THE SAMOTHRAKIAN KORYBANTES (Samothracian Corybantes) were seven rustic demigods (daimones) who presided over the Korybantic dance of the Mysteries of Samothrake. The korybas was an orgiastic dance performed by armoured men with clashing spear and shield, accompanied by the beat of tambourines and drums and the cries of the mystic devotees.
The Samothrakian Korybantes were barely distinguished from the Kabeiroi (Cabeiri), another set of orgiastic daimones who presided over the Mysteries. Often the two Kabeiroi sons of Hephaistos (Hephaestus) were combined with the seven Korybante sons of Apollon to form a Mystery-chorus of nine.
FAMILY OF THE CORYBANTES
ALTERNATE NAME SPELLINGS
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 18 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Apollon and [the Mousa (Muse)] Thaleia had the Korybantes (Corybantes)."
Lycophron, Alexandra 77 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Saos [Samothrake], the strong foundation of the Kyrbantes (Cyrbantes)."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Iasion [a Samothrakian prince] married Kybele (Cybele) [Demeter of Samothrake] and begat Korybas (Corybas). 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 Mother of the Gods and removed with them to Phrygia . . . and Korybas gave the name of Korybantes (Corybantes) to all who, in celebrating the rites of his mother, acted like men possessed."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 64. 3 :
"But some historians, and Ephoros is one of them, record that the Daktyloi Idaioi (Idaean Dactys) [i.e. the Kabeiroi or Korybantes] were in fact born on the Mt Ide (Ida) which is in Phrygia and passed over to Europe together with Mygdon; and since they were wizards (gonta), they practised charms and initiatory rites and mysteries, and in the course of a sojourn in Samothrake (Samothrace) they [as Kabeiroi or Korybantes] amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and Mysteries to the Greeks."
Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 20 - 22 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Further, one might also find, in addition to these facts concerning these Daimones (Daemones) and their various names, that they were called, not only ministers of gods, but also gods themselves . . .
(1) Others say that the Korybantes (Corybantes) were sons of Zeus and Kalliope (Calliope) and were identical with the Kabeiroi (Cabeiri), and that these went off to Samothrake (Samothrace), which in earlier times was called Melite, and that their rites were mystical . . .
(2)Some, however, believe that the Kouretes (Curetes) [of Krete (Crete)] were the same as the Korybantes and were ministers of Hekate (Hecate) [on Samothrake] . . .
(3) Pherekydes (Pherecydes) [mythographer C5th B.C.] says that nine Kyrbantes (Cyrbantes) were sprung from Apollon and Rhetia, and that they took up their abode in Samothrake; and that three Kabeiroi (Cabeiroi) and three Nymphai (Nymphs) called Kabeirides (Cabeirides) were the children of Kabeiro (Cabeiro), the daughter of Proteus, and Hephaistos (Hephaestus), and that sacred rites were instituted in honor of each triad . . .
(4) The Skepsian [Demetrius of Scepsis C2nd B.C.] says that it is probable that the Kouretes (Curetes) and the Korybantes (Corybantes) were the same, being those who had been accepted as young men, or ‘youths,’ for the war-dance in connection with the holy rites of the Mother of the Gods [Rhea], and also as korybantes from the fact that they ‘walked with a butting of their heads’ in a dancing way. These are called by the poet betarmones: ‘Come now, all ye that are the best betarmones of the Phaiakes (Phaeacians).’ And because the Korybantes are inclined to dancing and to religious frenzy, we say of those who are stirred with frenzy that they are ‘korybantising.’"
Strabo, Geography 7 Fragment 50 :
"The Kabeiroi (Cabeiri) [of Samothrake] . . . the Kyrbantes (Cyrbantes) and Korybantes (Corybantes), and likewise the Kouretes (Curetes) and the Idaean Daktyloi Idaioi (Idaean Dactyls), are identified with them."
Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks 2. 15 (trans. Butterworth) (Greek Christian rhetoric C2nd A.D.) :
"[The early Christian writer Clement discusses the roles of the Korybantes (Corybantes) and Kabeiroi (Cabeiri) in the mythos of the Samothracian Mysteries :] The [Orphic] Mysteries (Mysteria) of Dionysos are of a perfectly savage characters. He was yet a child, and the Kouretes (Curetes) were dancing around him with warlike movement, when the Titanes (Titans) stealthily drew near. First they beguiled him with childish toys, and then,--these very Titanes--tore him to pieces, though he was but an infant . . .
The Korybantes are also called by the name Kabeiroi [N.B. the two Kabeiroi differ from the aforementioned Korybantes], which proclaims the Rite of the Kabeiroi (teletes Kabeirikes). For this very pair of fratricides got possession of the chest in which the virilia of Dionysos [i.e. Zagreus who was dismembered by the Titanes] were deposited, and brought it to Tyrrhenia [Samothrake], traders in glorious wares! There they sojourned, being exiles, and communicated their precious teaching of peity, the virilia and the chest, to Tyrrhenoi (the Tyrrhenians) for purposes of worship."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 15. 65 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The orgies of the carryshield Korybantes (Corybantes), twirling their steps for the dance-in-armour, and all in a whirl the shields were beaten by alternate thump of hand or the plunging of iron."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 29. 284 ff :
"The loverattle Korybantes (Corybantes) beating their hands on both sides of the rounded skin, the tinkling cymbals."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 61 ff :
"Already the bird of morning was cutting the air with loud cries [on the island of Samothrake]; already the helmeted bands of desert-haunting Korybantes (Corybantes) were beating on their shields in the Knossian (Cnossian) dance, and leaping with rhythmic steps, and the oxhides thudded under the blows of the iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps. Aye, and the trees whispered, the rocks boomed, the forests held jubilee with their intelligent movings and shakings, and the Dryades did sing. Packs of bears joined the dance, skipping and wheeling face to face; lions with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cry of the priests of the Kabeiroi (Cabeiri), sane in their madness; the revelling pipes rang out a tune to honour of Hekate (Hecate), divine friend of dogs, those single pipes, which the horn-polisher’s art invented in Kronos’s days.
The noisy Korybantes with their ringing din awoke Kadmos (Cadmus) early in the morning; the Sidonian seamen also with one accord, hearing the never-silent oxhide at dawn, rose from their rattling pebbly pallets and left the brine-beaten back of the shore."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4. 184 ff :
"Grottoes of the Kabeiroi (Cabeiri) and Korybantian cliffs [on the island of Samothrake]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 400 ff :
"Zerynthos [on the island of Samothrake] of the unresting Korybantes (Corybantes), the foundation of renowned Perseis [Hekate], where the rocks are thronged with torchbearing mystics of the Maid."
Suidas s.v. Zerynthia (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Zerinthian cave, where they used to sacrifice dogs. There the mysteries of the Korybantes (Corybantes) and of Hekate (Hecate) took place."
Suidas s.v. All' ei tis humôn en Samothraikei memuemenos esti :
"All' ei tis humôn en Samothraikei memuemenos esti--But if there is someone among you initiated in Samothrake (Samothrace), now is a fine time to pray that both feet of the pursuer be put out of joint--: In Samothrake there were certain initiation-rites, which they supposed efficacious as a charm against certain dangers. In that place were also the mysteries of the Korybantes (Corybantes) and those of Hekate (Hecate) and the Zerinthian cave, where they sacrificed dogs. The initiates supposed that these things save [them] from terrors and from storms. The bone-socket of the pursuer to be ‘be put out of joint’ means to ‘be distorted and dislocated.’ The way forward becomes an obstacle to him, so that he can no longer turn back."
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- 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.
- Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks - Christian Scholar C2nd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.