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Originally a Hittite and Phrygian goddess, Cybele was a deification of the Earth Mother and was worshipped in Anatolia from Neolithic times. As with Gaia (the "Earth"), or her Minoan equivalent Rhea, Cybele embodies the fertile Earth, a goddess of caverns and mountains, walls and fortresses, nature, wild animals (especially lions and bees).
CYBELE.—The myth of this goddess, whose worship was adopted from the oriental regions of ancient superstition into the pantheistic system of the Romans, is replete with contradiction, obscurity, and confusion.—Nevertheless, "It would," as M, Lenormant observes, "be to call in question the universal testimonies of antiquity, to refuse a recognition of the primitive affinities which have united the religion of Cybčle to that of Rhea (the wife of Saturn), in Crete and in Arcadia; of Ops and of Maia, in the Italian peninsula. But, without speaking of the differences which may have existed between Cybčle, Ops, and Rhea, the continued worship of the first-named of these goddesses, its more and more flourishing state in Asia Minor, must have contributed to throw back the worship of the two other remaining divinities, in Greece and in Italy, among religious recollections, rather than add it to the number of deities of whom the worship had been maintained with fervour. From this last fact it results that the monuments of Opa and of Rhea must be rare, whilst the number of those which relate to Cybčle must have increased in a large proportion, and that to an epoch comparatively recent."
Admitting the almost insurmountable difficulties which oppose themselves to affording anything like a satisfactory explanation of the mysterious attributes of Cybčle, through the medium of graphic illustrations, the distinguished French writer refers the reader to his work, sur la Religion Phrygienne de Cybčle, whilst in La Nouvelle Galerie Mythologique (p. 10 et seq.) he directs his sole attention to the exterior and to the matériel of the Phrygian worship.
With regard to the parents of Cybčle we are in reality left ignorant of them; unless she may be considered as the daughter of Uranus (Heaven), and of Gća, (Earth). Amongst the surnames of this goddess there are some which refer to localities of Asia Minor, such as those of the Idćan, of Dindymčne, of goddess of Pessinus, or of Berecynthia, &c. Other surnames of the Phrygian goddess are drawn from qualifications simply titular, which have often, however, the isolated and independent quality of a proper name. Such are the names of Magna Mater, of Mater Deum, &c. For the more perspicuous but less becoming incidents of the great and god-bearing Mother's history, reference may be had to atys (p. 94), her youthful priest and lover. (See also MATRI DEVM SALVTARI).— Numerous coins are extant which prove how extensively the worship of Cybčle prevailed among the cities of Asia Minor.
The turreted crown, such as coins display on the head of Cybčle, forms the most common attribute of personified cities.
The pine was the tree of Cybčle, being that into which Atys was changed (Ovid, Metam. x. 104). The oak was also sacred to the mother of the gods.
The tympanum, as the attribute of Cybčle, is not designed solely to retrace the furious running of the Galli (priests of Cybčle), and the noise which they made with their drums. The tympanum, from its round form, and the manner in which the sound was obtained (by sliding the finger, and by pressing it on the interior surface of the skin, which was stretched at the bottom of the tambourine), belonged to all the mysteries of antiquity. It is found to have been regarded as a sacred object at Eleusis—that mystical centre from which the excesses, similar to those practised by the Galli, had been carefully excluded. To the idea of the circle already expressed by the crenelated crown, and the modius, the tympanum joined that of the circular movement equally expressed by the rhombus of Eleusis. It is this circular movement, and this perpetual course round the same which, according to Plato (in the Dialogue of the Cratylus) constitute the essence of the gods. p. 12, Nouvelle Galerie Mythologique.
The lion consecrated to Cybčle has not yet received a satisfactory elucidation. The respective explanations which Lucretius, Fulgentius, Servius, &c. have given in reference to the lions of that goddess, savour, more or less, of the spirit of the allegorical school, which it is necessary to avoid confounding with the symbolic school.— At any rate these explanations belong to that epocha, when, under the name of natural theology, the aim was to open a way to the progress of the sciences, in a. religion based on a complete ignorance of the laws of physics and of astronomy.—Ibid, p. 13.
Cybčle is, in the Roman mint, for the most part typified on coins of Empresses :—
On a brass medallion of the younger Faustina, Cybčle is represented seated on a throne with a foot-stool, holding with one hand the tympanum and in the other a branch of pine. On each side of the throne is a lion. Crotala are suspended near her from a pine tree. On the left is Atys, standing with his face towards the goddess; his head covered with the Phrygian cap. He holds in his left hand the pedum, or crooked stick, and in his right the syrinx, or flute of reeds.
This fine medallion presents to us the united personifications of Cybčle and Atys, under the most frequently recurring form in the domain of figured antiquity.—" The resinous pine, consecrated to Atys, reminds us," says M. Lenormant, " of the myrrh tree, into which the mother of Adonis was transformed, and of the bark, from which the young god was drawn by the women of Arabia, when the moment of his birth was come (Ovid, Metam. x. 490, seq. 512, et seq.) **** The pine of Atys, and the tree of Adonis, are forms of the same idea appropriated to the productions of two different climates."—These approximations, M. Lenormant considers to be, in the Phrygian religion, representations of the doctrine of the λόγος, from which, conformably to the genius of the reform of Zoroaster, every anthropomor-phique appearance had been banished."—See Nouvelle Galerie Mythol. p. 14.
—See MATRI DEVM SALVTARI.
On a brass medallion of the elder Faustina, with veiled portrait, the great Pessinuntian goddess, of whom King Attalus had made a present to the Romans, is represented as brought to Rome in a ship drawn by the vestal Claudia Quinta, who gives a proof of her virtue by causing the vessel to advance by means of her girdle which she attaches to it. Many matrons, with torches in their hands, are near the vestal.
—See clavdia, p. 211.
On a brass medallion of Hadrian, Cybčle holding the tympanum, is seated on a car drawn by four lions. Cybčle also appears on medallions and first brass coins of Sabina, Autoninus Pius, Lucilla, Commodus, Julia Domna, etc.
The figure of Cybčle, in the quadriga, recalls in a striking manner the verse of Lucretius (De Nat. Rer. ii. 600-604):—
Hanc veteres Graium docti cecinere poetae Sublimem in curru bijugos agitare leones: Aeris in spatio magnam pendere docentes Tellurem; neque posse in terra sistere terram.
[She it is, whom the ancient and skilled bards of Greece have sung, as guiding aloft two lions yoked to her car; maintaining, that this vast world hangs poised in mid air; and that earth cannot
"There is," says M. Lenormant, in aptly citing this illustrative passage from the Latin poet, " no other difference offered by Lucretius, and the type of the medal in question, than the number of lions, which is two in Lucretius and four on the coin. The last verse of the poet is remarkable; inasmuch as it seems to unite a knowledge proceeding from a physical science (d'une physique) already sufficiently advanced, that of the rotatory movement of the earth on itself, and the application of this notion to the primitive belief already quoted, following which the gods, or the world (which is the same thing with the ancients), would have been drawn into a perpetual movement of concentric rotation.— This movement, by its constancy and regularity, explains the apparently contrary idea of a perfect stability. Accordingly, we have no hesitation in comparing this medallion, of Hadrian. with another of the same prince, on which we read, Tellvs stabilita, and medals in gold and silver, also of Hadrian, with the same legend. The meaning of these last mentioned pieces has been very justly considered by Eckhel (D. N. vi. 509), as an allegory of order and of peace, re-established by Hadrian throughout the Roman world. In following the indication of Lucretius, the medallion above described would express the same idea in a more indirect manner. In each case, this concentration of the person of Cybčle in the personification of the Earth, appears to us conformable to the principles of natural theology, and consequently to agree with a learned period like that of Hadrian." ***
" As to the rest," adds the learned and ingenious author of La Nouvelle Galerie (p. 13), " it is possible that this reverse alludes only to the translation of the bona dea from one temple to another, which, according to Spartian, took place at Rome, during Hadrian's reign.
"A contorniate, bearing on its obverse the head of Nero, typifies Cybčle and Atys together in a car drawn by four running lions. The goddess has a crown of towers, aud holds a sceptre.— Atys wears the Phrygian cap, and bears the pastoral crook in his left hand.—[The coutorniates belong to the lower empire. They were pieces distributed at the Circensian games.—See p. 271 et seq. of this dictionary.]
On a denarius of the Cestia gens (p. 197), Cybčle is seated in a biga of lions. For a type of that goddess, as an emblem of Eternity, or rather Faustina senior represented, after death, under Cybčle's image, see p. 23, left hand col.