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
Thebes and Andania in Greece (Preller, Gr. Myth.
we even hear of their worship as being solemnised [p. 1.320]
in an island near Britain (Strabo iv.
). 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
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.
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.
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.
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.,
It is our business here to see what were the
ceremonies and teaching of these mysteries.
) 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.
). 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
; Serv. on
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.
3.713-721), and we hear besides of other Romans of high position
who were initiated,--Marcellus (Plut. Marc.
), Voconius (Plut. Luc. 13
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
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
(see Hesych. sub voce
: cf. κεῖα
). The βασιλεὺς
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.
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.
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
). We hear of
dances by the pii Samothraces
2.159), and the priests who executed these dances
were called Saoi (according to Lobeck's emendation of suos
in Serv. on Aen.
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
and the μύσται εὐσεβεῖς,
--the latter being apparently those
initiated for the first time. In the Samothracian mysteries sacra accipere
), 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,
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
), 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
; 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
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.
From the manner in which Cicero speaks of the Samothracian mysteries
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,
pp. 1202-1295; Schömann, Griech.
2.403-407; Preller, Gr. Mythol.
695-709; Weleker, Gr.
1.328-333, 3.173-189; and above all the
article by Lenormant in Daremberg and Saglio, 1.757-774.