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RHEA CULT
 
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Rhea General Info & Myths
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RHEA was the great mother of the gods, a goddess of fertility, motherhood and the mountain wilds. She was worshipped under the title of Meter Theon (the Mother of the Gods) or Meter Megale (the Great Mother). Her main cult centres were located in Arkadia and Krete, the sites where she reputedly gave birth to Zeus.

Rhea was closely identified with and, in origin, related to the great Phrygian goddess Kybele, whose orgiastic cult was also later introduced into Greece. This page however only describes the cult of the traditional Greek Rhea.

In classical sculpture the Meter Theon was portrayed as a matronly woman with turret-crown, enthroned and flanked by lions.


S16.1 METER THEON
S16.2 METER THEON
   

CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 3. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Here [in the district of Keramaikos in Athens] is built also a sanctuary of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods); the image is by Pheidias."

II) ANAGYROS Village in Attika

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 1 :
"Anagyros [in Attika] has a sanctuary of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods)."


CULT IN KORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) KORINTHOS Chief City of Korinthia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 4. 7 :
"[On the Akrokorinthos or Akropolis of Korinthos] is a temple of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) and a throne; the image and the throne are made of stone."


CULT IN SIKYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) TITANE Village in Sikyonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 11. 8 :
"In the portico [of the temple of Askepios at Titane, Sikyonia] are dedicated images of Dionysos and Hekate, with Aphrodite, the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), and Tykhe. These are wooden."


CULT IN LAKEDAIMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) SPARTA Chief City of Lakedaimonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 12. 9 :
"The sanctuary of the Meter Megale (Great Mother) [in Sparta, Lakedaimonia] has paid to it the most extraordinary honours."

II) AKRAIA Village in Lakedaimonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 22. 4 :
"Well worth seeing here [at Akriai, Lakedaimon] are a temple and marble image of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods). The people of Akriai say that this is the oldest sanctuary of this goddess in the Peloponessos."


CULT IN MESSENIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) MESSENE Chief City of Messenia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 31. 6 :
"What is most deserving of mention [at Messene], a statue of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), of Parian marble, the work of Damophon."


CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) OLYMPIA Village & Sanctuary in Elis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 18. 7 :
"Within the precincts [of the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus at Athens] . . . a temple of Kronos and Rhea and an enclosure of Ge (Earth) surnamed Olympia."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 14. 9 :
"Next [at Olympia] come an altar of Homonoias (Concord), another of Athena, and the altar of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods)."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 20. 9 :
"A temple of no great size [at Olympia] in the Doric style they have called down to the present day Metroion (Temple of the Mother), keeping its ancient name. No image lies in it of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), but there stand in it statues of Roman emperors."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 20. 2 - 3 :
"[Depicted on table by Kolotes dedicated at Olympia :] There are figures of Hera, Zeus, the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), Hermes and Apollon with Artemis."


CULT IN ARKADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) MEGALOPOLIS Chief City of Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 30. 5 :
"[At Megalopolis, Arkadia ] is a small image of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), but of the temple there remains nothing save the pillars."

II) R. LYMAX River in Arkadia

Callimachus, Hymn 1 to Zeus 10 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"In Parrhasia [in Arkadia] it was that Rheia bare thee [Zeus], where was a hill sheltered with thickest brush. Thence is the place holy, and nor fourfooted thing that hath need of Eileithyia nor any woman approacheth thereto, but the Apidanians call it the primeval childbed of Rheia. There when thy mother had laid thee down from her mighty lap, straightway she sought a stream of water, wherewith she might purge her of the soilure of birth and wash thy body therein. But mighty Ladon flowed not yet, nor Erymanthos, clearest of rivers; waterless was all Arkadia . . . And holden in distress the lady Rheia said, `Dear Gaia (Earth), give birth thou also! Thy birthpangs are light.' So spake the goddess, and lifting her great arm she smote the mountain with her staff; and it was greatly rent in twin for her and poured forth a mighty flood. Therein, O Lord, she cleansed thy body."

Lycophron, Alexandra 119 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"The plain of his [Zeus'] nativity [Arkadia and Elis], that land celebrated above others by the Greeks . . . delivered her of him [Zeus] in travail of secret birth, escaping the child-devouring unholy feast of her spouse [Kronos]."

Strabo, Geography 8. 3. 22 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The stream of the Neda is the boundary between Triphylia and Messenia--an impetuous stream that comes down from Lykaios, an Arkadian mountain, out of a spring, which, according to the myth, Rhea, after she had given birth to Zeus, caused to break forth in order to have water to bathe in."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 41. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"A river called the Lymax flowing just beside Phigalia [in Arkadia] falls into the Neda, and the river, they say, got its name from the cleaning of Rhea. For when she had given birth to Zeus, the nymphai who cleansed her after her travail threw the refuse into this river. Now the ancients called refuse lymata."

III) R. ALPHEIOS River in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 44. 5 :
"Near the source of the Alpheios [in Arkadia] is a temple of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) without a roof, and two lions made of stone."

IV) MT ALESION Mountain in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 10. 1 :
"Mount Alesion [in Arkadia], so called from the wandering (ale) of Rhea [during her pregnancy with Zeus or Demeter], on which is a grove of Demeter."

V) MT PETRAKHOS Mountain in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 41. 6 :
"There is beyond the city [of Khaironeia, Boiotia] a crag called Petrakhos. Here they hold that Kronos was deceived, and received from Rhea a stone instead of Zeus, and there is a small image of Zeus on the summit of the mountain."

VI) MT THAUMASIOS Mountain in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 36. 2 :
"Mount Thaumasios (Wonderful) lies beyond the river Maloitas [in Arkadia], and the Methydrians hold that when Rhea was pregnant with Zeus, she came to this mountain and enlisted as her allies, in case Kronos should attack her, Hopladamos and his few Gigantes. They allow that she gave birth to her son on some part of Mount Lykaios, but they claim that here Kronos was deceived, and here took place the substitution of a stone for the child that is spoken of in the Greek legend. On the summit of the mountain is Rhea’s Cave, into which no human beings may enter save only the women who are sacred to the goddess."


CULT IN KRETE (GREEK AEGEAN)

I) KNOSSOS Chief City of Krete

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 65. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The Titanes had their dwelling in the land about Knosos [in Krete], at the place where even to this day men point out foundations of a house of Rhea and a cypress grove which has been consecrated to her from ancient times."

II) MT IDA Mountain in Krete

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 19 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"In Krete there is said to be a sacred cave full of bees. In it, as storytellers say, Rhea gave birth to Zeus; it is a sacred place an no one is to go near it, whether god or mortal. At the appointed time each year a great blaze is seen to come out of the cave. Their story goes on to say that this happens whenever the blood from the birth of Zeus begins to boil up. The sacred bees that were the nurses of Zeus occupy this cave."

III) PHAISTOS Town in Krete

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4. 34 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"[In Krete] towards the Libyan Sea close to Phaistos, a little rock keeps out a mighty sea. And they say . . . the promontory . . . resembles a lion, for here, as often, a chance arrangement of rocks suggests an animal form; and they tell a story about this promontory, how it was once one of the lions which were yoked in the chariot of Rhea."


CULT TITLES OF RHEA

Rhea had several cult titles:--

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Μητηρ Μητερ Mêtêr, Mêter Mater Mother
Μητηρ Θεων Mêtêr Theôn Mater Theon Mother of the Gods
Μητηρ Μεγαλη Mêtêr Megalê Mater Megala Great Mother
Μητηρ Παντων Mêtêr Pantôn Mater Paton Mother of All

Some general cult terms include:--

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Μητρωιον Mêtrôion Metroeum Temple of Mother

Sources:

  • Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd A.D.