Rhea presenting Cronus the stone wrapped in cloth.
|Parents||Uranus and Gaia|
|Children||Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Zeus|
Rhea (//; Greek: Ῥέα, Greek pronunciation: [r̥é.a͜a]) is the Titaness daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus, in Greek mythology and sister and wife to Cronus. In early traditions, she is known as "the mother of gods" and therefore is strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, who have similar functions. The classical Greeks saw her as the mother of the Olympian goddesses and gods, but not as an Olympian goddess in her own right. The Romans identified her with Magna Mater (their form of Cybele), and the Goddess Ops.
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Etymology and namesakes
Most ancient etymologists derived Rhea ('Ρέα) by metathesis from έρα "ground", but a tradition embodied in Plato and in Chrysippus connected the word with ῥέω (rheo), "flow", "discharge", which is what LSJ supports. Alternatively, the name Rhea may be connected with words for the pomegranate, ῥόα, later ῥοιά.
Myths and genealogy
Cronus sired six children by Rhea: Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus in that order, but swallowed them all as soon as they were born except Zeus, since Cronus had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own child as he had overthrown his own father. When Zeus was about to be born, however, Rhea sought Uranus and Gaia to devise a plan to save him, so that Cronus would get his retribution for his acts against Uranus and his own children. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, handing Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed.
- He was then raised by Gaia,
- He was suckled by his first cousin, a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes, soldiers, or smaller gods, shouted and clashed their swords together to make noise so that Cronus would not hear the baby's cry,
- He was raised by a nymph named Adamanthea, who fed him goat milk. Since Cronus ruled over the earth, the heavens, and the sea, Adamanthea hid him by dangling him on a rope from a tree so he was suspended between earth, sea, and sky and thus, invisible to his father.
Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge the other children in the reverse order in which they had been swallowed, the oldest becoming the last, and youngest: first the stone, which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, then the rest. In some versions, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the babies, or Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open. Then Zeus released the brothers of Cronus, the Gigantes, the Hecatonkheires, and the Cyclopes, who gave him thunder and lightning, which had previously been hidden by Gaia. Zeus and his siblings, together with the Gigantes, Hecatonkheires, and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Similarly, in later myths, Zeus would swallow Metis when she was pregnant with Athena, because of a prophecy that said she would later give birth to one who would be more glorious than the father. Athena was born unharmed, bursting out of his head in full armor.
Rhea had "no strong local cult or identifiable activity under her control". She was originally worshiped in the island of Crete, where according to myth, she saved the new-born Zeus from being devoured by Cronus, by substituting a stone for the infant god and entrusting him to the care of her attendants, the Curetes. These attendants afterward became the bodyguard of Zeus and the priests of Rhea. Their rhythmic, raucous chants and dances, accompanied by the tympanon (a wide, handheld drum) and the clashing of bronze shields and cymbals, provoked a state of religious ecstasy. This may have been the source for the use of a tympanon in Cybele's rites; in historical times, the resemblances between the two goddesses were so marked that some Greeks regarded Cybele as their own Rhea, who had deserted her original home on Mount Ida in Crete and fled to Mount Ida in the wilds of Phrygia to escape Cronus. A reverse view was expressed by Virgil, and it is probably true that cultural contacts with the mainland brought Cybele to Crete, where she was transformed into Rhea or identified with an existing local goddess and her rites.
Rhea only appears in Greek art from the fourth century BC, when her iconography draws on that of Cybele; the two therefore, often are indistinguishable; both can be shown on a throne flanked by lions, riding a lion, or on a chariot drawn by two lions. In Roman religion, her counterpart Cybele was Magna Mater deorum Idaea, who was brought to Rome and was identified in Roman mythology as an ancestral Trojan deity. On a functional level, Rhea was thought equivalent to Roman Ops or Opis.
Most often Rhea's symbol is a pair of lions, the ones that pulled her celestial chariot and were seen often, rampant, one on either side of the gateways through the walls to many cities in the ancient world. The one at Mycenae is most characteristic, with a lioness placed on either side of a pillar that symbolizes the goddess (as seen in numerous images for goddesses throughout the ancient world where a tree or a column is used to represent the deity).
Depiction in ancient literature
In the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes, the fusion of Rhea and Phrygian Cybele is complete. "Upon the Mother depend the winds, the ocean, the whole earth beneath the snowy seat of Olympus; whenever she leaves the mountains and climbs to the great vault of heaven, Zeus himself, the son of Cronus, makes way, and all the other immortal gods likewise make way for the dread goddess," the seer Mopsus tells Jason in Argonautica; Jason climbed to the sanctuary high on Mount Dindymon to offer sacrifice and libations to placate the goddess, so that the Argonauts might continue on their way. For her temenos they wrought an image of the goddess, a xoanon, from a vine-stump. There "they called upon the mother of Dindymon, mistress of all, the dweller in Phrygia, and with her Titias and Kyllenos who alone of the many Cretan Daktyls of Ida are called 'guiders of destiny' and 'those who sit beside the Idaean Mother'." They leapt and danced in their armour: "For this reason the Phrygians still worship Rhea with tambourines and drums".
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
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- N. Hopkinson. "Rhea in Callimachus' Hymn to Zeus". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. She hid Zeus from Cronus so he would not be eaten. 104 (1984:176-1770 p. 176; the evidence was marshalled by O. Grupp[e, Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte(Munich) 1906, vol. II:1524, col. II.
- Plato. Cratylus 402b-c.
- Chrysippus, Stoic 2.318
- ῥέω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
- Ῥέα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
- C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Lesser Rhea: Rhea pinnata, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
- Roller, Lynn E., In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, University of California Press, 1999. p. 171.
- Roller, Lynn E., In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, University of California Press, 1999. p. 171. See also Strabo. Geography, 469, 12.
- Virgil. Aeneid, iii.
- Roller, Lynn E., In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, University of California Press, 1999. p. 171. ISBN 9780520210240
- (Apollonius of Rhodes), Richard Hunter, tr., 1993. Jason and the Golden Fleece (Oxford: Clarendon Press), Book II, p. 29f.