Semele and Ino (page 476, with art)

Chapter 14: Thebes

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DS 3.64.3-4 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History

The third Dionysus, they say, was born in Boeotian Thebes of Zeus and Semelê, the daughter of Cadmus. The myth runs as follows: Zeus had become enamoured of Semelê and often, lured by her beauty, had consorted with her, but Hera, being jealous and anxious to punish the girl, assumed the form of one of the women who was an intimate of Semelê’s and led her on to her ruin; for she suggested to her that Zeus should lie with her while having the same majesty and honour in his outward appearance as when he took Hera to his arms. Consequently Zeus, at the request of Semelê that she be shown the same honours as Hera, appeared to her accompanied by thunder and lightning, but Semelê, unable to endure the majesty of his grandeur, died and brought forth the babe before the appointed time. Greek Text

DS 4.3.2-3Diodorus Siculus, Library of History

Semelê was loved by Zeus because of her beauty, but since he had his intercourse with her secretly and without speech she thought that the god despised her; consequently she made the request of him that he come to her embraces in the same manner as in his approaches to Hera. Accordingly, Zeus visited her in a way befitting a god, accompanied by thunder and lightning, revealing himself to her as he embraced her; but Semelê, who was pregnant and unable to endure the majesty of the divine presence, brought forth the babe untimely and was herself slain by the fire. Greek Text

Met 3.256-315Ovid, Metamorphoses

Now a fresh
occasion has been added to her grief,
and wild with jealousy of Semele,
her tongue as ever ready to her rage,
lets loose a torrent of abuse;
Away with words! Why should I speak of it?
Let me attack her! Let me spoil that jade!
Am I not Juno the supreme of Heaven?
Queen of the flashing scepter? Am I not
sister and wife of Jove omnipotent?
She even wishes to be known by him
a mother of a Deity, a joy
almost denied to me! Great confidence
has she in her great beauty—nevertheless,
I shall so weave the web the bolt of Jove
would fail to save her.—Let the Gods deny
that I am Saturn‘s daughter, if her shade
descend not stricken to the Stygian wave.”

She rose up quickly from her shining throne,
and hidden in a cloud of fiery hue
descended to the home of Semele;
and while encompassed by the cloud, transformed
her whole appearance as to counterfeit
old Beroe, an Epidaurian nurse,
who tended Semele.

Her tresses changed
to grey, her smooth skin wrinkled and her step
grown feeble as she moved with trembling limbs;—
her voice was quavering as an ancient dame’s,
as Juno, thus disguised, began to talk
to Semele. When presently the name
of Jove was mentioned—artful Juno thus;
(doubtful that Jupiter could be her love)—
“When Jove appears to pledge his love to you,
implore him to assume his majesty
and all his glory, even as he does
in presence of his stately Juno—Yea,
implore him to caress you as a God.”

With artful words as these the goddess worked
upon the trusting mind of Semele,
daughter of Cadmus, till she begged of Jove
a boon, that only hastened her sad death;
for Jove not knowing her design replied,
“Whatever thy wish, it shall not be denied,
and that thy heart shall suffer no distrust,
I pledge me by that Deity, the Waves
of the deep Stygian Lake,—oath of the Gods.”
All overjoyed at her misfortune, proud
that she prevailed, and pleased that she secured
of him a promise, that could only cause
her own disaster, Semele addressed
almighty Jove; “Come unto me in all
the splendour of thy glory, as thy might
is shown to Juno, goddess of the skies.”
Fain would he stifle her disastrous tongue;
before he knew her quest the words were said;
and, knowing that his greatest oath was pledged,
he sadly mounted to the lofty skies,
and by his potent nod assembled there
the deep clouds: and the rain began to pour,
and thunder-bolts resounded.

But he strove
to mitigate his power, and armed him not
with flames overwhelming as had put to flight
his hundred-handed foe Typhoeus—flames
too dreadful. Other thunder-bolts he took,
forged by the Cyclops of a milder heat,
with which insignia of his majesty,
sad and reluctant, he appeared to her.—
her mortal form could not endure the shock
and she was burned to ashes in his sight.

An unformed babe was rescued from her side,
and, nurtured in the thigh of Jupiter,
completed Nature’s time until his birth.
Ino, his aunt, in secret nursed the boy
and cradled him. And him Nyseian nymphs
concealed in caves and fed with needful milk.

While these events according to the laws
of destiny occurred, and while the child,
the twice-born Bacchus, in his cradle lay,  Latin Text

ApB 3.4.3 – Apollodoros, Bibliotheke (Library)

But Zeus loved Semele and bedded with her unknown to Hera. Now Zeus had agreed to do for her whatever she asked, and deceived by Hera she asked that he would come to her as he came when he was wooing Hera. Unable to refuse, Zeus came to her bridal chamber in a chariot, with lightnings and thunderings, and launched a thunderbolt. But Semele expired of fright, and Zeus, snatching the sixth-month abortive child from the fire, sewed it in his thigh. Greek Text

Fab 167 – Hyginus, Fabulae

When she was made pregnant by this, Juno, changing herself to look like Semele’s nurse, Beroe, said to her: “Daughter, ask Jove to come to you as he comes to Juno, so you may know what pleasure it is to sleep with a god.” At her suggestion Semele made this request of Jove, and was smitten by a thunderbolt. Latin Text

Fab 179 – Hyginus, Fabulae

Jove desired to lie with Semele, and when Juno found out, she changed her form to that of the nurse Beroe, came to Semele, and suggested that she ask Jove to come to her as he came to Juno, “that you may know”, she said, “what pleasure it is to lie with a god.” And so Semele asked Jove to come to her in this way. Latin Text

Fab 167 – Hyginus, Fabulae

Liber, son of Jove and Proserpine, was dismembered by the Titans, and Jove gave his heart, torn to bits, to Semele in a drink. Latin Text

Berkeley, University of California, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology 8.3316: Attic red-figure hydria with death of Semele through Zeus’ thunderbolt, Hermes with infant Dionysos, Iris and Hera


Hearst Museum

Beazley Archive Pottery Database

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 95.39: Attic red-figure lekythos, with birth of Dionysos from Zeus’ thigh, in presence of Hermes

Museum of Fine Arts

Drawing by J.D. Beazley, from Beazley Archive Pottery Database

AP 3.1 – Palantine Anthology, Cyzicene Epigrams

1.—On Dionysus conducting his mother Semele to Heaven, preceded by Hermes, Satyrs, and Sileni escorting them with Torches.

The fair-haired daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, slain in childbirth by the bolt of Zeus, is being led up from Acheron by her son Dionysus, the thyrsus-lover, who avengeth the godless insolence of Pentheus. Greek Text

DS 4.25.4 – Diodoros Siculos, Library of History

for the myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semelê from Hades, and that, sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyonê. Greek Text

ApB 3.5.3  – Apollodoros, Biblioteke (Library)

and having brought up his mother from Hades and named her Thyone, he ascended up with her to heaven. Greek Text

Mor 565f-566a – Plutarch, Moralia

This was the route, the guide said, that Dionysus had taken in his ascent and later when he brought up Semele; and the region was called the place of Lethe. Greek Text

Paus 2.31.2 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

It is here that they say Semele was brought out of Hell by Dionysus, and that Heracles dragged up the Hound of Hell.1 But I cannot bring myself to believe even that Semele died at all, seeing that she was the wife of Zeus. Greek Text

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Artistic sources edited by Frances Van Keuren, Prof. Emerita, Lamar Dodd School of Art, Univ. of Georgia, July 2020

Literary sources edited by Elena Bianchelli, Senior Lecturer of Classical Languages and Culture, University of Georgia, March 2020


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