1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cabeiri

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CABEIRI, in Greek mythology, a group of minor deities, of whose character and worship nothing certain is known. Their chief seats of worship were the islands of Lemnos, Imbros and Samothrace, the coast of Troas, Thessalia and Boeotia. The name appears to be of Phoenician origin, signifying the "great" gods, and the Cabeiri seem to have been deities of the sea who protected sailors and navigation, as such often identified with the Dioscuri, the symbol of their presence being St Elmo's fire. Originally the Cabeiri were two in number, an older identified with Hephaestus (or Dionysus), and a younger identified with Hermes, who in the Samothracian mysteries was called Cadmilus or Casmilus. Their cult at an early date was united with that of Demeter and Kore, with the result that two pairs of Cabeiri appeared, Hephaestus and Demeter, and Cadmilus and Kore. According to Mnaseas[1] (quoted by the scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius i. 917) they were four in number:—Axieros, Axiokersa, Axiokersos, Casmilus. It is there stated that Axieros is Demeter; Axiokersa, Persephone; Axiokersos, Hades; and Casmilus, Hermes. The substitution of Hades for Hephaestus is due to the fact that Hades was regarded as the husband of Persephone. Cabeiro, who is mentioned in the logographers Acusilaus and Pherecydes as the wife of Hephaestus, is identical with Demeter, who indeed is expressly called Καβειρία in Thebes. Roman antiquarians identified the Cabeiri with the three Capitoline deities or with the Penates. In Lemnos an annual festival of the Cabeiri was held, lasting nine days, during which all the fires were extinguished and fire brought from Delos. From this fact and from the statement of Strabo x. p. 473, that the father of the Cabeiri was Camillus, a son of Hephaestus, the Cabeiri have been thought to be, like the Corybantes, Curetes and Dactyli, demons of volcanic fire. But this view is not now generally held. In Lemnos they fostered the vine and fruits of the field, and from their connexion with Hermes in Samothrace it would also seem that they promoted the fruitfulness of cattle.

By far the most important seat of their worship was Samothrace. Here, as early as the 5th century b.c., their mysteries, possibly under Athenian influence, attracted great attention, and initiation was looked upon as a general safeguard against all misfortune. But it was in the period after the death of Alexander the Great that their cult reached its height. Demetrius Poliorcetes, Lysimachus and Arsinoë regarded the Cabeiri with especial favour, and initiation was sought, not only by large numbers of pilgrims, but by persons of distinction. Initiation included also an asylum or refuge within the strong walls of Samothrace, for which purpose it was used among others by Arsinoë, who, to show her gratitude, afterwards caused a monument to be erected there, the ruins of which were explored in 1874 by an Austrian archaeological expedition. In 1888 interesting details as to the Boeotian cult of the Cabeiri were obtained by the excavations of their temple in the neighbourhood of Thebes, conducted by the German archaeological institute. The two male deities worshipped were Cabeiros and a boy: the Cabeiros resembles Dionysus, being represented on vases as lying on a couch, his head surrounded with a garland of ivy, a drinking cup in his right hand; and accompanied by maenads and satyrs. The boy is probably his cup-bearer. The Cabeiri were held in even greater esteem by the Romans, who regarded themselves as descendants of the Trojans, whose ancestor Dardanus (himself identified in heroic legend with one of the Cabeiri) came from Samothrace. The identification of the three Capitoline deities with the Penates, and of these with the Cabeiri, tended to increase this feeling.

See[edit]

  • C.A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus (1829).
  • F.G. Welcker, Die Aeschylische Trilogie und die Kabirenweihe zu Lemnos (1824).
  • J.P. Rossignol, Les Métaux dans l'antiquité (1863), discussing the gods of Samothrace (the Dactyli, the Cabeiri, the Corybantes, the Curetes, and the Telchines) as workers in metal, and the religious origin of metallurgy.
  • O. Rubensohn, Die Mysterienheiligtümer in Eleusis und Samothrake (1892).
  • W.H. Roscher, Lexikon der Mythologie (s.v. "Megaloi Theoi").
  • L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie (4th ed., appendix).
  • and the article by F. Lenormant in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités.

Endnotes[edit]

1 ^  A grammarian of Patrae in Achaea (or Patara in Lycia), pupil of Eratosthenes (275-195 b.c.), and author of a periplus and a collection of Delphic oracles.