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Narcissism and Leadership in Nonnus's Dionysiaca.

To get love for your own handsome shape is enough, to touch your beautiful body is what women want, not gold.

The beautiful people. . . include all those who live out the fantasy of narcissistic success, which consists of nothing more substantial than a wish to be vastly admired, not for one's accomplishments but simply for oneself, uncritically and without reservation.

Along with love, battle, and jealousy, narcissism must take its place among the prime themes of literature. However we conceptualize it, self-love will always be with us, in its healthy and unhealthy forms. In writing about warm-hearted and cold-hearted characters, we inevitably touch upon narcissistic issues. (1)

In the last book of the Dionysiaca, Nonnus's epic on the career of the god Dionysus, there is an episode involving Dionysus, Artemis, and Aura, the virgin, nymph, huntress, and companion of Artemis (48.238-978). Aura is unwise enough to compare Artemis's body unfavorably with her own, scornfully piling insult upon insult (351-69). Highly offended, Artemis seeks out Nemesis, voices her rage at the contumely endured, and, demanding vengeance, says: "I am ashamed to describe her calumny of my body and her abuse of my breasts" (422-23). Nemesis promises satisfaction. Eros fires Dionysus with a passion for Aura, but all his advances are rejected. Aided by deceiving wine, he rapes Aura in a drunken coma (590651). Maddened by the loss of her virginity, Aura runs murderously amok, desecrates the temple and statue of Aphrodite, laments her fate, and rages against Artemis in particular (652-722). Later, pregnant with twins, she murders one of the delivered infants and eventually drowns herself in unbearable shame and d espair. Before Aura's death, Artemis, still furious, cannot forbear to mock her in a series of revoltingly callous gibes (749-87, 828-47, 858-64), thereby seeking to heal her own injury by utter degradation of its source. The nymph Nicaea, raped by Dionysus in similar circumstances, appears to offer Aura sympathy but has more pity for her own misfortune (811-27). Dionysus gloats to Nicaea about what he has done to Aura and has no compunctions about asking her to protect his soon-to-be-born sons (866-86). This entire episode, as is clear from even this summary, is marked by acute sensitivity to shame and insult, callousness, disproportionate thirst for vengeance, zealous mockery, self-absorption, and self-preoccupation. (2)

Earlier in the poem's narrative we have episodes such as Dionysus's prototype, Zagreus, being killed while gazing at his reflection in a mirror (6.169-73). We also read of Dionysus's mother Semele valuing Dionysus only for the status he brings her; boasting of her superiority over her sisters at having Zeus for a husband; belittling their mates and progeny; taunting Hera, Leto, Ares, Apollo, Maia, Hermes, Hephaestus, and Heracles; behaving with crazy indifference to her imminent destruction, now that her greatness is "proven"; and generally seeming incapable of consideration for anyone (8.375-88, 9.208-42, 10.129-36). Hera's response to Semele's scorn is to drive mad Semele's sister Ino, whom, far from pitying, Semele later mocks (9.243-74). Zeus fears the mockery of his displaced father Cronos, if he should lose his cosmic supremacy to his monstrous challenger Typhoeus (1.383). Typhoeus, ridiculed and taunted by Zeus, elaborates upon the scale of his threat to the current cosmos and is besotted with the gran deur of the new world order he will install (1.444-80, 2.244-349). After the death of his son Zagreus, an angry Zeus launches a cosmic upheaval that almost extinguishes an innocent humanity (6.206-370). Oceanus utters grandiose threats to flood heaven (23.290-320). Speeches of derision and belittlement (e.g., 47.428-52, 498-522) are as common as ones of manic, grotesque self-glorification and far outnumber instances of pity. The Indian warrior Morrheus boasts that he will drag Dionysus home by the hair and put a 20-cubit spear through the hulls of Dionysus's ships; his audience applauds warmly (36.430-74). Morrheus's king, Deriades, is an extravagant boaster, vowing to kill the sons of Zeus (27.22-135) and conquer the West (34.199-220). The gods mock and jeer at each other (24.275-324). Hera verbally assails Artemis so viciously that the distraught victim has to be comforted by Apollo (36.48-82). A river can feel shame (23.186-87). Hymenaeus buries his face in his hands at the shame of defeat, while Eros trie s to pull his hands away (33.102-04). Thetis hides in shame, fearing the mockery of Cassiepeia (41.233-36). Dionysus boasts that he can inflate himself so that his head can touch the sky, and then does so (29.304-10, 319-22); he likewise expands to Olympus when confronting Perseus (47.657-63) and is invulnerable to weapons (14.229-46). Coolly unconcerned about the tragic fates of Icarius and Erigone (47.34-255), he reacts angrily and destructively to rejection by Pentheus and the Argive women. Autonoe fails to console Agave by insisting that Actaeon's fate, and therefore her own suffering, were worse than Pentheus's (46.320-52). All these episodes illustrate self-absorption, delight in boasting and insult, sensitivity to shame and mockery, self-inflation, delusions of grandeur. In short, they depict narcissism.

Cross-cultural studies of personality have suggested that while the psychic unity of humanity is something that psychoanalysis, a discipline interested in the ahistorical aspect of human experience, finds easier to assume than to prove, evidence from anthropology and sociology suggests the reality of such a psychic unity, or at least that it is a reasonable working hypothesis. Even the most fervent cultural relativists admit that some dispositions and unconscious mechanisms are universal. Yet similar human impulses can manifest in behavior and institutions so differently in one culture or historical period compared with another that doubts arise as to whether the underlying unconscious motivation is indeed similar. A form of behavior like narcissism can be considered from both the relativist and universalist positions. Rampant narcissism may be manifested sometimes by exhibitionistic dancing, competitive boasting and scoffing (flitting), or a self-glorifying megalomania in an individual or a society, and at o ther times by bloodthirstiness and bellicosity, pursuit of military renown, and preference for death before defeat. (3) Much of the narcissism of the heroic, aristocratic, often infantile ethos of the Homeric worlds of gods and humans (4) is captured by Nonnus, imitator and would-be rival of Homer; but the narcissism of the Dionysiaca is colored further by a wealth of detail and difference of emphasis which raises the question of Nonnus's own narcissism. (5)

The term narcissism can be used in several different ways. In this paper, it denotes mainly early egoic development that is self-centered and preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and popularity and as a means of relating to others. Most fantasies of power betray an underlying narcissism, as they replace feelings of helplessness and separation with those of mastery and control. Most people, to some degree, are residually narcissistic, exhibiting what is called normal narcissism. In its more pathological manifestations, however, narcissism is a personality disorder. The third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines narcissistic personality disorders as follows:

Although the above definition may not satisfy everyone, it does highlight the fragile self-esteem and paradoxical elements of pronounced narcissism, where a sense of self-importance and self-love coexists with a distressing sense of inferiority and self-hate (7) and with a tendency to both despise others and idealize them to the point of idolatry. A central fantasy is the enjoyment of limitless, unrealistic levels of success, power, wealth, beauty, and love; thus, Hymenaeus would have enjoyed Dionysus inspiring him with divine strength simply because he was so beautiful (29.15-21). Admiration is sought for inherited or natural endowments (physique, looks, special capacities) rather than achievements. (8) The ideal is an unwavering positive regard from others which entitles the recipient to extract and exploit almost any favor. The withholding of unconditional love or admiration can evoke a terrible and disproportionate desire for vengeance, such as what Artemis exacts from Aura and Dionysus from Pentheus. (9) Criticism impacts on a fragile self-esteem to excite powerful feelings of rage, shame, and humiliation. In the Dionysiaca, so desperate is the need for ego enhancement that the greatness of her slayer Perseus could be seen as a comfort to Ariadne (47.689-93), while Semele gladly chooses incineration because it confirms that she is the consort of Zeus and superior to her sisters (8.375-95).

A grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; and characteristic disturbances in interpersonal relationships, such as feelings of entitlement, interpersonal exploitativeness, relationships that alt ernate between extremes of over-idealisation and devaluation, and lack of empathy. (6)

Roman imperial panegyrics tend to be exercises in grandiosity and the Dionysiaca is, among other things, an extended encomium. (10) Dionysus was given a mission by Zeus to bring justice to the Indians and carebanishing wine and joyous dance to all humanity (13.1-7). He was born semi-divine, and became a fully divine Olympian who could lead the dance and bask in the adulation of nurses, satyrs, rivers, and followers in general (10.144-57), all of whom dance (18.52-61, 48.192-93), gather (35.269-70), or cheer in triumph (40.98-99) around him. But the Dionysiaca is also a poem about poor interpersonal relationships and communication (inevitable when all are so narcissistic); the psychology of isolation; (11) exploitation of others and lack of empathy; how applause and recognition must fill the void when there is an inability to love; about struggles for dominance and furious tantrums that manifest in many ways, from formal contests to exchanges of insults; hysterical sensitivity to shame and counterphobic, often preemptive mockery and humiliation of others; exhibitionistic forms of behavior and exhibitionism's frequent counterpart, voyeurism; and shame-prone people enjoying the infliction on others of the narcissistic injuries they most fear suffering themselves. (12)

Pronounced narcissism usually stems from a childhood narcissistic wound, a crippling blow (or series of blows) to the sense of worth and security. Dionysus may have had Zeus for a father and as protectors Hermes and a succession of foster mothers (the daughters of Lamus, Ino and Mystis, Rhea and the Corybants), but he lost a parent before he was born (early loss of a parent is commonly a sufficient condition for the development of narcissistic disorders) and was soon aware of the threats posed from a persecutory Hera. Both circumstances--loss of parent and threat by parental figure--create a sense of devaluation that may be compensated for by an overblown self-image and by degrading others. Grandiose, megalomaniac visions of power, ascension, success, and applause may be comforting illusions and counters to feelings of inferiority. A fantasy of world control (13) has no room for potential wounders and detractors, and causes one to perceive him- or herself to be the Great Omnipotent and Omniscient One. Thus, o ne degrades others in order to devalue any narcissistic injury they might inflict. A reluctance to confront and adjust to reality fixes thought and feeling at infantile levels, and if a recourse to delusion, solipsism, and turning away from the outer environment that refuses unconditional approval is profound and enduring, psychosis results. This is why characters in the Dionysiaca often seem hysterical and on the verge of a mental breakdown. The stream of consciousness that courses freely through the poem is markedly infantile, carrying such themes of infantile psychology as the omnipotent child warrior, the spontaneous generation of life, unrestricted access to the breast, and fear of engulfment of the fragile self by monsters and baleful mother-figures. (14)

Episodes of flights across the heavens, self-inflation that reaches to the sun and moon, cosmic upheaval, threats to cosmic order, and the eventual reestablishment of order by overweening power are the kind of grand scenes in the Dionysiaca that rampant narcissism cherishes. (15) Much of the poem's explosive anger, verbal and physical violence, flogging and shrieking (rather than speaking) may be the expression of a narcissistic rage still nursing the pain of a wound such as the early disruption of the mother bond and a sense of insufficient love in childhood. Because we know so little about Nonnus, we cannot tell whether he has projected his own psychological makeup into his work or, by an act of the imagination, has depicted a particular way of seeing and relating to the world. (16)

Since the Dionysiaca is a poem about religion, about how Dionysusworship spread from Greece to Arabia, "Assyria," and India and how Dionysus became an object of wonder to East and West (47.624), it has a good deal to say about the dynamics of religious worship. It also has much to offer about the relationship between followers and a messianic figure who bears the gifts of wine and a form of dance that celebrates life and stimulates fertility, and whose heavenly radiance declares him a son of Zeus (l7.8-14). (17) But, even though Dionysus is an attractive leader because of the gifts he bestows and his invulnerability to weapons, his childish vulnerability in other respects prevents him from being too perfect or remote. (18) The concept of narcissism is very useful for illuminating aspects of the idolization that occurs in such situations, since overvaluation of the self or of others is a common narcissistic tendency. In moving from solipsistic notions of self-sufficiency the still fragile and undeveloped sense of selfhood seeks a love object, an external entity on which to invest some appreciation and affection. What frequently happens, however, is that the "lover" senses in the overtly narcissistic Other a mirroring of his or her own psychological state. The "lover," moreover, is attracted by the Other's air of self-confidence, which supplies a missing element in the beholder's own sense of self. The power and charisma of the narcissistic love object or leader becomes the focus, justification, and outlet for the beholder's or follower's still surgent narcissism. The leader becomes the follower's concretized grandiose self, bestowing an intoxicating sense of invincibility and a defence against feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. (19) A ruling figure's visions of world control or a new order are welcome reminders of fantasies recently entertained and not wholly abandoned. Furthermore, where a new dispensation can appear to be an advance in civilization, an appeal to idealism and some shift from pure idolatry o ccur. (20) The investment in an Other may be the step from self-narcissism to group-narcissism whereby one identifies with an entity larger than the self. Such investment can energize beliefs in superiority over other groups. Feelings of inferiority are compensated for by identification with the leader and his or her demonstrations of superiority, thereby assuaging the constant thirst for reassurance about one's inadequacy. Most leaders need followers to maintain their self-esteem. Both grandiose leader and idolatrous follower codependently need and reinforce the narcissism of the other; their deeds glorify each other (cf. Dionysiaca 39.101-05, 47.638-44). In a sense, the greater the leader, the greater the follower--hence, the quite extraordinary devotion that followers can show to an exploitative, abusive, yet powerful and charismatic leader, especially when they attribute or concede godlike powers to that leader into whose protective power they try to melt. (21) The narcissistic matrix of the Dionysiaca sp awns leaders--such as Dionysus, the leader of the Indians, Deriades, and Zeus--who are extraordinarily passive and dependent on others and yet who at times can demonstrate power and authority to the other, equally nebulous characters. (22) After the death of Zagreus, for example, Zeus has to be persuaded by Time to do something about humanity's sorrows; the idea was not his own (7.22-105). Likewise, it is Rhea, not Dionysus, who first summons forces for his army (13.35-42).

According to Kemberg, narcissism is mostly a pathological condition on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis; on this view the encomiastic tendencies of the Dionysiaca would simply illustrate the narcissistic mutual dependency between leaders and followers. A different approach, one advocated by Kohut, emphasizes narcissism's transformative potential, its capacity to deploy self-love constructively and to divert grandiose visions into genuine service and benefits to humanity; in other words, it becomes healthy narcissism. (23) This approach complements Perry's interesting work on the ruler archetype. (24) The divine kingship aspect of this archetype is activated through panegyric, ritual, ceremony, storytelling, and a theater that relates sacred combat or cosmic conflict between light and order against dark and disorder, and leads to identification in individuals with an image that offers structure and coherence to the self, integration within society, and a sense of mastery. Such identification can h elp prevent a sense of helplessness and disorder, even psychosis, but it can also foster self-inflation, grandiosity, and a preoccupation with monsters and chaos. The divine kingship aspect in turn has a lord of the universe aspect, which may complacently contemplate a basically unchanging world, and a messiah-savior aspect, which accepts the need for intervention, change, and the redemption of humanity. In the Dionysiaca, Typhoeus, who revels in fantasies of future control and mastery of the universe, would represent the less evolved, more dominant, and power-focused aspect of the ruler archetype. Zeus represents both aspects: the lord of the universe (who is challenged by Typhoeus), and the messiah-savior, in part through his son Dionysus and other deities who have brought boons to humanity, such as medicine, access to prophecy, and agriculture (12.110-13). In addition, activation of the ruler archetype can lead to the creative and life-giving aspects of kingship being expressed. In a crude way, Zeus and Di onysus fertilize by cruel rapes and seductions, but Dionysus's wider role as a creative deity--a role aided and expressed by his dancing--is central to the Dionysiaca. (25) Dionysus is specifically directed to adopt the role of hero-savior, when he is told that he will have to earn his place in Olympus by hard work (20.94-96).

Some of Dionysus's activity represents a shift from the dominator aspect of the ruler archetype to the service aspect, from power to eros. (26) Dionysus's pain over the death of Ampelus brought home to him the need for a balm for the pangs of bereavement. The effort to spread viticulture and revelry was manifestly worthwhile, although it was a task made more difficult when the Indians rejected initial peaceful overtures. (27) Nevertheless, the concept of Dionysus as compassionate benefactor of humanity is tempered by his interested need to fulfil an appointed task to win the prize of residence in Olympus. His grief at the forthcoming death of Ampelus is modified by laughter, no less, (geloon) at the thought of the vine and wine that will come from Ampelus's corpse (11.93-98). The generally less than exalted moral economy that prevails in the poem is also illustrated by the immortality won by Semele, Ampelus, (28) Phaethon, and Erigone, all of whom gain immortality as compensations for loss rather than for con tributions to community welfare. Attractive, heroic, messianic figures can, of course, be badly flawed and lead themselves and their followers to destruction, but activation of the savior aspect offers a real opportunity for psychological development. The average mortal who avers, "I am called by a special election to save the world," seems dubiously sane, but Dionysus can justifiably make the claim and show how, in a rough way, such grandiose imaginings "should be taken as a source of energy, not as a description of the ego." (29) Such imaginings, insofar as they challenge the status quo and encourage achievement, can be the ground for valuable creativity. If this energy is put to work for the benefit of others and if reality is accommodated as well as challenged, a more mature form of self-esteem emerges; if not, it simply feeds grandiosity and inflates the self-image regressively and narcissistically . (30) Avoiding narcissistic inflation when one is spreading worship of oneself, attracting many followers, being encouraged to show off, and creating a new order in one s own image must be difficult, and Dionysus by no means entirely avoids this trap. When Dionysus, armed only with a pitcher of wine, is persuaded he can visit and win over the sadistic Lycurgus, he unrealistically overvalues his attractiveness and invincibility (20.266-321). Moreover, the last seven books of the Dionysiaca contain murder, infanticide, brutality, destruction, defeat, and failure, as we see Dionysus's victory turning sour; his personality shortcomings may be part of the reason. (31) Followers who had invested idealism in his cause would be challenged by these events.

Dionysus had a childhood where he was underloved (one parent lost; the other, a distant and malignant stepmother) and overloved (a succession of doting nurses), a situation that favors repairing narcissistic injury with an overidealized image of the self. (32) The Bacchants succeed to the role played by Hermes, Ino, and Rhea in Dionysus's infancy, by becoming nurses who fight for, protect, and literally dance attendance upon him. The relationship of the Bacchants to Dionysus (33) is central to the psychology of the Dionysiaca. For Dionysus, it fosters a powerful fantasy of narcissistic entitlement and specialness (34) which is reinforced in Book 35 when his persecutor Hera suddenly intervenes to nurse, saves him from madness, and puts him back on task.

To review: the Dionysiaca illustrates florid, manifold, grandiose narcissism in a thorough, wideranging, coherent, and intelligible way. All the major characters in the poem exhibit marked narcissistic tendencies, but only in Dionysus's case can we grasp why they manifest. A narcissistic personality disorder is not necessarily permanent and incurable. Images and archetypes that stimulate a less egocentric view of the world can help transform it into a healthy self-esteem that provides a secure enough base for the outflow of love to others. (35) In keeping with the grandiose scale of the poem, Dionysus's activity has a messianic dimension that is redemptive to a degree but still exhibits regressive features such as brutality, callousness, lack of conscience, and indifference to suffering. Success in emerging from infantilism is partial and intermittent, but the regressive features partly explain Dionysus's success in the world of humanity. (36)

Leaders can relate to and serve the needs of their followers in various ways. They can, for example, be loving parental figures or encourage the acting out of frustration and aggression. They may be psychotic and destructive, or sane, creative, well-adjusted. Scholars have identified at least five different styles of leadership. Leaders can exercise power by: (a) their ability to coerce followers; (b) their ability to reward them; (c) their expertise and superior information; (d) their legitimacy, that is, the authority conferred by their office, age, caste, intelligence, physique, or other special qualifications such as lineage; or (e) their referent power or charisma in getting followers to identify with them and embrace their vision. (37) It goes without saying that any leader can employ more than one of these styles.

Dionysus could never fit modem leadership profiles: his success was preordained, he was divine, and simply through the power of his dance he could turn battles into dance-dramas where foes as well as followers danced into death (28.24-330; cf. 27.204-20). Nevertheless, leadership studies can provide useful apercus to Nonnus's hero.

Dionysus applies coercion to enlist followers but, once they are enlisted, he does not punish them for failure to perform or conform; nor does he threaten them with exclusion. His gifts of wine and joyous dance are available to all, and the booty that he distributes is a traditional fruit of victory to all contributors. The prizes Dionysus offers in the dance contest (19.118-57) and in the funeral games of Book 37 are as much tokens of inducements to competition as incentives to follow him. Dionysus is certainly able to confer special favors on select individuals (e.g., associating Pithos with wine vats: 20.129-36), but such specific rewards are an unnecessary instrument in view of what else he can offer followers, who, apart from male warriors and Bacchants, include satyrs, silenoi, Pans, nature spirits, centaurs, and animals. Followers can trust Dionysus's expertise and knowledge, such as mystic rites, the use of ivy and the thyrsus as novel but effective weapons, and the abilities to telekinetically open c ity gates (44.20-21), to transmit divine, dancing, liberating power into Pentheus's dungeon (45.273-84), to shapeshift, to fight unprotected by armor, and to drink wine without getting drunk. As a son of Zeus entrusted with a mission to proselytize, Dionysus has legitimacy aplenty, and charisma as well. Superhuman power makes him a formidable and mostly invincible protagonist. Nor is he shy about asserting his superiority over others. By making warfare a dance and a revel, by wearing buskins, fawuskin, and thyrsus into battle instead of shield, helmet, and sword, he displays novelty and challenges convention in a way that would have demoralized opponents and made him an attractive entity to identify with, as adherents shared a membership bond and some of the fruits of his power and skill, such as the ability to conquer without normal weapons and armor (36.259-70).

As leadership studies have shown, even if followers are uncertain of the greatness of the cause they espouse, confidence in their leader's extraordinary gifts can help banish doubt. Dionysus, who enjoyed the backing of most Olympians, inspired such confidence. (38) By his mere presence or by an act of will, Dionysus could infuse courage, strength, and joy, and make followers invincible (30.16-25; cf. 17.94-86). (39) Getting the landscape and its fauna and flora to sing, dance, and revel (22.1-54) was a miracle so terrifying that the Indians would have immediately surrendered, if Hera had not intervened and warned them against imbibing streams of wine (22.55-8 1). Dance, drums, and music, so central to Dionysian activity, were powerful means of entrancing, of exciting a Bacchic frenzy, an irresistible human flood (14.338-85). Above all, Dionysus provided the vision of his worship spread throughout the world as far as India. By offering, on several occasions, opponents a chance to surrender, by sparing the conq uered and creating them well, by using nonviolent means (wine and dance) to convert, by founding cities and leaving communities of converts behind, Dionysus was able to appear a genuine civilizer and thus keep faith with the idealism of his followers.

Dionysus's aura of invincibility and success were dealt a serious blow by the rout and humiliation inflicted by Lycurgus, but Dionysus as helpless child (a quality always latent in a leader dependent on his followers for power) brought out the protective, nurturant instincts of the Bacchants as they bound, beat, and blinded the tyrant. (40) Still, Dionysus does act like a capable commander in exhorting and disposing his troops, taking precautions against ambush, feigning flight and tricking the Indians to come out of hiding, and rewarding his troops for victory. (41) The Indians' leadership is similar in that it exhorts its followers, belittles the enemy, arranges forces, prepares an ambush, but also, given the nature of the invading host, issues instructions to avoid rape and wine and, unlike Dionysus, does not offer chances to submit. (42) This leadership is also more diffused, since Deriades has prominent lieutenants like Orontes, Morrheus, and Thureus. Dionysus himself has a number of lieutenants and a pa rticularly doughty warrior in Aiacos, but too much depends on his own inspirational presence. For example, no one could make up for his absence from the field except, temporarily, when Hermes disguised himself as Dionysus to rescue trapped Bacchants (35.227-41). Dionysus tends his wounded beloved, Hymeneaeus, and some Bacchants (29.87, 264-74), but otherwise, he does not show concern for individual followers, such as commanders are often reported as doing. He is a model, not of nurturance and sympathy, but of magnetism and inspiration.

An issue that frequently arises in the case of heroic male leadership is the leader's relationship with his father, which shifts from early awe for parental omnipotence to, frequently, determination to surpass. Alexander the Great's conquest of western Asia, a loose model for Nonnus's Indiad, may have owed much to Alexander's drive to surpass his late father, Philip II. On the other hand, the Dionysus-Zeus relationship is relatively unproblematic, for Dionysus is Zeus's delegate for introducing a new dispensation and, justifiably, he believes he can count on Zeus's support. Zeus intervenes on several occasions to help his adult son, (43) but he cannot always outwit Hera or expedite the seven-year Indian war. On one occasion he intervenes to check Dionysus's fiery momentum (24.1-6), and when forced to choose between his brother and his son in their dispute over Beroe, he chooses Posiedon (43.372-80). Although Dionysus wins his own special renown, there is never any question of him rivalling Zeus in prestige an d power. Still, we cannot entirely dismiss the idea of competition between Zeus and Dionysus. Staphylus, urging Dionysus to do deeds worthy of his sire, proceeds to describe some of Zeus's deeds, including his defeat of the giant Indus, and exhorts him to surpass the other sons of Zeus, such as Ares and Perseus (18.217-305). Fired up to win a third and greater victory over the Indians, Dionysus is then said to "have vied with Zeus" and "regarded Zeus as a rival" (18.311,313). Later, Dionysus claims to want the conquest of the Indians to rank up along with Zeus's victory over the Titans (35.350-52).

Given his powers, achievements, mission, and divine favor, Dionysus was entitled to adulation from his largely anonymous followers, and it is the eventual victory of the invincible Dionysus that they celebrate (40.247-48, 279-80). If they can be presumed to share the psychological makeup of the named characters of the poem, their fragile, Other-dependent psyches made them particularly liable to seek referent leadership. (44)

As is well known, Roman imperial panegyrics were largely about referent leadership. The emperor, replete with clemency, courage, justice, wisdom, and military and rhetorical skills, served as a focus, a concretized image, for the grandiosity of his subjects. Dionysus himself could lay claim to clemency (willingness to accept submissions and treat captives well), military prowess, and justice. (45) The courage of someone apparently impossible to kill (46) or wound is harder to grant, and the tragic and unedifying events of the final seven books impair claims to wisdom. Pentheus may not have been the most evolved of souls but he was right to doubt that wine was an unqualified boon. A characteristic of a messianism like Dionysus's is that it does not readily admit error or doubt. History is full of leaders who, addicted to a diet of flattery, find criticism and challenge intolerable. Triumph can very easily lead to insensitivity, ego inflation, reduced effectiveness, and an enhanced narcissism for both leader an d follower which seeks, as ever, to degrade any wounder of esteem. (47) The narcissism of the group, especially a messianic one, can be more deadly than that of the individual. It is not obvious that victory over the Indians and completion of the mission brought personal growth to Dionysus, apart from his no longer being afraid of Hera (47.612). Granted, we may not expect Nonnus to demonstrate this, but, as it happens, he portrays a standard of post-victory conduct common of narcissism. Narcissistic fantasies of achievement favor heroism gained by innate gifts and right connections (entitlement) rather than by personal sacrifice, and, arguably, this is the model offered by Nonnus's Dionysus. (48)

Another factor that favors idolatrous relationships and referent leadership is the quest for certainty in an uncertain world. The world of the Dionysiaca is full of disguise, sham, mask, and the counterfeit, with much deception and guile and with oscillation between reality and illusion. (49) There are so many unreliable surfaces in this poem that even the Protean Dionysus becomes an attractive refuge and sanctuary. Identification with an entity like Dionysus of such prowess, benefaction, victory, and radiance lends courage, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment in the midst of uncertainty. Dionysus's leadership, by activating the ruler archetype and by enhancing followers' self-esteem, provides an opportunity for personal growth towards a larger, more gracious confident and eros-driven self. (50) The growth in question is a movement from primitive idealization and overestimation of the amount of gratification available from a leader (idolization) to a considered and mature idealization. Merging as part o f a group with a greater Other, one who is a combination of person and ideals and mission, protects against some of the delusions of withdrawal, isolation, solipsism, and grandiose fantasies that do nothing for others. The Dionysus-follower dyad offered protection against such narcissistic tendencies, against the perturbations of shame that occur throughout the poem. There is no need for such feelings in such an exalted group.

In this article, I have touched from time to time on the issue of cultural evolution. Besides Dionysus's boons, the poem mentions a number of technological innovations and cultural advances made possible by men and deities, although most predate Dionysus. (51) Perry argues that as a culture evolves and matures psychologically, so do its leading archetypal figures. In the Dionysiaca, we witness a shift from the divine ruler and lord of the universe archetypes to the messianic savior-hero archetype--from power to eros. Nonnus's Dionysus epitomizes the psychological shift in values, but the referent leadership typical of messianic, charismatic figures can infantilize followers as well as mature them.

Assessment of leadership in the Dionysiaca requires not only examination of the activity of such characters as Dionysus and Zeus but also awareness of the nature of the stream of consciousness that runs through the poem and infuses those characters' behavior. From Book 1 through Book 48, the general standard of behavior is not particularly elevated. (52) A swirl of narcissistic, grandiose fantasies, such as those of wideranging upheaval, provide much of the matrix of consciousness that generates behavior. The Dionysiaca raises the issue of what degree of psychological and cultural growth Nonnus's account of the spread of Dionysus worship reveals. It is not certain that Dionysus's followers will not simply revel in being part of something grander than the individual self, instead of actually diverting energy to work, service, and substantive achievement, thereby overcoming a narcissistic sense of entitlement and separateness and relating with love to the world. After all, when Bacchants escape from Pentheus's prison and roam the hills, they suckle and nurture but mostly rend and kill. In the end, only questions remain. To the extent that Dionysus was a reforming hero, did identification with him "represent one's motivation to participate meaningfully and effectively in the great societal issues of the time" (53) and perhaps lead to a permanently more full and joyful life? Or was it simply narcissistic idolatry? Certainly, this would depend on each individual Bacchant and the degree of her psychological maturity, but to search for answers in Nonnus's poem would be in vain. (54)

RONALD F. NEWBOLD is a Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. When not conducting research on Roman imperial history and nonverbal communications, he tries to fathom Nonnus and to determine whether the Dionysiaca is brilliant, bizarre, or both.

(1.) The quotations are from, respectively: Nonnus, Dionysiaca 42.241-42, where Pan assures Dionysus (cf. 29.29-30); Lasch 232; Berman 253. All translations of Nonnus are from Rouse.

(2.) For the paradigmatic nature of this story in Nonnus, see Schmiel.

(3.) Singer 18-23: Adamopoulos and Lonner.

(4.) See. e.g., Gouldner, chaps. 2-3; MacCary, chaps. 5-6, 9; and Slater 155: "The Greeks demanded of their gods the same degree of narcissistic self-indulgence that men of all ages have demanded of their states." Cf. Sagan, chap. 12 ("Narcissus-Dionysus") on Alcibiades. Given some of the associations between Dionysus and Alexander the Great, Slater's description of the latter as "generally confident, even reckless, but with his self-regard always problematic, his sensitivity to criticism acute, and his need for respect, honour, and glory exaggerated to insatiability" (43) is pertinent.

(5.) See below, note 16.

(6.) American Psychiatric Association 1980: 315; for comments on this definition, see Berman 20-21. The more elaborate definition in the 4th edition (658-61) describes the pattern of grandiosity as "pervasive," and contains phrases and sentences such as "boastful and pretentious . . . devaluation of the contributions of others . . . very sensitive to 'injury' from criticism or defeat . . . (which) may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded . . . They may react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack . . . relative disregard for the sensitivities of others . . . sustained feelings of shame and humiliation." As Moore points out, narcissism can mean self-satisfaction and inner security, or the absence of these qualities and the need for reassurance. On the relationship between shame and narcissism, see Morrison; see also Adams and Williams.

(7.) To anticipate material below, Hopkinson 27 speaks of self-abasement and exultation as being the passions most congenial to Nonnus.

(8.) In a sense there is no need for others because one is great already: see Fromm 77.

(9.) Or, in Greek mythology, the vengeance that Apollo exacts from Marsyas, Athene from Arachne, and Apollo and Artemis from Niobe.

(10.) Stegemann; Vian 1976: xx-xxi; Fauth 35.

(11.) Genuine dialogue is rare. See, for example, the (non-)interaction between Harmonia, Electra, Aphrodite. and Artemis (4.36-196). Speeches are often to no one in particular, that is, they are unfocused and not responded to. On the poem's psychology of isolation, see Wifstrand 142.

(12.) All these features have been extensively documented and discussed in earlier publications, e.g., Braden; Winkler; Newbold 1985a, 1985b, 1993, 1996.

(13.) Of particular interest here, since we are discussing Dionysus, is that such grandiose fantasies are often accompanied by a sense of participating in some form of drama or ritual that frequently involved dancing or mimetic motion. See Perry 29 and Newbold 1992.

(14.) See Winkler 70-84, 139, 167; Newbold 1984. The 23 voyeuristic scenes, for example, are like infantile researches into sexual knowledge. Voyeurism may also be thought of as visual rape or assault, as, therefore, a degradation. One manifestation of the fear of engulfment is the appearance in the imagination of the ferocious, devouring serpent, such as the one that attacks Cadmus and his men (4.369-75); cf. Zeus's struggle with the monster Campe (18.133-238). There are numerous destructive serpents in the poem. Another manifestation may be the many references to water and flood. If the symbolic equation woman = water is valid (see Homey), it is relevant that much of the Indian war is cast in terms of fiery Dionysus's struggle against water; see 27.4-8, 73-75, 101-04; Vian 1990: 123; Fauth 45-70.

(15.) On how fantasies of flight relate to boastfulness and dreams of glory, see Slater 396. Besides the cosmic upheaval induced by Typhoeus in Books 1 and 2, we may adduce 3.202-19 (an unexplained catastrophic flood), 6.230-388 (a consequence of the failure of Zagreus's mirror-gazing narcissism), 13.522-38 (another unexplained flood), 38.318-409 (Phaethon's dizzy drive across the heavens), and 48.31-89 (Dionysus versus the Giants). There are also threatened or feared episodes of cosmic chaos at 23.280-320, 32.52-55, 36.97-105. Such fantasies are imaginative exercises in omnipotence and displays of magical-sadistic control. The connection between visions of world control, and vulnerability and exposure to shame are brought out by the hysterical lamentations of the Hamadryad who fears she will have no refuge if the would-be rapist Typhoeus prevails; for her, absolutely nowhere will be safe. One answer to this threat is to take over the world herself, thereby including and controlling everything. This is just w hat her id-like terrifier Typhoeus is attempting to do. The sadomasochistic discipline and bondage theme of the Dionysiaca may represent an attempt to demarcate and harden fragile self-boundaries.

(16.) The grandiosity and narcissism of literary authors is too large and complex a topic to enter into here, but we may adduce Berman 52: "Textual issues invariably involve biographical ones, and we should not be surprised that a story's narcissist conflicts ultimately relate back to the novelist's life." Nonnus clearly sees himself as a rival to Homer, and the subject of his work is ranked above all other heroes: 1.37-38, 25.31-252; cf. 47.537-66.

(17.) On the link between dance and fertility, see Newbold 1993: 90 n. 6.

(18.) On what follows, see Fromm 80-90, who also suggests that part of the appeal of children is their unconscious, self-absorbed narcissism. Thornton 9 distinguishes an Apollonian narcissism that seeks to redefine and fulfil the self in a heroic context, and a Dionysian narcissism whose drive to omnipotence and mastery relies more on violence than does the Apollonian. Both styles strive for power and run the risk of failure through overexuberant fantasy and can be detected in the Dionysiaca. See too Braden 852.

(19.) Akinetos is applied 11 times to Dionysus.

(20.) All idolatry is projected narcissism.

(21.) Religiosity is always fraught with the danger of narcissism: Fromm 80-83. In the Dionysiaca, the gap between leader and follower vanishes as Bacchants become as radiantly and superhumanly powerful as Dionysus (e.g., 17.343-47). On the invulnerability and power of Dionysus, see 14.229-46; 17.244, 263-65; 28.30. Dionysus comes dancing to battle, roaring with fire, all the more conspicuous and striking for his unconventional, unarmored, theatrical attire. On the narcissistic, often psychotic elements in many leaders, see Fromm 75-76.

(22.) See Vian 1994: 86-98 on the passivity of Dionysus; Vian 1990: 166 on the puppet-like Deriades; Bornmann on the anonymity of the characters; D'Ippolito 52 on the absence of autonomous characters. It may be that the restless activity pervading the poem is a defence against feelings of passivity.

(23.) For an evaluation of the approaches of Kernberg and Kohut, see Mitchell and Berman 253-55.

(24.) Perry argues that lack of love from the mother leads to a poor self-image, and that poor self-esteem compensates by identifying with the grandiose ruler archetype.

(25.) See Newbold 1993.

(26.) E.g., 15.124: "Let the Indian bend a slave's knee to Dionysus"; 15.119-31 generally; and 27.204-20. Cf. Braden, who stresses the soteriological aspect of the poem and suggests that a parody of Christianity is present; Bowersock; Willers; Chuvin 1986.

(27.) As does Lycurgus (20.289-320). On Dionysus's transformation from peaceful missionary to leader of slaughter, see Vian 1994.

(28.) Note Dionysus's eulogy on Ampelus's beauty, comparing him to, amongst others, Narcissus, and Ampelus's response: "The youth was delighted with his (Dionysus's) words, and proud that he surpassed the beauty of his young agemates by a more brilliant display" (10.196-219). Dionysus is supposed to be comforted for Ampelus's loss by the jealousy Apollo will feel about viticulture (12.156-57).

(29.) Perry 66. Perry points to the ultimately beneficial effect an episode of madness can have on personal growth, for people can be psychologically healthier thereafter. A psychotic delusion of universal kingship which gives way to messianic urges to save the world represents an advance towards psychic health and away from solipsism. Cf. Perry 32: "It represents a potential corrective to the power imagery of supreme kingship."

(30.) Typhoeus is the epitome of this regression.

(31.) Messianic movements frequently devolve into dogmatism, intolerance, and repression. Dionysus does show some gracious sympathy for his new wife Pallene, mourning her father whom he has killed (48.205-37), but he is indifferent to the fates of Icarius, killed by drunken rustics, and Erigone. (Zeus, on the other hand, shows some sympathy: 47.246-55). Dionysus responds egocentrically to Ariadne's plaints (47.419), treats Aura abominably, and feels fear and jealousy because Beroe prefers water to wine (42.110-12). The redemptive power of wine is celebrated (19.1-54) but Pentheus has a point when he observes: "What wine always does is to drag drunken men into lust; what wine does is to excite an unstable man's mind to murder" (45.83-84). By the end of the poem, Dionysus is in danger of becoming a destroyer rather than a liberator; however, it was important that he defeat the Giants and safeguard the new dispensation, and he does free Pallene from her tyrannical father.

(32.) Cf. Berman 6-12.

(33.) He can be their protector too: see 23.252-55.

(34.) Dionysus's statement, "I am not like all others" (18.143), although made in the context of announcing a competition for dance rather than for athletics, has a general application.

(35.) To put it another way, a child can go from saying, "I am great," to becoming an adult who has great ideals and tries to fulfil them.

(36.) For an assessment of the achievement of Nonnus's Dionysus, see Newbold 1993. His success was fated: 7.85-105; 9.149-51, 237-42; 20.98; 25.361-62; 36.413-16; 39.106-07; 40.12, 53. As Slater 150-55 points out, people who inherit, rather than achieve, leadership may need to acquire more narcissism--by succumbing to flattery and encouragement to show off--in order to act out more fully the grandiose fantasies of followers.

(37.) French and Raven; see too Bass, and Strozier and Offer.

(38.) Such divine support was particularly valuable as the enmity of Hera, whose intervention could make Dionysus tremble and retreat, casts a shadow over the mission (30.23 1-42). Not only did she mislead Dionysus and inspire the Indians, but Dionysus's army suffered heavy losses when his inspirational presence was absent through the insanity Hera inflicted upon him. If it was widely known the Indian war was destined to last for seven years. maintaining morale and enthusiasm would have tested the leadership skills of any commander(34. 128-50).

(39.) In his absence, the followers are easily routed and behave abnormally: 34.128-50.

(40.) As leadership studies demonstrate, leader and follower typically complement each other as they shift between parental and infantile modes.

(41.) E.g., 22.142-45,24.218-29,27.145-220,43.52-142. Cf. Lasky on panegyric's assumption that its subject will display these qualities. Lasky also believes that Dionysus's rhetoric, as well as his wine, were genuine weapons of persuasion. It is hard to evaluate Dionysus's skills in comparison with many other speakers in the poem.

(42.) Deriades also threatens his fighters on one occasion: 29.7; cf. Orontes at 17.169.

(43.) E.g., 20.397-404, 22.133-35, 23.226-35; notably, Zeus orders Hera to cure Dionysus's madness by her milk, an action that, furthermore, guarantees Dionysus a place in Olympus.

(44.) They could bask in the protective power of one described by Zeus as "protector of the human race" (7.96). While it may often be true that "groups do not act because they have leaders but they secure leaders to help them act" (Murphy 14), this statement implies a somehow preexisting, embryonic group that "found" Dionysus and that may have articulated certain wishes and career aims they wanted fulfilled. Nonnus portrays Dionysus as one who made groups of followers come into being (leaders bring certain contingents to his army in Books 13 and 14 but some groups, like the Corybants, just come, presumably to enjoy dancing with Dionysus) and were left to find their own rewards from following him, such as transcending their own alienation and insignificance and emulating his behavior and values. On the appeal of a triumphant Dionysus, see Lindsay 369. Despite the poem's emphasis on transformation, Lindsay's remark that the "changes spiral in a void" (393) alludes to doubts about how much progress really occurs . While getting drunk might temporarily alter an individual's perception of the world, it tends not to bring about permanent growth.

(45.) Justice, if ridding Thrace and India of tyrannical regimes was a blow for human rights; cf. 14.295-98.

(46.) Apparently, because his prototype Zagreus had been killed by the Titans.

(47.) Dionysus's persecution of Agave and the Argive women is attributed by Slater 51 to narcissism injured by rejection. Like Agave, the latter go mad and kill (in this instance, their entirely innocent children). Dionysus is quite unconcerned, even proud, of this "collateral damage" (47.635-37). He remains effective and restrained enough, however, both to single-handedly defeat the Giants (a far greater feat than his defeat of the Indians) and to spare some of them.

(48.) On this characteristic of Dionysus's heroism, see Braden 254, who discusses to what extent the Hesiodic expectation of no success without hard work was fulfilled. Dionysus suffers the pain of losing favorites (Ampelus, Staphylus) and endures years of warfare, but Semele and Ampelus, as noted earlier, enjoy magnificent rewards for no great service. Dionysus is prepared to use his army of willing followers for the purely personal goal of winning Beroe from Posiedon (43.307-60).

(49.) Riemschneider 57-61.

(50.) If one regards personal growth as a form of creativity, and if it is true that during periods of creativity the self may be exposed to psychic forces it cannot control, merging with a more powerful figure--in this case the savior archetype--providesa balancing force until the transition is completed and stability returns. See Adams and Williams 10-11.

(51.) With the challenge of Typhoeus turned back in Book 2, cultural progress continues; that progress is preserved by Dionysus's victory over the Giants in Book 48.

Chuvin 1976: 45 counts 14 innovations and cultural advances in the poem.

(52.) On the lack of moral considerations in the poem, see Schmiel 477. On Nonnus's Dionysus as an unedifying hero, see Slater 282.

(53.) Perry 66. In a chapter entitled "Cultural Pathology and Cultural Development," Slater, in trying to explain the cultural flowering of classical Greece and referring to a cross-cultural study of a number of "narcissistic" societies, writes: "Although some may exhibit a certain lustre ... it is clear that the most profound narcissism is no guarantor of a cultural explosion . . . Perhaps the best tentative hypothesis is that narcissism is a contributory but not a sufficient condition for cultural development . . . The more intense it (narcissism) is, the more it may stimulate individuals to perform unusual feats, which may be creative, or destructive, or simply futile . . . The Greek achievement involved a relatively brief time in which Greek narcissism was infused with something that transformed its empty vaingloriousness into a palpable moment of real glory" (443-44). Slater here uses vaingloriousness in the sense that I have used grandiosity.

(54.) A separate but related issue is the extent of the cultural shift portrayed by Nonnus: does power and concerns about status and control predominate in the Dionysiaca, or does eros and the capacity for compassion and intimacy predominate? It is thus pertinent to ask here whether alcohol makes people feel more powerful or loving. On the way alcohol answers the need to feel powerful, see McClelland, chap. 2. For studies on how the dominator motif works out in the Dionysiaca, see Newbold 1984 and 1985a. Although there is a huge amount of material in the poem concerned with creation and nurturance, even here power and the struggle for dominance loom as major issues: Newbold 1998.

My thanks to the Helios referee who supplied helpful comments and references.

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