“When the god is alone with the females the sexuality is not overt but latent, if we grant that the swirling dances of young and lovely superhuman women have sexual overtones. When the satyrs too are in the scene they show by their arousal and their behavior that they are not indifferent to their companions. By the second quarter of the fifth century t hey are usually no longer shown with erections and are generally less enthusiastically indecent in their actions. Perhaps it is worth remarking on what we all take for granted–there are only male satyrs. Even a detumescent satyr next to a woman or nymph embodies male sexuality.
The god, meanwhile, is never shown in art as involved in the satyrs’ sexual shenanigans. He may dance, he may drink, but he is never paired with or shown taking any interest in any of the female companions of his rout. He is not shown with an erection, but then the gods almost never are, except for a single goat-headed Pan chasing a shepherd boy and the semi-iconic pillars of Hermes we call herms, which are shown with phalli at the right height in the archaic and early classical periods.* What has not been remarked, as far as I know, is that before the change to a preference for a beardless Dionysus, the god’s member is rarely shown, even at rest, though examples can be found…[even] when he wears a shorter chiton his lions remain hidden.
But even though Dionysus, like all Greek gods, could be violent and dangerous, one suspects that the more characteristic images for the Greeks were the terrified Dionysus who takes refuge in the bosom of Thetis and the cowardly, if comic, figure who ‘gilds’ his elegant Ionic gown when confronted with the Hound of Hell in Aristophanes’ Frogs.
Two images may provide us with an appropriate conclusion: one is that of the embodiment of the epicene style of modern pop culture, the male leader of the pop group, who for all the violence of music, gestures, and words is neither traditionally masculine nor yet effeminate. To the established order he may be a threat but not to the adoring young, especially the young women. There is a fascination but also a certain horror about such a figure, who cannot be placed and straddles or crosses boundaries. The other image is that Dionysus in the Bacchae, who draws Pentheus over a boundary as the king is lead to make himself in to a bakkhe. In that play is the there not some of this chilling fascination about Dionysus, too, whose gender puzzles Pentheus and who moves quietly between the raucous world of the male and the female?”
*’…The aesthetic preference for the small penis must also have been a factor. The large penis and thus the phallus were comic and grotesque, inappropriate for beautiful and powerful gods….’