Semele is born beautiful. She is so beautiful, God falls in love with her.
The story goes that God visits Semele in mortal form. He drugs her nurse, who sleeps in the same room. It’s a big room, in the house of her father and mother, Cadmus and Harmonia. Beroe is sedated and God has no witnesses.
Beyond his obvious lust and desire to possess her, God has another purpose: he wants a son. He has watched Semele grow up. He has waited until she’s ready to bear a child. He has brought with him the chopped up pieces of his dead son’s heart.
His wife doesn’t understand him. She is a jealous woman. Barren, and not the mother, she had the Titans pull Zagreus to bits when he was still a child. All that remained of his half-cooked, half-eaten body was his heart.
God, along with his lust for Semele, is also a father in mourning. He convinces Semele to eat the pieces of Zagreus’s heart in a drink, so that his seed will mingle with the immortal remains of his dead son inside her; and, so that she will have an immortal child.
Semele falls in love with God on first hearing his voice. It would be love at first sight if it weren’t so dark and she will do anything for him. She eats the heart. They make love.
God telling her to drink the blood and eat the heart of Zagreus will be the last conversation she has with him. Every night for almost seven months, until she’s heavily pregnant, he will visit her and have sex with her, and stay silent.
God’s silence leads her to question his love for her. How can he love her and not speak? (Remember, she fell in love with his voice.) After being in love with God, she begins to doubt him.
The sex becomes mechanical. She talks all through it. God doesn’t say a thing.
She shouts at him, screams at him: nothing, no answer. Semele grows depressed and begins to resent and even to hate God.
It’s at this time that God’s wife learns of the affair. She sees that Semele is pregnant. Jealous, she disguises herself as Beroe, Semele’s old nurse, who is, again, drugged unconscious.
God’s wife plays on Semele’s insecurity. She tells her many is the time, down through the ages, that a man has tricked his way into a girl’s bed by using the name of God.
She says that she won’t know if he really is God or if he truly loves her until he comes to her in his immortal form, leaving behind his mortal one.
She asks her to imagine how good it must be for his wife when he comes to her bed as God himself. In her disguise as Beroe, she makes Semele jealous of her.
God’s wife shows Semele how to trick God into doing as she wishes, how to make him give his word and not go back on it. Semele puts the plan into action.
God gives his word to do as she asks. His voice affects her as it did before and she doesn’t follow through at once. But after they’ve made love, Semele asks him to come to her in his divine form when next he comes to her bed.
God protests that if he does it will kill her, because she is only mortal. What’s more, it will threaten the welfare of the baby she carries. Semele insists: if he loves her he must; if he cares for the child he must. She says she knows that he can’t go back on his word.
God comes to Semele as God. He grows bright enough to blind her; his increasing thunder deafens her; he gets hotter than the sun and burns her: he splits her womb wide open. The infant bursts from its burning mother.
God slits open his thigh and places the baby inside. Like a surrogate, he will bring it to full term here.
When it’s born, it will be called Dionysus, the twice-born, and, when grown, the mysteries will be performed in its name. These mysteries survive today in the various ecstatic rites of theatre and religion, sex, drugs, drunkenness and all the organised and social forms by which the senses are deranged.
Dionysus will bring his mother back from the dead. She will be made immortal by God and renamed Thyone.
As the immortal Thyone, she will preside over the religious and theatrical mysteries performed in the name of Dionysus. In turn, the mysteries performed will give her immortality.