Greek Myth: Dionysus and the Pirates

Dionysus was one of the gods of ancient Greece. He was the god of wine and revelry, and sometimes he would disguise himself as a human being in order to travel about in the mortal world. On one such occasion, Dionysus disguised himself as a handsome young man and went wandering along the shore of the sea. Some pirates saw him and kidnapped him, thinking he was a prince for whom they would receive a great ransom.

The wicked pirates dragged Dionysus onto their ship, but when they attempted to tie him up, no rope could restrain him. Dionysus said nothing and merely smiled at the men, who were baffled by what was happening.

The ship's pilot, however, suspected the truth and exclaimed, "You fools, do you not realize that this is a god we have brought on board our ship? He might be the god Zeus, or perhaps Poseidon, but in any case I am sure that he is a god. We should bow down and worship him, begging his forgiveness so that he will not bring about our destruction!"

The captain of the ship scoffed at the pilot's words and ordered the men to try once again to bind their prisoner. Yet as they reached out to grab Dionysus, he turned into a lion and began to roar. He also conjured up a bear and together they attacked and killed the captain. The other pirates leaped overboard into the sea, turning into dolphins as they hit the water.

The only man left on board the ship was the faithful pilot. Dionysus blessed the man and said, "Behold, I am Dionysus; have no fear!" So the man worshipped the god and remained his devoted follower ever after.


  1. Well, I could picture a worse fate than becoming a dolphin. One of my favorite Rilke poems is indeed about dolphins. Here's the last stanza (after one that describes the exuberance with which a group of dolphins accompanies a ship--BTW I've seen this myself in the Arctic) in a non-rhyming line-by-line translation by me:

    And the sailor took this friend
    into his own and solitary danger
    and invented for his new companion
    gratefully a world and took for granted
    that he loved music, gods, and gardens,
    and the deep, quiet year of stars.

  2. Ulrich, in the disaster that is my email inbox, I just now found this comment notification - thank you so much for the lovely poem! It's beautiful!!!

  3. Thanks Laura for telling us this story, I really needed for school's essay. You did a wonderful job! <3 Thanks again!

  4. thank you for this Laura, I have just translated this story from the Greek and needed to check my accuracy.. it tallies with yours! so a win win situation I think you'll agree.
    thank you.
    ps. the story is truly poetic in the Greek with amazing descriptions of the vines and garlands of flowers that surround the ship. The Greek version definitely incorporates the bear, but many sites I have looked at do not. so thank you.

  5. I am so glad that was helpful! This is something I created for a project last summer and the project just grew and grew and grew... so now there are LOTS of stories here at the blog. Enjoy!

  6. couldnt have found a better website to do my research on. I thank you greatly, sorry if I sound, "to formal"its just the way I am i guess. Anyway thank you for the lovely information you cast upon me.


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