“[A] sorcerer, a conjuror from the Lydian land” : Dionysus, the Eastern Conjuror

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 8 June

12.00-1.30pm in Room 5B.330

We are very pleased to announce that Shehzad Raj will continue our discussion of Myth & Magic with a session on Dionysus, the Eastern conjuror


Detail of a kylix (drinking cup) by Exekias showing Dionysos sailing among dolphins, c. 530 B.C.E. (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich) [image in the public domain]

Although the line between magic and ritual can be difficult to trace in Greek Antiquity, a defining aspect of magic is abuse. This aspect manifests itself in a range of examples, from abuse of power, resentment of hierarchy, and subversion of ritual to abuse of artifacts and botany reserved for more sensitive purposes.

Dionysus manipulates the forces of nature that warp the line between prayer and spell: herbs, spices, animals and seduction are under his governance. This power extends to the followers he exerts himself through.

While most evidence of magic in Antiquity suggests it was performed by Greek men, in mythology the perceived greed and disrespect necessary to desire control over the natural world is portrayed as belonging to invading foreigners and reckless women. What can we learn from Dionysus about marginalization and magic in the Ancient World? How do myth, magic, and ritual combine in the story of ‘Dionysus, the Eastern Conjuror’?

Please read the following extracts from Walter Otto’s Dionysus: Myth and Cult (1965), pp. 95-103, 171-181.


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