Greek Mythology – Rhea

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Here we cover the Greek God Rhea, other postings examine the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Mountain Goddess – RHEA

Greek God RheaAs Uranus, the representative of the fertilizing force in nature, was superseded by Cronus, the representative of a ripening force, so Gaea, the primitive goddess of the earth with its productive plains, gave way to Rhea, a goddess of the earth with its mountains and forests. Gaea had been the mother of the powerful Titans. Rhea was the mother of gods less given to feats of strength, but more highly gifted: Pluto, Poseidon (Neptune), and Zeus (Jupiter), Hera (Juno), Demeter (Ceres), and Hestia (Vesta). Her titles as, for example, Dindymene and Berecynthia were derived for the most part from the names of mountains in Asia Minor, particularly those of Phrygia and Lydia, her worship having been intimately associated with the early civilization of these countries. There her name was Cybele or Cybebe, which also, from its being employed to designate her sanctuaries (Cybela) in caves or mountain sides, points to her character as a mountain goddess.

The lofty hills of Asia Minor, while sheltering on their cavernous sides wild animals, such as the panther and lion, which it was her delight to tame, also looked down on many flourishing cities which it was her duty to protect. In this latter capacity she wore a mural crown, and was styled Mater turrita. But though herself identified with peaceful civilization, her worship was always distinguished by wild and fantastic excitement, her priests and devotees rushing through the woods at night with torches burning, maiming and wounding each other, and producing all the din that was possible from the clashing of cymbals, the shrill notes of pipes, and the frantic voice of song.

To account for this peculiarity of her worship, which must have been intended to commemorate some great sorrow, the story was told of how she had loved the young Phrygian shepherd, Attis, whose extraordinary beauty had also won the heart of the king’s daughter of Pessinus; how he was destined to marry the princess, and how the goddess, suddenly appearing, spread terror and consternation among the marriage guests. Attis escaped to the mountains, maimed himself, and died beside a pine tree, into which his soul trans migrated, while from his blood sprang violets like a wreath round the tree.

The goddess implored Zeus to restore her lover. This could not be. But so much was granted that his body should never decay, that his hair should always grow, and that his little finger should always move. The pine was a symbol of winter and sadness, the violet of spring and its hopeful beauty.

There is a charm in the name of ancient Greece; there is glory in every page of her history; there is a fascination in the remains of her literature, and a sense of unapproachable beauty in her works of art; there is a spell in her climate still, and a strange attraction in her ruins.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Rhea – Titan Queen