Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and theatre. He had quite a sense of humor and a dramatic flair.
Some gods were shape shifters. They could change their shape at will. They could turn into just about anything. Dionysus was very good at shape shifting. One minute, he could be a fierce animal with sharp claws and razor teeth, and the next – his favorite shape – a handsome young man with glowing garments and expensive jewels. He had a lot of fun shape shifting.
As the story goes …
One day, when Dionysus was in the form of his favorite shape, a handsome young man, dripping with jewels, he was spotted by some pirates. They thought they had stumbled across a rich prize, someone they could sell for a lot of money as a slave. Laughing cruelly, they grabbed what they thought was a rich young man (who was really the god, Dionysus), and carried him off to their pirate ship. They tied him tightly to the mast.
Dionysus found this all rather amusing. He might have waited a bit longer to see what these stupid mortals would do next, but the rope was rubbing his skin uncomfortably. Dionysus used his magical powers to push the rope away. It landed in a heap at his feet.
One of the pirates noticed the young man was no longer tied to the mast. The pirate gasped in surprise. He strongly suspected that he and his fellow pirates had made a terrible mistake. This was no ordinary mortal. Things would not go well for them if they did not quickly return the lad to shore. He pleaded with the other pirates to turn the ship about. But they retied Dionysus to the mast even more tightly than before. They headed out to sea.
Dionysus waited until the ship had reached very deep water. He pushed the ropes off his body. At the same time, thick vines surged from the sea and entangled the ship. Dionysus shape shifted into a lion. He roared and sprang on the terrified pirates. Some jumped overboard to avoid his claws and teeth. Soon, the only pirate left alive on board was the pirate who had begged for his release. That pirate would have gladly jumped overboard with his mates, only somehow, his feet were stuck firmly in place.
“Is that the island of Naxos?” Dionysus asked casually, peering ahead.
The pirate nodded, too terrified to speak.
“You can drop me off there,” Dionysus decided. The vines fell away. With no one at the wheel, the ship moved smoothly forward, sailing calmly towards the island of Naxos.
When they arrived at the island, Dionysus leaped nimbly onto the seawall. He gave the pirate a friendly wave goodbye, and gave the ship a magical shove out to sea. No one knows if the pirate was able to pilot the ship alone, and no one (except the pirate of course) much cared.
It was there, on the island of Naxos, that Dionysus first saw the lovely Ariadne. (Abandoned by Theseus, Ariadne spent her days curled on the seawall, staring out to sea.) That day, she was fast asleep, worn out with weeping. She took his breath away, she was that beautiful. He waited patiently until Ariadne opened her eyes. She saw a handsome young man, gazing admiring at her. Ariadne felt better immediately. She told Dionysus all about her noble efforts to save Theseus and the children of Athens.
“And look where it got me,” she sniffed.
“You poor thing,” Dionysus said with great sympathy. He immediately asked the lovely young Ariadne to marry him. (As often as the gods did that kind of thing, it’s no wonder that so many of their marriages ended in disaster.)
Ariadne, no longer feeling forsaken or friendless, and delighted to be admired by this handsome young man, who was obviously wealthy – only look at his garments! – consented to be his wife.
Believe it or not, Ariadne and Dionysus lived happily ever after! Ariadne and Dionysus were so happy, in fact, that their love story inspired a 20th century opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, written by the famous composer, Richard Strauss.