Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Kabeiroi


CABEIRI (Kabeiroi), mystic divinities who occur in various parts of the ancient world. The obscurity that hangs over them, and the contradictions respecting them in the accounts of the ancients themselves, have opened a wide field for speculation to modern writers on mythology, each of whom has been tempted to propound a theory of his own. The meaning of the name Cabeiri is quite uncertain, and has been traced to nearly all the languages of the East, and even to those of the North; but one etymology seems as plausible as another, and etymology in this instance is a real ignis fatuus to the inquirer. The character and nature of the Cabeiri are as obscure as the meaning of their name. All that we can attempt to do here is to trace and explain the various opinions of the ancients themselves, as they are presented to us in chronological succession. We chiefly follow Lobeck, who has collected all the passages of the ancients upon this subject, and who appears to us the most sober among those who have written upon it. (Aglaopham. pp. 1202-1281.)

The earliest mention of the Cabeiri, so far as we know, was in a drama of Aeschylus, entitled Kabeiroi, in which the poet brought them into contact with the Argonauts in Lemnos. The Cabeiri promised the Argonauts plenty of Lemnian wine. (Plut. Sympos. ii. 1; Pollux, vi. 23; Bekker, Anecd. p. 115.) The opinion of Welcker (Die Aeschyl. Trilog. p. 236), who infers from Dionysius (i. 68, &c.) that the Cabeiri had been spoken of by Arctinus, has been satisfactorily refuted by Lobeck and others. From the passage of Aeschylus here alluded to, it appears that he regarded the Cabeiri as original Lemnian divinities, who had power over everything that contributed to the good of the inhabitants, and especially over the vineyards. The fruits of the field, too, seem to have been under their protection, for the Pelasgians once in a time of scarcity made vows to Zeus, Apollo, and the Cabeiri. (Myrsilus, ap. Dionys. i. 23.) Strabo in his discussion about the Curetes, Dactyls, &c. (x. p. 466), speaks of the origin of the Cabeiri, deriving his statements from ancient authorities, and from him we learn, that Acusilaus called Camillus a son of Cabeiro and Hephaestus, and that he made the three Cabeiri the sons, and the Cabeirian nymphs the daughters, of Camillus. According to Pherecydes, Apollo and Rhytia were the parents of the nine Corybantes who dwelled in Samothrace, and the three Cabeiri and the three Cabeirian nymphs were the children of Cabeira, the daughter of Proteus, by Hephaestus. Sacrifices were offered to the Corybantes as well as the Cabeiri in Lemnos and Imbros, and also in the towns of Troas. The Greek logographers, and perhaps Aeschylus too, thus considered the Cabeiri as the grandchildren of Proteus and as the sons of Hephaestus, and consequently as inferior in dignity to the great gods on account of their origin. Their inferiority is also implied in their jocose conversation with the Argonauts, and their being repeatedly mentioned along with the Curetes, Dactyls, Corybantes, and other beings of inferior rank. Herodotus (iii. 37) says, that the Cabeiri were worshipped at Memphis as the sons of Hephaestus, and that they resembled the Phoenician dwarf-gods (Pataïkoi) whom the Phoenicians fixed on the prows of their ships. As the Dioscuri were then yet unknown to the Egyptians (Herod. ii. 51), the Cabeiri cannot have been identified with them at that time. Herodotus proceeds to say, "the Athenians received their phallic Hermae from the Pelasgians, and those who are initiated in the mysteries of the Cabeiri will understand what I am saying; for the Pelasgians formerly inhabited Samothrace, and it is from them that the Samothracians received their orgies. But the Samothracians had a sacred legend about Hermes, which is explained in their mysteries." This sacred legend is perhaps no other than the one spoken of by Cicero (De Nat. Deor. iii. 22), that Hermes was the son of Coelus and Dies, and that Proserpine desired to embrace him. The same is perhaps alluded to by Propertius (ii. 2. 11), when he says, that Mercury (Hermes) had connexions with Brimo, who is probably the goddess of Pherae worshipped at Athens, Sicyon, and Argos, whom some identified with Proserpine (Persephone), and others with Hecate or Artemis. (Spanh. ad Callim. hymn. in Dian. 259.) We generally find this goddess worshipped in places which had the worship of the Cabeiri, and a Lemnian Artemis is mentioned by Galen. (De Medic. Simpl. ix. 2. p. 246, ed. Chart.) The Tyrrhenians, too, are said to have taken away the statue of Artemis at Brauron, and to have carried it to Lemnos. Aristophanes, in his " Lemnian Women," had mentioned Bendis along with the Brauronian Artemis and the great goddess, and Nonnus (Dionys. xxx. 45) states that the Cabeirus Alcon brandished Hekatês Diasôdea purson, so that we may draw the conclusion, that the Samothracians and Lemnians worshipped a goddess akin to Hecate, Artemis, Bendis, or Persephone, who had some sexual connexion with Hermes, which revelation was made in the mysteries of Samothrace.

The writer next to Herodotus, who speaks about the Cabeiri, and whose statements we possess in Strabo (p. 472), though brief and obscure, is Stesimbrotus. The meaning of the passage in Strabo is, according to Lobeck, as follows: Some persons think that the Corybantes are the sons of Cronos, others that they are the sons of Zeus and Calliope, that they (the Corybantes) went to Samothrace and were the same as the beings who were there called Cabeiri. But as the doings of the Corybantes are generally known, whereas nothing is known of the Samothracian Corybantes, those persons are obliged to have recourse to saying, that the doings of the latter Corybantes are kept secret or are mystic. This opinion, however, is contested by Demetrius, who states, that nothing was revealed in the mysteries either of the deeds of the Cabeiri or of their having accompanied Rhea or of their having brought up Zeus and Dionysus. Demetrius also mentions the opinion of Stesimbrotus, that the hiera were performed in Samothrace to the Cabeiri, who derived their name from mount Cabeirus in Berecyntia. But here again opinions differed very much, for while some believed that the hiera Kabeirôn were thus called from their having been instituted and conducted by the Cabeiri, others thought that they were celebrated ill honour of the Cabeiri, and that the Cabeiri belonged to the great gods.

The Attic writers of this period offer nothing of importance concerning the Cabeiri, but they intimate that their mysteries were particularly calculated to protect the lives of the initiated. (Aristoph. Pax, 298; comp. Etymol. Gud. p. 289.) Later writers in making the same remark do not mention the name Cabeiri, but speak of the Samothracian gods generally. (Diod. iv. 43, 49; Aelian, Fragm. p. 320; Callim. Ep. 36; Lucian. Ep. 15; Plut. Marcell. 30.) There are several instances mentioned of lo vers swearing by the Cabeiri in promising fidelity to one another (Juv. iii. 144; Himerius, Orat. i. 12); and Suidas (s. v. Dialamdanei) mentions a case of a girl invoking the Cabeiri as her avengers against a lover who had broken his oath. But from these oaths we can no more draw any inference as to the real character of the Cabeiri, than from the fact of their protecting the lives of the initiated; for these are features which they have in common with various other divinities. From the account which the scholiast of Apollonius Rhodius (i. 913) has borrowed from Athenion, who had written a comedy called The Samothracians (Athen. xiv. p. 661), we learn only that he spoke of two Cabeiri, Dardanus, and Jasion, whom he called sons of Zeus and Electra. They derived their name from mount Cabeirus in Phrygia, from whence they had been introduced into Samothrace.

A more ample source of information respecting the Cabeiri is opened to us in the writers of the Alexandrine period. The two scholia on Apollonius Rhodius (l. c.) contain in substance the following statement: Mnaseas mentions the names of three Cabeiri in Samothrace, viz. Axieros, Axiocersa, and Axiocersus; the first is Demeter, the second Persephone, and the third Hades. Others add a fourth, Cadmilus, who according to Dionysothat dorus is identical with Hermes. It thus appears these accounts agreed with that of Stesimbrotus, who reckoned the Cabeiri among the great gods, and that Mnaseas only added their names. Herodotus, as we have seen, had already connected Hermes with Persephone; the worship of the latter as connected with that of Demeter in Samothrace is attested by Artemidorus (ap. Strab. iv. p. 198); and there was also a port in Samothrace which derived its name, Demetrium, from Demeter. (Liv. xlv. 6.) According to the authors used by Dionysius (i. 68), the worship of Samothrace was introduced there from Arcadia; for according to them Dardanus, together with his brother Jasion or Jasus and his sister Harmonia, left Arcadia and went to Samothrace, taking with them the Palever, ladium from the temple of Pallas. Cadmus, however, who appears in this tradition, is king of Samothrace: he made Dardanus his friend, and sent him to Teucer in Troas. Dardanus himself, again, is sometimes described as a Cretan (Serv. ad Aen. iii. 167), sometimes as an Asiatic (Steph. s. v. Dardanos; Eustath. ad Dionys. Perieg. 391), while Arrian (ap. Eustath. p. 351) makes him come originally from Samothrace. Respecting Dardanus' brother Jasion or Jasus, the accounts likewise differ very much; for while some writers describe him as going to Samothrace either from Parrhasia in Arcadia or from Crete, a third account (Dionys. i. 61) stated, that he was killed by lightning for having entertained improper desires for Demeter; and Arrian (l. c.) says that Jasion, being inspired by Demeter and Cora, went to Sicily and many other places, and there established the mysteries of these goddesses, for which Demeter rewarded him by yielding to his embraces, and became the mother of Parius, the founder of Paros.

All writers of this class appear to consider Dardanus as the founder of the Samothracian mysteries, and the mysteries themselves as solemnized in honour of Demeter. Another set of authorities, on the other hand, regards them as belonging to Rhea (Diod. v. 51; Schol. ad Aristid. p. 106; Strab. Esccrpt. lib. vii. p. 511, ed. Almelov.; Lucian, Dc Dea Syr. 97), and suggests the identity of the Samothracian and Phrygian mysteries. Pherecydes too, who placed the Corybantes, the companions of the great mother of the gods, in Samothrace, and Stesimbrotus who derived the Cabeiri from mount Cabeirus in Phrygia, and all those writers who describe Dardanus as the founder of the Samothracian mysteries, naturally ascribed the Samothracian mysteries to Rhea. To Demeter, on the other hand, they were ascribed by Mnaseas, Artemidorus, and even by Herodotus, since he mentions Hermes and Persephone in connexion with these mysteries, and Persephone has nothing to do with Rhea. Now, as Demeter and Rhea have many attributes in common -- both are megaloi Deoi, and the festivals of each were celebrated with the same kind of enthusiasm; and as peculiar features of the one are occasionally transferred to the other (e. g. Eurip. Helen. 1304), it is not difficult to see how it might happen, that the Samothracian goddess was sometimes called Demeter and sometimes Rhea. The difficulty is, however, increased by the fact of Venus (Aphrodite) too being worshipped in Samothrace. (Plin. H. N. v. 6.) This Venus may be either the Thracian Bendis or Cybele, or may have been one of the Cabeiri themselves, for we know that Thebes possessed three ancient statues of Aphrodite, which Harmonia had taken from the ships of Cadmus, and which may have been the Pataaïkoi who resembled the Cabeiri. (Paus. ix. 16. § 2; Herod. iii. 37.) In connexion with this Aphrodite we may mention that, according to some accounts, the Phoenician Aphrodite (Astarte) had commonly the epithet chabar or chabor, an Arabic word which signifies "the great," and that Lobeck considers Astarte as identical with the Selênê Kabeiria, which name P. Ligorius saw on a gem.

There are also writers who transfer all that is said about the Samothracian gods to the Dioscuri, who were indeed different from the Cabeiri of Acusilaus, Pherecydes, and Aeschylus, but yet might easily be confounded with them; first, because the Dioscuri are also called great gods, and secondly, because they were also regarded as the protectors of persons in danger either by land or water. Hence we find that in some places where the anakes were worshipped, it was uncertain whether they were the Dioscuri or the Cabeiri. (Paus. x. 38. § 3.) Nay, even the Roman Penates were sometimes considered as identical with the Dioscuri and Cabeiri (Dionys. i. 67, &c.); and Varro thought that the Penates were carried by Dardanus from the Arcadian town Pheneos to Samothrace, [p. 523] and that Aeneas brought them from thence to Italy. (Macrob. Sat. iii. 4; Serv. ad Aen. i. 378, iii. 148.) But the authorities for this opinion are all of a late period. According to one set of accounts, the Samothracian gods were two male divinities of the same age, which applies to Zeus and Dionysus, or Dardanus and Jasion, but not to Demeter, Rhea, or Persephone. When people, in the course of time, had become accustomed to regard the Penates and Cabeiri as identical, and yet did not know exactly the name of each separate divinity comprised under those common names, some divinities are mentioned among the Penates who belonged to the Cabeiri, and vice versâ. Thus Servius (ad Aen. viii. 619) represents Zeus, Pallas, and Hermes as introduced from Samothrace; and, in another passage (ad Aen. iii. 264), he says that, according to the Samothracians, these three were the great gods, of whom Hermes, and perhaps Zeus also, might be reckoned among the Cabeiri. Varro (de Ling. Lat. v. 58, ed. Muller) says, that Heaven and Earth were the great Samothracian gods; while in another place (ap. August. De Civ. Dei, vii. 18) he stated, that there were three Samothracian gods, Jupiter or Heaven, Juno or Earth, and Minerva or the prototype of things,--the ideas of Plato. This is, of course, only the view Varro himself took, and not a tradition.

If we now look back upon the various statements we have gathered, for the purpose of arriving at some definite conclusion, it is manifest, that the earliest writers regard the Cabeiri as descended from inferior divinities, Proteus and Hephaestus: they have their seats on earth, in Samothrace, Lemnos, and Imbros. Those early writers cannot possibly have conceived them to be Demeter, Persephone or Rhea. It is true those early authorities are not numerous in comparison with the later ones; but Demetrius, who wrote on the subject, may have had more and very good ones, since it is with reference to him that Strabo repeats the assertion, that the Cabeiri, like the Corybantes and Curetes, were only ministers of the great gods. We may therefore suppose, that the Samothracian Cabeiri were originally such inferior beings; and as the notion of the Cabeiri was from the first not fixed and distinct, it became less so in later times; and as the ideas of mystery and Demeter came to be looked upon as inseparable, it cannot occasion surprise that the mysteries, which were next in importance to those of Eleusis, the most celebrated in antiquity, were at length completely transferred to this goddess. The opinion that the Samothracian gods were the same as the Roman Penates, seems to have arisen with those writers who endeavoured to trace every ancient Roman institution to Troy, and thence to Samothrace.

The places where the worship of the Cabeiri occurs, are chiefly Samothrace, Lemnos, and Imbros. Some writers have maintained, that the Samothracian and Lemnian Cabeiri were distinct; but the contrary is asserted by Strabo (x. p. 466). Besides the Cabeiri of these three islands, we read of Boeotian Cabeiri. Near the Neïtian gate of Thebes there was a grove of Demeter Cabeiria and Cora, which none but the initiated were allowed to enter; and at a distance of seven stadia from it there was a sanctuary of the Cabeiri. (Paus. ix. 25. § 5.) Here mysteries were celebrated, and the sanctity of the temple was great as late as the time of Pausanias. (Comp. iv. 1. § 5.) The account of Pausanias about the origin of the Boeotian Cabeiri savours of rationalism, and is, as Lobeck justly remarks, a mere fiction. It must further not be supposed that there existed any connexion between the Samothracian Cadmilus or Cadmus and the Theban Cadmus; for tradition clearly describes them as beings of different origin, race and dignity. Pausanias (ix. 22. § 5) further mentions another sanctuary of the Cabeiri, with a grove, in the Boeotian town of Anthedon; and a Boeotian Cabeirus, who possessed the power of averting dangers and increasing man's prosperity, is mentioned in an epigram of Diodorus. (Brunck, Anal. ii. p. 185.) A Macedonian Cabeirus occurs in Lactantius. (i. 15, 8; comp. Firmicus, de Error. Prof. p. 23; Clem. Alex. Protrept. p. 16.) The reverence paid by the Macedonians to the Cabeiri may be inferred from the fact of Philip and Olympias being initiated in the Samothracian mysteries, and of Alexander erecting altars to the Cabeiri at the close of his Eastern expedition. (Plut. Alex. 2; Philostr. de Vit. Apollon. ii. 43.) The Pergamenian Cabeiri are mentioned by Pausanias (i. 4. § 6), and those of Berytus by Sanchoniathon (ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. p. 31) and Damascius. (Vit. Isidor. cclii. 573.) Respecting the mysteries of the Cabeiri in general, see Dict. of Ant. s. v. Kabeiria; Lobeck, Aglaoph. p. 1281, &c. For the various opinions concerning the nature of the Cabeiri, see Creuzer, Symbol. ii. p. 302, &c.; Schelling, Ueber die Götter von Samothrake, Stuttgard, 1815; Welcker, Aeschyl. Trilog.; Klausen, Aeneas u. die Penat.

EURY′MEDON (Euruêedôn). A Cabeirus, a son of Hephaestus and Cabeiro, and a brother of Alcon. (Nonn. Dionys. xiv. 22; Cic. de Nat. Deor. iii. 21.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. C19th
Classics Encyclopedia.


"And they [the Kabeiroi] grew up secretly by the furnaces of Hephaistos [on Lemnos], learning the art of the hammer … Onnes now … iron shields which they themselves forged on the anvils of Hephaistos." - Callimachus, Aetia Frag 115

"Akusilaüs, the Argive, calls Kadmilos the son of Kabeiro and Hephaistos, and Kadmilos the father of three Kabeiroi, and these the fathers of the Nymphai called Kabeirides.'" - Strabo, Geography 10.3.19-21

"These rites are in a way regarded as having a common relationship ... those of the Samothrakians [the Kabeiroi] and those in Lemnos and in several other places." - Strabo, Geography 10.3.7

"First from the firepeak rock of Lemnos the two Kabeiroi ... beside the mystic torch of Samos [Samothrake], two sons of Hephaistos whom Thrakian Kabeiro had borne to the heavenly smith, Alkon and Eurymedon well skilled at the forge, who bore their mother’s tribal name." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14.17


"The ithyphallic (erect phallus) images of Hermes [the Hermai]; the production of these came from the Pelasgians [of Thessalia], from whom the Athenians were the first Greeks to take it, and then handed it on to others ..... Whoever has been initiated into the rites of the Kabeiroi, which the Samothrakians learned from the Pelasgians and now practice, understands what my meaning is [the Kabeiroi gods were the keepers of a sacred phallus]. Samothrake was formerly inhabited by those Pelasgians who came to live among the Athenians, and it is from them that the Samothrakians take their rites. The Athenians, then, were the first Greeks to make ithyphallic images of Hermes, and they did this because the Pelasgians taught them. The Pelasgians told a certain sacred tale about this, which is set forth in the Samothrakian Mysteries." - Herodotus, Histories 2.51

"[Clement an early Christian reveals the secret story of the Kabeirian Mysteries:] If you would like a vision of the Orgia Korybanton also, this is the story. Two of the Korybantes [Kabeiroi] slew a third one, who was their brother, covered the head of the corpse with a purple cloak, and then wreathed and buried it, bearing it upon a brazen shield to the skirts of Olympos. Here we see what the Mysteria are, in one word, murders and burials! The priests of these Mysteria, whom such as are interested in them call ‘Anaktotelestes’ (Presidents of the Princes’ rites), add a portent to the dismal tale. They forbid wild celery, root and all, to be placed on the table, for they actually believe that wild celery grows out of the blood that flowed from the murdered brother ... The Korybantes are also called by the name Kabeiroi, which proclaims the Teletes Kabeirikes (Rite of the Kabeiroi). For this very pair of fratricides got possession of the chest in which the virilia of Dionysos [Zagreus who was dismembered by the Titanes] were deposited, and brought it to Tyrrhenia, traders in glorious wares! There they sojourned, being exiles, and communicated their precious teaching of peity, the virilia and the chest, to Tyrrhenoi for purposes of worship. For this reason, not unnaturally some wish to call Dionysos Attis, because he was mutilated." - Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks 2.16

"To Korybas ... Each of thy brothers killing, blood is thine, twofold Kourete, many-formed, divine. By thee transmuted, Deo’s [Demeter’s] body pure became a Drakon’s savage and obscure." - Orphic Hymn 39 to Corybas

"(1) Others say that the Korybantes were sons of Zeus and Kalliope and were identical with the Kabeiroi, and that these went off to Samothrake, which in earlier times was called Melite, and that their rites were mystical.
(2) But though the Skepsian, who compiled these myths, does not accept the last statement, on the ground that no mystic story of the Kabeiroi is told in Samothrake, still he cites also the opinion of Stesimbrotos the Thasian that the sacred rites in Samothrake were performed in honor of the Kabeiroi: and the Skepsian says that they were called Kabeiroi after the mountain Kabeiros in Berekynthia [in Mysia] ...
(3) Akusilaüs, the Argive, calls Kadmilos the son of Kabeiro and Hephaistos, and Kadmilos the father of three Kabeiroi, and these the fathers of the Nymphai called Kabeirides.
(4) Pherekydes says that nine Kyrbantes were sprung from Apollon and Rhetia, and that they took up their abode in Samothrake; and that three Kabeiroi and three Nymphai called Kabeirides were the children of Kabeiro, the daughter of Proteus, and Hephaistos, and that sacred rites were instituted in honor of each triad.
(5) Now it has so happened that the Kabeiroi are most honored in Imbros and Lemnos, but they are also honored in separate cities of the Troad; their names, however, are kept secret. Herodotos says that there were temples of the Kabeiroi in Memphis, as also of Hephaistos [actually of Egyptian Ptah and his sons], but that Kambyses destroyed them. The places where these deities were worshipped are uninhabited, both the Korybanteion in Hamaxitia in the territory now belonging to the Alexandreians near Sminthion, and Korybissa in Skepsia in the neighborhood of the river Eurëeis and of the village which bears the same name and also of the winter torrent Aethalöeis.'" - Strabo, Geography 10.3.19-21

"Many writers have identified the gods that are worshipped in Samothrake with the Kabeiroi, though they cannot say who the Kabeiroi themselves are, just as the Kyrbantes and Korybantes, and likewise the Kouretes and the Idaean Daktylo Idaioii, are identified with them." - Strabo, Geography Bk 7 Frag 50

"Some, however, believe that the Kouretes were the same as the Korybantes and were ministers of Hekate [the Kabeiroi were ministers of Hekate in Samothrake]." - Strabo, Geography 10.3.20

"Iasion and Dardanos, two brothers, used to live in Samothrake. But when Iasion was struck by a thunderbolt because of his sin against Demeter, Dardanos sailed away from Samothrake, went and took up his abode at the foot of Mount Ida, calling the city Dardania, and taught the Trojans the Samothrakian Mysteries." - Strabo, Geography Bk 7 Frag 47

"Some represent the Korybantes, the Kabeiroi, the Idaian Daktyloi, and the Telkhines as identical with the Kouretes, others represent them as all kinsmen of one another and differentiate only certain small matters in which they differ in respect to one another; but, roughly speaking and in general, they represent them, one and all, as a kind of inspired people and as subject to Bakkhic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry; and consequently these rites are in a way regarded as having a common relationship, I mean these and those of the Samothrakians [the Kabeiroi] and those in Lemnos and in several other places, because the divine ministers are called the same. However, every investigation of this kind pertains to theology, and is not foreign to the speculation of the philosopher." - Strabo, Geography 10.3.7

"But I must now investigate how it comes about that so many names have been used of one and the same thing [the Daimones called Kouretes, Korybantes & Kabeiroi], and the theological element contained in their history. Now this is common both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, to perform their sacred rites in connection with the relaxation of a festival, these rites being performed sometimes with religious frenzy, sometimes without it; sometimes with music, sometimes not; and sometimes in secret, sometimes openly. And it is in accordance with the dictates of nature that this should be so, for, in the first place, the relaxation draws the mind away from human occupations and turns the real mind towards that which is divine; and, secondly, the religious frenzy seems to afford a kind of divine inspiration and to be very like that of the soothsayer; and, thirdly, the secrecy with which the sacred rites are concealed induces reverence for the divine, since it imitates the nature of the divine, which is to avoid being perceived by our human senses; and, fourthly, music, which includes dancing as well as rhythm and melody, at the same time, by the delight it affords and by its artistic beauty, brings us in touch with the divine, and this for the following reason; for although it has been well said that human beings then act most like the gods when they are doing good to others, yet one might better say, when they are happy; and such happiness consists of rejoicing, celebrating festivals, pursuing philosophy, and engaging in music." - Strabo, Geography 10.3.9

"They [the poets] also invented some of the names by which to designate the ministers, choral dancers, and attendants upon the sacred rites [of Rhea & Dionysos], I mean Kabeiroi and Korybantes and Panes and Satyroi and Tityroi." - Strabo, Geography10.3.15

"They [the Argonauts] beached this ship at Samothrake … He [Orpheus] wished them, by holy initiation, to learn something of the secret rites, and so sail on with greater confidence across the formidable sea. Of the rites I say no more, pausing only to salute the isle itself and the Powers [the Kabeiroi] that dwell in it, to whom belong the mysteries of which we must not sing." - Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.916

"Zeus desired that the other of his two sons [Iasion of Samothrake, brother of Dardanos] might also attain honour, and so he instructed him in the initiatory rites of the Mysteries [of the Kabeiroi of Samothrake], which had existed on the island since ancient times but was at that time, so to speak, put in his hands; it is not lawful, however, for any but the initiated to hear about the mysteries. And Iasion is reputed to have been the first to initiate strangers into them and by this means to bring the initiatory rite to high esteem.
After this Kadmos, the son of Agenor, came in the course of his quest for Europe [his sister abducted by Zeus] to the Samothrakians, and after participating in the initiation [into the mysteries of Samothrake] he married Harmonia, who was the sister of Iasion and not, as the Greeks recount in their mythologies, the daughter of Ares ...
Now the details of the initiatory rite [of the Mysteries] are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone; but the fame has travelled wide of how these gods [the Kabeiroi] appear to mankind and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of their who call upon them in the midst of perils. The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before. And this is the reason, we are told, why the most famous both of the ancient heroes and of the demi-gods were eagerly desirous to taking part in the initiatory rite; and in fact Jason and the Dioskouroi, and Herakles and Orpheus as well, after their initiation attained success in all the campaigns they undertook, because these gods appeared to them." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.48.2

"But some historians, and Ephoros is one of them, record that the Daktyloi Idaioi [Kabeiroi or Korybantes] were in fact born on the Mt Ide which is in Phrygia and passed over to Europe together with Mygdon; and since they were wizards (gonta), they practised charms and initiatory rites and mysteries, and in the course of a sojourn in Samothrake they [as Kabeiroi or Korybantes] amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and mysteries to the Greeks." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.64.3

"There came on a great storm and the chieftains [Argonauts] had given up hope of being saved, when Orpheus, they say, who was the only one on ship-board who had ever been initiated in the Mysteries of the deities of Samothrake [the Kabeiroi], offered to these deities prayers for their salvation. And immediately the wind died down and two stars fell over the heads of the Dioskouroi, and the whole company was amazed at the marvel which had taken place and concluded that they had been rescued from their perils by an act of providence of the gods. For this reason, the story of this reversal of fortune for the Argonauts has been handed down to succeeding generations, and sailors when caught in storms always direct their prayers to the deities of Samothrake and attribute the appearance of the two stars to the epiphany of the Dioskouroi." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.43.1

"[The Argonauts] had already reached the middle of the Pontic Sea when the ran into a storm which put them in the greatest peril. But when Orpheus … offered up prayers to the deities of Samothrake [the Kabeiroi], the winds ceased and there appeared near the ship Glaukos the Sea-God, as he is called ... and he counselled them, accordingly, that so soon as they touched their lands they should pray their vows to the gods [the Kabeiroi] through the intervention of whom they had twice already been saved." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.48.6

"The Argonauts, they say, set forth from the Troad and arrived at Samothrake, where they again paid their vows to the great gods [the Kabeiroi] and dedicated in the sacred precinct the bowls which are preserved there even to this day." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.49.8

"They say that the pilot-fish is sacred not only to Poseidon but is also beloved of the gods of Samothrake [the Kabeiroi]." - Aelian, On Animals 15.23

"Electra’s island [Samothrake] grows larger [as the Argonauts sail towards the island], guarding the secret of the Thracian rites [of the Kabeiroi and other gods]; for here dwells the great and terrible god, and here are ordained penalties for an unguarded tongue. No storm sent by Jove [Zeus] ever dares to beat with its billows upon this land; of his own will the god makes fierce his waves, what time he would forbid faithless sailors to touch his shores. But Thyotes the priest meets the Minyae [Argonauts] and bids them welcome to the land and to the temples, revealing their Mysteries to his guests. Thus much, Samothrace, has the poet proclaimed thee to the nations and the light of day; there stay, and let us keep our reverence for holy Mysteries. The Minyae, rejoicing in the new light of the sun and full of their heavenly visions, seat themselves upon the thwarts [and depart from the island]." - Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2.431

"Already the bird of morning was cutting the air with loud cries [on the island of Samothrake]; already the helmeted bands of desert-haunting Korybantes [or Kabeiroi] were beating on their shields in the Knossian dance, and leaping with rhythmic steps, and the oxhides thudded under the blows of the iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps. Aye, and the trees whispered, the rocks boomed, the forests held jubilee with their intelligent movings and shakings, and the Dryades did sing. Packs of bears joined the dance, skipping and wheeling face to face; lions with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cry of the priests of the Kabeiroi, sane in their madness; the revelling pipes rang out a tune to honour of Hekate, divine friend of dogs, those single pipes, which the horn-polisher’s art invented in Kronos’s days.
The noisy Korybantes with their ringing din awoke Kadmos early in the morning; the Sidonian seamen also with one accord, hearing the never-silent oxhide at dawn, rose from their rattling pebbly pallets and left the brine-beaten back of the shore." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3.61

"Grottoes of the Kabeiroi and Korybantian cliffs [on the island of Samothrake]." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4.184

"Zerinthian cave, where they used to sacrifice dogs. There the mysteries of the Korybantes and of Hekate took place." - Suidas "Zerynthia"

"All' ei tis humôn en Samothraikei memuemenos esti (But if there is someone among you initiated in Samothrake, now is a fine time to pray that both feet of the pursuer be put out of joint): In Samothrake there were certain initiation-rites, which they supposed efficacious as a charm against certain dangers. In that place were also the mysteries of the Korybantes and those of Hekate and the Zerinthian cave, where they sacrificed dogs. The initiates supposed that these things save [them] from terrors and from storms. The bone-socket of the pursuer to be 'be put out of joint' means to 'be distorted and dislocated'. The way forward becomes an obstacle to him, so that he can no longer turn back." - Suidas "All' ei tis humôn en Samothraikei memuemenos esti"


"Methapos was an Athenian by birth, an expert in the mysteries and founder of all kinds of rites. It was he who established the Mysteries of the Kabeiroi at Thebes." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 4.1.5-9

"Just about the centre of Anthedon [in Boiotia] is a sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, with a grove around it, near which is a temple of Demeter and her daughter, with images of white marble.” - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.22.5

"[In Thebes, Boiotia] you come to a grove of Demeter Kabeiraia and Kore. The initiated are permitted to enter it. The sanctuary of the Kabeiroi is some seven stades distant from this grove. I must ask the curious to forgive me if I keep silence as to who the Kabeiroi are, and what is the nature of the ritual performed in honour of them and of the Meter (Mother). But there is nothing to prevent my declaring to all what the Thebans say was the origin of the ritual. They say that once there was in this place a city, with inhabitants called Kabeiroi; and that Demeter came to know Prometheos, one of the Kabeiroi, and Aitnaios his son, and entrusted something to their keeping [presumably the sacred phallus of Iasion, Attis or Zagreus]. What was entrusted to them, and what happened to it, seemed to me a sin to put into writing, but at any rate the rites are a gift of Demeter to the Kabeiroi. At the time of the invasion of the Epigonoi and the taking of Thebes, the Kabeiroi were expelled from their homes by the Argives and the rites for a while ceased to be performed. But they go on to say that afterwards Pelarge, the daughter of Potneius, and Isthmiades her husband established the Mysteries here to begin with, but transferred them to the place called Alexiaros. But because Pelarge conducted the initiation outside the ancient borders, Telondes returned again to Kabeiraia. Various honours were to be established for Pelarge by Telondes in accordance with an oracle from Dodona, one being the sacrifice of a pregnant victim. The wrath of the Kabeiroi no man may placate, as has been proved on many occasions. For certain private people dared to perform in Napuaktos the ritual as it was done in Thebes, and soon afterwards justice overtook them. Then, again, certain men of the army of Xerxes left behind with Mardonios in Boiotia entered the sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, perhaps in the hope of great wealth, but rather, I suspect, to show their contempt of its gods; all these immediately were struck with madness, and flung themselves to their deaths into the sea or from the tops of precipices. Again, when Alexandros after his victory wasted with fire all the Thebaid, including Thebes itself, some men from Makedonia entered the sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, as it was in enemy territory, and were destroyed by thunder and lightning from heaven. So sacred this sanctuary has been from the beginning." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.25.5


"The Amphisians [of Lokris] also celebrate Mysteries in honour of the Boy Kings (Anaktes paides), as they are called. Their accounts as to who of the gods the Boy Kings are do not agree; some say they are the Dioskouroi, and others, who pretend to have fuller knowledge, hold them to be the Kabeiroi." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 10.38.7


The Orphic Hymns are addressed to the gods of the Mysteries of Samothrake, guardians of Persephone, both Korybantes (Kouretes) and Kabeiroi.

"Hymn to the Kouretes. Leaping Kouretes, who with dancing feet and circling measures armed footsteps beat: shoe bosoms Bakkhanalian furies firer, who move in rhythm to the sounding lyre: who traces deaf when lightly leaping tread, arm-bearers, strong defenders, rulers dread: famed deities the guards (of Persephone) preserving rites mysterious and divine: come, and benevolent this hymn attend, and with glad mind the herdsman’s life defend." - Orphic Hymn 31 to the Curetes

"To the Kouretes [or rather the Kabeiroi of Samothrake], Fumigation from Frankincense. Brass-beating Kouretes, ministers of Ares, who wear his arms the instruments of wars; whose blessed frames, heaven, earth, and sea compose, and from whose breath all animals arose: who dwell in Samothrake’s sacred ground, defending mortals through the sea profound. Deathless Kouretes, by your power alone, the greatest mystic rites to men at first were shown. Who shake old Okeanos thundering to the sky, and stubborn oaks with branches waving high. ‘Tis yours in glittering arms the earth to beat, with lightly leaping, rapid, sounding feet; then every beast the noise terrific flies, and the loud tumult wanders through the skies. The dust your feet excites, with matchless force flies to the clouds amidst their whirling course; and every flower of variegated hue grows in the dancing motion formed by you; immortal Daimones, to your powers consigned, the task to nourish and destroy mankind, when rushing furious with loud tumult dire, overwhelmed, they perish in your dreadful ire; and live replenished with the balmy air, the food of life, committed to your care. When shook by you, the seas with wild uproar, wide-spreading, and profoundly whirling, roar. The concave heavens with echo’s voice resound, when leaves with rustling noise bestrew the ground. Kouretes, Korybantes, ruling kings, whose praise the land of Samothrake sings; great Zeus’ assessors; whose immortal breath sustains the soul, and wafts her back from death; aerial-formed, who in Olympos shine the heavenly Twins [Dioskouroi] all-lucid and divine; blowing, serene, from whom abundance springs, nurses of seasons, fruit-producing kings." - Orphic Hymn 38 to the Curetes

"To Korybas, Fumigation from Frankincense. The mighty ruler of this earthly ball for ever flowing, to these rites I call; martial and blest, unseen by mortal sight, preventing fears, and pleased with gloomy night: hence fancy’s terrors are by thee allayed, all-various king, who lovest the desert shade. Each of thy brothers killing, blood is thine, twofold Kourete, many-formed, divine. By thee transmuted, Deo’s [Demeter’s] body pure became a Drakon’s savage and obscure: avert they anger, hear me when I pray, and, by fixed date, drive fancy’s fears away." - Orphic Hymn 39 to Corybas


"First from the firepeak rock of Lemnos the two Kabeiroi in arms answered the stormy call [of Rheia summoning gods to join Dionysos in his war against the Indians] answered the stormy call beside the mystic torch of Samos [Samothrake], two sons of Hephaistos whom Thrakian Kabeiro had borne to the heavenly smith, Alkon and Eurymedon well skilled at the forge, who bore their mother’s tribal name." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14.17

"Orontes [the Indian chief in the war with Dionysos] dashed hot upon the front ranks, reaping a harvest in both kinds [men and women]. Not one of all the wide front durst abide the adverse onset of so mighty a champion – not bold fiery Eurymedon, not Alkon his kinsman." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 17.192

"Hephaistos took care of his sons the Kabeiroi [when the Indian River Hydaspes tried to drown them and the rest of the army of Dionysos], and caught up both, like a flying firebrand." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24.77

"[Deriades to his Indian troops:] ‘Let Lemnian Kabeiro unveiled lament the death of her two sons; let sooty Hephaistos throw down his tongs, and see the destroyer of his race sitting in the car of the Kabeiroi, see Deriades driving the bronzefoot horses!" - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 27.120

"[Zeus to Hephaistos:] ‘Do you sit still, Hephaistos, and will not you save your children? Lift your accustomed torch to defend the Kabeiroi; turn your eye and see your ancient bride, your Kabeiro, reproaching you in love for her sons." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 27.325

"Two firestrong citizens of Samothrake [the Kabeiroi] also ran wild [in Dionysos’ war with the Indians], sons of Lemnian Kabeiro; their eyes flashed out their own natural sparks, which came from the red smoky flame of their father Hephaistos. They rode in a car of adamant; a pair of colts beat the dust with rattling hooves of brass, and they sent out a dry whinnying from their throats. These father Hephaistos had made with his inimitable art, breathing defiant fire between their teeth, like the pair of brazenfooted bulls which he made for Aietes the redoubtable ruler of the Kolkhianxs, with hot collars and burning pole. Eurymedon [one of the Kabeiroi] drove and guided the fiery mouths of the ironfoot steeds with a fiery bridle; in his right hand he held a Lemnian spear made on his father’s anvil, and by his wellmade thigh hung a flashing sword - if a man picked up a small stone in his fingertips and struck it against the fire-grained surface of the sharp blade, sparks flashed of themselves from the steel. Alkon grasped a fiery bolt in one hand, and swung about a festal torch of Hekate from his own country [Hekate and the Kabeiroi were both gods of the Samothrakian Mysteries]." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 29.193

"The prodigious [Indian chief] Morrheus attacked the warriors of Bromios [Dionysos]. He wounded Eurymedon, cut through the groin with his blood-stained spear: the mad point ran through the thigh and tore the skin from the fat of the flesh; collapsing he fell on his knee to the ground. Mailclad Alkon did not neglect his brother’s fall; but lifting spear and round buckler he made for the fallen man, and covered the warrior well, holding the shield tower-like over his body, and thrusting right and left his unresting spear, brother protecting brother against the foe. He stradled across the wounded man, as a lion over his cubs, shouting loud and letting out mad Korybantic cries from his lips. When Morrheus saw him moving with neat steps about his brother, defending the fallen Kabeiros, the monster went raging like Typhon and attacked both brothers, that Kabeiro might shed her tears for two dead sons, slain in one day with one spear. And now he would have dealt equal destruction to both, but Eurymedon called upon his Lemnian father [Hephaistos] with voice that gasped and strained from his mouth:
‘O Father, firebreathing lord of our laborious art! Grant me the boon once earned, when Deo [Demeter] of the threshing-floor alone seized threecliff Sikelia (Sicily), as sightingprize for Persephoneia hidden there, and knocked over your windblown bellows in the west and your wide forge and gripping tongs: but I defended my father and scared her off, protecting your anvil. You owe it to me that the air is black and hot with your Sikelian sparks! Then save your son I pray, whom savage Morrheus has wounded!’
At these words fiery Hephaistos leapt down from heaven, and sent a flame leaping and fluttering with many tongues about his son, whirling in his hand a shoot of fire. About Morrheus’ neck the flame crawled and curled itself as if it knew what it was doing, and rolled round his throat a necklace of fireblazing constraint; the blazing throat once encircled, it rand down with a springing movement to the end of his toes, and wove a plait of fiery threads over the warrior’s foot, and there firmly fixt the earth scattered its dancing spars – the helmet caught fire and his head was hot enough! And now he would have fallen flat, struck with the fiery shot, had not Deriades’ [river-god] father Hydaspes come to the rescue. For he sat watching the battle high on a rock, his full-form having a false guise of human shape. He poured a quenching stream and saved the man’s life, cooling the hot blast from the firebeaten face, brushing off the ashes and dirt from the helmet. Then he caught up Morrheus wrapt in a darksome cloud, covered and hid his limbs in a livid mist; that the firebearing Crookshank [Hephaistos] might not destroy him with his blazing shower of deadly Lemnian flame; that old Hydaspes, the tender-hearted father, might not see another goodson of Deriades perish after the first, and lament the death of Morrheus along with Orontes.
But firebearing Hephaistos drove away all the warriors who stood round the just-wounded boy. Then lifting his son on his shoulder he took him out of the fray and rested him against an oaktree hard by; he spread simples upon the wounded groin, and saved him alive his after his collapse." - Nonnus, Dionsyiaca 30.42

"Madly he [the Indian Tektaphos] pursued the army of Lyaios [Dionysos] and [slew several Satyroi] ... and indeed he would have killed a crowd of Bakkhai besides; but quickfoot [Kabeiros] Eurymedon saw him and rushed up, shaking his Korybantian twibill against him. He smashed his forehead and clove his head." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 30.135

"[A Bassaris] whose home was in the Samothrakian cavern of the Kabeiroi, skipt about the peaks of Lebanon crooning the barbarous notes of Korybantian tune." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43.307


The Kabeiroi were identified with the Egyptian sons of Ptah.

"Thus too [the Persian invader Kambyses] he entered the temple of Hephaistos [the Egyptian god Ptah] and jeered at the image there ... I will describe it for anyone who has not seen these figures: it is the likeness of a dwarf. Also he entered the temple of the Kabeiroi [Egyptian gods idenitified with the Kabeiroi], into which no one may enter save the priest; the images here he even burnt, with bitter mockery. These also are like the images of Hephaistos [Ptah], and are said to be his sons." - Herodotus, Histories 3.37.2


  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd BC
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns BC
  • Callimachus, Fragments - Greek C3rd BC
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st BC - C1st AD
  • Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th BC
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st BC
  • Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - C3rd AD
  • Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD
  • Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks - Christian Scholar C2nd AD
  • Suidas - Byzantine Lexicographer C10th AD


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