According to the Greek mythology, the Korybantes (/ˌkɒrɪˈbæntiːz/; Greek: Κορύβαντες) were the armed and crested dancers who worshipped the Phrygian goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing. They are also called the Kurbantes in Phrygia. The conventional English equivalent is "Corybants".


The name Korybantes is of uncertain etymology. Edzard Johan Furnée and R. S. P. Beekes have suggested a Pre-Greek origin.[1][2]

Others refer the name to *κορυβή (korybé), the Macedonian version of κορυφή (koryphé) "crown, top, mountain peak", explaining their association with mountains, particularly Olympus.[3]


The Korybantes were the offspring of Apollo and Muse Thalia[4] or Rhytia (Rhetia).[5] In some accounts, they were described as the children of Athena and Helios; further, some call the Corybantes sons of Cronus, but others say that they were sons of Zeus and Muse Calliope.[5]


The Kuretes or Kouretes (Κουρῆτες) were nine dancers who venerate Rhea, the Cretan counterpart of Cybele. A fragment from Strabo's Book VII[6] gives a sense of the roughly analogous character of these male confraternities, and the confusion rampant among those not initiated:

Many assert that the gods worshipped in Samothrace as well as the Kurbantes and the Korybantes and in like manner the Kouretes and the Idaean Daktyls are the same as the Kabeiroi, but as to the Kabeiroi they are unable to tell who they are.

Initiatory dance

Corybantian dance from Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities (SALTATIO article)
A decorous Corybantian dance, as pictured in William Smith's A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities[7] (1870).

These armored male dancers kept time to a drum and the rhythmic stamping of their feet. Dance, according to Greek thought, was one of the civilizing activities, like wine-making or music. The dance in armor (the "Pyrrhic dance" or pyrrhichios [Πυρρίχη]) was a male coming-of-age initiation ritual linked to a warrior victory celebration. Both Jane Ellen Harrison and the French classicist Henri Jeanmaire[8] have shown that both the Kouretes (Κουρῆτες) and Cretan Zeus, who was called "the greatest kouros (κοῦρος)",[9] were intimately connected with the transition of boys into manhood in Cretan cities.

The English "Pyrrhic Dance" is a corruption of the original Pyrríkhē or the Pyrríkhios Khorós "Pyrrhichian Dance". It has no relationship with the king Pyrrhus of Epirus, who invaded Italy in the 3rd century BC, and who gave his name to the Pyrrhic victory, which was achieved at such cost that it was tantamount to a defeat.


The Phrygian Korybantes were often confused by Greeks with other ecstatic male confraternities, such as the Idaean Dactyls or the Cretan Kouretes, spirit-youths (kouroi) who acted as guardians of the infant Zeus. In Hesiod's telling of Zeus's birth,[10] when Great Gaia came to Crete and hid the child Zeus in a "steep cave", beneath the secret places of the earth, on Mount Aigaion with its thick forests; there the Cretan Kouretes' ritual clashing spears and shields were interpreted by Hellenes as intended to drown out the infant god's cries, and prevent his discovery by his cannibal father Cronus. Emily Vermeule observed,

This myth is Greek interpretation of mystifying Minoan ritual in an attempt to reconcile their Father Zeus with the Divine Child of Crete; the ritual itself we may never recover with clarity, but it is not impossible that a connection exists between the Kouretes' weapons at the cave and the dedicated weapons at Arkalochori".[11]

Among the offerings recovered from the cave, the most spectacular are decorated bronze shields with patterns that draw upon north Syrian originals and a bronze gong on which a god and his attendants are shown in a distinctly Near Eastern style.[12]

Korybantes also presided over the infancy of Dionysus, another god who was born as a babe, and of Zagreus, a Cretan child of Zeus, or child-doublet of Zeus. The wild ecstasy of their cult can be compared to the female Maenads who followed Dionysus.

Ovid, in Metamorphoses, says the Kouretes were born from rainwater (Uranus fertilizing Gaia). This suggests a connection with the Hyades.

The Kouretes dancing around the infant Zeus, as pictured in Themis by Jane Ellen Harrison (1912, p. 23; see References section below).

Other functions

The scholar Jane Ellen Harrison writes that besides being guardians, nurturers, and initiators of the infant Zeus, the Kouretes were primitive magicians and seers. She also writes that they were metal workers and that metallurgy was considered an almost magical art.[13] There were several "tribes" of Korybantes, including the Cabeiri, the Korybantes Euboioi, the Korybantes Samothrakioi. Hoplodamos and his Gigantes were counted among Korybantes, and Titan Anytos was considered a Kourete.

Homer referred to select young men as kouretes, when Agamemnon instructs Odysseus to pick out kouretes, the bravest among the Achaeans to bear gifts to Achilles.[14] The Greeks preserved a tradition down to Strabo's day, that the Kuretes of Aetolia and Acarnania in mainland Greece had been imported from Crete.[15]


  1. ^ Edzard Johan Furnée, Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen mit einem Appendix über den Vokalismus, 1972, p. 359.
  2. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 755.
  3. ^ * A. B. Cook (1914), Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Vol. I, p. 107, Cambridge University Press
  4. ^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.3.4.
  5. ^ a b Strabo, Geographica 10.3.19.
  6. ^ Quoted by Jane Ellen Harrison, "The Kouretes and Zeus Kouros: A Study in Pre-Historic Sociology", The Annual of the British School at Athens 15 (1908/1909:308-338) p. 309; Harrison observes that Strabo's not very illuminating statement serves to show "that in Strabo's time even a learned man was in complete doubt as to the exact nature of the Kouretes" and second, "that in current opinion, Satyrs, Kouretes, Idaean Daktyls, Korybantes and Kabeiroi appeared as figures roughly analogous".
  7. ^ Smith, Dictionary, s.v. "Saltatio".
  8. ^ Harrison 1908/09; Jeanmaire,Couroi et Courètes: essai sur l'éducation spartiate et sur les rites d'adolescence dans l'antiquité hellénique, Lille, 1939).
  9. ^ At Palaikastro the inscribed "hymn of the Kouretes" dates to ca. 300 BCE.
  10. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 478-91.
  11. ^ Vermeule, "A Gold Minoan Double Axe" Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 57 No. 307 (1959:4-16) p. 6.
  12. ^ G.L. Hoffman, Imports and Immigrants: Near Eastern Contacts with Early Iron Age Crete, 1997, noted by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2008:157; "A bronze tympanum, several cymbals, and sixty-odd shields, many finely decorated, evoke the dance of the Curetes, which is also depicted on the tympanum, even if the bearded god and his attendants are rendered in Oriental style", observes Noel Robertson, "The ancient Mother of the Gods. A missing chapter in the history of Greek religion", in Eugene Lane, ed. Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren 1996:248 and noted sources.
  13. ^ Harrison, Chapter I: The Hymn of the Kouretes, p. 1 and 26. On page 26, specifically, she writes: "The Kouretes are also, as all primitive magicians are, seers (μαντεις). When Minos in Crete lost his son Glaukos he sent for the Kouretes to discover where the child was hidden. Closely akin to this magical aspect is the fact that they are metal-workers. Among primitive people metallurgy is an uncanny craft and the smith is half medicine man."
  14. ^ Homer, Iliad xix.193.
  15. ^ Strabo, x.462, quoted in Harrison 1908/09.309 note 4.


External links


Antipatitis (Greek: αντιπατητής) is a form of a Greek folk dance from Greek island Karpathos, Greece.


Atsiapat (Greek: Άτσιαπατ), also spelt atsapat (Άτσαπατ), is the first in a sequence of three Greek traditional men dances performed in the region of Pontus, as well as by refugees of Pontos. Atsapat is characterized by short steps and exaggerated movements that resemble stretching. This dance is followed directly by Serra. The final dance in the sequence is the Pyrrhichios.

Atsapat is the Greek pronunciation of the Pontic Turkish city of Akçaabat. The region is famous for the virtuosity of its Pyrrhichios dancers.


Castanets, also known as clackers or palillos, are a percussion instrument (idiophone), used in Spanish, Kalo, Moorish, Ottoman, Italian, Sephardic, Swiss, and Portuguese music. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome there was a similar instrument called crotalum.

The instrument consists of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string. They are held in the hand and used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks. They are traditionally made of hardwood (chestnut; Spanish: castaño), although fibreglass is becoming increasingly popular.

In practice a player usually uses two pairs of castanets. One pair is held in each hand, with the string hooked over the thumb and the castanets resting on the palm with the fingers bent over to support the other side. Each pair will make a sound of a slightly different pitch.

The origins of the instrument are not known. The practice of clicking hand-held sticks together to accompany dancing is ancient, and was practiced by both the Greeks and the Egyptians. In more modern times, the bones and spoons used in Minstrel show and jug band music can also be considered forms of the castanet.

During the baroque period, castanets were featured prominently in dances. Composers like Jean-Baptiste Lully scored them for the music of dances which included Spaniards (Ballet des Nations), Egyptians (Persée, Phaëton), Ethiopians (Persée, Phaëton), and Korybantes (Atys). In addition, they are often scored for dances involving less pleasant characters such as demons (Alceste) and nightmares (Atys). Their association with African dances is even stated in the ballet Flore (1669) by Lully, "… les Africains inventeurs des danses de Castagnettes entrent d'un air plus gai …"

A rare occasion where the normally accompanying instrument is given concertant solo status is Leonardo Balada's Concertino for Castanets and Orchestra Three Anecdotes (1977). The "Conciertino für Kastagnetten und Orchester" by the German composer Helmut M. Timpelan, in cooperation with the castanet virtuoso, José de Udaeta, is another solo work for the instrument. See also the tocatta festiva for castanets by Allan Stephenson. Sonia Amelio has also performed her castanet arrangements as a concert soloist.

In the late Ottoman Empire, köçeks not only danced but played percussion instruments, especially a type of castanet known as the çarpare, which in later times were replaced by metal cymbals called zills.

Castanets are also sometimes referred to as clackers in the United States.


In classical antiquity, a crotalum (Ancient Greek: κρόταλον krotalon) was a kind of clapper or castanet used in religious dances by groups in ancient Greece and elsewhere, including the Korybantes.The term has been erroneously supposed by some writers to be the same as the sistrum. These mistakes are refuted at length by Friedrich Adolph Lampe (1683-1729) in De cymbalis veterum. From the Suda and the Scholiast on Aristophanes (Nubes, 260), it appears to have been a split reed or cane, which clattered when shaken with the hand. According to Eustathius (Il. XI.160), it was made of shell and brass, as well as wood. Clement of Alexandria attributes the instruments invention to the Sicilians, and forbids the use thereof to the Christians, because of the motions and gestures accompanying the practice.Women who played on the crotalum were termed crotalistriae. Such was Virgil's Copa (2),

"Crispum sub crotalo docta movere latus."This line alludes to the dance with crotala (similar to castanets), for which we have the additional testimony of Macrobius (Saturnalia III.14.4‑8).As the instrument made a noise somewhat like that of a crane's bill, the bird was called crotalistria, "player on crotala".Pausanias affirms by way of the epic poet Pisander of Camirus that Heracles did not kill the birds of Lake Stymphalia, but that he drove them away by playing on crotala. Based on this, the instrument must be exceedingly ancient.The word krotalon is often applied, by an easy metaphor, to a noisy talkative person (Aristoph. Nub. 448; Eurip. Cycl. 104). One of the Spanish names for "rattlesnake" is crótalo.

Curetes (tribe)

This article discusses the legendary tribe of the Curetes. For the dancing attendants of Rhea, see Korybantes.In Greek mythology and epic literature, the Curetes (Ancient Greek: Κουρῆτες) were a legendary people who took part in the quarrel over the Calydonian Boar. Strabo mentioned that the Curetes were assigned multiple identities and places of origin (i.e. either Acarnanians, Aetolians, from Crete, or from Euboea). However, he clarified the identity of the Curetes and regarded them solely as Aetolians. Dionysius of Halicarnassus mentioned the Curetes as the old name of the Aetolians.

Dactyl (mythology)

In Greek mythology, the Dactyls or Daktyloi (; from Ancient Greek: Δάκτυλοι Dáktuloi "fingers") were the archaic mythical race of male beings associated with the Great Mother, whether as Cybele or Rhea. Their numbers vary, but often they were ten spirit-men so like the three Korybantes, the Cabeiri or the Korybantes that they were often interchangeable. The Dactyls were both ancient smiths and healing magicians. In some myths, they are in Hephaestus' employ, and they taught metalworking, mathematics, and the alphabet to humans.

When Ankhiale knew her time of delivery was come, she went to Psychro Cave on Cretan Mount Ida. As she squatted in labor she dug her fingers into the earth (Gaia), which brought forth these daktyloi Idaioi (Δάκτυλοι Ἰδαῖοι "Idaean fingers"), thus often ten in number, or sometimes multiplied into a race of ten tens. Three is just as often given as their number. They are sometimes instead numbered as thirty-three.

When Greeks offered a most solemn oath, often they would press their hands against the earth as they uttered it.


Dipat is a Greek spiritual dance. It is the second-most popular Pontian dance, behind only the Horon.

Ecstatic dance

Ecstatic dance is a form of dance in which the dancers, sometimes without the need to follow specific steps, abandon themselves to the rhythm and move freely as the music takes them, leading to trance and a feeling of ecstasy.

Ecstatic dance has been practised throughout human history, including in classical times by the maenads, followers of the wine-god Dionysus. In the ancient and widespread practice of shamanism, ecstatic dance and rhythmic drumming are used to alter consciousness in spiritual practices as different as the Kut ritual of Korea and among the San of Southern Africa. Ecstatic dances are known also from religious traditions around the world, including Sufi dervishes; from Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana, and Senegal, and the Candomble of Brazil, derived from African traditions. Modern ecstatic dance was revived by Gabrielle Roth in the 1970s and formalised in her 5Rhythms practice; it is now found in variants across the western world.

The effects of ecstatic dance begin with ecstasy itself, which may be experienced in differing degrees. Dancers are described as feeling connected to others, and to their own emotions. The dance serves as a form of meditation, helping people to cope with stress and to attain serenity.


Kalymnikos is a dance from the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Aegean Sea.


Kangeli (Greek: καγκέλι) is a form of a Greek folk dance from Thessaly, Greece.


Katsabadianos (Greek: Κατσαμπαδιανός), is a folk dance with Cretan origin. It is very widespread in Heraklion and Chania.


Lafina (Greek: λαφίνα) is a form of a Greek folk dance from Thessaly, Greece. It is very similar to syrtos.

Metsovitikos (dance)

Metsovitikos (Greek: Μετσοβίτικος xoρός) is a kind of a local folk dance from Metsovo, Greece.


Ntames (Greek: ντάμες), is a Cretan folk dance from Rethymno, Greece. It is very widespread in Crete. It is danced by couples.


Pidikhtos (Greek: πηδηχτός), is a Greek folk dance with Cretan origin, dancing in a circle formation. It is very widespread in Crete and the Greek islands.


The Pyrrhichios or Pyrrhike dance ("Pyrrhic dance"; Ancient Greek: πυρρίχιος or πυρρίχη, but often misspelled as πυρρίχειος or πυρήχειος) was the best known war dance of the Greeks. It was probably of Dorian origin and practiced at first solely as a training for war. According to ancient sources it was an armed dance.

Serra (dance)

Serra (Greek: Σέρρα) is a Pontic Greek war dance of ancient Greek origin, from Pontus region of the Black Sea. Its name comes from the Serra river, in the region of Trapezunda. It is also called Lazikon (Greek: Λαζικόν). The rhythm starts in 7/16 and becomes an even meter when the dance speeds up.This dance is sometimes confused with Atsiapat, which precedes it. It is danced in sequence and followed by the Pyrrhichios dance.

Tranos Choros

Tranos Choros (Greek: Τρανός Χορός) is a form of a Greek folk dance from Kozani, Greece.


Zaharoula, Ζαχαρούλα(el) is Greek folkloric tune. The meter is 24.


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