Mystai (Dionysiac initiates) believed that a special road awaited them in the
underworld; there they would receive renewed life and special protection. Some initiates were buried with their prayer rituals inscribed on tablets, often of gold. They all followed similar themes: directions for the underworld or repeated phrases such as: ‘life, death, life, truth…’
Conversely, rituals and myths about murder and bloodshed, madness and violence, flight and persecution, promoted the darker side of Dionsyos, and the consequences of refusing or abusing his gifts.
Now you have died, and now you have come into being, O thrice blessed one, on this same day. Tell Persephone that the Bacchic One himself released you. Bull, you jumped into milk. Quickly, you jumped into milk. Ram, you fell into milk. You have wine as your fortunate honour. And below the earth there are ready for you the same rites as for the other blessed ones.
- Gold Tablet from a grave at Pelinna, Thessaly
According to Apollodoros, Dionysos was conceived when Semele was seduced the unseen Zeus. At the urging of the jealous Hera, Semele persuaded Zeus to appear to her. Appearing in the form of a thunderbolt, Zeus killed Semele; he then rescued the unborn Dionysos and brought him to term, sewing him into his thigh.
Stories such as this about Dionysos’ own death and rebirth made him appealing to his followers. Apulian hydriai (water containers) and krateres are commonly found in funerary contexts. They are decorated with naiskoi (shrines) surrounded by Dionysiac-type cult objects including storage containers, balls, fans, grapes, and fillets. On this hydria, two women carry offerings to the shrine: the tomb-scene on the large krater includes a male figure standing in judgement in the Underworld. Naked except for the mantle around his hips, he leans on a narthex (fennel stick) and offers a phiale (bowl) to a seated figure, perhaps Hades.
This fragmentary oinochoe depicts Dionysos with his wife Ariadne, attended by a satyr and a maenad. After being abandoned by Theseus, Dionysos married Ariadne who was subsequently killed by Artemis. According to Hesiod, Zeus, for the sake of his son, gave her the gift of eternal life and youth. Thus, the figure of Ariadne combined aspects of both life and death, destruction and renewal.