Once he had grown to manhood Dionysus decided to wander far and wide, including areas outside of Greece. Where ever he went he taught men how to cultivate vines, and the mysteries of his cult. He was accepted until he returned to his own country of Thebes.
As he journeyed back to Greece he was spotted by pirates. He appeared to them as a rich young man. He might even be the son of a king. He certainly looked like his parents would pay a rich ransom for his safe return. Happy at their good luck the pirates seized him and brought him aboard their ship. They then attempted to tie him to the ship but, the ropes refused to hold. Anyplace a rope touched him it just fell apart. Dionysus watched calmly, smiling.
After some time the helmsman realized that only a god could be responsible. He called out that the crew should free Dionysus and beg his forgiveness. But, the captain mocked the helmsman as a fool and called for the crew to set sail. The crew raised the sail and caught the wind but, the ship did not move. Looking around they saw the ship quickly becoming overgrown with vines that held it fast. Dionysus then changed himself into a lion and began to chase the crewmen. To escape they leaped overboard but, as they did they were changed to dolphins. Only on the helmsman did Dionysus have mercy.
As he passed through Thrance he was insulted by King Lycurgus, who bitterly opposed his new religion. Initially Dionysus retreated into the sea but, he returned, overpowered Lycurgus and imprisoned him in a rocky cave. Dionysus planned to let him reflect and learn from his mistakes. However, Zeus did not care to have the gods insulted, so he blinded then killed Lycurgus.
He pressed on to Thebes, ruled by his cousin Pentheus. However, Pentheus did not know of Dionysus. Dionysus was with a group of his followers, who were naturally singing and dancing loudly, flushed with wine. Pentheus disliked the loud, strangers, and ordered his guards to imprison them all. He referred to their leader as a cheating sorcerer from Lydia. When he said this the blind old prophet Teiresias, who had already dressed as one of Dionysus's followers gave Pentheus a warning: "The man you reject is a new god. He is Semele's child, whom Zeus rescued. He, along with Demeter, are the greatest upon earth for men." Pentheus, seeing the strange garb Teiresias had on, laughed at him and ordered his guards to continue.
The guards soon found that ropes fell apart, latches fell open, and there they could not imprison Dionysus's followers. The took Dionysus to Pentheus. Dionysus tried to explain at length his worship but, Pentheus listened only to his own anger and insulted Dionysus. Finally, Dionysus gave up and left Pentheus to his doom.
Pentheus pursued Dionysus followers up into the hills where they had gone after walking away from his prison. Many of the local women including Pentheus's mother and sister had joined them there. Then Dionysus appeared to his followers in his most terrible aspect and drove them mad. To them Pentheus appeared to be a mountain lion. In a berserk rage they attacked him. Now Pentheus realized he had fought with a god and would die for it. His mother was the first to reach him, and ripped his head off, while the others tore off his limbs.