BMCR 1997.06.18

1997.6.18, Lane, ed., Cybele, Attis and Related Cults

Students of the cult of Cybele and Attis will welcome the contribution this volume makes to the field. The articles contained in it represent a variety of approaches within the current drive to analyze data about the cult of Cybele and Attis with greater attention to place and time. The volume honors the memory of one of this century’s major contributors to our knowledge of this cult, Maarten J. Vermaseren. Work contained in the volume is indebted to just one of Vermaseren’s major lifeworks, the seven volume collection of evidence on the cult, Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (CCCA). While much of Vermaseren’s own work on the cult lacks the methodological specificity of the articles collected here, the collection laid the groundwork for such work by the scholars represented.

In his introduction, Eugene Lane describes Cybele as a ‘multifarious divinity’ and the study of her religion as similar to the story of a group of blind people trying to understand an elephant by touch. The one who feels the tail finds similarities between the elephant and a rope, while the one who touches the leg finds the elephant like a tree. His analogy is a good one. Following a period of scholarship earlier in the century in which a picture of an ‘elephant’ was imposed in order to make all of the ‘mystery religions’ fit a consistent pattern, this localized touching of the data is essential to gain a more accurate understanding. While this volume does not compose a full or consistent picture, many of the articles make a substantial contribution of ‘direct touch’ of important segments.

The first article, “Lydian Mount Karios” (pp. 1-36), focuses on Lydia. Rose Lou Bengisu provides a summary report on recent archaeological finds in the mountain range Tmolus south of Sardis in Lydia and suggests implications of some of these findings. Her report sheds more light on the cult of the Carian Zeus and the cultic connections between Lydia and Caria than on the cult of Cybele. She uses recent discoveries of evidence of an open-air sacred precinct on the summit of Kel Dag southwest of Sardis to identify the summit as the mount called Karios, after the Carian Zeus, and as a focal point for the regional cults of Mount Tmolus. Relation of this evidence to that found in ancient authors suggests a possible Lydian origin for the cult of the Carian Zeus. Bengisu also interprets a previously unexplored extension of the ancient road over the Tmolus range as a connecting link between Kel Dag and the temple of Artemis Sardiane at Sardis and the temple of the Ephesian Artemis at Ephesus. This suggests another cultic connection between Lydia and Caria. Bengisu’s conclusions point toward possibilities for fruitful inquiry into the relationship of the Carian Zeus to other local cults, including those of Kybele, Artemis, Anaeitis, Apollo and Men.

A. T. Fear’s article, “Cybele and Christ” (pp. 37-50), shifts the focus to the late Greco-Roman era and the competition between the cult of Cybele and Christianity, particularly in the western part of the Empire. Overall, the article offers a helpful treatment of the competition between the cult and Christianity, but Fear’s case may be overstated at several points. For example, Fear contends that the cult of Cybele and Attis was singled out as a particularly important target for Christian polemic against paganism, and ‘Mystery religions in general were not a focus of Christian polemic.’ (p. 37) To what extent there was a conception of ‘mystery religions in general’ in late antiquity is an open question. The polemics Fear cites all contain a potpourri of invectives and mockery of a variety of pagan deities and their cults, including Cybele and Attis. Further attention to Clement of Alexandria ( Protr.) would also show a more general attack. Fear also contends that the cult of Cybele and Attis was deliberately reshaped to meet the challenge of Christianity and thus became the main target for Christian polemics against paganism. There is merit to the case for competition with Christianity influencing developments in the cult in late antiquity, and Fear’s suggestions about the role of pagan intellectuals in these changes as a conscious strategy are worthy of consideration. He gives too little credence, however, to the notion that this influence and competition was not a one-way street. He seems to assume the point of view of the Christian polemicists on this issue, as if Christianity were the ‘original’ which was imitated, with no influence passing the other direction. Such a contention may be tenable for the late development of the taurobolium but it is not defensible for all of the other parallel elements of the cult and early Christianity.

In “Per la storia del culto di Cibele in Occidente: il santuario rupestre di Akrai” (pp. 51-86), Giulia Sfameni Gasparro contributes an examination of the Hellenistic era rock-cut sanctuary at Akrai in Sicily and its connections to the development of the cult of Cybele in the rest of the Mediterranean world. Her analysis demonstrates that the cult at Sicily was part of the general spread of the cult of Cybele during the Hellenistic era. She shows that the configuration of the site suggests nocturnal cultic activity and that it bears strong similarities to several Anatolian cultic sites of the Mother. In this she disputes previous scholarship which interpreted the rock monuments at Akrai as a complex of individual votive sculptures, and as a local phenomenon. She examines several reliefs in some detail to show that the iconography and the assembly of other deities with Cybele represents an intersection of cultural contexts. She shows the relation of the portrayals to cults at Samothrace and other Greek islands as well as to sites in Asia Minor. To situate this particular site historically and culturally, Sfameni Gasparro provides the outlines of a helpful complex view of the interaction of Anatolian and Hellenized aspects in the development of the cult in the Hellenistic era. She also situates the development of the sanctuary historically in the Sicilian context.

Tamara Green shifts the spotlight to the east in “The Presence of the Goddess in Harran” (pp. 87-100). Working with shreds of evidence, she focuses on the city of Harran. She makes a plausible reconstruction of the presence of female deities at Harran, where the male Moon god clearly dominates life during the course of the three millennia of the city’s history. On the basis of Sumerian evidence not specifically from Harran, she points to the duality of gender identification in the Moon god as a Mesopotamian deity. This is consistent with later evidence from the Greco-Roman era, from Greek and Roman authors who identify the moon deity as feminine. As Green points out, however, this may be due to preconceptions based on their own pantheon. Goddesses emerge more clearly in evidence from Syrian Christian authors in anti-pagan polemics of the fourth century, where they appear among lists of denigrated deities which also include Mesopotamian deities. The most ample data is found in medieval Muslim authors, which Green links to earlier evidence to indicate the continuity of the presence of female deities at Harran. Some of the interpolations Green makes by use of evidence of the Syrian goddess elsewhere are plausible but tenuous. These connections are apparently what brings this article into the volume under the rubric “related cults.”

In the next article, “Cybele and Her Companions on the Northern Littoral of the Black Sea” (pp. 101-116), Patricia A. Johnston moves the spotlight to the north and examines iconographic evidence from the sixth volume of Vermaseren’s collection (CCCA). While she appears to accept Vermaseren’s dating without independent evaluation, she provides a careful analysis of the iconographic data from a single region over the course of the Greco-Roman era. Her analysis can, in turn, allow for comparison of the development of iconography over the course of time in other regions as well. Her reading of this evidence points toward four significant conclusions. First she notes the presence of Hermes with Cybele, and that Hermes is seen less as Attis becomes more prominent. Second, the lions which frequently accompany Cybele are gradually replaced with tamer animals over the course of time. Johnston interprets this as an indication of Cybele’s diminishing power. Third, in the last part of the Roman era, starting in the second century, the tympanon associated with the orgiastic cultic worship for which Cybele was known begins to be replaced with the scepter. Johnston takes this to indicate that the legal aspect of Cybele’s identification becomes more prominent in this time. Finally, a greater “foreign” influence is seen in evidence from the interior rather than the coastal cities where it would be expected.

In “The Name of Cybele’s Priests the ‘Galloi'” (pp. 117-34), Eugene N. Lane addresses the difficulty of the name “gallus” and when it began to be used in reference to the castrated cultic functionaries of Cybele. Lane points to the curious coincidence that the use of the word ‘galli’ in reference to the castrated priests of Cybele appears to have begun at the same time as the massive migration of the Galatians, also ‘galli,’ into Anatolia. Also curious is the appearance of Gaulic names for the priests at Pessinus at about the same time. Rivers in the territory they occupied are called ‘Gallus,’ and there is some evidence to suggest that the rivers acquired the name after the entry of the Gaul. The Gallus River figures in accounts of the name ‘gallus’ in reference to the castrated functionaries. Lane’s analysis suggests that the Gauls gave their name to the cultic functionaries as well as to the river, although the existence of this group of functionaries precedes the Gauls’ arrival in Anatolia.

Elpis Metropoulou’s article on “The Goddess Cybele in Funerary Banquets and with an Equestrian Hero” (pp. 135-66) describes reliefs collected on the basis of iconographic and thematic similarity rather than location or date. Many of the fifteen reliefs have not otherwise received attention in relation to the cult of Cybele. In several instances, a more fully articulated explanation of the basis on which Metropoulou perceives the connection she makes would have been instructive. For example, in regard to her item no. K3, she concludes without any explicitly stated justification, “We would be inclined to the opinion that this is a votive stele referring to the Great Mother.” The identification of Cybele is reasonably secure in six of the eleven reliefs which portray funerary banquets. The other four reliefs portray Cybele in some relation to a mounted male figure. There is no particular connection argued between these and the funerary scenes. Metropoulou’s analysis is confined to discussion of the iconographic features which appear in the reliefs she has described, and listings of other examples in which each iconographic feature is present. Beyond this, she provides no conclusion or even summary observations, but simply contributes her collection with useful descriptions and reinterpretations of an intriguing assembly of iconographic data.

Friederike Naumann-Steckner also offers descriptions and analysis of items which have not previously received much scholarly attention in her article, “Privater Dank—Silbervotive aus Nordafrika” (pp. 167-92). She provides a detailed examination of a seven examples of a particular form of votive offering from locations in North Africa, silver plates with images. The first of these portrays Cybele seated on a lion in a position characteristic of iconography of mid-fourth century CE. Naumann-Steckner provides comparisons of this image to other images of Cybele and to other deities, and sets it in the context of North Africa and the deities with whom Cybele was associated there in the Roman era. The second silver plate portrays Fortuna-Tyche standing in a naiskos placed on a palm-leaf background. The image corresponds to others dated to the imperial era. The next two examples are similar and portray three deities, each in a separate aedicula. Naumann-Steckner identifies the figure on the left as Mercury. The standing female figure in the middle wears headgear and holds a staff in her left hand. A bearded god on the right with a modius and short wand wears a mantel falling from his shoulder and has a scepter on his left. Comparisons to similar images and iconography allow a number of different identifications for these deities. The final selections are three similar silver votive offerings with a bust-image of Minerva. Naumann-Steckner closes with comments on dating and location of the silver votive offerings considered. She briefly sketches the development of this form, including modern examples from Catholic and Orthodox traditions. She closes with a map of locations where similar metal-worked votive offerings have been discovered. The article makes a solid contribution to the data available for other scholars’ consideration.

Panayotis Pachis examines the ‘mystic-orgiastic’ aspect of the cult ceremonies in the Hellenistic era in her article, “γαλλαῖον κυβέλης ὀλόλυγμα ( Anthol. Palat. VI,173), L’element orgiastique dans le culte de Cybele” (pp. 193-222). She concurs with Lane that the name “gallus” emerges with the arrival of the Galatians in Anatolia, and his theory appears to be consistent with her examination of the view of the cult in Greece. She notes that, while Cybele herself could be assimilated in the Greek pantheon by association and analogy, resistance to her cult continued primarily due to its orgiastic presentation. In this context she uses a votive epigram from the Palatine Anthology (6.173) to describe the aspects of the orgiastic and mania-inducing ceremonies of the goddess. She assembles evidence from other sources in Greece to fill out the picture of the nocturnal rituals. She assumes that the Achrylis who offers her hair in the votive epigram is definitely to be understood as a priestess and a woman and argues that women played the most important role in the rituals in Greece. While she is probably correct, most of the evidence she offers on this point, embedded in what is mostly a descriptive treatment, refers to the cult of Dionysus. The most direct evidence appears to be a terracotta cylinder (CCCA, vol. 2, no. 36) which clearly shows Cybele and dancers, but details of the dancers are difficult to discern.

Mary Jane Rein devotes attention to the goddess in her Phrygian form in “Phrygian Matar: Emergence of an Iconographic Type” (pp. 223-39). She provides a convincing analysis of the integral relationship between the Cybele’s identity as “mountain mother” and elements of Phrygian representations of her. She demonstrates that the depiction of the goddess in a naiskos is derived from the image of the goddess in Phrygian rock-cut mountain monuments, adapted from late Hittite representations. In this context, Rein discusses the origin of the names Cybele and Kubaba, and implications for the non-Greek origin of the goddess. She posits an important role for Miletus in the Greek adoption of worship of the Phrygian mother in the late eighth through the sixth centuries BCE. As part of her case, she provides a useful description and discussion of sixteen naiskoi of Kybele from excavations and Miletus.

In a monograph-length article, “The Ancient Mother of the Gods: A Missing Chapter in the History of Greek Religion” (pp. 239-304), Noel Robertson proposes ‘that the Mother was always a principal deity in Greek cities, and had a function as practical and important as the other principal deities.’ (p. 241) His contention contradicts the conventional view that the cult of the Mother of the Gods was introduced from Anatolia during the late Archaic period. He bases his contention on admittedly meager evidence of the Mother’s festivals and on the aetiological myths arising from them. Robertson focuses first on the spring festival Galaxia. He argues that the birth story of Zeus with the protective dance of the Curetes was the aetiological myth associated with the Galaxia. He bases his argument in part upon his examination of the Mother’s sanctuaries and ritual (or what he contends are Mother’s sanctuaries) at five locations ‘in Greece’: Crete, Arcadia, Athens, Thebes, and Cyzicus. The second part of his case treats the summer festival Cronia, which he contends was addressed to the Mother of the Gods, and to her alone (p. 272). He argues that the name of the festival comes not from the god Cronus but from the kernos, the vessel well-attested in rituals of the Mother. Various versions of the aetiological myths of this summer festival associated the frenzied and raucous festival with stories of the roaming Mother and various forms of raucous protective warriors. Robertson’s more general contention merits consideration, that the Mother of the Gods was a pastoral deity present in both Greece and Anatolia before the historical period, and associated with pasturing of animals. Overall Robertson’s case is plausible but he must unfortunately rely at many points on his own unique reinterpretations of the archaeological and literary evidence. Many of the details of his lengthy case bear further examination.

In the next article, Lynn Roller assumes Asiatic origins for the Mother of the gods, ‘Reflections of the Mother of the Gods in Attic Tragedy” (pp. 305-322). She focuses on Athenian drama in the last third of the fifth century BCE to illustrate the Mother’s ‘ambivalent position among the deities honored with public cult in Athens’ (p. 305). On the one hand, the Mother of the gods figures prominently in relation to Athenian social and political institutions. On the other, Athenian drama portrays the goddess and her rites as foreign. Roller attributes this ambivalent position to a dualism in the role of cult practice. The formal public cults created and maintained societal boundaries while the ecstatic cults cut across those boundaries. The raucous cult of the Mother of the gods cut across the boundary between Greek and non-Greek at a time when Athenian social boundaries were becoming more pronounced. Roller’s analysis treats the presentation of the cult in two plays by Euripides which focus on the Mother’s Asiatic side, Helen and Bacchae. Of particular interest in Helen is the conflation of Demeter and the Mother, which results in the location of ‘the activity of one of Attica’s most hallowed shrines, Eleusis, in a barbarian land.’ (p. 313) She interprets Bacchae as a resistance myth. Both plays resolve a crisis ‘in a healing ritual brought by a foreign deity,’ (p. 317) and thus express Euripides’ position in what Roller sees as a general debate about the position of ‘foreign’ deities and ritual in the late fifth century. According to Roller, Euripides stresses the necessity of the foreign deity to ‘break down barriers between public and private cult.’ (p. 319)

James O. Smith takes the focus to one of the “related cults” at Ephesus in his article, “The High Priests of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus” (p. 323-36). He argues persuasively that two pervasive assumptions about the Megabyzoi of the Ephesian temple of Artemis should be questioned: that they were a class of priests and that they were eunuchs. His review of the references to the Megabyzoi in literary sources shows this evidence to be inconclusive on the points in question. Almost all of the references to a “Megabyzus” could stem from an individual Ephesian priest named Megabyzus in the fourth century B.C.E. Others wrote long after the title ceased to exist and their use of the term may derive from descriptions of paintings of “Megabyzoi.” Smith also suggests the possibility that the term may have been used by people abroad to refer to the high-priests at Ephesus but was not used locally. This would account for the notable absence of mention of Megabyzoi in Ephesian epigraphic evidence which includes references to other temple functionaries. Smith points out, however, that the actual title of the priest at Ephesus is unknown, although the title archhierus is attested in the Roman period.

Kirk Summers focuses on public cult practice at Rome in the mid-first century BCE in the next article, “Lucretius’ Roman Cybele.” Summers contends that Lucretius ( De rerum natura, 2.600-60) describes a real cultic event as he witnessed it at Rome, an event distinctive to Roman practice. This contention challenges the previous prevailing assumption that Lucretius derived his description from Greek writers and that the cult was the same across the Mediterranean world throughout the Greco-Roman era. Summers first provides a careful analysis of the phrase which suggests that Lucretius refers to Greek sources. Then he demonstrates that the procession ( pompa) itself and many of its details, including the musical instruments used and the visual imagery, indicate a distinctly Roman expression of the cult. Most of his analysis focuses on the contrast with evidence of Greek practice. While he shows that the practice of transporting the image of the goddess was not derived from Greek practice, further examination of this question in relation to the Anatolian evidence is warranted. (Evidence of the transport of the Syrian goddess on a cart accompanied by her galli merits consideration, for example.) He also examines Greek and Phrygian forms of rituals of Cybele to note what is missing from the picture of the rites at Rome. He emphasizes the relative absence of Attis and private mystery rites at Rome in this period. On this point, Summers makes a plausible case that we should not assume that Romans were involved in private mysteries at this point, at least not mysteries after the model of Greek practice. The question of the Phrygian galli‘s cultic activities at Rome remains. The article contributes to the effort to sort out the distinctive cult practices at different times and locations in the Empire specifically with respect to distinctions between Greek and Roman practice. The Anatolian origins of the cult at Rome and the nature of the extant evidence, however, complicate the question for drawing such distinctions between Roman and ‘Phrygian’ forms.

Sarolta A. Takacs discusses Cybele’s arrival at Rome in her article, “Magna Deum Mater Idaea, Cybele, and Catullus’ Attis.” She begins with a discussion of several issues about the transportation of the goddess to Rome and concludes, with E. Gruen, that it was the Great Mother of Mt. Ida that was brought to Rome and not Cybele from Pessinus. From this she suggests a distinction between the Magna Deorum Mater Idaea and Cybele from Pessinus as ‘overlapping entities.’ She gives some brief attention to the distinction. Her analysis of Catullus 63 then demonstrates that the two have been equated by the time of the Late Republic.

Robert Turcan in his article ‘Attis Platonicus,” reviews the role of the Emperor Julian (Or. 5) in the interpretation of Attis as a Neo-Platonic ‘demiurge.’ Julian’s interpretation was something of an innovation in the interpretation of Attis in Neo-platonic thought. Plotinus had taken quite the opposite view in his interpretation of the castration of Attis and the galli of the Mother of the Gods, identifying them with the sterility of matter. Turcan traces various antecedents which may have informed Julian’s thought, including rituals and iconography as well as the work of previous philosophers. Most prominent is the viewpoint of the Naasenes as described by Hippolytus. Turcan successfully demonstrates, contrary to the prior argument of F. Cumont that Julian’s ideas derived from ‘Mazdaism’, that the Greco-Roman world supplied sufficient influences for Julian’s new synthesis.

In the final article in the volume, J. F. Ubina brings our attention to the western limits of the Roman Empire. In “Magna Mater, Cybele and Attis in Roman Spain,” Ubina offers a historical analysis of the items from Roman Spain collected by Vermaseren (CCCA, V), almost all of which are dated to the second and third centuries CE. He advances research on the cult in this region by examining data which had previously been assembled without much historical analysis. He relies, in particular, on the foundational collection by A. Garcia y Bellido. After explaining his agreement with scholars, including Vermaseren, who doubt the relevance for the cult of Cybele of the so-called “Tomb of the Elephant” at Carmona, Ubina makes a series of cogent observations about the extant data. As he indicates, there are no literary sources on the cult in this region so that all of the evidence is iconographic or epigraphic. He uses this limitation in the data to explain the quantity of “personal interpretation” included in the remainder of the article. In his other observations, he does well to distinguish evidence of the cult of Cybele from that of Attis.

Overall, the articles contained in this volume provide significant contributions to scholarship on the cult of Cybele and Attis. While the volume provides a ‘mixed bag’ of loosely connected articles, as is the usual tendency of the Festschrift, the variety of approaches represents the current state of scholarship. We may note, also, that a number of the articles present different positions on important questions. Many of these revolve around questions of ‘Anatolian’ or ‘Greek’ origins of the Mother of the Gods and aspects of her cult at various locations and times. As the study of ‘Religions in the Graeco-Roman World’ (as the series from E.J. Brill in which this volume takes its place has been renamed) progresses, the type of work represented here lays groundwork for the development of a new set of definitions which can resolve some of these questions. What this volume presents suggests that further direct dialogue among the scholars represented is warranted. 1

1. Readers with a sense of humor, which surely includes most classicists, will note a typographical error in Eugene Lane’s introduction which was too amusing to correct, a reference to Harran, “the fabled city of the Mood God.” Perhaps he was the Lord of the Mood Rings.