Madness Lycurgus BM VaseF271

Lycurgus, driven mad by Dionysos, attacks his wife. Name-piece of the Lycurgus Painter, 350-340 BCE. British Museum.

In Greek mythology, Lycurgus (also Lykurgos, Lykourgos) was the king of the Edoni in Thrace, son of Dryas, the "oak", and father of a son whose name was also Dryas.[1] He banned the cult of Dionysus. When Lycurgus heard that Dionysus was in his kingdom, he imprisoned Dionysus's followers, the Maenads, or drove them and Dionysus out of Thrace with an ox-goad.[2] Dionysus fled, taking refuge with Thetis the sea nymph. Dionysus then sent a drought to Thrace.

Going insane, Lycurgus mistook his son for a mature trunk of ivy, which is holy to Dionysus, and killed him, pruning away his nose and ears, fingers and toes. Dionysus decreed that the land would stay dry and barren as long as Lycurgus was left unpunished for his injustice, so his people bound him and flung him to man-eating horses on Mount Pangaeüs.[3][4] However, another version of the tale, transmitted in Servius's commentary on Aeneid 3.14 and Hyginus in his Fabulae 132, records that Lycurgus cut off his own foot when he meant to cut down a vine of ivy. With Lycurgus dead, Dionysus lifted the curse.

Also according to Hyginus, Lycurgus tried to rape his mother after imbibing wine. When he discovered what he had done, he attempted to cut down the grapevines, believing the wine to be a bad medicine. Dionysus drove him mad as a punishment, causing him to kill both his wife and his son, and threw him to the panthers on Mount Rhodope.[5]

Diodorus Siculus (III.55) relates that, centuries before the Trojan war, king Lycurgus of Thrace exiled one of his commanders, Mopsus, along with Sipylus the Scythian. Sometime later, when the Libyan Amazons invaded Thrace, Mopsus and Sipylus came to the rescue by defeating them in a pitched battle, in which their queen Myrine was slain; the Thracians then pursued the surviving Amazons all the way to Libya.

In some versions the story of Lycurgus and his punishment by Dionysus is placed in Arabia rather than in Thrace. The tragedian Aeschylus, in a lost play, depicted Lycurgus as a beer-drinker and hence a natural opponent of the wine god.[6][7] There is a further reference to Lycurgus in Sophocles' Antigone in the Chorus's ode after Antigone is taken away (960 in the Greek text).

In Homer's Iliad, an older source than Aeschylus, Dryas is not the son of Lycurgus, but the father, and Lycurgus's punishment for his disrespect towards the gods, particularly Dionysus, is blindness inflicted by Zeus followed not long after by death.[8]


  1. Homer. Iliad, Book 6.
  2. Tripp, Edward. The Handbook of Classical Mythology. Meridian, 1970, p. 350.
  3. Apollodorus 3. 5. 1.
  4. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3. 34-35
  5. Hyginus, Fabulae, 132, 192, 242.
  6. Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae, 447c.
  7. Dalby (2005), pp. 65-71, 153.
  8. Homer. Iliad, 6. 130-6. 140.


  • Dalby, Andrew (2005). The Story of Bacchus. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-2255-6. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Lycurgus of Thrace. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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