Semele (Mythologie)

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Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau (1894/95)

Peter Paul Rubens: “Death of Semele”, before 1640

Semele(Ancient Greek Σεμέλη) is the daughter of the goddess of concord, Harmonia, and King Kadmos, founder of Thebes, and the mother of the wine god Dionysus in Greek mythology. Semele’s sisters are Agaue, Ino and Autonoë, her brothers Illyrios and Polydoros.

Semele became a goddess under the name Thyone.


The derivation of the name “Semele” from the reconstructed Phrygian phonetic form zemelos as “earth dweller, human being” is controversial; depending on the origin of the researchers, the Phrygian origin (Anatolia) is assumed or rejected. Indo-Europeanist research has suggested the Indo-European language root *tuemelah “the swelling one”. Semele would be referred to here as the pregnant mother of the fertility god Dionysus and not as the earthling with whom Zeus formed a union.


Zeus appeared to Semele as a mortal, one of his many transformations, to win the woman he desired. He begat Dionysus with her.

Hera, Zeus’ wife, was jealous when she learned of her husband’s new love affair. She too was transformed – and took the form of Semele’s old nurse Beroe. As Beroe, she sowed doubt in Semele’s heart, namely that Zeus was not Zeus at all. Semele now asked her beloved for one single wish, namely to be allowed to see him in all his glory. Zeus, who loved Semele, tried to talk her out of it, but she wanted to be sure, and she knew how to ask, so that he finally showed himself to her, whereupon she was destroyed by his splendour, just as any earthly body that comes too close to the sun can no longer exist. It is also told thus: (as) struck by lightning, namely by a thunderbolt of Zeus, she sank to the ground. With her the whole palace of Kadmos was burnt and it is said that smoke rose from her grave for a long time

The child in her womb, however, was saved by Hermes: Zeus sewed it into his hip or thigh and gave birth to the child himself three months later (see thigh birth). Thus was born the immortal Dionysus.

According to another narrative, Semele’s body was placed in a box with the child and abandoned to the sea, which brings to mind the story of Zeus and the birth of Perseus by Danaë, who was also abandoned in a box with her child. In Laocia the two were washed ashore, where Semele was buried and Dionysus was raised.

Later, Semele was taken from the underworld and admitted to Olympus, where she lives among the gods as Thyone.


  • Otto Jessen: Semele. In: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (ed.): Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie. Volume 4, Leipzig 1915, Sp. 662-676 (Digital copy).
  • Anneliese Kossatz-Deissmann: Semele. In: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC). Vol. , Zurich/Munich 1994, pp. 718-726.

Web links

Commons: Semele– Collection of images, videos and audio files

  • Carlos Parada, Maicar Förlag: Semele. In: GreekMythology Link. Sweden, 1997, accessed 22 June 2013.
    Info: Parada, author ofGenealogical Guide to Greek Mythology (1993), was a lecturer at the Department of Classics at Lund University in Sweden.
  • Aaron J. Atsma: SemeleThyone. In: TheoiProject. (English) Auckland, New Zealand, 2011, accessed 22 June 2013.
    Info: Atsma, with no academic training, offers original (translated) sources in his mythological Theoi Project.