A most intriguing sculpted depiction of a Maenad, an embodied expression of the female retinue members of Dionysus.
Now, as we have said – the Maenads are often approached as simply being ‘frenzied’ devotees of Dionysus. However, they are much more complex figures. The ‘frenzy’ is in fact ‘furor’ – they are ‘inspired’, and bearing the ‘essence’ of one of Dionysus’ celestial retinue.
More to the point, as we can see here, they are not simply ‘frenzied’ – nor are they even ‘merely’ dancers (and it should prove entirely remiss to presume that dance is somehow a lesser act ! ) : for in the right hand of this Maenad we find a sacral offering being made into the flame of an altar.
This resonates with the ‘Thuo’ (θῡ́ω) of the Thyiades – usually thought of as another clade of Dionysus’ retinue, but to my mind simply a co-expression of the same typology as the Maenad.
In order to explain the underlying sense to the Thyiades one need look no further than the mythic figure of Thyia – the first sacrificer to Dionysus.
Effectively, what we had identified in the course of our RUDRAGANIKA work (illuminating this broader Indo-European typology via the aid of the fearsome female retinue of Rudra) is that the spirits in question fulfil multiple roles simultaneously.
They are, at once, a warrior retinue, a dancing coterie, and priestesses of the Great God.
And, most interestingly of all, ‘on Earth as it is in Heaven’ – we find that the human women worshipping Dionysus include amidst their number a select few who are, as it were, ’embodying the myth’. They are held to be ‘incarnations’ or ‘bearers of the essence’ of the mythic figures aforementioned.
This appears to be, in part, what ‘Maenad’ actually signifies –
To quote from some of my as-yet unpublished work:
“The ‘Thiasos’ [‘Worship Procession’] of Dionysus is described quite directly as containing human women “acting the part of the Maenads who, as history records, were of old the companions of the god.” (Diodorus Siculus 4, 3, 3 – Oldfather translation, 1935)
This should appear to have occurred via an investiture of ‘Spirit’ – effectively correlate to that referred to in Herodotus (4 79 4) as θεοῦ μαίνεται (‘Theou Mainetai’ – ‘Divine Furor’, akin to ‘Manyu’ in the Hindu perspective), and also as θεὸς λαμβάνει (‘Theos Lamvanei’ – being ‘taken’, ‘seized’, ‘possessed’ by the God) in the context of a male Bacchic initiate in a ritual context potentially embodying Dionysus directly.”
Now, in addition to the Thyrsos in the left hand, we also observe this Maenad to be clad in deer-skin (you can see the head), and to have a leopard to her immediate right.
Rather suitable for, we may infer – a Huntress …