1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Curetes

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22595021911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 7 — CuretesGrant Showerman

CURETES (Gr. Κούρητες and Κουρῆτες). (1) A legendary people mentioned by Homer (Il. ix. 529 ff.) as taking part in the quarrel over the Calydonian boar. They were identified in antiquity as either Aetolians or Acarnanians (Strabo 462, 26), and were also represented by a stock in Chalcis in Euboea. (2) In mythology (unconnected with the above), the attendants of Rhea. The story went that they saved the infant Zeus from his father Cronus in Crete by surrounding his cradle and with clashing of sword and shield preventing his cries from being heard, and thus became the body-guard of the god and the first priests of Zeus and Rhea. In historic times the cult of the Curetes was widely known in Greece in connexion with that of Rhea (q.v.). Its ceremonies consisted principally in the performance of the Pyrrhic dance to the accompaniment of hymns and flute music, by the priests, who represented and thus commemorated the original act of the Curetes themselves. The dance was originally distinguished from that of the Corybantes by its comparative moderation, and took on the full character of the latter only after the cult of the Great Mother, Cybele, to which it belonged, spread to Greek soil. The origin of the dance may have lain in the supposed efficacy of noise in averting evil.

The Curetes are represented in art with shield and sword performing the sacred dance about the infant Zeus, sometimes in the presence of a female figure which may be Rhea. Their number in art is usually two or three, but in literature is sometimes as high as ten. Of their names the following have survived: Kures, Kres, Biennos, Eleuther, Itanos, Labrandos, Panamoros, Palaxos; but no complete list of names is possible because of their confusion with the names of the Corybantes and other like deities. Their origin is variously related: they were earth-born, sprung of the rain, sons of Zeus and Hera, sons of Apollo and Danais, sons of Rhea, of the Dactyli, contemporary with the Titans (Diod. Sic. v. 66). Rationalism made them the mortal sons of a mortal Zeus, or originators of the Pyrrhic dance, inventors of weapons, fosterers of agriculture, regulators of social life, &c. A plausible theory is that of Georg Kaibel (Göttinger Nachrichten, 1901, pp. 512-514), who sees in them, together with the Corybantes, Cabeiri, Dactyli, Telchines, Titans, &c., only the same beings under different names at different times and in different places. Kaibel holds that they all had a phallic significance, having once been great primitive deities of procreation, and that having fallen to an indistinct, subordinate position in the course of the development and formalization of Greek religion, they survive in historic times only as half divine, half demonic beings, worshipped in connexion with the various forms of the great nature goddess. The resemblances, especially between Rhea and her Curetes and the Great Mother and her Corybantes (q.v.), were so striking that their origins were inextricably confused even in the minds of the ancients: e.g. Demetrius of Scepsis (Strabo 469, 12) derives the Curetes and Rhea from the cult of the Great Mother in Asia, while Virgil (Aen. iii. 111) looks upon the latter and the Corybantes as derivations from the former. The worship of both was akin in nature to that of the Dactyli, the Cabeiri, and even of Dionysus, the special visible bond being the orgiastic character of their rites.

Consult Immisch in Roscher’s Lexicon, s.v. “Kureten.”  (G. Sn.)