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Ῥέα, Ep. and Ion. Ῥεία, Ῥείη, Ῥέη). A goddess whom the Greek legends identify as a representation of the fruitfulness of nature. She was the daughter of Uranus and Gaea, wife of her brother, the Titan Cronus, by whom she gave birth to the Olympian gods, Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Heré, Hestia, Demeter. For this reason she was generally called the “mother of the gods.” One of her oldest places of worship was Crete, where in a cave, near the town of Lyctus or else on Mounts Dircé or Ida, she was said to have given birth to Zeus (q.v.), and to have hidden him from the wiles of Cronus. The task of watching and nursing the new-born child she had intrusted to her devoted servants the Curetes, earth-born demons, armed with weapons of bronze, who drowned the cry of the child by the noise which they made by beating their spears against their shields. The name of Curetes was accordingly given to the priests of the Cretan Rhea and of the Idaean Zeus, who executed noisy war-dances at the festivals of those gods. In early times the Cretan Rhea was identified with

Turreted Head of Cybelé. (Caylus,
Recueil d'Antiq
v. pl. 3.)

the Asiatic Cybĕlé or Cybēbé, “the Great Mother,” a goddess of the powers of nature and the arts of cultivation, who was worshipped upon mountains in Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia.

In the former character she was a symbol of the procreative power of nature; in the latter, she originated the cultivation of the vine and agriculture, together with all forms of social progress and civilization, which depend upon these. Thus she was regarded as the founder of towns and cities, and therefore it is that art represents her as crowned with a diadem of towers.

The true home of this religion was the Phrygian Pessinus, on the river Sangarius, in the district afterwards known as Galatia, where the goddess was called Agdistis (Strabo, p. 567) or Angdistis, from a holy rock named Agdus upon Mount Dindymus above the town. Upon this mountain, after which the goddess derived her name of Dindymené, stood her earliest sanctuary as well as her oldest effigy (a stone that had fallen from heaven), and the grave of her beloved Attis (q.v.). Her priests, the emasculated Galli, here enjoyed almost royal

Rhea, or Cybelé. (From a Roman Lamp.)

honour. In Lydia she was worshipped, principally on Mount Tmolus, as the mother of Zeus and the foster-mother of Dionysus. There was also a temple of Cybelé at Sardis. 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 Cybelé 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 Metragyrtae 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-Cybelé was likewise the chief goddess; in particular in the Troad, where she was worshipped upon Mount Ida as “the Idaean Mother,” and where the Idaean Dactyli (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 (Pausan. i. 3.5). The worship of Cybelé 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 Rome the worship of the Great Mother (Magna Mater) was introduced for political reasons in B.C. 204, at the command of a Sibylline Oracle, and for the purpose of driving Hannibal out of Italy. An embassy was sent to bring the holy stone from Pessinus; a festival was founded in honour of the goddess, to be held on April 2-4 (the Megalesia, from the Greek Μεγάλη Μήτηρ=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 Cybelé), 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 Cybelé 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 Quindecimviri (q.v.) took part. In the first half of the second century A.D. the Taurobolia and Criobolia were added. In these ceremonies the person concerned went through a form of baptism with the blood of bulls and rams 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-Cybelé (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 two lions, with the mural crown on her head and a small drum in her hand.

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