The Ancient Library

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On this page: Rhea Silvia



Her mythical train was formed by the Corybantes, answering to the Curetes of the Cretan Rhea; these were said to accompany her over the wooded hills, with lighted torches and with wild dances, amid the resounding music of flutes and horns and drums and cymbals. After these the priests of Cybele were also called Corybantes, and the festivals of the goddess were celebrated with similar orgies, in the frenzy of which the participators wounded each other or, like Attis, mutilated themselves. Besides these there were begging priests, called Metrdgyrtce and Cybebi, who roamed from place to place, as inspired servants and prophets of the Great Mother. On the Hellespont and on the Propontis, Rhea-Cybele was likewise the chief goddess ; in particular in the Troad, where she was worshipped upon Mount Ida as the Ideean Mother, and where the Ida-cm Dac.tyli (q.v.) formed her train. From Asia this religion advanced into Greece. After the Persian Wars it reached Athens, where in the Metroum, the temple of the Great Mother, which was used as a State record-office, there stood the ideal image of the goddess fashioned by Phidias [Pausanias, i 3 § 5]. The worship of Cybele did not, however, obtain public recognition here, any more than in the rest of Greece, on account of its orgiastic excesses and the offensive habits of its begging priests. It was cultivated only by particular associations and by the lower ranks of the people.

In Borne the worship of the Great Mother (Magna Mater) was introduced for political reasons in 204 B.C., at the command of a Sibylline oracle, and for the purpose of driving Hannibal out of Italy. An embassy was sent to fetch the holy stone from Pessinus; a festival was founded in honour of the goddess, to be held on April 4-9 (the Megallsia, from the Greek megdle meter — magna mater) • and in 217 a temple on the Palatine was dedicated to her. The ser­vice was performed by a Phrygian priest, a Phrygian priestess, and a number of Galli (emasculated priests of Cybele), who were allowed to pass in procession through the city in accordance with their native rites. Roman citizens were forbidden to participate in this service, though the praetor on the Palatine, and private persons among the patricians, celebrated the feast by entertain­ing one another, the new cult being attached to that of Maia or Ops. The worship of Cybele gained by degrees an ever-wider extension, so that under the early Empire

a fresh festival was instituted, from March 15-27, with the observance of mourning, followed by the most extravagant joy. In this festival associations of women and men and the religious board of the Quind&cim-riri (q.v.) took part. In the first half of the 2nd century a.d, the Taurobolia and Crl&b&lla were added. In these ceremonies the person concerned went through a form of baptism with the blood of bulls and rama


From an Athenian ex-voto relief (Berlin).

killed in sacrifice, with the object of cleans­ing him from pollutions and bringing about a new birth. The oak and pine were sacred to Rhea-Cybele (see attis), as also the lion. She was supposed to traverse the mountains riding on a lion, or in a chariot drawn by lions. In art she was usually represented enthroned between lions, with the mural crown on her head and a small drum in her hand.

Ehea Silvia. Daughter of the Alban king Numa. Her uncle Amulius, who had driven his brother from the throne, made her a Vestal Virgin, so that none of her descendants might take vengeance for this violent deed. When, however, she bore to Mars the twins Romulus and Remus, and was thrown for this into the Tiber, Tiber!-

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All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.