28. Zeus and Semele

Once upon a time, Semele, the daughter of Harmonia and King Kadmos of Thebes, resembled the Kharites in her beauty. Zeus was struck by the extraordinary looks of Semele, and he secretly seduced her.

Semele became pregnant and Zeus’ wife Hera, became wild with jealousy. Aiming to punish Semele, Hera disguised herself as Beroe, who was the nurse of Semele. In that disguise, Hera told Semele to ask Zeus to come near her like he came near Hera, so that the mortal Semele may also know what pleasure it was to lay with a god. This devious suggestion of Hera, prompted Semele to ask Zeus that he should approach her, as he approached Hera.

Unable to refuse Semele and against his wish, however, as desired by Semele, Zeus approached Semele in his godly form, accompanied by thunder and lightning. But the mortal Semele was unable, to withstand the immortal form of Zeus and was burned, to death. From the corpse of Semele, Zeus snatched his not fully formed son Dionysus. Zeus sewed Dionysus in his thigh, where Dionysus became fully formed. Thus, Dionysus is also called as the “twice-born”. Ino, the sister of Semele, secretly nursed the babe Dionysus. Hera made Ino and her husband Athamas suffer madness. In an insane state, Athamas killed his son Learchus, and Ino along with her other babe Melicertes, jumped in the wild Ionian sea.

Zeus gave Dionysus to the care of Nysus, the Nymphae of Nysa, who kept Dionysus hidden within the caves. Dionysus, the immortal son of a mortal mother, was brought up safely. When the ivy-bearing god Dionysus reached adulthood, Zeus instructed him to fetch Semele from Haides, so that Semele may live in Mount Olympus as an immortal. Dionysus brought his mother Semele from the underworld. The apotheosed Semele was known as the goddess Thyone, who became the goddess of the inspired frenzy, of the female devotees of Dionysus.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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