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Lycurgus

by Ron Leadbetter
Lycurgus was king of the Edones in Thrace (Central Greece), son of Dryas. He was completely opposed to the cult of Dionysus (the cult of Dionysus originated in Thrace, or in some versions Asia Minor) and all of his followers (mainly women who were called Maenads). Dionysus, when still a child, was roaming the countryside with his band of drunken revelers. On hearing this, king Lycurgus, afraid they may establish a cult in Thrace, imprisoned the reveling followers and tried to arrest Dionysus. But the god of wine fled to the sea taking refuge with the Nereid Thetis. Dionysus, greatly angered by this action taken against him, sent a drought to make the land dry and infertile, which turned the people against Lycurgus 1. Dionysus also turned the king mad, giving him hallucinations, one of which made Lycurgus hack his own son to death with an axe, thinking he was a clump of ivy (a plant sacred to Dionysus).

An oracle declared to the people of Thrace that the land would stay in this unfruitful condition as long as the king was alive. And so Lycurgus was put to death by his own people; they tied him to four wild horses and he was torn apart. Once Lycurgus was dead, Dionysus lifted the curse, giving back life to the land of Thrace.

1. According to other versions, Zeus struck Lycurgus with blindness for opposing the introduction of the cult.


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