In Phrygian mythology, an earth goddess, Great Mother of the Gods; identified by the Greeks of Asia Minor with the Titan Rhea, mother of Zeus; and honoured in Rome.
She was originally androgynous (possessing male and female characteristics) but was castrated by the gods; her consort, Attis, was conceived by Nana, daughter of the river god Sangarius, from the fruits of the severed parts. Cybele, enraged by her lover's infidelity, drove him to madness during which he catrastated himself and bled to death.
Worship The goddess originated in prehistoric Asia Minor, and was known by the Greeks and Romans as Agdistis, Dindymene, and other names derived from the chief centres of her cult. She was recognized in Boeotia in the 6th century BC, but a further 200 years passed before her acceptance in nearby Attica. The Greeks soon identified her with Rhea, but the deity was sometimes worshipped without Attis and merged with Gaia, goddess of the Earth, or Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.
Her cult was introduced to Rome in 204 BC from a centre at Pessinus, Galatia, following a Sibylline prophecy that she would aid the Romans against the Carthaginian general Hannibal during the Punic Wars. In Rome she was variously identified with Maia, Roman divinity of spring; Ops (Greek Rhea), a fertility goddess; Tellus, goddess of the Earth; and Ceres, the corn goddess. A temple was built on the Palatine, containing the sacred symbol of the goddess, a meteoric stone believed to have fallen from heaven, formerly kept at Pessinus.
Worship of Cybele was controlled by a high priest and priestess, together with attendant eunuch priests, the galli. Her orgiastic rites, comprising ecstatic dancing, flagellation, and, for the initiate priests, self-castration, were forbidden to Roman citizens until imperial times. Her annual festival was originally on 4 April, but from the reign of Claudius lasted 15–27 March.
Art Cybele is often depicted riding a chariot driven by two lions, the transformed lovers Atalanta and Hippomenes, symbols of her power over the wild beasts. In allegory she represents the Earth and its fertility, and is shown with an abundance of fruit.
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