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OpenEdition Books

Studies in Greek epigraphy and history in honor of Stefen V. Tracy

 | 
Gary Reger
, 
Francis X. Ryan
, 
Timothy Francis Winters

2. The Wider Greek Word

Chapter 24. The Kyrbantes of Erythrai

Fritz Graf

Texte intégral

  • 1 Hemberg 1950.

1The Corybants belong to a group of minor deities in Greek religion that, at a first glance, seem a rather amorphous mass. At least our ancient literary texts have a tendency to lump Corybants, Dactyls, Cabiri and even Dioscuri somewhat indistinctly together. Scholars often enough have relied on these literary texts alone, disregarding inscriptions that might have added more distinctions. In 1950, Bengt Hemberg wrote the study of these figures that in many respects is still valid: he called it “The Cabiri”, Die Kabiren, but discussed them all, since he regarded them all as closely related, if not interchangeable to some degree1.

  • 2 Linforth 1946, 121-126; Jeanmaire 1949, 64-82 and 1951, 119-131 (on modern parallels) and 131-138 (...)
  • 3 Voutiras 1996 (SEG, 46, 810), with an important discussion of the private cults of the Korybants. (...)

2By now, we should know better, and perhaps we should have known better all along, at least with regard to the Corybants: they are a distinct group of minor deities, at least in the living religious reality of a Greek city–but it is often enough only the epigraphical record that leads us to this living reality. We have two major sources for the Corybants and their somewhat unusual rites: allusions in several dialogues of Plato that we had all along, and several inscriptions whose number has been growing recently. The passages in Plato have often been treated, most comprehensively by Ivan Linforth, Henri Jeanmaire and Eric R. Dodds around the middle of the twentieth century2, and these studies still remain valid; the inscriptions, however, still need more work. In what follows, I concentrate on three texts from the small Ionian city of Erythrai, leaving aside a short late Classical (425-400 BC) dedication from Thessaloniki discussed at some length by Manolis Voutiras3.

1.

3I will deal mainly with three texts, two of them published only recently:

[1] Fragment of a stele from Erythrai, 4th cent. BC: decree regulating the sale of a priesthood: IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 206.

  • 4 Dignas 2002 gave a somewhat different text with convincing restitutions and a very valuable interp (...)

[2] Fragment of a stele in the Akademisches Kunstmuseum Bonn, 4th cent. BC: decree regulating the sale of a priesthood: editio princeps Himmelmann and Voutiras 1997, 117-1214.

[3] Fragment of a stele in Samos, 2nd cent. BC: decree about the cult of the Corybants: IG, 12, 6, 1197, Herrmann 2002.

4I add another well-known text from Erythrai:

[4] Fragment of a stele, inscribed in all four sides, 300-260 BC: account of priesthoods sold over a certain period: IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 201.

  • 5 There is no reason to assume twin stelae.
  • 6 The fourth text is preserved in two fragments, neither with a clear origin: the larger part was in (...)
  • 7 This also accounts for a practically unresolvable confusion between the stones of Erythrai and Chi (...)

5Among the first three decrees, only the first has a clear provenance. It was found in the ruins of ancient Erythrai, on the South slope of the acropolis. The fragment in Bonn is said to have come from Pergamon, but its dimensions, letter forms and language are so close to the first text that there can be no serious doubt about its original provenance: both texts must have belonged to the same stele5. The stone from Samos, broken on three sides and beyond reconstruction, comes in content and language very close to the other two, although it is about two centuries younger; again there should be no doubt about its Erythraean origin6. The local information, reported by Rehm, that it came from Northern Asia Minor (Bithynia) is unreliable: these stones were carried along as ballast by the ships that cruised up and down the Western coast of Asia Minor, and the most this information does is to preserve the memory of such a transfer to Samos7. I need not go into details: Peter Herrmann made the point in his publication, and I fully agree with him.

  • 8 IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 206, 1: [τὴν ἱερ] | ητείην τῶγ Κυρβάντων.
  • 9 IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 201, a, 63: Κορυβάντων Εὐφρονισίων καὶ Θαλείων ...; a, 72: Κορυβάντων (...)

6The texts [1] to [3] are published copies of decrees of the assembly of Erythrai: [1], 6 refers to the ψήφισμα as its authority, [3], 22 to a διαγραφή, a current term for the written record of an official decision. [1] and [2] deal with details of the sale of the priesthoods of the Κύρβαντες, as they are called in [1], 28; [3] deals with the relationship between polis cult and private cult, and the participation of women in the cult of the Κορύβαντες, as the name is normalized here; in [4] the sale of the priesthoods is mentioned twice, both times again as Κορυβάντων9: koiné Greek immediately normalized the local divine name. In what follows, I will look at the organization of the cult, and at the rituals; I will draw on (and sometimes implicitly correct) my earlier account.

  • 10 Apul., Metam., 11,23,1.
  • 11 Demosth., Or., 18,259; see below n. 21
  • 12 The series in Burkert 2004, 96, no. 34-39; the most famous instances are the Lovatelli urn (Rome, (...)

7The sale of priesthood concerns a double priesthood of the Κύρβαντες, one for each gender. There were also two groups of Corybants, according to [4], a, 62, Ευφρονίσιοι and Θαλεῖοι, and the priesthood could be split along this line as well: whereas originally the male and the female priesthoods were bought by two different and unrelated persons (IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 201, a, 62 and a, 64), the male priesthood of the Thaleioi was again resold shortly after that (a 72). The genderization derives from the ritual. The three duties mentioned in [1] are initiation (τελεῖν) in), bath (λούειν) and κρητηρίζειν: the priest performs these rites with the men, the priestess with the women. The key ritual is the bath; it is inconceivable that a priest would have bathed female initiates. A preliminary bath belongs to most mystery cults-but unlike the Eleusinian cult where everybody together waded into the sea, and unlike Apuleius’ Isis mysteries where the priest brings Lucius simply to the closest public bath for the preliminary purification10, in Erythrae the priest and priestess must haven taken a more active role in bathing the initiates: λούσουσι τοὺς τελευ[μένους ([1], 8). This does not necessarily mean that the priest and priestess literally bathed and washed the initiates, but they must played an active role in the rite which made the presence of a functionary of the other gender impossible, or at least undesirable. The actual rite of cleansing can still have been performed by a helper, as in the cult which Aeschines’ mother celebrated as priestess, with her young son as the helper who actually “wiped off” the initiates11. A series of closely related iconographical monuments that depict Heracles’Eleusinian initiation can illustrate this further: in all pictures, the actual ritual cleansing–in one picture by a winnowing fan, in another one with a burning torch–is performed by a female helper, while the priest performs the sacrifice of a piglet and a libation12.

  • 13 See Jaccottet 2003, 65-100. Fabio Mora pointed out the same was true, from the prosopographical ev (...)
  • 14 Kraemer 1979; Lewis 2003.

8At least in the fourth century, the female priesthood was sold for much more than the male one (601 drachmae against 170 drachmae). The price reflects the expected fee: we thus have to conclude that many more women than men participated in the cult. This corresponds to the dominance of menadism in the ecstatic cults of Dionysus, but needs qualification: menadism is institutionalized female ritualism, there was no choice; once we have a choice, in the later private Dionysiac associations, there is no manifest female preponderance13. Still, Ross-Kraemer’s explanation of menadism that builds on the model developed by Ian Lewis for ecstatic cults is tempting: ecstatic cults provide an outlet for those who feel marginalized in society14–but, as we shall see, at least for Plato there is more to it. In a very fragmentary passage, the Samos text assigns power of control to the γυναικονόμοι ([3], 27); the context is unclear, but this again points to an important role and presumably dominance of women in the cult.

  • 15 [2], 5-11.
  • 16 LSS, 120.
  • 17 Knibbe 1981, 53, B, 54, 7 = IK-Ephesos, 11, 47.

9The regulations of Erythrae issue from the polis: the cult is part of polis religion, and there is a public altar of the Kyrbantes somewhere in the city; we have to assume that the two or three stelae came from this city precinct. But there is private cult activity as well, and one of the main concerns of the new documents [2] and [3] is to regulate the relationship between the two. Private persons can perform rites on the public altar: the priests receive their share from these sacrifices, as they receive their share from city sacrifices; this is not unheard of15. But there are also private initiators, people others than the buyers of the priesthood who perform initiation, bath and kraterismós: these people are either priests and priestesses of private cult groups who perform, as the Samos text has it, τὰ ἰδιωτικὰ ἱερά as opposed to τὰ δημόσια ἱερά ([4], 7-9), or simply persons who already underwent the initiation rites. The Samos text calls these people κεκορυβαντισμένοι ([3], 11), in the typical perfect participle of such rites that are seen as having transformed the person into a new state of existence. The first instance of this “initiatory” perfect (as I would like to call it) appears in the famous Cumaean inscription that forbids burial except for τòν βεβακχευμένον16. Another instance is a list of distributions from Ephesos (180-192 AD) τοῖς κεκουρευτηκόσιν: they are not simply “ehemalige Kureten” (Knibbe), through their initiation, they remained connected with the cult for the rest of their lives, even though they were not active any more, and the fact that they received distributions of money when the cult was revitalized shows this in a, to us, somewhat unexpected way17.

  • 18 LSCG, 166: one sub-priestess per demos.
  • 19 LSAM, 48.

10A dichotomy between public and private ecstatic cults is not unheard of. In a Coan law that regulates the sale of the priesthood of Dionysos Thyllophoros, the priestess can delegate initiations to sub-priestesses; the law provides punishments for those who initiate without such a permission, to guarantee this income to the incumbent18. A parallel regulation from Miletus on the priesthood of Dionysos Bakchios simply stipulates that a woman who performs an initiation “in the city, on the countryside or on the islands” has to pay a regular fee to the official priestess19. In all three cases, we deal with cults that must have been popular; demand for initiation easily exceeded the capacity of one official, especially when the cult was performed in various locations over an extended territory, as was the case both in Cos and especially in Miletus. The second Erythraean decree adds an interesting detail: the polis priest and priestess can take an oath from other priests, priestesses and initiates. The content of the oath is unclear, but given the parallels I think this oath should guarantee that these persons would deliver their share of the initiation fees and other parts of the income to the polis priest and priestess. At the same time, these regulations question the traditional explanatory model for the coexistence of public and private initiatory cults-that the city authorities wanted to control the dangerous ecstatic activities and thus made private cults public; this model owes as much to Plato’s distrust of private cults as to Christian notions of churchhood. As far as we can see in Erythrae, there is no state control over these private cults other than the necessity of providing the official office holders with an steady income, as an incentive for the prospective buyers.

11At the very beginning, the first decree states that the buyers would also officiate for the ὄργιον of Herse, [....]ore and Phanis, ἢμ μὲν [δυνατòν ἦι] | πᾶσι. εἰ δὲ μὴ οἶς θέληι κα[ὶ νόμιμον] | ἠ]ι ([1], 4-6: “if possible for all, if not, for those that he wants and where it is lawful according to the psephisma”. This regulation has long defied understanding, not the least because of the meaning of ὄργιον. The easiest assumption–that we deal with three private groups and that thus ὄργιον is the local term for θίασος –seems contradicted by the language: it is not τῶι ὀργίωι τῶι Ἔρσης καὶ τῶι [---|ίδος καὶ τῶι Φανίδος, but only τῶι ὀργίωι τῶι Ἔρσης καὶ [---|ίδος καὶ τ~ ωι Φανίδος, as already Wilamowitz pointed out, making it one group only. With this reading, the plural πᾶσι cannot refer to groups, but to single initiates: if this is correct, then this ὄργιον is a private ritual in which the priest and priestess can choose how many people they will serve; the rest will be served either by private priests or by former initiates, κεκορυβαντισμένοι.

2.

  • 20 See the discussion in Graf 1985, 325-327, with further references.

12The four texts provide us with a wide variety of rituals; not all are clear. The register of priesthoods (IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 204) defines the priesthoods of the Κύρβαντες Εὐφρονίσιοι and Θαλεῖοι as ἐπιθαλεώσεως ἕνεκα. Both the nature of this qualification and the meaning of ἐπιθαλε(ι)ωσις are difficult20. Θαλία is the festival or the “good cheer”, ἑορτὴ /δαῖς θαλεῖα the “abundant feast”; the Kyrbantes Thaleioi would preside over “good cheer”, as the Kyrbantes Euphronisioi preside over εὐφροσύνη, the “merriment” of a banquet. ἐπιθαλείωσις then might well denote the overall ritual; but one cannot be entirely certain.

  • 21 The noun (hapax) in IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 206, 11.
  • 22 Demosth., Or., 18,259.
  • 23 Photius, s. v. κρατηρίζων, Lex. Segu., V, s. v., in Anecd. Graec., 1, 274, 3 (Bekker); Et. Mag., s (...)

13At any rate, there must have been drinking and merriment. κρατηρισμός21 can only be the ritual use of a κρατήρ, the main vessel for mixing large quantities of wine and water: this points to wine drinking, presumably a lot of it. The very rare verb occurs also in the ironical description Demosthenes gives of the rituals performed by Aeschines’mother: Aeschines helps his mother νεβρίζων καὶ κρατεριζων καὶ ἀπομάττων τοὺς τελουμένους, “performing on the initiates the fawn skin ritual and the crater ritual and wiping them off”22. Ancient commentators of Demosthenes explain this by “mixing wine in a crater or libating wine from a crater during the mysteries “: they guessed, as we do23. What is beyond doubt is that the crater ritual was more than an initiatory binge. From any kraterismós, the priest gets two oboloi, the fleece and a leg: a sheep was sacrificed to provide meat together with the wine–there was, sensibly enough, eating together with drinking. Bathing, drinking and eating seem to be the three main parts of the Erythraean initiation ritual.

  • 24 Plat., Euthyd., 14, C-D.
  • 25 E. g. PGM, I, 39-40.

14The new texts add new rituals. The Samos text mentions sacrifices and offerings to the heroes, [τὰς θ]υσίας καὶ τοὺς ἐναγισμούς, in a long list of rituals that is truncated and that seems to refer back to an earlier regulation or a decree ([3], 13-14.); this must all concern the public sacrifices that are performed on or around the communal altar. This altar is also the center of a ritual ξενισμός of the gods ([3], 14, in what must be the end of the same list). The gods–that is the Corybants–were given food that was set beside the altar and, after the end of the ritual, fell to the priest ([2], 5). The text is not clear about whether meat was part of this dinner for the gods: the Bonn inscription has (4-11) [ἢν δέ τ | ι]ς ξενίζηι τοὺς θεοὺς ἢ θύηι [επὶ τῶ] | μ βωμῶν τ~ ωμ δημοσίων, γέρα ἀπ[οδιδό] | τω τοῖς πριαμένοις τῶμ παρ[αθέν] | των τοῖς θεοῖς βρωτῶν ἐκ[τημόριον] καὶ τῶγ κρεῶμ μερίδα κ[αὶ τελέου ἱε] | ρείου ὀβολόν, τεσσέρα[ς δὲ βοιός] “if someone hosts the gods or sacrifices on the public altars, he should give to the buyers a sixth of the edibles set besides the gods, part of the meat, and an obol [per sheep,] four obols [per cow]”. This is ambivalent insofar as the two respective four obols per animal could belong to both rites, or only to the sacrifice. However, the text clearly distinguishes between dining the gods and sacrificing to them: Greek sacrificial ideology, unlike Roman, did not understand sacrifice as dining the gods, but as giving them something (θυσία is a δόσις, as Plato’s Socrates says24). But it fits a cult that stresses the merriment of banquets and makes both into epithets of the Κύρβαντες Εὐφρονίσιοι καὶ Θαλεῖοι. It also fits mystery rituals in which human and divine individuals come into much closer contact than in any other form of ancient cult: one is somehow reminded of the rituals in some magical papyri where the intimacy between a human performer and the god whom he has called is expressed in a common meal25. The dining, however, took part not only between one human host and his divine guests: the Samos inscription prescribes that τὰς δὲ γυναῖκας καλείτω πλείους ὁ ξενίζων [---], “he who is the host should invite women in a larger number” ([3], 21). If this really regulates details of the banquet with the gods, most of the guests were women, unlike in any human banquet, whereas the main host was a man, despite the rigid separation of gender found in the first sacred law.

3.

15Taken everything together, the Erythraean cult of the Kyrbantes or, in normalized Greek, Korybantes, has its clear physiognomy, despite the lacunae of the inscriptions and the limitations imposed by the respective epigraphical “genre”. The inscription on the sale of the priesthood, nos. [1] and [2], has a focus on the the remunerations the buyers can expect for their investmentduties, but also on the duties they are expected to perform, with some flexibility, if so desired; details of the rites are reported exclusively with this goal in mind. The second century decree, no. [3], whose aim is unclear, is much more detailed; even in its heavily damaged state, it contributes important insights into the complexities of the rituals and their genderization.

16One suprise of this entire dossier is the differentiation between polis cult (δημόσια ἱερά) and private cult (ἱδιωτικὰ ἱερά): far from “nationalizing” a former private mystery cult, the polis accepts the co-existence of both forms. We saw that this contradicts the theories that the polis wanted to control private ecstatic cults in order to curb possible excesses: as in the case of Eleusis, I rather think that the city saw the benefits of such a cult for the entire city and wanted to participate in it. The fact that in the second century the participation of women called for specific regulations, however, might have to do with excesses that threatened the dignity of the female participants–dignity as defined by the male citizens.

  • 26 Plat., Euthyd., 277, D. See now Edmonds 2006.

17The other surprise is the difference between the cult as we can reconstruct it from the small Erythreaean epigraphical corpus and the image of the Corybantic rites Plato gives. Plato consistently insists on the ecstatic character of the rites and on their healing function. The one ritual of wich Plato gives a long description is the θρονίσμός, the exuberant and somewhat frightening dance performed around the initiate who is seated on a throne26: although the Erythraean documents agree in the festivity of the entire cult (χορεία καὶ παιδιά in Plato), nothing in the epigraphical material refers to such a ritual. If it was performed in Erythrae at all, it might hide under the verb tele) in, “to initiate” that can comprise a complex set of rites which the text has no need to describe; but we cannot be certain. From Plato’s account, one would assume that the Athenian cult was attractive to the young aristocratic men that surround Socrates: even Alcibiades seems to have personal experience of the rites. But it also seems clear that these mystery rites are not a polis ritual; there is nothing in the Athenian epigraphical record that would contradict this assumption. Unlike small Erythrae, mighty Athens never bothered with the cult; Athens had Eleusis, and this was enough.

  • 27 Plat., Ion, 533, E.
  • 28 Plat., Symp., 215, E.
  • 29 Plat., Phaedr., 228, B.
  • 30 Plat., Leg., 790, D-791, A, see Dio, Or., 32,58.

18It is less surprising that the inscriptions do not deal with the subjective experience and the goal of the ritual; we have to infer some details, however, from the epithets and the general atmosphere of the rite. Plato, on the other hand, almost exclusively concentrates on experience and aims. The rites of the Corybants interest him not as a religious phenomenon but as a paradigm for specific states of mind: divine possession for example in the Ion, perplexity and fear in the Euthydemus, or the influence of music on the soul in the Laws. This is why he can easily switch from the Corybantic experience to the Bacchic and back: the two things were too close to merit sharp distinctions. The Corybantic initiates, he says, are possessed (ἔνθεοι) and dance in a state of loss of rationality (οὐκ ἔμφρονες)27. Whoever is in the grip of Corybantic possession, feels somatic symptoms: his heart jumps and his tears flow28. Whoever is in the thralls of an exaggerated and almost crazy love for something, feels to be in the presence of a συγκορυβαντιῶν when he meets another person who suffers from the same excessive feelings29. The overall aim of the rites is healing, not joy: the object of the rites is is to free from anxiety (presumably states of depression), and they achieve these goals through extravagant and ecstatic music of song and flutes30.

19This confrontation does not only point to the differences in the cultic reality between Athens and Erythrae. It much more highlights the differences in the media of information, and thus the value of sacred laws (and inscriptions in general) as a source of information on a specific cult. Sacred laws being laws promulgated by an assembly, they are focussed on very specific questions–financial ones for the sale of priesthoods, or organizational ones in the Samos fragment. The living reality of religious experience, especially of an experience as deep as that of an ecstatic mystery cult, is none of their concerns; Plato, on the other hand, is interested only in the psychological effects of the cult and has no interest whatsoever in organizational details. Neither group of texts gives the full image: one has to combine the sources, however precarious such an attempt might be.

Notes

1 Hemberg 1950.

2 Linforth 1946, 121-126; Jeanmaire 1949, 64-82 and 1951, 119-131 (on modern parallels) and 131-138 (on the Corybantic rites); Dodds 1951, 77-79. Jeanmaire’s contributions are mostly overlooked and overshadowed by Dodds’book, quite unjustly so.

3 Voutiras 1996 (SEG, 46, 810), with an important discussion of the private cults of the Korybants. I talked extensively on them when interpreting the Erythraean cult, at that time known through only one lex sacra, Graf 1985, 319-334.

4 Dignas 2002 gave a somewhat different text with convincing restitutions and a very valuable interpretation of the role of the priests.

5 There is no reason to assume twin stelae.

6 The fourth text is preserved in two fragments, neither with a clear origin: the larger part was in the museum of the Evangelical School of Smyrna and must have perished in the great fire of 1908; the smaller part is in the Chios museum (see n. 7).

7 This also accounts for a practically unresolvable confusion between the stones of Erythrai and Chios: ships crossing between the two sides of the strait freely exchanged inscribed and uninscribed stones; given the history and economies of the two places, Erythrai was much more often the source than the destination of stones, as already Chandler noted (see Graf 1985, 11-12). This is why one fragment of my no. 4 is now in the Chios Museum, despite its clear Erythraean origin.

8 IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 206, 1: [τὴν ἱερ] | ητείην τῶγ Κυρβάντων.

9 IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 201, a, 63: Κορυβάντων Εὐφρονισίων καὶ Θαλείων ...; a, 72: Κορυβάντων Θαλείων ...; a, 72: Κορυβάντων Θαλείων ανδρείων.

10 Apul., Metam., 11,23,1.

11 Demosth., Or., 18,259; see below n. 21

12 The series in Burkert 2004, 96, no. 34-39; the most famous instances are the Lovatelli urn (Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano, inv. 11301; early Augustan age, from Rome; Burkert 2004, 96, no. 34) and the Torre Nova sarcophagus (Rome, Palazzo Borghese; from Asia Minor, Burkert 2004, 96, no. 37).

13 See Jaccottet 2003, 65-100. Fabio Mora pointed out the same was true, from the prosopographical evidence of the inscriptions, for the Roman Isis cult, Mora 1990.

14 Kraemer 1979; Lewis 2003.

15 [2], 5-11.

16 LSS, 120.

17 Knibbe 1981, 53, B, 54, 7 = IK-Ephesos, 11, 47.

18 LSCG, 166: one sub-priestess per demos.

19 LSAM, 48.

20 See the discussion in Graf 1985, 325-327, with further references.

21 The noun (hapax) in IK, 2.2-Erythrai-Klazomenai, 206, 11.

22 Demosth., Or., 18,259.

23 Photius, s. v. κρατηρίζων, Lex. Segu., V, s. v., in Anecd. Graec., 1, 274, 3 (Bekker); Et. Mag., s. v. (p. 535, 25). The scholarly discussion is stagnating on the 1984 level (see Graf 1985, 321), unlike with νεβρίζεν, for which now Hatzopoulos 1994, 22-31.

24 Plat., Euthyd., 14, C-D.

25 E. g. PGM, I, 39-40.

26 Plat., Euthyd., 277, D. See now Edmonds 2006.

27 Plat., Ion, 533, E.

28 Plat., Symp., 215, E.

29 Plat., Phaedr., 228, B.

30 Plat., Leg., 790, D-791, A, see Dio, Or., 32,58.

Auteur

Department of Greek and Latin, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA

© Ausonius Éditions, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540