Felix Megalensia Omnibus (iterum iterum iterum iterum)!
Today is the fifth day of Megalensia, and last year, I used it to examine the ritual of the taurobolium. Continuing with the “Thracian exegesis” that I’ve done on the first three days of the festival this year, I’d like to pick up that thread once again, though shift the focus slightly.
The taurobolium is a kind of substitutionary sacrifice–a bull is sacrificed in place of the archigallus self-castrating in the Roman context, it appears, from the second century onwards. Other sacrifices involving Cybele will be dealt with here, however: the case of Demophoön and Phyllis, the former being the son of Theseus of Athens, and the latter being the princess of Thrace. (I have written about other important figures called Demophoön twice recently; the issue of whether there is a relationship between these ones will have to be left for another time, and may in fact be entirely irrelevant!) Perhaps there is some character of sacrifice involved in the tragic death of one or both of these figures, and both are connected to Magna Mater in some fashion.
The epitome of Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheke 6.16-17 gives their story as follows:
Demophoön with a few ships put in to the land of the Thracian Bisaltians, and there Phyllis, the king’s daughter, falling in love with him, was given him in marriage by her father with the kingdom for her dower. But he wished to depart to his own country, and after many entreaties and swearing to return, he did depart. And Phyllis accompanied him as far as what are called the Nine Roads, and she gave him a casket, telling him that it contained a sacrament of Mother Rhea [Cybele], and that he was not to open it until heshould have abandoned all hope of returning to her. And Demophoön went to Cyprus and dwelt there. And when the appointed time was past, Phyllis called down curses on Demophoön and killed herself; and Demophon opened the casket, and, being struck with fear, he mounted his horse and galloping wildly met his end; for, the horse stumbling, he was thrown and fell on his sword. But his people settled in Cyprus.
Other versions of their story have Demophoön returning to Phyllis after a long interval, in which she has died of grief and become an almond tree, which then blossoms when he approaches it. It’s been a popular subject for art and for poetry, including Ovid’s Heroides 2.
The kista mystika, as it were, which Phyllis gives to Demophoön to carry is from Magna Mater/Cybele, and perhaps not unlike the situation with Attis, when he abandons Phyllis and turns his attentions elsewhere, he is driven mad and is brought to his death. And, in other versions of the story, the bereaved Phyllis becomes an almond tree, the same sort of tree that gave birth to Attis. So, I think there is a definite connection between all of these disparate episodes and their constellation of related images–including kataphytosis (becoming a plant after death)–that surround Cybele, and that are within a specific Thracian context in this particular case most explicitly.
Let us, therefore, not forget nor neglect our obligations to one another or to the goddesses and gods!
Praise to Magna Mater! Praise to Attis! Praise to Cybele!