44. Σεμέλης, θυμίαμα στύρακα.
To Semele, Mother of Dionysos
Divine medium: styrax/storax
Κικλήσκω κούρην Καδμηίδα παμβασίλειαν,
I call the daughter of Kadmos, Queen of all,
εὐειδῆ Σεμέλην, ἐρατοπλόκαμον, βαθύκολπον,
Beautifully formed Semele, of lovely hair, with deep swells and folds,
μητέρα θυρσοφόροιο Διωνύσου πολυγηθοῦς,
Mother of thyrsus-bearing Dionysos and the many blessings of Ge.
ἣ μεγάλας ὠδῖνας ἐλάσσατο πυρφόρωι αὐγῆι
In great travail you gave birth, released by the fire-born light
ἀθανάτου φλεχθεῖσα Διὸς βουλαῖς Κρονίοιο
Of immortal, blaze-slaying Dios, as counseled by Kronos,
τιμὰς τευξαμένη παρ' ἀγαυῆς Περσεφονείης
Honorably preparing the way so that august Persephone
ἐν θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν ἀνὰ τριετηρίδας ὥρας,
For mortal humans can give rise to three yearly Seasons.
ἡνίκα σοῦ Βάκχου γονίμην ὠδῖνα τελῶσιν
When Bacchos’ birth travail is complete,
εὐίερόν τε τράπεζαν ἰδὲ μυστήριά θ' ἁγνά.
Then the most holy altar forms divine pure mysteries.
νῦν σέ, θεά, λίτομαι, κούρη Καδμηίς, ἄνασσα,
Come, Goddess, we beg thee, daughter of Kadmos, Anassa,
πρηύνοον καλέων αἰεὶ μύσταισιν ὑπάρχειν.
Gentle, beautiful, eternal, mysterious, underlying foundation.
Semele (Σεμέλη) is the mother of Dionysos/Bacchos, the God of wine.
According to Greek tradition, Semele was a mortal princess of Kadmeia, the citadel of Greek Thebes. Other traditions call Semele or Zemele the Goddess of earth or the Great Mother Goddess.
Semele was made pregnant by Zeus, the God of thunderstorms. She was incinerated when Zeus appeared to her as the God of lightning, but the fetal Dionysos was spared. According to the Greek tradition, Zeus sewed Dionysos into his thigh to complete gestation.
Semnos (σεμνός) means revered, august, exalted, honored, solemn.
The Phrygian, Slavic, and Etruscan Goddess of earth are called Zemele, Zemlya, and Semla, respectively.
Semele is identified with the Great Mother Goddess Rhea-Kybele because the Great Mother’s ecstatic rites resemble the uproarious rites of Semele’s son, Dionysos. In Euripides Bacchae Dionysos says, “take up your pipes and your drums, your native Phrygian music, inventions of me, Dionysus, and of Rhea, Great Mother of [Goddesses and G]ods.’” Semelo is a Phrygian name for the Great Goddess attested on inscriptions.
In Themis, Jane Ellen Harrison equates Semele with the Goddess of earth: “The Earth is barren till the Thunder and the Rainstorm smite her in the springtime—till in his Ephiphany of Thunder and Lightning Keraunos comes to Keraunia, the Sky-[G]od weds Semele the Earth, the ‘Bride of the bladed Thunder.’”
Arthur Bernard Cook in his compilation, Zeus a Study in Ancient Religion, equates Zeus with the rain God and Semele with the Goddess of earth: “Hyes and Hye were Thraco-Phrygian appelatives of the sky-[G]od whom the Greeks named Zeus and of the earth-[G]oddess whom they named Semele. The one rained, the other was rained upon.”
After her death, according to the Greek tradition, Dionysos brought Semele out of the lower world, and introduced her into the Olympic pantheon as Thyone (Θυώνη).
Diodorus of Sicily says that “Thuone was the name which the ancients gave to the earth, and that this [G]oddess received the appellation Semele because the worship and honour paid to her was dignified (semne), and she was called Thuone because of the sacrifices (thusiai) and burnt offerings (thuelai) which were offered (thuomenai) to her.”
Finally, with regard to the meaning of Semele’s name, seemeion (σῆμα) means tomb, soma (σῶμα) means body, and luo (λύω) means release. Semele’s name could be a combination of the word for tomb/body and release.
The tradition in which Dionysos completes gestation in the thigh of Zeus is unique and begs explanation. This exploration can begin with the Greek word for thigh, “meero (μηρῷ).”
Nonnos introduces Book 7 of Dionysiaca by saying that Zeus had not yet “shot forth Bacchos from his pregnant thigh [μηρῷ]…” Later, Zeus says to his father, Kronos: “I will give mankind to heal their sorrows delicious wine, another drink like nectar self-distilled, and one suited to mortals…I am father and mother both; I shall suffer the woman’s pangs in my man’s thigh [μηρῷ], that I may save the fruit of my pangs.”
In Euripides’ Bacchae the word μηρῷ is used for Zeus’ thigh: “… the thunder of Zeus flying upon her, his mother cast from her womb, leaving life by the stroke of a thunderbolt. Immediately Zeus, Kronos' son, received him in a chamber fit for birth, and having covered him in his thigh [μηρῷ] shut him up with golden clasps.”
The prefix meer- (μηρ-), in addition to meaning thigh, also means string, line, rope, cord. Since Dionysos is the God of wine and grapevines must be twined to a trellis, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Zeus’ thigh is a Greek homonym for trellis.
Another intriguing explanation is found in the Lexicon, where the word Semele (σεμέλη) is associated with the word for toad (φρύνη) as “παρὰ Φρυνίχῳ,” or, like a toad (φρῡνοειδής). Some toads lay their eggs in bunches like grapes and the male “common midwife toad” twines the eggs around his thighs until they are ready to hatch.
With regard to Dionysos’ birth by lightning, when lightning strikes a row of grape vines, re-growth will begin at the base of the vine. This is a type of “natural” pruning which results in a better yield. It is interesting to note that in Oregon, a mountainous state in the USA, grapes grow more prosperously after mild fires, suggesting that the Dionysian fire legend may reflect ancient agricultural practices.
In Themis, Jane Ellen Harrison says that a spot of earth struck by lightning is considered sacred and not to be trod upon:
“In Greece a place that was struck by lighning became an ἄβατον [abaton], a spot not to be trodden on, unapproachable. On the Acropolis at Thebes were to be seen, Pausanias [IX.12.3] tells us, the bridal chambers of… Semele—and even to his day, Pausanias adds, no one was allowed to set foot in the chamber of Semele.”
Basileia means ruler, Queen.
Anassa means Queen, Lady.
The thyrsus is a pinecone- or spike-tipped rod associated with Dionysos and his followers.
Ge (Γῆ) is the immortal Goddess of generative earth.
Dios is a generic term for deity, here referring to Zeus, the immortal God of lightning storms and the spark of fire/spark of life.
Kronos is the immortal God of time.
The Horai are the immortal Goddesses of the seasons and the natural time (Hour) for things to occur.
Pindar gives a beautiful description of the commencement of spring rites honoring Semele:
"Clearly seen are the bright symbols of sacred rites, whensoever, at the opening of the chamber of the purple-robed Hours, the fragrant Spring bringeth the nectar-breathing plants. Then, oh then, are flung on the immortal earth the lovely tresses of violets, and roses are entwined in the hair; then ring the voices of songs to the sound of flutes; then ring the dances in honour of diadem-wreathed Semele."
 Apollod. iii. 4. § 3; Ov. Met. iii. 260, &c.; Hygin. Fab. 179.
 The Ancient Gods, by E. O. James, p. 166-167.
 Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book, by Miriam Robbins Dexter, NewYork: Teachers Colllege, 1990, ps. 41-42.
 Gimbutas, Marija; Miriam Robbins Dexter (2001). The living goddesses. University of California Press. pp. 168-169.ISBN 978-0-520-22915-0.
 Euripides Bacchae 66-67, translation Herbert M. Howe in Classical Myth by Barry B. Powell, p. 260, Prentice Hall, New Jersey 2001.
 Classical Myth by Barry B. Powell, Prentice Hall, New Jersey 2001, p. 272.
“…who and what is Semele?...The Phrygian ζεμελω [zemelo] is the Greek γῆ [ge] (earth)…Semele, mother of Dionysos, is the Earth.” (Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of the Greek Religion, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991, p.404)
 Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis, p. 168.
 Zeus a Study in Ancient Religion: Zeus, god of the bright sky. I, Volume 1
by Arthur Bernard Cook, Cambridge, 1940 p. 874.) https://books.google.com/books?id=y_43AAAAIAAJ&q=Semele#v=snippet&q=874&f=false
 Hom. Hymn. v. 21; Apollod. iii. 5. § 3; Cic. de Nat. Deor. iii. 23; Pind. Pyth. iii. 99; Diod. Sic. iv. 25; Apollon. Rhod. i. 636.
 Diodorus of Sicily 3.62.9-10, trans. Loeb Oldfather, ps. 288-9.
 Nonnos, Dionysiaca 7.12, trans. Rouse, Loeb, ps.244-5.
 Nonnos, Dionysiaca 7.77, trans. Rouse, Loeb, ps.250-1.
 Euripides Bacchae, 90, T.A. Buckley, Ed., Perseus Digital Library, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0092%3Acard%3D88
 Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon (p. 1590). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
 p. 22 What is Killing my Vines? Plant Failure in New Vineyards, Bill Cline, Plant Pathology Department North Carolina State University Horticultural Crops Research Station Castle Hayne, NC
 "The percent cover of Oregon-grape was greater after prescribed spring and fall fires in 1973 compared to a control site on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming ."
 Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis, p. 91.
 Pindar, Dithyrambs Fragment 75, trans. Sandys, Loeb, 1961, ps. 554-5. https://books.google.com/books?id=Ib9zAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA555&lpg=PA555&dq=pindar+the+fragrant+spring+bringeth+the+nectar-breathing+plants.+Then,+oh+then,+are+flung+on+the+immortal+earth+the+lovely+tresses+of+violets,+and+roses+are+entwined+in+the+hair;+then+ring+the+voices+of+songs+to+the+sound+of+flutes;+then+ring+the+dances+in+honour+of+diadem-wreathed+Semele.%22&source=bl&ots=oQHCrF_mON&sig=kNVivU72FWyfLDDJDKrTlBB0Bw4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ7dDelanRAhUow4MKHVwAD9sQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=pindar%20the%20fragrant%20spring%20bringeth%20the%20nectar-breathing%20plants.%20Then%2C%20oh%20then%2C%20are%20flung%20on%20the%20immortal%20earth%20the%20lovely%20tresses%20of%20violets%2C%20and%20roses%20are%20entwined%20in%20the%20hair%3B%20then%20ring%20the%20voices%20of%20songs%20to%20the%20sound%20of%20flutes%3B%20then%20ring%20the%20dances%20in%20honour%20of%20diadem-wreathed%20Semele.%22&f=false