Dione in Greek Mythology—The First Wife of Zeus

Dione in Greek Mythology—The First Wife of Zeus

Who was Dione in Greek Mythology?

Dione, in Greek mythology, was a Titan goddess and was said to be the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, an Oceanid. She was primarily known from Book V of Homer’s Iliad, where she tends to the wounds suffered by her daughter Aphrodite. According to some sources, she was the first wife of Zeus whom she bore Aphrodite for. Dione was worshipped at a sacred grove near Lepreon on the west coast of the Peloponnesus. She was also worshipped as a consort at the temples of Zeus, particularly his oracle at Dodona.

There are many certainties in Greek Mythology…tragedies, love, death, adventure… and most definitely, Zeus having a fling with someone.

Whilst many see Zeus as a toxic womaniser, the ancient Greeks would often find humour
in Zeus’ misadventures and there was a comedic element to his sexual appetite as well as
his efforts to hide his affairs from his wife, Hera.

Hera would adopt the traits of the jealous wife, and there was a facetious theme established in these stories, with Hera trying to uncover her husband’s exploits and get her revenge.

But going by some variations of the mythology, Hera was not Zeus’ first wife, and it would appear that he had been previously married to a Titan named Dione.

The Originality of Dione in Greek Mythology

The Originality of Dione in Greek Mythology
Hestia; Dione; Aphrodite
(Thought to be) Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite, marble figures from the east pediment of the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, c. 432 BCE; in the British Museum, London.
Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum

This might have first come about because of the name Dione, which was thought to be the feminine form of Zeus. But very little is known about their union, nor even how it came about, with some implying that she was not actually his wife but more of a consort.

Some tales also tell us that Zeus and Dione produced the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love. With Zeus, she was also thought to have been worshipped at a sacred grove near Lepreon and the oracle of Dodona.

It is believed that this particular oracle was the oldest in all of Greece, and whilst Dione might simply have been more of a tag on to Zeus, she was still recognised as an important deity, at least, as Zeus’ significant other.

Perhaps in a more diplomatic take on their relationship, she has been referred to as a ‘temple associate’ at Dodona, which I imagine is code for a long-term booty call. Here, she was thought to have three prophetesses known as the Peleiades, who worked for her and served as the goddesses’ priestesses.

The Worship of Dione — Prophetesses of Dione

The Worship of Dione — Prophetesses of Dione

Greek geographer, philosopher and historian Strabo speak briefly of the worship at Dodona, and Dione’s association with the temple alongside Zeus, telling us:

“At the outset, it is true, those who uttered the prophecies [at the oracle of Dodona] were men (this too perhaps the poet [Homer] indicates, for he calls them ‘hypophetai,’ and the prophets might be ranked among these), but later on, three old women were designated as prophets, after [the goddess] Dione also had been designated as temple-associate of Zeus.”

In some accounts, these women are referred to as the Doves —perhaps in reference to the sacred bird of Dione’s daughter Aphrodite.

Strabo speaks of these doves—or pigeons in this case—and how three of these birds may have been conflated with the three priestesses, telling us:

“Perhaps there was something exceptional about the flight of the three pigeons from which the priestesses [of Dione at Dodona] were wont to make observations and to prophesy.
And perhaps the much talked of Peleiades were not birds, but three old women who busied themselves about the temple.”

Historically speaking, it was believed that kings of Sparta and various Roman emperors
would consult the oracle at Dodona and that the oracle’s answers could be interpreted
by the rustling of leaves or the appearance of the aforementioned doves.

In other accounts, the three priestesses of Dione were present to interpret such signs.

In the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus, we see Dione recognised as one of the Titans, and she is described as being the daughter of the primordial beings Uranus and Gaia much like the other Titans.

Yet, while she is described as Aprohdite’s mother by Zeus, she is not identified as his wife and is instead relegated to just another of Zeus’ scandalous affairs.

But there does exist another version of Aprohdite’s birth by Hesiod (who does not mention Dione as a Titan) and that Aphrodite was not a product of Zeus and Dione’s copulation, but instead was formed from the foam that was produced from the severed testicles of Uranus after they’d been thrown into the sea by Cronus.

Another interesting note by Hesiod is that Dione was not listed as a Titan but instead listed as an Oceanid – a daughter of the Titan Oceanus and Tethys. It could be possible that this was confused with another Dione—a nymph and daughter of the Titan Atlas, who would become the wife of King Tantalus.

Aphrodite was also not the only child thought to be born from Dione, for there exists an account by 5th-century grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria, who tells us that Dione was the mother of the Roman deity Bacchus—or the Greek equivalent, Dionysus, the God of wine, whom she also bore from Zeus.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that because of her relation to Dione, Aphrodite was sometimes referred to as Dionaea—or sometimes even adopted her mother’s name entirely as Dione.

Dione, Goddess of Prophecy

Whilst we’ve spoken about the priestesses of Dione, there are some ideas of her being a prophetic goddess herself and that she was able to foresee events before they happened.

In a Homeric hymn, we understand that she travelled to Delos amongst the other goddesses to witness the birth of Apollo, who would become one of the more important prophetic gods himself. Among the other goddesses, Dione’s presence was important, for it was a commonality to ensure the authenticity of a child’s birth and his lineage to his mother.

In this case, it was paramount to have witnesses, for Apollo would have been the son of Zeus. It is also believed that Dione and the others assisted Leto with her birth of Apollo. We are told in a Homeric Hymn:

“[The Titaness] Leto [on the island of Delos] was racked nine days and nine nights with pangs beyond won’t. And there were with her all the chiefest of the goddesses, Dione and Rheia and Ikhnaie (Ichnaea) and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite and the other deathless goddesses. Then the child leaped forth to the light, and all the goddesses raised a cry. Straightway, great Phoibos (Phoebus) [Apollon], the goddesses washed you purely and cleanly with sweet water and swathed you in a white garment of fine texture, new-woven, and fastened a golden band about you.”

But perhaps one of the most vivid accounts of the goddess Dione is from Homer’s Iliad, where she appears to nurse the wound that her daughter Aphrodite receives from the warrior Diomedes.

In the Trojan war, Aphrodite attempts to save her son Aeneas from Diomedes’ rampage. But Diomedes sees her coming, and before she can make the save, her strikes her with his spear between her wrist and palm.

Fearful of the Greek Hero, Aphrodite flees to Olympus, where Dione is seen to heal her wound and to console her by reciting the wounds that other gods had received by the mortals, perhaps in an effort to reassure her that she was going to be okay. She also assures her that those who go against the gods will never win and that Diomedes is on the wrong side of the battle.

But whilst Dione is seen as a caring, comforting mother, Zeus has some varying reactions to his daughter’s folly. In some accounts, he is amused by her attempt to save her son and finds it quite funny that she had got wounded in the process. In other accounts, he appears to be annoyed that she had gotten involved in the first place and warns her not to interfere with such matters again.

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