AskDefine | Define maenad

Dictionary Definition



1 an unnaturally frenzied or distraught woman
2 (Greek mythology) a woman participant in the orgiastic rites of Dionysus

Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, Maenads (Greek: Μαινάδες) were the inspired and frenzied female worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of mystery, wine, and intoxication, the Roman god Bacchus. Their name literally translates as "raving ones". They were known as wild, insane women who could not be reasoned with. The mysteries of Dionysus inspired the women to ecstatic frenzy; they indulged in copious amounts of violence, bloodletting, sexual activity, self-intoxication, and mutilation. They were usually pictured as crowned with vine leaves, clothed in fawnskins and carrying the thyrsus, and dancing with wild abandon. The Maenads are the most significant members of the Thiasus, the retinue of Dionysus.
In Macedon, according to Plutarch's Life of Alexander, they were called Mimallones and Klodones. In Greece they were described as Bacchae, Bassarides, Thyiades, Potniades and other epithets.
The Maenads were entranced women, wandering under the orgiastic spell of Dionysus through the forests and hills. The maddened Hellenic women of real life were mythologized as the mad women who were nurses of Dionysus in Nysa: "he that on a time drave down over the sacred mount of Nysa the nursing mothers of mad Dionysus; and they all let fall to the ground their wands." (Iliad, VI.130ff). They went into the mountains at night and practised strange rites. The Maenads were also known as Bassarids (or Bacchae or Bacchantes) in Roman mythology, after the penchant of the equivalent Roman god, Bacchus, to wear a fox-skin, a bassaris.
In Euripides' play The Bacchae, Theban Maenads murdered King Pentheus after he banned the worship of Dionysus. Dionysus, Pentheus' cousin, himself lured Pentheus to the woods, where the Maenads tore him apart. His corpse was mutilated by his own mother, Agave, who tore off his head, believing it to be that of a lion.
A group of Maenads also killed Orpheus.
In Greek vase-painting, the frolicking of Maenads and Dionysus is often a theme depicted on Greek kraters, used to mix water and wine. These scenes show the Maenads in their frenzy running in the forests, often tearing to pieces any animal they happen to come across.
See also Icarius, Butes, Dryas, and Minyades for other examples of Dionysus inflicting insanity upon women as a curse.

Maenads in later culture

A Maenad appears in the second stanza of Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind (1819):
Angels of rain and lightning; there are spread
On the blue surface of their airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, ev'n from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height—
In Algernon Charles Swinburne's quasi-autobiographical poem "Thalassius" (1880), a stunning epic simile of 33 lines (337-70) compares the temptation of the poet to a riot of Bassarides.
The Bassarids, to a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is the most famous opera composed by Hans Werner Henze.
The maenads correspond to the Shikome in the Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi (which has a correspondence with the Orpheus myth).
Maenads appear as regular monsters in the first act (Greece) of the PC game Titan Quest. They are depicted in the game as blue-skinned women with characteristics of a cat (tail, cat ears, and claws) and wear their traditional leopard-skin vestment. Ino, the nurse who raised Dionysus also appears in the game as a maenad quest boss.
Maenads, along with Bacchus, and Silenus appear in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian. They along with Bacchus, are portrayed as wild, rambunctious young children who dance around and perform sommersults.

See also


External links

maenad in Breton: Menadezed
maenad in Czech: Bakchantky
maenad in Danish: Mænade
maenad in German: Mänade
maenad in Estonian: Menaadid
maenad in Spanish: Ménades
maenad in French: Ménades
maenad in Croatian: Menade
maenad in Italian: Menadi
maenad in Lithuanian: Menadės
maenad in Dutch: Maenaden
maenad in Japanese: マイナス (ギリシア神話)
maenad in Polish: Menady
maenad in Portuguese: Ménades
maenad in Russian: Менады
maenad in Serbian: Менаде
maenad in Serbo-Croatian: Menade
maenad in Finnish: Mainadi
maenad in Swedish: Menader
maenad in Ukrainian: Вакханки
maenad in Chinese: 美娜德
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