzy; they indulged in copious amounts of violence, bloodletting, sex and self-intoxication and mutilation. They were usually pictured as crowned with vine leaves, clothed in fawnskins and carrying the thyrsus, and dancing with the wild abandonment of complete union with primeval nature.

Maenad and Satyr dancing with the infant Dionysus, Terra cotta Relief, British Museum

The Maenads were also known as Bassarids (or Bacchae or Bacchantes) in Roman mythology, after the penchant for the equivalent Roman god, Bacchus, to wear a fox-skin, a bassaris.

The behavior of Maenads in stories intended to explain and display the intoxicating effects of alcohol. In some cases, the alcohol causes bizzare behavior in people and cannot be justified or explained by any other reason except that of the intoxication.

The Bacchae (Maenads) killing Pentheus, Casa dei Vettii, Pompeii

In Euripides' play, "The Bacchae", Theban Maenads murdered King Pentheus after he banned the worship of Dionysus because the Maenads denied Pentheus' divinity. Dionysus, Pentheus' cousin, himself lured Pentheus to the woods, where the Maenads tore him apart and his corpse was mutilated by his own mother, Agave culminating when she tears off his head, believing it to be that of a lion.

A group of Maenads also killed Orpheus.

In Greek Art the frolicking of Maenads and Dionysus is often a theme depicted on Greek kraters, that are used to mix water and wine. These scenes show the Maenads in their frenzy running in the forests often killing any animal they happen to come across.

See also Icarius, Butes, Dryas, and Minyades for other examples of Dionysus inflicting insanity upon women as a curse.

Women of Amphissa protect Maenads from Delphi who entered in their city according to a story of Pausanias. Alma Tadema.

Skopas, as if moved by some inspiration, imparted to the making of his statue the divine frenzy that possessed him. Why should I not describe to you from the beginning the inspiration of this work of art? The statue of a Maenad, wrought from Parian marble, has been transformed into a real Maenad. The Maenad of Skopas


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