Semele In Greek mythology, daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, and Harmonia, mother of Dionysus by Zeus. Zeus fell in love with Semele and often visited her. Hera, ever jealous of her husband’s escapades, took the form of Semele’s nurse, Beroe, and convinced the girl to ask Zeus to show himself to her in all his godlike splendor. Zeus agreed to Semele’s wish and appeared amid thunder and lightning. Semele was consumed by flames. Before she died she gave birth to a six month’s child, Dionysus, whom Zeus saved from the flames and hid in his thigh until it was time for the child to be born. When Dionysus was born he raised his dead mother and placed her in the heavens under the name Thyone. Semele is believed to be a form of Selene or Zemelo, a Phrygian earth goddess. She is cited in Homer’s Iliad (book 14), Euripides’ The Bacchae, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 3) and appears in Handel’s secular oratorio Semele (1744). Jupiter and Semele was painted by Tintoretto.
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Semele, Dionysus’ mother, was Zeus’ lover. He came to her in the form of an invisible erotic presence, and she soon conceived. Hera, discovering their affair, visited Semele in disguise and convinced her that she really needed to see her lover’s true form, aware that this was more than mortal Semele could handle.
When Zeus next appeared, Semele begged a promise from him. Without stipulation, he promised her anything. She insisted on seeing his true form and would not be dissuaded. Bound by his promise, Zeus manifested in his full fiery glory. Semele died, but Zeus rescued Dionysus from her womb, sewing him into his thigh until he was ready to be born.
Stimula is the Roman name for Semele, Dionysus’ mother, the goddess of female sexual (and other) passion. She was venerated by the Bacchanals, whose rituals were initially restricted to women and conducted secretly three days a year in the Grove of Stimula near the Aventine Hill.
Another version suggests that Semele, as Zeus’ priestess, engaged in a sacred marriage with the deity. She was fully aware of his identity and Hera, threatened by her pregnancy, killed her outright. Either way, when Dionysus was received into the Olympian pantheon, his first act was to bring Semele up from Hades to be with him, bestowing the name Thyone upon her. (
That’s the Greek myth, but Semele is not a Greek name. It’s Phrygian or possibly Thracian or even Phoenician. Before Semele was a tragic Greek heroine, she was a powerful Phrygian goddess. Semele derives from Zemele, Phrygian Earth goddess, venerated independently as well as alongside her son. As Thyone, Semele continued to be venerated alongside her son, presiding over his mysteries. She became an important though secret goddess in Italy with the rise of the Bacchanalia, celebrated in her grove. Semele is the spirit of sacred ecstasy, the goddess of the sacred rite. Known in Italy as Stimula, she is the erotic goddess who arouses women’s passions.
Under the name Stimula, she had a sacred forest on the slopes of Rome’s Aventine Hill, the lucus Stimulae, where the Bacchanalia was celebrated until outlawed.
Bacchus; Dionysus; Hera; Leto; Thyone; Zemele; Zeus and the Glossary entry for Mystery
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