RHEIA was the mother of the gods and a goddess of motherhood, fertility and the mountain wilds.
She was worshipped as the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods) and Meter Megale (Great Mother). Her main cult centres were located in Arkadia and Krete--the mythical birth place of her son Zeus.
Rheia was closely identified with the Phrygian goddess Kybele whose orgiastic cult was later introduced into Greece. This page, however, only describes the cult of the indigenous Greek Rheia.
In classical sculpture the Meter Theon was usually depicted as a matronly woman wearing a turret-crown, seated on a throne flanked by lions.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
CULT IN ATTICA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. ATHENS (ATHENAI) Main City of Attica (Attica)
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. ANAGYRUS (ANAGYROS) Village in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 1 :
"Anagyros [in Attika] has a sanctuary of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods)."
CULT IN CORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. CORINTH (KORINTHOS) Main City of Corinthia (Korinthia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 4. 7 :
"[On the Akrokorinthos (Corinth Acropolis)] 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 SICYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. TITANE Village in Sicyonia (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 LACEDAEMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. SPARTA Main City of Lacedaemonia (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. ACRAEA (AKRAIA) Village in Lacedaemonia
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 Main Town 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 ARCADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MEGALOPOLIS Main City of Arcadia (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. LYMAX R. River in Arcadia
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. ALPHEUS R. (ALPHEIOS) River in Arcadia
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. ALESIUM (ALESION) Mountain in Arcadia
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. PETRACHUS (PETRAKHOS) Mountain in Arcadia
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. THAUMASIUS (THAUMASIOS) Mountain in Arcadia
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 CRETE (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. CNOSSUS (KNOSSOS) Main City of Crete (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 Crete
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. PHAESTUS (PHAISTOS) Town in Crete
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 & EPITHETS
Rhea had several cult titles:--
Mother of the Gods
Mother of All
Some general cult terms include:--
Temple of the Mother
- 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.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.