The House of Cadmus: a further synopsis of Semele/Thyone’s story

Semele is beautiful. God falls in love with her. Even her own brother is in love with her. However, he can’t compete with God.

Polydoros’s jealousy, not detailed here, is a potential subplot, a license taken with a familiar story. No matter that it is incestuous, it is nonetheless, in keeping with the themes of the main plot, a sexual jealousy.

Cadmus and Harmonia [Semele’s mum and dad], Evelyn De Morgana, 1855-1919

The story goes that God visits Semele in mortal form. He drugs her nurse, who sleeps in the same room. It’s a massive room. In fact, the house of her father and mother, Cadmus and Harmonia, is as big as a city. Beroe is sedated and God has no witnesses.

God has another purpose, beyond the obvious one of having sex with a beautiful woman: he wants a son. He has watched Semele grow up. He has waited until she has been 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 was jealous and had the Titans pull Zagreus to bits when still a child. She is barren and was not the mother. All that remained of his half-cooked, half-eaten body was his heart.

God, despite his lust for Semele, is a father in mourning. He convinces her 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 in her, and so that she will have an immortal child.

Semele falls in love on first hearing his voice. It would be love at first sight if it weren’t so dark. She will do anything for him. She eats the heart and they make love.

Being convinced to drink the blood and eat the heart of Zagreus will be the last conversation she has with God. Every night for almost seven months, until she’s heavily pregnant, he will visit her and have intercourse with her, and he will remain silent.

God’s silence leads her to question his love for her. After being in love with God, she now begins to doubt him.

The sex becomes mechanical. She talks all through it. Still, God won’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, shuffled off under sedation.

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. She makes Semele jealous of her true self.

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 he next 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 immortal child she carries. Semele insists: if he loves her he must; if he cares for the baby he must. She says she knows 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. The infant bursts from its burning mother.

God slits open his thigh and places the baby inside. It will be brought to full term here.

When it’s born, it will be called Dionysus, the twice-born. When grown, the mysteries will be performed in his name, which survive today in the various ecstatic rites of theatre and religion, sex, drugs, drunkenness and all the organised 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.

– the English painter, Evelyn De Morgana, 1855-1919

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.