AskDefine | Define thyrsus

Dictionary Definition

thyrsus n : a dense flower cluster (as of the lilac or horse chestnut) in which the main axis is racemose and the branches are cymose [syn: thyrse] [also: thyrsi (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From thyrsus, from .


  • /'θɜ:səs/


  1. A staff topped with a conical ornament, carried by Bacchus or his followers.
    • 1968: The champagne was done, and she upturned the bottle to hold it like a thyrsus. — Anthony Burgess, Enderby Outside




From ‘plant-stalk, Bacchic staff’.


thyrsus, thyrsī m

Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, a thyrsus (thyrsos) was a staff of giant fennel (Ferula communis) covered with ivy vines and leaves, sometimes wound with taeniae and always topped with a pine cone. Where these emblems were, there was the spirit of Dionysus also. Euripides wrote that honey dripped from the thyrsos staves that the Bacchic maenads carried. It was a sacred instrument at religious rituals and fetes.


The thyrsus associated with Dionysus (or Bacchus) and his followers, the Satyrs and Maenads, is a composite symbol of the forest (pine cone) and the farm (fennel). It has been suggested that this was specifically a fertility phallus, with the fennel representing the shaft of the penis and the pine cone representing the "seed" issuing forth. The thyrsus was tossed in the Bacchic dance: Pentheus: The thyrsus— in my right hand shall I hold it?
Or thus am I more like a Bacchanal?
Dionysos: In thy right hand, and with thy right foot raise it"
Sometimes the thyrsus was displayed in conjunction with a wine cup, another symbol of Dionysus, forming a male-and-female combination like that of the royal scepter and orb.


It is explicitly attributed to Dionysus in Euripides's play The Bacchae as part of the costume of the Dionysian cult. "...To raise my Bacchic shout, and clothe all who respond/ In fawnskin habits, and put my thyrsus in their hands–/ The weapon wreathed with ivy-shoots..." Euripides also writes, "There's a brute wildness in the fennel-wands—Reverence it well." (The Bacchae and Other Plays, trans. by Philip Vellacott, Penguin, 1954.)
"And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For 'many,' as they say in the mysteries, 'are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics' —meaning, as I interpret the words, 'the true philosophers.'" (Plato, Phædo, The Harvard Classics, 1909–14.)


thyrsus in German: Thyrsosstab
thyrsus in Spanish: Tirso (símbolo)
thyrsus in French: Thyrse (mythologie)
thyrsus in Dutch: Thyrsus (staf)
thyrsus in Portuguese: Tirso
thyrsus in Russian: Тирс
thyrsus in Finnish: Thyrsos
thyrsus in Turkish: Thyrsos
thyrsus in Ukrainian: Тирс
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