On Dionysus and Cthulhu
I was reading Jane Ellen Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903) when I came across the following passage quoted by Harrison from Gilbert Murray’s A History of Ancient Greek Literature that has a strikingly Lovecraftian feel to it:
Compare this to the “Dunwich Horror”:
Murray was referring primarily to the orgiastic rites of the Mysteries of Dionysus as presented in Euripides’ Bacchae, and it is interesting to look at the faith of Dionysus and see in it a clear anticipation of the wild ecstasies Lovecraft attributed to the Cthulhu cultists—the crazed nocturnal celebrations, the wanton mixture of license and worship, the sharing of a cult secret. Just as only the initiated might know more of Cthulhu than stock phrase “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming,” so too were only the initiates of Dionysus privy to the secret of their savior’s death at the hands of the Titans and subsequent resurrection. Yes, both Dionysus and Cthulhu were gods who “died” and rose again, though one must concede that an encounter with Dionysus is typically a bit more pleasant than running into Cthulhu. Significantly, though, both gods were famed for causing "madness" in their followers.
Lovecraft, well-versed in Classical mythology, was well aware of Dionysus, and I am sure that god's Mysteries were one of the models for the Mysteries of the Cthulhu cult.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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