The second series of Classical Ladies has begun! Today we’re introducing everyone to Semele.
Who was Semele?
Semele was a mortal woman from mythology, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. She was from Thebes, and had a couple of siblings, too.
What is she known for?
Unfortunately, Semele is one of those ladies we mostly know only for her procreational activities. She is the mother of the god Dionysus, whose father is Zeus.
So she and Zeus were a thing?
For once it seems that she was rather consenting of the relationship. Many of the myths say that they were in a rather loving relationship – though, keep in mind that Hera was still around.
Did Hera mind?
Of course she did! Here we see that Semele’s curiosity, and her ability to be deceived by the goddess, led to her downfall.
Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to show her his true godly form, and she basically spontaneously combusted from seeing it. Zeus had previously sworn to Semele to grant her every wish, so when Hera disguised herself as Semele’s old nurse, she convinced the girl to ask the god to show himself to her as he would to Hera.
But what about Dionysus?
After she caught fire and exploded, Dionysus either escaped her womb and jumped out of his own accord, or Zeus saved him. Either way, he survived the moment of his mother’s death – he is a god, after all.
Is that the end of Semele?
Yes, and no. Dionysus eventually went down to the underworld and found his mother’s shade, making her immortal and bringing her up among the gods. From this point on she is known by the name Thyone. She is the goddess of bacchic frenzy, which is a part of her son’s cult.
This myth might have been reverse-engineered, however. Thyone might have existed as a goddess previously, then she was decided to have been Dionysus’ mother, then incorporated with Semele from the myths.
We’re going to look at Antiope! In the mean time, check out these posts from the last series of Classical Ladies: