Apollo & Dionysus: Greeks and the Irrational

Apollo (called Apollo by Romans also, often called the Far-darter or far-shooter, from his use of arrows as weapons, and the "Pythian one", from his killing of the dragon/snake Pytho; also often referred to as "Phoebus Apollo" or simply "Phoebus")

Attributes: cithara or lyre, the bow, the laurel wreath, sometimes the tripod (used by the priestess at Delphi) and the fawn; often represented together with his sister Artemis


Apollo and Artemis: Niobid Painter, ca. 460-450 B.C. (bow, laurel)

Artemis, Apollo, and Hermes: Barclay Painter, ca. 450-440 B.C. (lyre, laurel)

Apollo of Piombino: Late Archaic bronze, ca. 480 B.C.

More images of Apollo (from the University of Victoria)

Characteristics of Apollo

  1. sun (Apollo Helios)
  2. sickness (esp. sickness involving a high fever)
  3. artistic creation (the Muses: inspired poetry, music, thought, and much of the finer aspects of "culture")
  4. prophecy (the "voice of Zeus"):

Light: powerful divine light (refined, brilliant): brilliance, purity, order, morality, wisdom; to be sure, within the cult is a mantic (inspired, "mad") seer, the "Pythian" priestess at Delphi, but that too is a non-madness in its madness, for the madness is strictly controlled by the god, and the mantic offerings -- the poetic, riddling prophecy -- serves rational ends

Dionysus (or Bacchus, called Bacchus or Liber by the Romans)

Attributes: drinking vessel, ivy wreath, grape (or ivy) vines, the thyrsus (a long fennel stalk wound with ivy leaves and topped with a large pine cone), long eastern-style locks and beard; usually accompanied by his followers, the Bacchantes / Maenads (female) and/or the satyrs / Sileni (males with goat features & horse tails)


Dionysus: the eery face of the god. Red-figure amphora ca. 525 B.C.

Dionysus on a ship. Exekias painter, ca. 540 B.C.

Dionysus in the beginning. Alkimachus painter, ca. 460 B.C.

Dionysus and Ariadne. With sons Oinopion and Staphylos. Black figure amphora, ca. 525 B.C.

Dionysus with his followers, on a ship. Black figure amphora, ca. 510 B.C.

Dionysus with 2 dancing Maenads. Amasis painter. ca. 530 B.C.

The Sileni boogie down. Amasis painter. ca. 525 B.C.

Dionysus with satyr. ca. 480 B.C.

Other images of Dionysus, from the Univ. of Victoria.

Apollo and Dionysus

Frederich Nietzsche first identified the opposition between the Apollonian and the Dionysian as quintessential to classical Greek thought

Who is Dionysus?

Dionysus and the Bacchae of Euripides