Sources for Kybernesia

Apollodoros, Bibliotheca 3.5.3
And wishing to be ferried across from Icaria to Naxos Dionysos hired a pirate ship of Tyrrhenians. But when they had put him on board, they sailed past Naxos and made for Asia, intending to sell him. Howbeit, he turned the mast and oars into snakes, and filled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes. And the pirates went mad, and leaped into the sea, and were turned into dolphins. Thus men perceived that he was a God and honored him; and having brought up his mother from Hades and named her Thyone, he ascended up with her to heaven.

Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 2.37
Timaeus of Tauromenium relates that there was a certain house at Akragas called the Trireme, on this account:— At a festival of Dionysos once a group of young men were drinking and became so wild when overheated by the liquor that they imagined they were sailing in a trireme, and that they were in a bad storm on the ocean. Finally they completely lost their senses, and tossed all the furniture and bedding out of the house as though upon the waters, convinced that the pilot directed them to lighten the ship because of the raging storm. Well, a great crowd gathered and began to carry off the jetsam, but even then the youngsters did not cease from their mad actions. The next day the military authorities appeared at the house and made a complaint against the young men when they were still half-seas over. To the questions of the magistrates they answered that they had been much put to it by a storm and had been compelled to throw into the sea the superfluous cargo. When the authorities expressed surprise at their insanity, one of the young men, though he appeared to be the eldest of the company, said to them: ‘Ye Tritons, I was so frightened that I threw myself into the lowest possible place in the hold and lay there.’ The magistrates, therefore, pardoned their delirium, but sentenced them never to drink too much and let them go.

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks Book Two
If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Korybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympos. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Korybantes also they call Kabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Kabiric mystery. For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?

Hyginus, Astronomica 2.17
Aglaosthenes, who wrote the Naxica, says that there were certain Tyrrhenian shipmasters, who were to take Father Liber, when a child, to Naxos with his companions and give him over to the nymphs, his nurses. Both our writers and many Greek ones, in books on the genealogy of the Gods, have said that he was reared by them. But, to return to the subject at hand, the shipmates, tempted by love of gain, were going to turn the ship off course, when Liber, suspecting their plan, bade his companions chant a melody. The Tyrrhenians were so charmed by the unaccustomed sounds that they were seized by desire even in their dancing, and unwittingly cast themselves into the sea, and were there made dolphins. Since Liber desired to recall thought of them to men’s memory, he put the image of one of them among the constellations.

Hyginus, Fabulae 134
When the Tyrrhenians, later called Tuscans, were on a piratical expedition, Father Liber, then a youth, came on their ship and asked them to take him to Naxos. When they had taken him on and wished to debauch him because of his beauty, Acoetes, the pilot, restrained them, and suffered at their hands. Liber, seeing that their purpose remained the same, changed the oars to thyrsi, the sails to vine-leaves, the ropes to ivy; then lions and panthers leapt out. When they saw them, in fear they cast themselves into the sea, and even in the sea he changed them to a sort of beast. For whoever leaped overboard was changed into dolphin shape, and from this dolphins are called Tyrrhenians, and the sea Tyrrhenian. They were twelve in number with the following names: Aethalides, Medon, Lycabas, Libys, Opheltes, Melas, Alcimedon, Epopeus, Dictys, Simon, Acoetes. The last was the pilot, whom Liber saved out of kindness.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.511-733
When all this became known it spread the prophet’s fame throughout the cities of Achaia, and his reputation was high. Still, Pentheus, the son of Echion, in scorn of the Gods, alone amongst all of them, rejected the seer, laughed at the old man’s words of augury, and taunted him with the darkness, and the ruin of his lost sight. He, shaking his white head in warning, said ‘How happy you would be if these dispossessed orbs were yours, so as not to see the sacred rites of Bacchus! Now the day approaches, and I see it is not far off, when the new God, Liber, son of Semele will come, and unless you think him worthy to be done honour in your sanctuaries, you will be scattered, torn, in a thousand pieces, and stain your mother, and her sisters and the woods themselves with your blood. It will be! You will not think the God worthy of being honoured, and you will lament of me, that in my darkness I have seen too far.’ Even as he speaks, Echion’s son thrusts him away. The truth of his words followed, the oracles of the prophet were performed.

Liber has come, and the festive fields echo with cries. The crowd all run, fathers, mothers, young girls, princes and people, mixed together, swept towards the unknown rites. Pentheus shouts ‘What madness has stupefied your minds, children of the serpent, people of Mars? Can the clash of brazen cymbals, pipes of curved horn, and magical tricks be so powerful that men, who were not terrified by drawn swords or blaring trumpets or ranks of sharp spears, are overcome by the shrieks of women, men mad with wine, crowds of obscenities, and empty drumming? Should I admire you, elders, who, sailing the deep seas, sited your Tyre here, your exiled Penates, and now let them be taken without a fight? Or you younger men, of fresher age, nearer my own, for whom it was fitting to carry weapons and not the thyrsus, your heads covered with helmets not crowns of leaves? Remember, I beg you, from what roots you were created, and show the spirit of the serpent, who, though one alone, killed many. He died for his spring and pool, but you should conquer for your own glory! He put brave men to death, but you should make craven men run, and maintain the honour of your country! If it is Thebe’s fate to stand for only a short time, I wish her walls might be destroyed by men and siege engines, that fire and iron might sound against her! Then we would be miserable but not sinful, we would lament our fate not try to hide it, our tears would be free from shame. But now Thebes will be taken by an unarmed boy, who takes no pleasure in fighting, or weapons, or the use of horses, but in myrrh-drenched hair, soft wreathes of leaves, and embroidered robes woven with gold. But, if you stand aside, I will quickly force him to confess that his pretended parentage and religion are inventions. Should Pentheus and the rest of Thebes be terrified of his arrival, when Acrisius had courage enough to defy a false God, and shut the gates of Argos at his coming? ‘Go quickly’, he ordered his attendants ‘bind him and drag him here, this conqueror! Don’t be slow in carrying out your orders!’

His grandfather, Cadmus, his uncle, Athamas, and the rest of his advisors reprove his words, and try in vain to restrain him. He is only made more eager by their warning, and his rage is maddened and grows with restraint, and he is provoked by their objections. So I have seen a river, where nothing obstructs its passage, flow calmly and with little noise, but rage and foam wherever trees and obstacles of stone held it back, fiercer for the obstruction.

See now, they return, stained with blood, and when their lord queries where Bacchus is, they deny having seen Bacchus, but reply, ‘We have captured this companion of his, a priest of his sacred rites’ and they hand over a man of Tyrrhenian stock, with his hands bound behind his back, a follower of the worship of the God. Pentheus looks at him, with eyes made terrible by anger, and although he can scarcely wait for the moment of punishment, he says ‘O you who are about to die, and, by your death, teach the others a lesson, tell me your name, your parents’ name and your country, and why you follow the customs of this new religion!’

Without fear, he answers ‘My name is Acoetes, and Maeonia is my country, my parents humble ordinary people. My father did not leave me fields for sturdy oxen to work, no flocks of sheep, nor any cattle. I am poor as he himself was, and he used to catch fish in the streams with a rod and line and a hook to snare them. His skill was his wealth, and when he bequeathed it to me, he said ‘Take what I have. Apply yourself to the work as my successor and heir.’ Dying, he left me nothing but water. The only thing I can call my inheritance.

Soon, so that I was not stuck for ever to the same rocks, I learned how to guide boats, steering oar in hand, and to observe Capella and the rainy stars of the Olenian Goat, Taÿgete among the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the Arctic Bears, the houses of the winds, and the havens for ships.

Heading for Delos, and being driven by chance onto the coast of the island of Chios, making shore by skilful use of the oars, giving a gentle leap, and landing on the wet sand, there we passed the night. As soon as the dawn began to redden, I ordered the getting in of fresh water, and showed the path that lead to a spring. I myself commanded the view from a high hill to find what wind promised, called my comrades and went back to the boat. ‘See, we are here’ said Opheltes, the foremost of my friends, and led a boy, with the beauty of a virgin girl, along the shore, a prize, or so he thought, that he had found in a deserted field. The boy seemed to stumble, heavy with wine and sleep, and could scarcely follow. I examined his clothing, appearance and rank, and I saw nothing that made me think him mortal. And I felt this and said it to my companions ‘I do not know what God is in that body, but there is a God within! Whoever you are, O favour and assist our efforts, and forgive these men!’ ‘Don’t pray for us’ said Dictys, who was the quickest at climbing to the highest yard and sliding down grasping the rigging. So said Libys, and yellow-haired Melanthus, the forward look-out, and Alcimedon agreed, and Epopeus, who with his voice gave the measure and the pauses for the oarsmen to urge on their purpose. All the others said the same, so blind was their greed for gain.

‘I still will not allow this ship to be cursed by a sacred victim to whom violence has been done’ I said. ‘Here I have the greatest authority’. And I prevented them boarding. Then Lycabas the most audacious of them all began to rage at me, he who had been thrown out of Tuscany, and was suffering the punishment of exile from his city for a terrible murder. While I held him off, he punched me in the throat with his strong young fists, and would have thrown me semi-conscious into the sea, if I had not clung on, almost stunned, held back by the rigging. The impious crew cheered on the doer of it. Then, at last, Bacchus (for it was indeed Bacchus) was freed from sleep, as if by the clamour, and the sense returned to his drunken mind. ‘What are you doing? Why this shouting? he said. ‘Tell me, you seamen, how I came here? Where do you intend to take me?’ ‘Have no fear’, said Proreus, ‘and, whatever port you wish to touch at, you will be set down in the country you demand!’ ‘Naxos’ said Liber, ‘set your course for there! That is my home: it will be a friendly land to you!

The treacherous men swore, by the sea and all the Gods, it would be so, and told me to get the painted vessel under sail. Naxos was to starboard, but as I trimmed the sails on a starboard tack, they, each one, asked me ‘What are you doing, O madman? Acoetes, what craziness has got into you? Take the port tack!’ most of them letting me know what they intended with a nod of the head, the others in a whisper. I was horrified. ‘Someone else can steer’ I said, and distanced myself from the wickedness and deception. There were cries against me from all sides, the whole crew murmured against me. And one of them, Aethalion, cried ‘You seem to think that all our lives depend on you alone! Then he took my place himself, discharged my office, and abandoning Naxos took the opposite course.

Then the God, playfully, as though he had just realised their deceit, looked at the sea over the curve of the stern, and as though he were weeping said ‘Sailors, these are not the shores you promised me, and this is not the land I chose for myself? What have I done to merit punishment? Where’s the glory in men cheating a boy, or many cheating just one?’ I was already weeping, but the impious crew laughed at my tears, and drove the ship quickly through the water.

Now I swear by the God himself (since there is no God more certainly present than he is) that what I say to you is the truth, though that truth beggars belief. The ship stands still in the waves, just as if it were held in dry dock. Amazed, the crew keep flogging away at the oars, and unfurling the sails, try to run on with double power. But ivy impedes the oars, creeping upwards, with binding tendrils, and drapes the sails with heavy clusters. The God himself waves a rod twined with vine leaves, his forehead wreathed with bunches of grapes. Around him lie insubstantial phantom lynxes, tigers, and the savage bodies of spotted panthers. The men leap overboard, driven to it either by madness or by fear. And Medon is the first to darken all over his body, and his spine to be bent into an arched curve.

Lycabas cries out to him ‘What monster are you turning into?’ And in speaking his jaws widen, his nose becomes hooked, and his skin becomes hard and scaly. But Libys hampered when he wishes to turn the oars sees his hands shrink suddenly in size, and now they are not hands, but can only be called fins. Another, eager to grasp at the tangled ropes, no longer has arms, and goes arching backwards limbless into the sea. His newest feature is a scythe-shaped tail, like the curved horns of a fragmentary moon. The dolphins leap everywhere drenched with spray. They emerge once more, only to return again to the depths, playing together as if they were in a troupe, throwing their bodies around wantonly, and blowing out the seawater drawn in through their broad nostrils.

Of a group of twenty (that was how many the ship carried) I alone was left. The God roused me with difficulty, my body shaking with cold and terror, and barely myself, saying ‘Free your heart from fear, and hold off for Naxos! And consigned to that island, I have adopted its religion, and celebrate the Bacchic rites.

‘We have only listened to this winding tale’, said Pentheus, ‘so that our anger might spend its strength in delay. ‘You, attendants, remove this man, quickly, and let his body be tortured in greatest anguish, and send him down to Stygian night!’ Acoetes, the Tyrrhenian, was dragged out, straightaway, and shut in a deep dungeon. But while the instruments of cruelty, the irons and the fire, were being prepared to kill him as had been ordered, the doors flew open by themselves, the chains loosening without any effort, so tradition holds.

The son of Echion persisted in his purpose, not ordering others to go, but now going himself, to where Mount Cithaeron, chosen for performing the rites, was sounding with the chants and shrill cries of the Bacchantes. As a brave horse snorts and shows his love for the fight, when the trumpeter’s brass gives the signal for attack, so the heavens pulsating from the long drawn-out cries stirred Pentheus, and, hearing the clamour, his anger flared again.

Near the middle of the mountainside, was a clearing surrounded with remote woods, free of trees, and visible from all sides. Here as he watched the mysteries, with profane eyes, his mother was the first to see Pentheus, the first roused to run at him madly, the first to wound him, hurling her thyrsus. She shouted ‘O you two, sisters, come! That huge boar, who is straying in our fields, that boar is my sacrifice.’ They all rush on him in one maddened crowd: they converge together pursuing the frightened man, frightened now, speaking words free of violence now, cursing himself now, realising his own offence. Stricken, he still shouts ‘Help me, aunt Autonoë! Let Actaeon’s shade move your spirit!

She, not remembering Actaeon, tears away the suppliant’s right arm. Ino, in frenzy, rips off the other. Now the unhappy man has no limbs to hold out to his mother, but, showing his wounded trunk shorn of its members, he cries ‘Mother, see!’. Agave howls, and twists her neck about, and thrashes her hair in the air, and tearing off his head, holding it in her bloody hands, shouts ‘Behold, sisters, this act marks our victory!’

The wind does not strip the leaves clinging there, from the high tree touched by an autumn frost, more quickly than this man’s limbs are torn by those terrible hands. Warned by such an example, the Theban women throng to the new religion, burn incense, and worship at the sacred altars.

Seneca, Oedipus 449-467
Thee, O boy, a Tyrrhenian band once captured and Nereus allayed the swollen sea; the dark blue waters he changed to meadows. Thence flourish the plane-tree with vernal foliage and the laurel-grove dear to Phoebus; the chatter of birds sounds loud through the branches. Fast-growing ivy clings to the oars, and grape-vines twine at the mast-head. On the prow an Idaean lion roars; at the stern crouches a tiger of Ganges. Then the frightened pirates swim in the sea, and plunged in the water their bodies assume new forms: the robbers’ arms first fall away; their breasts smite their bellies and are joined in one; a tiny hand comes down at the side; with curving back they dive into the waves, and with crescent-shaped tail they cleave the sea; and now as curved dolphins they follow the fleeing sails.

Theophrastos, History of Plants
Aischylos in his Elegies, for instance, calls Tyrrhenia a land of many drugs: “The Tyrrhene race, that people of drug-makers.”


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