64 The feminine aspect of his nature is also revealed in his manner of loving. His whole existence is illuminated and crowned by the love of women. Anacreaon's song to him already makes it clear how close Eros and Aphrodite are to him. In it the prayer for love's fulfillment begins with the words "O Lord, whose playfellows are the mighty Eros, and the dark-eyed nymphs and violet Aphrodite!" The goddess of love is called his consort, and she supposedly became the mother of the Charites in Orchomenus by him. Thus many of the nymphs with whom he revels become his mistresses and surprise him one day with a new-born infant boy.
65 However, he is far from being a wanton profligate, and even if he occasionally receives an epithet which sounds obscene to us, the high nobility of his spirit is revealed that much more in all representations of him, and the impression they give is emphasized even more by the way in which his actions are contrasted with those of the satyrs, of whose naked lust the god seems to take no notice. Indeed, the one thing which sets him off from all of the truly masculine gods, whose passions are cooled by transient moments of possession, is the fact that his love is ecstatic and binds him to the loved one forever. We see this at its best in the vase paintings. There is good reason for our calling Ariadne the chosen one, for it is quite remarkable how little the myth speaks of any other true love affair.
66 This should now prepare us for a proper understanding of the spirit of the love which dwells in the hearts of the women of Dionysus. There is nothing so foreign to the orgiastic dancers of the god as unrestrained erotic sensuality. If an occasional off-color scene shows up among the countless representations of the actions of Dionysus, the remaining scenes demonstrate in a most convincing manner that the maenads are characterized by a stateliness and a haughty aloofness, and their wildness has nothing to do with the lustful excitement found in the half-animal, half-human companions who whirl around them.
67 In the famous messenger speech of the Bacchae of Euripides, the
modesty of the women in ecstasy is explicitly emphasized in the face of
the malicious stories told about them. On vase paintings they brusquely
wave off their forward lovers with torches and snakes. According to Nonnus,
each has wound a snake around her body beneath her clothes to protect herself
from the lustful desires of men even when she is asleep or defenseless.
Their love is of a higher type. "The Bacchant pays no attention to the
silenus who grabs at her in his lust; for the glances of the Bacchant sweep
up high into the aether and yet are filled with the spirit of love."