1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Corybantes
CORYBANTES (Gr. Κορύβαντες), in Greek mythology, half divine, half demonic beings, bearing the same relation to the Asiatic Great Mother of the Gods that the Curetes bear to Rhea. From their first appearance in literature, they are already often identified or confused with them, and are distinguished only by their Asiatic origin and by the more pronouncedly orgiastic nature of their rites. Various accounts of their origin are given: they were earth-born, sons of Cronus, sons of Zeus and Calliope, sons of Rhea, of Ops, of the Great Mother and a mystic father, of Apollo and Thalia, of Athena and Helios. Their names and number were as indistinct even to the ancients as those of the Curetes and Idaean Dactyli. Like the Curetes, Dactyli, Telchines and Cabeiri (q.v.), however, they represent primitive gods of procreative significance, who survived in the historic period as subordinate deities associated with a form of the Great Mother goddess, their relation to the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele, being comparable with that of Attis (q.v.). They may have been represented or impersonated by priests in her rites as Attis was, but they were also, like him, not actual priests in the first instance, but objects of worship in which a frenzied dance, with accompaniment of flute music, the beating of tambourines, the clashing of cymbals and castanets, wild cries and self-infliction of wounds—the whole culminating in a state of ecstasy and exhaustion—were the most prominent features. The dance of the Corybantic priests, like that of the priests who represented the Curetes, may have originated in a primitive faith in the power of noise to avert evil. Its psychic effect, both upon the dancer and upon the mystic about whom he danced during the initiation of the Cybele-Attis mysteries, made it a widely known and popular feature of the cult.
In art the Corybantes appear, usually not more than two or three in number, fully armed and executing their orgiastic dance in the presence of the Great Mother, her lions and Attis. They sometimes appear with the child Dionysus, between whose cult and that of the Mother there was a close affinity. (G. Sn.)