Was Dionysus a Music Therapist?

Therapeutic Musical Ecstasy in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

  • Kiara Hosie University of Victoria
Keywords: Ancient Greek mythology, Ancient Greek Philosophy, historical musicology, music therapy, music psychology


In the Ancient Greco-Roman world, Dionysus was the deity to call upon for all things relating to intoxication, ritual madness, and religious ecstasy. Living firmly in the realm of festivity and celebration, he appears to be a one-dimensional pleasure deity. But what if Dionysus was more than simply the god of parties? I propose the potential therapeutic value of Dionysian (ecstatic) music by applying both ancient and modern interpretations to close readings of Ancient Greco-Roman mythological texts. In section one, I define Dionysian music against its more demonstrably therapeutic Apollonian counterpart, drawing from a variety of Ancient writers including Homer, Euripides, and Ovid. While this section emphasizes negative psychological effects of Dionysian music, section two argues that the mythical hero-musician, Orpheus, links Apollo to Dionysus and thus suggests the therapeutic potential of Dionysian music. I further this argument in section three through a discussion of how Dionysian music can be interpreted by Plato, Aristotle, and modern psychologists as therapeutic due to its ability to both express and regulate emotions. I conclude that although Dionysus does not belong amongst modern music therapists, his presence is certainly at home in modern theories of music therapy. 


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Author Biography

Kiara Hosie, University of Victoria

Musicology and Sound Studies, Department of Music
Areas of interest: music therapy; music in Greek mythology; musical magic; music and identity; musical theatre


Artist Biography: 

Sie Douglas-Fish   
BA (in progress), University of Victoria 
Visual Arts and Japanese Studies 
Areas of interest: illustration; digital art; design; technology; psychology 


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A photograph of a miniature house, titled Impossibility by Sie Douglas-Fish
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