AS HEROIC gods go, Dionysus would fit right into Sydney: god of the grape harvest, bringer of culture and ritual ecstasy, he was the mythological inspiration for Alexander the Great, the 4th century BC Macedonian king and spreader of civilisations who is being honoured with his own blockbuster exhibition in our city on Saturday.
Dionysus, or at least his marble likeness cast in Rome in the second century AD based on the Greek BC original, arrived at the Australian Museum last week.
The unpacking of Dionysus
Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, ritual madness and ecstasy is getting unpacked at the Australian Museum.
His tall, bespectacled courier, Andrey Nikolaev, looked a little weary after almost a week accompanying Dionysus over rail, sea and air only for museum staff to finally decide the two-metre tall, 1.5-tonne statue, which can only be moved by the base, was too fragile to part so soon from the wooden crate.
St Petersburg, home of the statue, has no cargo planes, so beginning on November 7, Nikolaev had chaperoned Dionysus by train to Helsinki, then ferry across the Baltic Sea to Travemunde, Germany; another train to Amsterdam; then a Boeing 747 to Frankfurt, Mumbai and Hong Kong; and finally a second Boeing 747, arriving in Sydney on November 13. Having sat in the crate for a day or two to acclimatise on the Australian Museum's exhibition floor, Dionysus - joined on his plinth in the 18th century by a smaller marble statue bearing a dubious likeness of Persephone or Cora, wife of the ruler of the underworld - met with approval when workers drilled away the wooden crate screws and removed the door.
Why was this god of the grape so important to Alexander the Great? ''Because Dionysus is not just the god of wine, he also is a god of inspiration,'' said Anna Trofimova, the head of classical antiquities at The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. ''He was the god, the Greeks believe, that brought culture to different peoples in a lot of countries.''
More to the point, Dionysus was the ''guiding star'' for Alexander, who in turn brought civilisation, founded cities and spread Greek language and art from the Mediterranean to Central Asia and India. Alexander was the ''first political leader who thought on the scale of the planet''.
Whether Alexander's death at the age of 32 was due to fever or poisoning is open to conjecture, but Dr Trofimova is certain of Alexander's legacy.
''The dream of Alexander, and I believe in it, was unity of mankind between east and western people. His belief in civilisation, this is a great lesson for us; especially important in our days when west and east are very, very sensitive.''