My God is vengeful against his foes; he rages against his enemies. The Lord is very patient but great in power; the Lord punishes. His way is in whirlwind and storm; clouds are the dust of his feet. He can blast the sea and make it dry up; he can dry up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the bud of Lebanon withers.’
– Nahum 1: 2-8.
In some dusty drawer somewhere—likely beneath my vintage, pre-Internet collection of Boobs ‘N’ Buns Bonanza—my sommelier pin still exists. I bring this up because Dave McIntyre, a FB familiar and intoxicology incubus, received his sommelier certification yesterday and proudly posted a pretty picture of his proprietary pin.
Which led to a discussion of whose prodigiously proboscised, humungously horned scnozz is depicted on said pin (photo opposite); responses ranged from Adrian Brody to Jimmy Durante to Cameron Diaz before the second nose job. The most erudite responses insisted that the figure is either Dionysus or Bacchus, who I—eternally self-effacing and awkward in a crowd—was pretty sure were the same dude only with different last names, but did not want to bring it up lest I sound less eruditer than they.
Good thing, too. Turns out that, like many of the Greek gods and their Roman equivalents, the history, personality and bailiwick of Dionysus and Bacchus is unique unto each.
I mean, considering that neither exists.
Dionysus: ‘I’m Young, White, Androgynous and Filled With Existential Angst…’
Five centuries before the Virgin Mary had a rather awkward baby shower, the playwright Euripides immortalized the already immortal Dionysus —the last deity accepted into the Greek Pantheon—in the tragedy Βάκχαι. He portrays him as a angry young god, pissed off that the mortal side of his family refuses to worship him—the same dilemma that Madonna found herself in. A thousand years later, the epic poet Nonna described him in a similar vein, and if you would like to fact-check me, feel free: Dionysiaca, the longest surviving poem from antiquity, is a mere 48 volumes long.
Dionysus, a.k.a. variously, ‘The Giver of Unmixed Wine’, ‘God of the Press’ and ‘Enorchês’—referring to Zeus’s testicles, into which the bouncing baby boozehound was apparently sewn, was the mythological leader of the cult of wine. Described as outrageously attractive, he was constantly being mistaken for a prince and kidnapped by pirates for ransom, whereupon, he would wreak havoc upon his luckless captors—although occasionally he’d squirt forth a little estrogen by turning the sailors into dolphins instead of shark food.
A cult leader from the David Koresh School of Mean Streak, Dionysus once repaid King Midas’s hospitality by granting him the ‘golden touch’—whereupon, everything the royal old dweebix laid his hands on turned to metal, including his food, drink and family. During the course of Euripides’ tragedy, Dionysus systematically drives his cousin Pentheus insane, whereupon Pentheus is torn to pieces by a local gang of women in a frenzy of drink, revelry and divine ecstasy.
BTW, my pre-internet collection of Pentheus magazine is in the garage.
And this is perhaps the most significant non-transferable aspect of the Cult of Dionysus: In many stories, the focus appears to be less on the mysteries of wine and more on the liberation of the wild, repressed soul of womanhood.
The Romans, apparently, didn’t find that side of the metaphysical universe particularly appealing.
Bacchus: ‘I’m Rich, I’m Rotund, I’m Ridiculous—But Don’t Call Me Thurston Howell III’
As an antidote to the Greek’s baleful, bad-tempered, Bowie-esque bastard, a buoyant, big-bellied, Belushi-esque broski called Bacchus stepped in during Rome’s reign. The archetypal Blutarsky was infamous for raves so crunk and off the chain that watered-down modern versions are still called bacchanalias. Ruddy and plump, the son of Jupiter was said to have been born in Thebes, and Horace—the lofty, long-winded Latin lyricist—may be credited with the personality reinvention. In his Odes, Book 2, he describes Bacchus thusly:
‘…You’re said to be more suited to dancing,
laughter, and games, and not equipped to suffer
Unlike the myths surrounding Dionysus in which the epicene egomaniac exploits the darker side of drink—insanity, loss of emotional control, revenge, even murder, Bacchus comes across as a rustic bumpkin and a party animal; his followers swig and vurp and otherwise epitomize the orgiastic Roman mindset while trivializing the Greek pantheon. Banal instead of anal, Bacchus is a cartoon character and Dionysus is a Maxfield Parrish portrait.
Thurston Howell III, a.k.a. Jim Backus:
With a net worth of $2.7 billion, the 60-year-old native of Providence (fitting), Rhode Island has developed a cult of nasally, doorman-tipping, suspender-wearing, American Express Centurion-carrying, prenup-demanding blue-blooded Gold Coast bootlickers myrmidons that I do not display sufficient noblesse oblige to join.
Dionacchus: The Best of All Budding Benders
Therefore, I have chosen to organize my own cult. We will meet on days with a ‘y’ in them and worship a new god—Dionacchus—an amalgamation of Greek and Roman trait traditions. First, we will get moderately inebriated on retsina and discuss Pyrrho‘s school of skepticism and the Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus who tried to unify Plato’s thought with theology while inhaling patchouli and listening to Annie Lennox and comparing Ziggy Stardust’s evolution throughout the decades. Then we will shave our heads, slip into our military cargos, crank up the Klipsch sub-woofers and contemplate Gorgoroth while injecting Everclear directly into our temporal lobes.
There is a slight initiation fee, of course, but here’s the good news: You will make money every time you recruit new members. This is not a pyramid scheme, I swear; this is a legitimate multilevel marketing plan fully approved by the National Consumer’s League, Alticor and every single deity left on Mt. Olympus.
Back To The Sommelier Pin… Who Is it?
How the hell should I know?. It’s too ugly to be Dionysus, too skinny to be Bacchus, and I have it on good authority that it can’t be Dionacchus—sommeliers are notoriously nasty and snooty about the subject of retsina and Everclear.
I’m sticking with Jimmy Durante. Onward and upward.