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. (Aylaopham. pp. 1202—1281.)
The earliest mention of the Cabeiri, so far as we know, was in Cabiri, a drama of Aeschylus in which the poet brought them into contact with the Argonauts in Lemnos. The Cabeiri promised the Argonauts plenty of Lemnian wine. (Plato, Symposium, ii. 1 ; Pollux, vi. 23) The opinion of Welcker (Die Aeschyl. Trilog. p. 236), who infers from Dionysius (i. 68, ) 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, 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) says, that the Cabeiri were worshipped at Memphis as the sons of Hephaestus, and that they resembled the Phoenician dwarfgods whom the Phoenicians fixed on the prows of their ships. As the Dioscuri were then yet unknown to the Egyptians (Herodotus ii), the Cabeiri cannot have been identified with them at that time.
Herodotus proceeds to say, "the Athenians received their phallic Hennae 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 Diana 259.)
We generally find this goddess worshipped in places which had the worship of the Cabeiri, and a Lemnian Artemis is mentioned by Galen. 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, 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 rites 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 tepti Kageipow were thus called from their having been instituted and conducted by the Cabeiri, others thought that they were celebrated in 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. There are several instances mentioned of lovers swearing by the Cabeiri in promising fidelity to one another (Juv. iii. 144; Himerius, Orat. i. 12); and Suidas 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 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 Dionysodorus is identical with Hermes. It thus appears that 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 Palladium 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 (Scholiast on Homer), sometimes as an Asiatic, 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 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, 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 Stesiinbrotus 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 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.
In connexion with this Aphrodite we may mention that, according to some accounts, the Phoenician Aphrodite (Astarte) had commonly the epithet clmbar or clwbor, an Arabic word which signifies "the great".
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 dVa/ces were worshipped, it was uncertain whether they were the Dioscuri or the Cabeiri. (Pausanias x. 38. § 3.) Nay, even the Roman Penates were sometimes considered as identical with the Dioscuri and Cabeiri (Dionys. i. 675 ); and Varro thought that the Penates were carried by Dardanus from the Arcadian town Pheneos to Samothrace and that Aeneas brought them from thence to Italy.
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 versa. Thus Servius (ad Aen. viii. 619) represents Zeus, Pallas, and Hermes as introduced from Samothrace; and, in another passage, 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 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 Neitian 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. (Pausanias 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.)From Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
From Description of Greece by Pausanias Book 1
(1.4.6) They have spoils from the Gauls, and a painting which portrays their deed against them. The land they dwell in was, they say, in ancient times sacred to the Cabeiri, and they claim that they are themselves Arcadians, being of those who crossed into Asia with Telephus. Of the wars that they have waged no account has been published to the world, except that they have accomplished three most notable achievements; the subjection of the coast region of Asia, the expulsion of the Gauls therefrom, and the exploit of Telephus against the followers of Agamemnon, at a time when the Greeks after missing Troy, were plundering the Meian plain thinking it Trojan territory. Now I will return from my digression.
From Herodotus The History The Second Book: Euterpe
Besides these which have been here mentioned, there are many other practices whereof I shall speak hereafter, which the Greeks have borrowed from Egypt. The peculiarity, however, which they observe in their statues of Mercury they did not derive from the Egyptians, but from the Pelasgi; from them the Athenians first adopted it, and afterwards it passed from the Athenians to the other Greeks. For just at the time when the Athenians were entering into the Hellenic body, the Pelasgi came to live with them in their country, whence it was that the latter came first to be regarded as Greeks. Whoever has been initiated into the mysteries of the Cabiri will understand what I mean. The Samothracians received these mysteries from the Pelasgi, who, before they went to live in Attica, were dwellers in Samothrace, and imparted their religious ceremonies to the inhabitants. The Athenians, then, who were the first of all the Greeks to make their statues of Mercury in this way, learnt the practice from the Pelasgians; and by this people a religious account of the matter is given, which is explained in the Samothracian mysteries.
From Herodotus The History. The Third Book: Thalia
Many other wild outrages of this sort did Cambyses commit, both upon the Persians and the allies, while he still stayed at Memphis; among the rest he opened the ancient sepulchres, and examined the bodies that were buried in them. He likewise went into the temple of Vulcan, and made great sport of the image. For the image of Vulcan is very like the Pataeci of the Phoenicians, wherewith they ornament the prows of their ships of war. If persons have not seen these, I will explain in a different way—it is a figure resembling that of a pigmy. He went also into the temple of the Cabiri, which it is unlawful for any one to enter except the priests, and not only made sport of the images, but even burnt them. They are made like the statue of Vulcan, who is said to have been their father.
From Ancient Fragments
By these men were begotten Misor and Sydyc, that is, Well-freed and Just: and they found out the use of salt.
From Misor descended Taautus, who invented the writing of the first letters: him the Egyptians called Thoor, the Alexandrians Thoyth, and the Greeks Hermes. But from Sydyc descended the Dioscuri, or Cabiri, or Corybantes, or Samothraces: these (he says) first built a ship complete.
From Ancient Egypt by George Rawlinson
"Woe worth the day! For the day is near,
Even the day of the Lord is near, a day of clouds;
It shall be the time of the heathen.
And a sword shall come upon Egypt, and anguish shall be in Ethiopia;
When the slain shall fall in Egypt; and they shall take away her multitude,
And her foundations shall be broken down.
Ethiopia and Phut and Lud, and all the mingled people, and Chub,
And the children of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword....
I will put a fear in the land of Egypt.
And I will make Pathros desolate,
And will set a fire in Zoan, and will execute judgments in No....
Sin [Pelusium] shall be in great anguish,
And No shall be broken up, and Noph shall have adversaries in the daytime.
The young men of Aven and of Pi-beseth shall fall by the sword:
And these cities shall go into captivity.
At Tehaphnehes also the day shall withdraw itself,
When I shall break there the yokes of Egypt;
And the pride of her power shall cease."
According to Herodotus, Cambyses was not content with the above-mentioned severities, which were perhaps justifiable under the circumstances, but proceeded further to exercise his rights as conqueror in a most violent and tyrannical way. He tore from its tomb the mummy of the late king, Amasis, and subjected it to the grossest indignities. He stabbed in the thigh an Apis-Bull, recently inaugurated at the capital with joyful ceremonies, suspecting that the occasion was feigned, and that the rejoicings were really over the ill-success of expeditions carried out by his orders against the oasis of Ammon, and against Ethiopia. He exhumed numerous mummies for the mere purpose of examining them. He entered the grand temple of Phthah at Memphis, and made sport of the image. He burnt the statues of the Cabeiri, which he found in another temple. He scourged the priests of Apis, and massacred in the streets those Egyptians who were keeping the festival. Altogether, his object was, if the informants of Herodotus are to be believed, to pour contempt and contumely on the Egyptian religion, and to insult the religious feelings of the entire people.