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CABEI´RIA (καβείρια), the mysteries of the Pelasgic (Hdt. 2.51) Cabeiri, were celebrated in the islands stretching from Euboea to the Hellespont, in the volcanic Lemnos (see the poet, probably Pindar, quoted in Hippol. Ref. Haeres. 5.7, p. 96), Imbros (Steph. Byz. s. v.), and most of all in Samothrace. We also find them on the adjacent coasts of Europe and Asia Minor (Strabo x. p.472), at Thebes and Andania in Greece (Preller, Gr. Myth. 1.707); and we even hear of their worship as being solemnised [p. 1.320]in an island near Britain (Strabo iv. p.198). Like the Eleusinia, an almost complete secrecy had been maintained as to the ceremonies and teaching of these mysteries. Yet we know the names of the gods; and from an examination of the various forms under which we find them, Lenormant has been able to discover what he calls a Cabeiric group. They are four in number, thus differing essentially from the Phoenician Kabirim, who, as their Semitic name shows, are also “great gods” (Preller, Gr. Myth. 1.696, note 1), but are eight in number, representing the planets and the universe formed from their union (Sanchoniathon, ed. Orelli, p. 38 ; Xenocr. ap. Clem. Alex. Protr. p. 58). The names of the Samothracian Cabeiri, as revealed by Mnaseas of Patara and Dionysodorus, two historians of the Alexandrine age, are Axieros ( = Demeter), Axiokersa (= Persephone), Axiokersos ( = Hades), Casmilos (= Hermes). See the Scholiast on Apollon. 1.917. Sometimes the two goddesses blend in one, viz. Earth (Varro, L. L. 5.58; Orelli, Inscr. 1503); sometimes as Aphrodite and Venus (cf. the important triform statue in D. and S. 1.761) ; but to most of the Romans they represent Juno and Minerva (Varro, ap. Augustin. de Civ. Dei, 7.18; Serv. on Aen. 3.12). Axiokersos appears further as Zeus, Uranus, Jupiter, Apollo, Dionysus-Liber; and Casmilos as Mercurius or Eros (see the passages cited above). The group is a primal mother goddess, issue of whom are two divinities, a male and a female, from whom again springs a fourth, Casmilos, the orderer of the universe. For a full discussion of the varied evidence on which this grouping is made, the reader is referred to Lenormant in D. and S. 1.757 foll., and Dict. of Gr. & Rom. Biogr. & Myth., s. v. Cabeiri. It is our business here to see what were the ceremonies and teaching of these mysteries.

Herodotus (l.c.) is the first historian who mentions them. Though known while Athens was flourishing (Aristoph. Peace 277), yet it was not till Alexandrine times that they really became famous. During this period Samothrace was a sort of sacred island (Preller, Gr. Myth. 1.700); and it was so, too, under the Roman dominion, for the idea was prevalent that the Penates (Serv. on Aen. 2.325, 3.12, 8.619) were identical with the gods of Samothrace. Legend told how that Dardanus, Eetion or Iasion, and Harmonia, wife of Cadmus, were children of Electra and Zeus; that Iasion was given the mysteries by Zeus, married Cybele, and begat Corybas; and after Iasion was received among the gods, Dardanus, Cybele, and Corybas brought the mysteries to Asia (Diod. 5.47-49). The legends vary in details, but almost all agree in making Dardanus and Iasion sons of Zeus and Electra, and connecting the Samothracian mysteries with them (Schol. on Apollon. 1.917; Serv. on Aen. 3.168). It is to be remarked in passing that, while the legends brought the mysteries from Samothrace to Asia, there can be hardly any doubt that the passage was the other way (cf. Strabo x. p.472); for the whole tenor of the worship is Asiatic. We have many inscriptions of Romans who were initiated (C. L. L. 3.713-721), and we hear besides of other Romans of high position who were initiated,--Marcellus (Plut. Marc. 30), Voconius (Plut. Luc. 13), and probably Cicero (Nat. Deor. 1.42, 119). Throughout the Roman period the Cabeiric mysteries were held in high estimation, second only to the Eleusinian (Aristid. Panath. 308, ed. Dindorf), and they were still in existence in the time of Libanius (pro Aristoph. 225 B, ed. Morell).

From the earliest times the Pelasgi are said to have sacrificed a tenth of their produce to the Cabeiri in order to be preserved from famine (Dionys. A. R. 1.23). The chief priest was probably the ἱεροφάντης mentioned by Galen (vol. 3.576, ed. Kühn); and the purifying priest κόης or κοίης (see Hesych. sub voce κοίης: cf. κεῖα). The βασιλεὺς of the inscriptions was the highest eponymous magistrate of Samothrace. As in all mysteries, the votary must be purified in body and mind before initiation: and thus we have some evidence of auricular confession (Plut. Apophth. Lac. pp. 217 D, 229 D). But, as far as we know, there was not any special preparatory intellectual training required. Women (Plut. Alex. 2) and children (Donat. on Ter. Phorm. 1.1, 15) appear to have been admitted as well as men. Of the religious ceremonies themselves we may say we know nothing. They consisted (and we readily believe it) of δρώμενα καὶ λεγόμενα (Galen, l.c.). We hear of dances by the pii Samothraces (Stat. Achill. 2.159), and the priests who executed these dances were called Saoi (according to Lobeck's emendation of suos in Serv. on Aen. 2.325: see Aglaoph. 1292) by a title belonging to Hermes of the Cabeiric group or his son (Nicand. Ther. 472, and Schol.). The Romans who traced their Penates to Samothrace referred their Salii to these Saoi (Serv. l.c.). There were two classes of votaries--the μύσται and the μύσται εὐσεβεῖς, mystae pii--the latter being apparently those initiated for the first time. In the Samothracian mysteries sacra accipere (παραλαμβάνειν τὰ μυστήρια), which is the regular phrase for primary initiation, seems to be applied to the higher grades. But the whole matter is quite obscure and unsettled. See Hirschfeld in Conze, Untersuchungen auf Samothrake, pp. 37-39.

The Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (l.c.) tells us that the initiated wore a purple band (ταινία) round their waist (this reminds us of the Brahminical thread); that Agamemnon quelled a mutiny of the Greeks by wearing one; and that Ulysses, who wore a fillet for the band (τῷ κρηδέμνῳ ἀντὶ ταινίας), was miraculously saved in shipwreck. Preservation in times of peril, and especially in perils on the sea (Schol. on Aristoph. Peace 277; Diod. 4.43), was the chief service that the Cabeiri were supposed to render to those who called on them by name, and none knew their names except the initiated (Serv. on Aen. 3.12; Val. Fl. 2.431: cf. Paus. 9.25, 5-7; Diod. 5.47). It was the electric fires of the Cabeiri that, according to the legend, lighted on the heads of the Dioscuri during the Argonautic voyage. Diodorus further says, in the course of an important discussion on the Cabeiri (5.47-49), that those who were initiated became more pious, more righteous, and in every respect better than they were before. On the basis of this Lenormant thinks it probable that the doctrine of rewards and punishments in a future life was inculcated, though with Lobeck (Aglaoph. 1288) we may well suppose that no more is [p. 1.321]necessarily implied than the impulse to virtue which is always united with religious emotion excited by impressive and gracious ceremonies (cf. Apollon. 1.917: δαέντες ἀρρήτους ἀγανῇσι τελεσφορίῃσι θέμιστας).

The initiations at Samothrace took place at any time from May to September (see inscriptions), in this differing from the Eleusinian and more resembling the Orphic mysteries. There appears, however, to have been a specially great ceremony at the commencement of August which Voconius, when proceeding against Mithridates, attended (Plut. Luc. 13).

From the manner in which Cicero speaks of the Samothracian mysteries (Nat. Deor. 1.42, 119) it is probable that he was initiated. He says of their ceremonies, “quibus explicatis ad rationemque revocatis, rerum magis natura cognoscitur quam deorum.” And the Cabeiri themselves do appear to be symbols of the creation of the world. From the primeval mother emanate or differentiate themselves two elements, matter (earth) and force (especially fire, celestial and terrestrial). Indeed the name Cabeiri appears to mean “the Burners,” from καίειν (see Welcker, Die Aeschyl. Trilogie, pp. 161, 211), and by the action of the former on the latter the ordered world is generated. The etymological identity of the Pelasgian with the Phoenician Cabeiri is doubted by Lenormant; the name of the latter is from a Semitic root which in Arabic appears as kebir, “great:” cf. Wad--el--Kebir=Guadalquivir, Tel--el--Kebir. Many hold that all the ceremonies of the Cabeiri, and those of the other mysteries, were pure inventions of the priests, nothing more than mere stories about gods. But here is not the place to discuss this, the great question of the mysteries--were they illusion or symbolism? The reader is referred to MYSTERTIA.

For information on the Cabeiric mysteries, see Lobeck, Aglaoph. pp. 1202-1295; Schömann, Griech. Alterth. 2.403-407; Preller, Gr. Mythol. i. 695-709; Weleker, Gr. Götterlehre, 1.328-333, 3.173-189; and above all the article by Lenormant in Daremberg and Saglio, 1.757-774.


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