THE METER THEON, or Mother of the Gods, was a title held by both the Greek goddess Rhea and the Phrygian Kybele.
She often appears in myth as an amalgam of the two goddesses, especially in stories connected with the Great Mother of Samothrake, of Mount Ida in the Troad, Mount Dindymene in Bithynia and Mount Sipylos of Lydia - regions spanning the borders between Phrygia and the Greek world.
To further confound matters, the Meter Theon of Samothrake was often identified with Demeter, and the Mother godsess of Mount Ida in the Troad with Aphrodite. The stories of their romances with Iasion and Ankhises respectively, echo the old Phrygian tale of Attis and Kybele.
Myths unique to the Greek Rhea and Phrygian Kybele are described on two seperate pages.
THE MOTHER RETIRES TO THE MOUNTAINS
LOCALE: Phrygia (Anatolia)
Greek Lyric Anonymous Fragments 935 (Inscription from the shrine of Asclepius at Epidaurus) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) :
"Pimplean goddesses [Mousai], come here from heaven and sing with me of the Mater Theon (Mother of the Gods), how she went wandering through the mountains and glens trailing her flowing hair and distraught in her mind. When lord Zeus saw the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), he threw a thunderbolt and smashed the rocks; and Kypris [Aphrodite] urged her and took the tambourines: ‘Mother, go off to the gods: father Zeus summons you; and do not keep on wandering over the mountains; have fierce lions or grey wolves become your friends?’ She replied, ‘I shall not go off unless I get my portions, half of heaven and half of the earth and a third portion, half of the sea: only then shall I go off.’ Greetings, great Meter (Mother), queen of Olympos!"
N.B. Olympos probably here refers to the Phrygian mountain rather than the Greek, although the two are deliberately confounded. Zeus is both the Greek Zeus and the Phrygian sky-god.
METER THEON FAVOUR: PELOPS
LOCALE: Mount Sipylos, Lydia (Anatolia)
King Tantalos of Lydia, killed his son Pelops and served him up at a feast of the gods. Rhea and the Moirai intervened, restoring the boy to life. Mount Sipylos was a major cult centre of the goddess in Lydia, so it is unsurprising she should play a role in the myth.
Bacchylides, Fragment 42 (from Scholiast on Pindar Olympian 1.26) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"When Klotho took Pelops from the pure cauldron' 'Bacchylides says that it was Rhea who restored Pelops by lowering him again into the cauldron."
METER THEON WRATH: PYRRHOS
LOCALE: Mount Sipylos, Lydia (Anatolia)
Near the weeping Rock of Niobe (the sister of Pelops, who is described above) on Lydian Mount Sipylos stood another rock, the metamorphosed form of Pyrrhos, a man who had tried to assault the Mother Goddess.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 11. 80 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Near her [the rock of Niobe on Mt Sipylos in Lydia] shall be Pyrrhos, a Phrygian stone enamoured, still feeling the lawless lust for impossible union with Rheia [Pyrrhos tried to assault Rheia and was turned to stone]."
METER THEON LOVES: IASION
LOCALE: Samothrake (Greek Aegean)
The Mother goddess was identified with Demeter on the island of Samothrake. The story of Samothrakian Demeter and Iasion however were derived from those of Anatolian Kyble and Attis.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"This wedding of Kadmos and Harmonia was the first, we are told, for which the gods provided the marriage-feast . . . and Elektra [presented as a wedding gift] the sacred rites of the Megale Meter Theon (Great Mother of the Gods), as she is called, together with cymbals and kettledrums and the instruments of the ritual . . .
Iasion married Kybele and begat Korybas. And after Iasion had been removed into the circle of the gods, Dardanos and Kybele and Korybas conveyed to Asia the sacred rites of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) and removed with them to Phrygia. Thereupon Kybele, joining herself to the first Olympos [mountain god], begat Alke and called the goddess Kybele after herself; and Korybas gave the name of Korybantes to all who, in celebrating the rites of his mother, acted like men possessed."
Melanipiddes, Fragment 764 (from Philodemus, On Piety) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) :
"Melanippides says that Demeter and the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) are one and the same."
METER THEON FAVOUR: THE ARGONAUTS
LOCALE: Samothrake (Greek Aegean) & Mount Dindymene, Bithynia (Anatolia)
Apollonius Rhodius describes the Argonauts as being initiated into the rites of the Mother on the island of Samothrake, and subsequently establishing them by the will of the goddess to the Bithynian Mount Dindymene. As a reward she proferred them with a favourable sailing breeze.
METER THEON WRATH: KYZIKOS
LOCALE: Mount Dindymos (Bithynia)
In a second version of the Argonaut story, the heroes are not described as introducing the cult of the goddess into Mount Dindymene, but rather just participate in her rites. They are also driven by the goddess to avenge a blasphemy committed by the Bithynian King Kyzikos.
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3. 20 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Cyzicus [a Mysian King] upon his swift horse shook [Mount] Dindymus where votaries revel with bloodstained arms [in the worship of the Meter Theon], and wearied the woods, he was betrayed by his too great love of the chase; for with his javelin he slew a lion that was wont to bear its mistress [the Meter Theon] through the cities of Phrygia and was now returning to the bridle. And now (madman!) hath he hung from his doorposts the mane and the head of his victim, a spoil to bring sorrow to himself and shame upon the goddess. But she, nursing her great rage, beholds from the cymbal-clashing mountain the ship [of the Argonauts] with its border of kingly shields, and devises against the hero deaths and horrors unheard of: how in the night to set allied hands at strife in unnatural war, how to enmesh the city in cruel terror [the Argonauts killed Kyzikos and his men at night in a confused battle]."
METER IDAIA LOVES: ANKHISES
The Meter Idaia (Mother Goddess of Mount Ida) loved the local prince Ankhises, in a local version of the Kybele-Attis myth. The Greeks identified the Mother in this myth (and in the Trojan War saga) with the goddess Aphrodite.
METER IDAIA FAVOUR: KREOUSA
LOCAL: Troy, Troad (Anatolia)
In this myth the Mother Goddess rescues the wife of Aeneas (her daughter-in-law) from Troy. The Mother is here identified with both Rhea and Aphrodite, who are described acting jointly.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 26. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
“About Kreusa the story is told that the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) and Aphrodite rescued her from slavery among the Greeks, as she was, of course, the wife of Aeneas."
METER IDAIA FAVOUR: SHIPS OF AENEAS
LOCALE: Mount Ida, Troad (Anatolia) and Rutuli (Central Italy)
When Aeneas landed in Italy, a local warlord Turnus set fire to his ships. The Idaian Mother intervened, transforming them into sea nymphs, since the hulls had been made of trees cut from her holy mountain.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 530 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Turnus [of the Rutuli of Italia] had sent his firebrands to consume the pine-framed vessels [of Aeneas’ fleet]; ships the waves had spared feared flames. And now the conflagration burnt caulking and pitch and all the food of fire, climbing the mast-head, spreading to the sails; the benches smoked across the curving hulls. And then the Genetrix Sanctum Deum (holy Mother of the Gods) remembering that on Ida’s peaks those pines were felled, made clashing cymbals fill the air and shrilling fifes, and, borne along the breeze by her tame lion-team, ‘In vain’, she cried, ‘Turnus, your godless hands are flinging fire. I’ll rescue them! Never shall I allow flames to consume my forest’s life and limb.’ It thundered as she spoke and hard upon the thunder crushing squalls of leaping hail came crashing down and all the brother Astraei (Winds), battling in sudden shock and strife, convulsed the skies and surging seas. And one wind’s strength the fostering Mother called in aid to break the hempen hawsers of the Trojan fleet, and on their beam ends drove the ships to sea and sank them. Timbers softened and the wood was changed to flesh; the curved prows turned to heads, the oars to toes and swimming legs; the sides remained as sides; the keel that underlay the centre of the ship became a spine, the rigging soft sleek hair, the yards were arms the colour sea-blue still; and in the waves they used to fear they play their girlish games, Naides Aequorae (Sea-Nymphae), born on the granite hills, now natives of the soft sea-deeps, untouched by memories of their birthplace."
Virgil, Aeneid 9. 82 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"At the time when, in Phrygian Ida, Aeneas was beginning to build a fleet and preparing to venture forth on the deep sea, Cybele herself, mother of the gods, is said to have made this appeal to mighty Jupiter [Zeus]:- ‘Grant me, my son, what I ask - what your dear mother asks who helped you to power in Olympus. I had a forest of pine trees, cherished for many a year, a plantation high up on the mountain, dusky with glooming spruces and maple wood: men used to bring me offerings there. This did I gladly give to the Dardan prince [Aeneas], when he needed a fleet; but now a dreadful anxiety gnaws and troubles me. Banish my fears: let a mother’s prayer be so far efficacious that neither hurricanes nor any other stress of voyaging vanquish those ships; may they find it a blessing they came from my mountain.’
Her son, who turns the heavenly constellations, replied:- ‘What would you bend the fates to? What is this you are asking, my mother, for those ships? May vessels built by mortals hands have immortals’ privilege? Or Aeneas go, sure of immunity, through hazards whose issue is unsure? No god has the power to grant that. No, when they’ve accomplished their task and lie at journey’s end one day in Italian harbour, such ships as escape the sea and carry the Dardan hero to the Laurentine land I shall relieve of their mortal shape, and command they become goddesses of the great deep, like Doto, Nereus’ child and Galatea, who cleave the foaming sea with their breasts.’
So Jupiter spoke, and then by [Styx the stream of his Stygian brother, the banks where boiling pitch flows in black maelstrom, he nodded, confirming his promise: the nod caused all Olympus to tremble. So now that promised day was here, the allotted time fulfilled by the Fate-spinners. Cybele now was warned, by the outrage Turnus intended, to ward off the fire from her sacred ships. First did a strange light blaze upon their eyes, and a huge cloud was seen to career across the sky from the eastwards, loud with the crashing of Cybele’s cymbals: a voice that awed them broke from the cloud and fell about the ears of Trojans and Rutuli:- ‘Teucrians, do not trouble yourselves to defend my ships! Put by your weapons! For Turnus shall sooner burn up the sea than those blessed ships of mine. Go forth, enfranchised barques, as goddesses of the sea. The Mother bids you.’
At once each vessel snapped the moorings that held her stern to the bank, and all, burying their beaks in the water, plunged deep down like dolphins. Soon they surfaced again, but - wonder of wonders - each was a maiden now as they coursed over the sea - each ship that had been lying, bronze-beaked, along the shore."
METER THEON WRATH: HIPPOMENES & ATALANTA
LOCALE: Near Thebes, Boiotia (Central Greece)
The cult of the Mother goddess was introduced into Boiotia from Samothrake. Here she was usually identified with Rhea, but sometimes with the goddess Aphrodite. In the myth of the transformation of Hippomenes and Atalanta into lions, both goddesses are tied into the story.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 686 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Did I [Aphrodite] not deserve especial thanks and incense in my honour [from Hippomenes for her assitance in winning Atalanta for his bride]? But he forgot; he gave no thanks and burnt no incense; then to sudden wrath I turned. Stung by his scorn and lest I be despised in days to come, I set my heart against them both, to warn the world by their example. A temple stands hidden in shady woods, which once Echion [one of the Spartoi of Thebes] to fulfil a vow had raised to the great Mater Deum (Mother of the Gods) [Rhea]. There they had journeyed and were glad to rest; and there ill-timed importunate desire, roused by my power, possessed Hippomenes. Beside the temple was a dim-lit grotto, a gloomy cavern, roofed with natural rock, an ancient holy shrine, filled by the priest with wooden statues of the gods of old. He entered here and with forbidden sin defiled the sanctuary. The holy statues turned their shocked eyes away and the Mater Turrita (tower-crowned Mother) [Rhea] pondered should she plunge the guilty pair beneath the waves of Stygia. Such punishment seemed light. Therefore their necks, so smooth before, she clothed with tawny manes, their fingers curved to claws; their arms were changed to legs; their chests swelled with new weight; with tails they swept the sandy ground; and in their eyes cruel anger blazed and growls they gave for speech. Their marriage-bed is now a woodland lair, and feared by men, but by the goddess tamed, they champ - two lions - the bits of Cybele [Rhea]."
METER THEON & THE FEASTS OF THE GODS
Some poets describe the gods of Olympos in attendance of the orgiastic feasts of Dionysos and the Mother.
I) FEAST OF DIONYSOS
Pindar, Dithyrambs Heracles the Bold (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Wise are they that know what manner of festival of Bromios [Dionysos] the Ouranidai (Gods of Heaven) hold in their halls, hard by the sceptre of Zeus. In the adorable presence of the mighty Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), the prelude is the whirling of timbrels; there is also the ringing of rattles, and the torch that blazeth beneath the glowing pine-trees.
There, too, are the loudly sounding laments of the Naides, and there the frenzied shouts of dancers are aroused, with the thong that tosseth the neck on high; there too hath been brandished the almighty fire-breathing thunderbolt of Zeus, and the spear of Enyalios [Ares], while the war-like aegis of Pallas [Athena] resoundeth with the hissings of countless serpents.
Meanwhile, lightly cometh the lone huntress Artemis, who in Bacchic revels hath yoked the brood of savage lions for Bromios [Dionysos], who is enchanted even by the dancing herds of wild beasts."
II) FEAST OF THE METER THEON
Ovid describes a feast of the gods on Mount Ida in the Troad in which the lustful Mysian god Priapos attempts to violate Hestia.
Ovid, Fasti 6. 319 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Coroneted Cybele [Rhea], with her crown of turrets, invites the eternal gods to her feast. She invites, too, Satyri and Nymphae, Rural-Spirits (Rustica Numina); Silenus is present, uninvited. It’s not allowed and too long to narrate the gods’ banquet: night was consumed with much wine. Some blindly stroll shadowy Ida’s dells, or lie down and rest their bodies in the soft grass. Others play or are clasped by sleep; or link their arms and thump the green earth in triple quick step."
HYMNS TO THE METER THEON
I) THE HOMERIC HYMNS
Homeric Hymn 14 to the Mother of the Gods (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"I prithee, clear-voiced Mousa, daughter of mighty Zeus, sing of the Meter (Mother) of all gods and men (panton te theon panton t' anthropon). She is well-pleased with the sound of rattles and of timbrels, with the voice of flutes and the outcry of wolves and bright-eyes lions, with echoing hills and wooded coombes. And so hail to you in my song and to all goddesses as well!"
II) THE ORPHIC HYMNS
Orphic Hymn 14 to Threa (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To Rhea, Fumigation from Aromatics. Illustrious Rhea, to my prayer incline, daughter of various-formed Protogonos divine, who drivest thy sacred car with speed along, drawn by fierce lions, terrible and strong. Mother of Zeus, whose mighty arm can wield the avenging bolt and shake the dreaded shield. Brass-sounding, honoured, Kronos’ blessed queen, drum-beating, fury-loving, of a splendid mien. Thou joyest in mountains and tumultuous fight, and mankind’s horrid howlings thee delight. War’s parent, mighty, of majestic frame, deceitful saviour, liberating dame. Mother of Gods and Men, who from Gaia (Earth) and spacious Ouranos (Heaven) derives her glorious birth. The ethereal gales, the deeply spreading sea, Goddess, aerial-formed, proceed from thee. Come, pleased with wanderings, blessed and divine, with peace attended on our labours shine; bring rich abundance; and, wherever found, drive dire disease to earth’s remotest bound."
Orphic Hymn 27 to the Mother of the Gods :
"To Meter Theon (the Mother of the Gods), Fumigation from a variety of Odoriferous Substances. Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods), great nurse of all, draw near, divinely honoured, and regard my prayer. Throned on a car, by lions drawn along, by bull-destroying lions, swift and strong, thou swayest the sceptre of the pole divine, and the world’s middle seat, much famed, is thine. Hence earth is thine, and needy mortals share their constant food, from thy protecting care. From thee at first both Gods and men arose; for thee the sea and every river flows. Hestia and source of wealth thy name we find to mortal men rejoicing to be kind; for every good to give thy soul delights. Come, mighty power, propitious to our rites, all-taming, blessed, Phrygian Saviour, come, Kronos’ great queen, rejoicing in the drum."
III) LYRIC POET HYMNS
Pindar, Pythian Ode 3 ant4 (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"But now I wish to voice a prayer to the Meter (Mother), the revered goddess to whom, and to great Pan young maids before my door at nightfall often sing their praise."
Alcaeus, Fragment 129 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C6th B.C.) :
"The Aiolian [of Aiolia in Anatolia], glorious goddess, Mater Panton (Mother of All)."
Timotheus, Fragment 791 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) (C5th B.C.) :
"If one could fall at queenly knees, black-leaf-robed, of the Mater Oreias (Mountain Mother) and casting one’s beautiful arms about them might pray, ‘Gold-tressed Mater Theon (Mother of the Gods), save, I beseech you, my life, yes mine, for which refuge is hard to find."
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th BC
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th BC
- Pindar, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th BC
- Greek Lyric V Timotheus, Fragments - Greek Lyric BC
- Greek Lyric V Melanippides, Fragments - Greek Lyric BC
- The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns BC
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st BC
- Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st BC
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st AD
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD