Arrian “Ars Tactica” on Cybele and Attis at Rome

N. S. Gill writes the following here:

A pine tree was made to represent the dead Attis for the day of the entrance of the tree.

The reference given is “The Cannophori and the March Festival of Magna Mater,” by Duncan Fishwick. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 97. (1966), pp. 193-202.  This states:

Certainly the entry of the pine tree decked out to represent the dead Attis and the startling rites that followed two days later are ceremonies of a funerary festival that ended with the washing of Cybele’s image in the Almo; cf. Arrian, Tactica 33.4 (ed. A. G. Roos): ἡ Φρυγία τιμᾶται ἐκ Πεσσινοῦντος ἐλθοῦσα, καὶ τὸ πένθος τὸ ἀμφὶ τῷ Ἄττῃ Φρύγιον ὄν ἐν Ῥώμῃ πενθεῖται, καὶ τὸ λουτρὸν δ’ ἡ Ῥέα, ἐφ̕ οὗ τοῦ πένθους λήγει, τῶν Φρυγῶν νόμῳ λοῦται.

I admit that I had not heard of this work of Arrian, which never seems to have been translated.  It was edited by Roos as part of a 2 volume collected works.  The Greek seems to say:

“The Phrygian [goddess] from Pessinus is honoured, and the mourning for the sake of Attis the Phrygian is bewailed in Rome, and” … something about washing?  What I don’t see is anything about how the pine tree represents Attis.


The Hilaria and the resurrection of Attis

I read somewhere that the festival of the Hilaria in Rome on March 25th marked the celebration in the cult of Cybele of the resurrection of Attis. This evening I consulted a PDF of the relevant volume of the old Realencyclopadie, which stated the following:

Hilaria. Ἱλάρια war der Name verschiedener in der griechischen Welt (z. B. in Kreta) gefeierten Feste, welche auch bei glücklichen Ereignissen, wie der Thronbesteigung eines Prinzen, offiziell befohlen wurden: Niemand durfte an diesen Tagen Trauerkleider tragen und nach verschiedenen Dankopfern gaben sich alle der Freude hin (Dionys. Areop. Epist. 8 § 6, P. G. III 604, mit Maximi scholia, P. G. IV 420). Auch in dem Isiskult gab es einen Hilarientag am 3. November (Philocalus, CIL I2 p. 334). Aber in Rom wurden besonders mit diesem Namen die H. der Magna mater bezeichnet, die am 25. März begangen wurden (CIL 12 p. 313). In Kleinasien (z. B. in Hierapolis, Damascius Vit. Isid. bei Phot. bibl. 345 a Bekker) wie in Rom waren sie eines der Hauptfeste des Jahres (Hist. aug. Alex. Sever. 37, 6; Aurel. 1). Mit Kränzen geschmückt (Sallust. phil. de diis 4) versammelten sich Gäste zu fröhlichen Mahlen, und es fand eine große Prozession statt, wo neben feierlichen Speerträgern (αἰχμοφόροι, hastiferi, vgl. Hepding a. a. O.) auch lustige Masken erschienen, die allerlei Spässe spielten (Herodian. 110, 5). Der religiöse Hintergrund dieses antiken Karnevals war nicht nur ein altes Frühlingsfest, das nach der Nachtgleiche, quo primum tempore Sol diem longiorem nocte protendit, die Wiederbelebung der Natur ankündigte oder hervorrief (Macrob. Sat. I 21, 11. Iulian. or. V 168 D. 169D. 175 A: vgl. Frazer Adonis, Attis, Osiris 1907), sondern die H. standen auch in der engsten Verbindung mit dem Attismythos. Der Gott, dessen Tod man beweint hatte (s. Attis o. Bd. II S. 2250), war an diesem Tage auferstanden, was als ein Versprechen einer glücklichen Unsterblichkeit für seine Mysten betrachtet wurde (Damascius a. a. O.: Ὅπερ ἐδήλου τὴν Ἅιδου γε-γονυῖαν ἡμῖν σωτηρίαν). Marquardt-Wissowa St.-V. III2 872. Hepding Attis 1908, 167ff. 197. 215. [Cumont.]

Hilariana basilica der dendrophori matris deum magnae Ideae et Attis, benannt nach ihrem Gründer M’. Publicius Hilarus (Inschrift des 2. Jhdts. n. Chr.; CIL VI 30973. Vgl. Gatti Not. degli scavi 1889, 398 und Hülsen Röm. Mitt. VI 1891, 109f), lag im Bereiche der ehemaligen Villa Casali (jetzt Militärhospital) am Caelius nördlich von S. Stefano Rotondo. Die Reste einer Treppenanlage und des Vorraumes mit Mosaik und Inschrift intrantibus hic deos propitios et basilicae Hilarianae (vgl. C. L. Visconti Bull. com. 1890 Tav. I. II) fanden sich 1889. Vgl. auch Not. degli scavi 1890, 79. 113 und Bull. com. 1889, 483. 1890, 18ff. 78. [Gall ]

I have translated this as follows, although a couple of words don’t make sense:

Hilaria. Ἱλάρια was the name of different festivals celebrated in the Greek world (e.g. in Crete), which were officially ordered also at happy events such as the accession of a prince: No one was allowed to wear mourning clothes on these days and after various peace offerings, all gave themselves up to rejoicing (Dionys. Areop. Epist. 8 § 6, P. G. III 604, with the scholia of Maximus, P. G. IV 420). Also in the cult of Isis, there was a Hilaria day on 3 November (Philocalus, CIL I2 p. 334).

But in Rome this name was used mainly for the H. of the Magna Mater, which took place on 25 March (CIL 12 p. 313). In Asia Minor (e.g. in Hierapolis, Damascius Vit. Isid. in Phot. bibl. 345 a Bekker), as in Rome, they were one of the principal feasts of the year (Hist. aug. Alex. Sever. 37, 6; Aurel. 1). Wearing wreaths (Sallust. phil. de diis 4), guests gathered for happy grinding [Mahlen?], and there was a large procession, where in addition to ceremonial spear carriers (αἰχμοφόροι, hastiferi, see Hepding above) also comedy masks appeared, playing all kinds of jokes (Herodian. 110, 5).

The religious background of this ancient carnival was not only an ancient spring festival, which after the equinoxes, quo primum tempore Sol diem longiorem nocte protendit, announced the revival of nature or caused (Macrob. Sat. I 21, 11. Iulian. or. V 168 D. 169D. 175 A: see Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, 1907), but the H. were also in the closest connection with the Attis-mythos.

The god, whose death had been mourned (see Attis above, II p. 2250), was resurrected on that day, which was regarded as a promise of a happy immortality for his mystic [ Mysten?] (Damascius above): Ὅπερ ἐδήλου τὴν Ἅιδου γεγονυῖαν ἡμῖν σωτηρίαν). Marquardt-Wissowa St.-V. III2 872. Hepding Attis 1908, 167ff. 197. 215. [Cumont.]

This is an interesting article. However I have become wary of comments of this sort by Cumont. Too often his remarks are an extravagant extrapolation from some tiny piece of data.

So… it’s time to verify the references. This I will start to do. At least there are references!

UPDATE: I’ve also been looking at the Attis article in the RE, also by Cumont. This discusses the very divergent forms of the Attis myth, and then adds:

Eine stark abweichende euhemeristische Umbildung der Legende findet man bei Diodor (III 58. 59) und ausserdem bei Firmicus Maternus (de err. pr. relig. 3), der ausdrücklich sagt, dass A. nach seinem Tode auferstanden sei — ein Zug, der nirgends so klar ausgesprochen wird (vgl. doch Plut. de Is. et Osir. 69), obwohl das Frühlingsfest des Gottes ihn voraussetzt.

A highly divergent euhemeteristic transformation of the legend is found in Diodorus (III 58. 59.) and also at Firmicus Maternus (de err. pr. relig. 3), which expressly says that A. was resurrected after his death – an idea that is nowhere expressed so clearly (but see Plut. de Osir. et Is. 69), although the spring festival of the god presupposes it.

A further note reads:

Ganz bekleidet, trauernd, das Kinn auf die Hand gestützt, gewöhnlich auf Grabdenkmälern (die Auferstehung des A. wurde wohl als eine Versprechung der Unsterblichkeit angesehen, vgl. CIL III 6384).

In clothed, mourning, his chin resting on his hand, usually on grave monuments (the resurrection of A. have been regarded as a promise of immortality, see CIL III 6384).

And that, it seems, is all that Cumont has on the resurrection of Attis. We have just a single reference, in Firmicus Maternus. There is a reference to a monument which I will investigate.

Can it be, is it possible that the idea that the Roman celebration of the Hilaria celebrates the resurrection of Attis is just speculation?

Certainly it was associated with the Magna Mater. But… where in the ancient texts is the connection to Attis? Where is the detail that he is resurrected on that day?


Festival of Cybele today?

My attention was drawn to a post at by a certain N. S. Gill here:

On This Day in Ancient History: Entrance of the Tree
Monday March 22, 2010

The ancient Roman festival of the Magna Mater (Great Mother Cybele) included the Arbor intrat (entrance of the tree) on March 22. An imported goddess from Phrygia, Magna Mater was installed in Rome in 204 (at the time of Hannibal) where she grew in importance. A pine tree was made to represent the dead Attis for the day of the entrance of the tree. The Dies sanguinis “Day of Blood” followed on the 24th of March and the “Cleansing” on the 27th. See

“The Cannophori and the March Festival of Magna Mater,” by Duncan Fishwick. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 97. (1966), pp. 193-202.

Now I am a sceptical soul.  I do wonder, therefore, what ancient evidence stands behind all these statements.  Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the Fishwick article, although it is in JSTOR here — anyone care to send me a copy? — but I have a feeling that the answer is “very little”.  Indeed some of this may be inferred from rather than stated by ancient sources.

I looked into Attis and the sources some time ago, although I never compiled a final version.  My working notes are here.  These tell me that a statement in John the Lydian, De Mensibus IV. 41 reads:

On day 11, the kalends of April, a pine tree is carried into the Palatine by the tree-bearers. But the emperor Claudius instituted these these ferias, a man of such justice in judgement that…

John the Lydian’s work needs translation.  It always has interesting things to tell us about Roman religion and festivals.  But moving on, Arnobius, Adversus Paganos book V tells us:

… how can you assert the falsehood of this story, when the very rites which you celebrate throughout the year testify that you believe these things to be true, and consider them perfectly trustworthy?

For what is the meaning of that pine which on fixed days you always bring into the sanctuary of the mother of the gods? Is it not in imitation of that tree, beneath which the raging and ill-fated youth laid hands upon himself, and which the parent of the gods consecrated to relieve her sorrow?

What mean the fleeces of wool with which you bind and surround the trunk of the tree? Is it not to recall the wools with which Ia covered the dying youth, and thought that she could procure some warmth for his limbs fast stiffening with cold? What mean the branches of the tree girt round and decked with wreaths of violets? Do they not mark this, how the Mother adorned with early flowers the pine which indicates and bears witness to the sad mishap?

What mean the Galli with dishevelled hair beating their breasts with their palms? Do they not recall to memory those lamentations with which the tower-bearing Mother, along with the weeping Acdestis, wailing aloud, followed the boy? What means the abstinence from eating bread which you have named castus? Is it not in imitation of the time when the goddess abstained from Ceres’ fruit in her vehement sorrow?

17. Or if the things which we say are not so declare, say yourselves-those effeminate and delicate men whom we see among you in the sacred rites of this deity-what business, what care, what concern have they there; and why do they like mourners wound their arms and breasts, and act as those dolefully circumstanced?

What mean the wreaths, what the violets, what the swathings, the coverings of soft wools? Why, finally, is the very pine, but a little before swaying to and fro among the shrubs, an utterly inert log, set up in the temple of the Mother of the gods next, like some propitious and very venerable deity?

That pine which is regularly born into the sanctuary of the Great Mother, is it not in imitation of that tree beneath which Attis mutilated and unmanned himself, which also, they relate, the goddess consecrated to relieve her grief?

I don’t see a reference here to the tree representing Attis; rather it represents the tree under which that luckless boyfriend of Cybele castrated himself.

Arnobius is clearly well informed.  But these are the two references to pine trees in the sources I could find.

What about calendrical material?  I always look at the calendar in the Chronography of 354.  And sure enough, on the 11th day before the Kalends of April we find ARBOR INTRAT.  A couple of days later, SANGUEM.  And the day after, HILARIA.

When Mommsen edited the calendar, in Inscriptiones Latinae Antiquissimae, Berlin (1893) pp.256-278, he added learned notes.  I wish I had a copy of these!

A google search on “arbor intrat” reveals a miserable collection of sites repeating hearsay, often referencing the Fishwick article.

Update (10th Feb. 2022): The link to my Attis notes is to a long deleted Wikipedia page.  I’ve updated it to point to my own wiki which I must really write up one day!


Pricing John the Lydian, De Mensibus

I got hold of the 1898 text of John the Lydian and did some calculations.  There seem to be about 7 words per line, about 26 lines per page, and 177 pages of text.  That comes out at 32,214 words, which is probably a fair-ish estimate of how long the text is.

If I were to pay someone 10 cents a word to translate it, that would be $3,222.  I don’t have any such sum to spare, so I won’t do so.  But it’s interesting.  To a corporation such sums are almost petty cash. 

Ah, if I were a rich man…!


Damascius in Photius

Volume 6 of Rene Henry’s edition of the Bibliotheca of Photius arrived this morning.  The first codex in it is a review and summary of Damascius, Life of Isidore.  This now lost work was written by the 6th century Neo-Platonist philosopher, about his predecessor as head of the school at Athens.  I obtained it, as it is said to contain details about the cult of Attis.

The text is a rambling one, full of interesting historical and mythological details.   Here is one, from p.34:

131.  At Hierapolis in Phrygia there is a temple of Apollo and under the temple a subterranean fissue descends, which exhales lethal vapours.  It is  impossible to pass this gulf without danger, even for birds, and everyone who enters it dies.  But the author says that it is possible for initiates to descend into the crevasse itself and stay there without injury.  The author says that he himself and the philosopher Dorus, led by curiosity, descended into it and returned unharmed.  The author says, “I then slept at Hierapolis and in a dream it seemed to me that I was Attis and that, by the order of the Great Mother of the gods, I was celebrating what is called the festival of the Hilaria; this dream signified our liberation from Hades.  On returning to Aphrodisias, I recounted to Asclepiodotus the vision that I had in the dream.  And he, full of admiration for what had happened to me, recounted to me, not “a dream for a dream”, but a great marvel in exchange for a little one.

He said in fact that in his youth he had gone to that place to study the nature of it.  He had rolled his mantle two and three times around his nostrils so that in the event of frequent fumes, he could breathe not the poisoned and deleterious air but pure and safe air which he had brought with him captured in his mantle.  Proceeding thus, he entered on the descent, following a current of hot water which came out from there, and ran the length of the inaccessible crevasse.  All the same he didn’t get to the bottom of the descent, because the access to it was cut off by the abundance of water and the passage was impossible to an ordinary man, but the one descending, possessed by the divinity, was carried to the bottom.  Asclepiodotus then climbed back up from that place without injury thanks to his ingenuity.  Later he even tried to recreate the lethal air using various ingredients.

It would be interesting to know if any such crevasse is found today at Pessinus.   No doubt the fissure was volcanic, the fumes were likely to cause asphyxiation, and those overcome no doubt did dream, influenced by their surroundings.  Did the Attis myth owe its being to the actions of some early priest of Cybele accidentally mutilating himself while imagining himself with the Great Mother?   


More on morphology, and on life

Still fighting with the morphology data, trying to find a way to work on it and add back in the part-of-speech data.  Amazing how difficult it is to even load a lot of this stuff into a database so I can run some SQL queries on it.

In my hands I have volume 4 of the Rene Henry edition of Photius.  It has to go back to the library tomorrow, but I was pleased to discover that I could run it through a scanner in around an hour.  I ordered it by mistake, but might translate some bits of the review of Eulogius, sometime.  Tomorrow I get volume 6, which contains Damascius’ Life of Isidore.  Apparently this contains a passage on Attis.

I need to get back to Agapius as well.  I’ve done a few more lines, but I need to make progress with the Greek translator.  Once I stop work on it, it will be psychologically impossible to get started again.


Notes on John the Lydian, De Mensibus

Looking at the downloadable PDF, I find book 4 of De Mensibus (on the months) starts on p. 127 (p.50 of the printed text).  It is devoted to discussing events in the Roman calendar, month by month, so starts with January.  February starts on p. 138;  March on p.143; April on p.153; May on p.163; June on p.169; July on p.171; August on p.178; September on p.182; October on p.184; November on p.185; and December on p.186.  So the whole work is not very extensive.

IV.41 reads:

On day 11, the kalends of April, a pine tree is carried into the Palatine by the tree-bearers.  But the emperor Claudius instituted these these ferias, a man of such justice in judgement that…

This event looks like the carrying of the sacred tree into the temple of Cybele.  That the festival was created by Claudius again indicates the lack of Attis-related events in Republican times.

The short entry on December does not seem to mention Christmas, nor Saturnalia, nor any solar festival.

I can’t find any translations of De Mensibus, although a 1983 English translation of his work in 3 books on the Roman Magistrates exists, and a French edition and translation of the same work was made in 2006.  An Italian version of another of his works.  I’ve asked in the BYZANS-L if anyone is working on this text, and also emailed Prof. Jacques Schamp, who did the French translation of the Magistrates book.


Latin translation of John Lydus

I was looking at the edition of John the Lydian, here.  I had not realised that the Bonn Scriptores Historiae Byzantinae editions came with Latin translations at the bottom of the page.  This makes things much easier for those of us whose Latin is much better than our Greek. 


Attis – a useful dissertation

There is online a 1900 dissertation on Cybele and Attis by Grant Showerman, The great mother of the gods, Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, vol. 1 (1898-1901). p. 219, online here, starting on p. 219, which is very good on ancient literary sources for its statements.  Thanks to Christopher Ecclestone for the link!  Some notes:

Herodian gives (book 1, ch. 11) an account of the origins of the cult of Cybele, although not mentioning Attis.  Pliny the Elder also gives an explanation of the term ‘Gallus’ for the eunuch priests, in NH V.147, VI.4.

He says that the legend of Attis first appears “in the elegiac poet Hermesianax, around 340 BC” (p.240). No reference is given; but about a hundred lines of this otherwise lost writer is preserved by Athenaeus, xiii. 597.  This can be found online here, and Hermesianax starts on p. 953.  However it seems very questionable that any of this really refers to Attis; and a look at Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, p.111 tells us that he means the statements of Pausanias, which the latter attributes to Hermesianax.

The thesis then lists the four different legends known to us (respectively in Pausanias, Arnobius the Elder, Diodorus Sicilus, Firmicus Maternus).  Different accounts again appear in Ovid, Sallustius and Julian.

An identification of Attis with Adonis is given by Hippolytus, Refutation, V.9, and apparently Socrates HE III.23 refers.  This is a description of the confused system of the Naassenes.  But it tells us little except that the Naassenes were syncretists, or liberals as they prefer to be known today. 

Attis is also referred to  by Theocritus, XX.40 ff.  About the same time, Neathes of Cyzicus wrote something about Attis which is referred by Harpocration the lexicographer as a myth, under ‘Atths’.  Nicander at the start of the 2nd century BC mentions him in the context of the creation of galloi (Alex. 8).

There is clear evidence that Attis was not worshipped at Rome in Republican times; Dionysius of Halicarnassus says (II.19.2)  ca. 30 BC that:

And no festival is observed among them as a day of mourning or by the wearing of black garments and the beating of breasts and the lamentations of women because of the disappearance of deities, such as the Greeks perform in commemorating the rape of Persephonê and the adventures of Dionysus and all the other things of like nature.

whereas such a procession did exist as part of the annual rites of Cybele, for Attis, in imperial times (p.263).  A similar piece of information can be found in the Fasti praenestini (ca. 3 AD). (See article in TAPA 1900, p.46 f).  At this date he was merely a mythological person associated with Cybele, rather than a separate deity.

 In the calendar in the Chronography of 354, on March 22 “arbor intrat” — the sacred tree of Cybele is taken into the sanctuary.  John the Lydian, De Mens. IV, 36, 41 f. gives information on the dates of the festivals.  On March 24 is the “sanguem” in the calendar, labelled elsewhere as “dies sanguinem” (Treb. Poll. Claudius IV).  This was the day when the galli got the chop.

The scholiast on Nicander’s Alex. 8 writes: τοποι ἱεροὶ ὑπογειοι ….. οπου ἐκτεμνόμενοι τὰ μήδεα κατετίθεντο οἱ τῷ αττει καὶ τῇ ῥέᾳ λατρεύοντες. indicating that in the taurobolium, the removal of the bull’s genitals commemorates Attis.

Attis is described by Michael Psellus as the “Phyrgian Zeus” (Peri Onomaton 109), and there is a reference in Arrian.


Augustine on Attis and the Galli

Augustine, City of God, book 6, chapter 7:

There are sacred rites of the mother of the gods, in which the beautiful youth Atys, loved by her, and castrated by her through a woman’s jealousy, is deplored by men who have suffered the like calamity, whom they call Galli. …

What good is to be thought of their sacred rites which are concealed in darkness, when those which are brought forth into the light are so detestable? And certainly they themselves have seen what they transact in secret through the agency of mutilated and effeminate men. Yet they have not been able to conceal those same men miserably and vile enervated and corrupted.

Let them persuade whom they can that they transact anything holy through such men, who, they cannot deny, are numbered, and live among their sacred things. We know not what they transact, but we know through whom they transact; for we know what things are transacted on the stage, where never, even in a chorus of harlots, hath one who is mutilated or an effeminate appeared.

And, nevertheless, even these things are acted by vile and infamous characters; for, indeed, they ought not to be acted by men of good character. What, then, are those sacred rites, for the performance of which holiness has chosen such men as not even the obscenity of the stage has admitted?