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THE TOYS OF DIÓNYSOS

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THE TOYS OF DIÓNYSOS: ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

The Seven Toys of Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος) are a symbol of the Mystíria (the Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια). They are thought of as laying in a basket which, in the ancient language is Kísti (Kiste; Gr. Κίστη). The Kísti is referred to as the Basket of the Mysteries. This is sometimes represented on the altar by a basket lined with a red cloth and containing bread. 

In the mythology, the Seven Toys were given to Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεὐς) by the Titánæs (the Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες) to lure him away from the thunderbolts of power which were given to him by his father, Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). Having successfully entranced the young God, the Titans cut him to pieces and ate of his flesh. Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ) rescued his still beating heart, placed it in a silver box, and delivered it to Zefs, who sewed it into his thigh, to be reborn as Diónysos. The limbs of Zagréfs were entrusted to Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) who then interred them at Mount Parnassós (Parnassus; Gr. Παρνασσός).


THE CHRISTIAN SOURCES CONCERNING THE TOYS

Klímis of Alæxándreia and the Toys of Diónysos

According to the Christian church father, Klímis (Clement of Alexandria; Gr. Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς), the Seven Toys of Diónysos are as follows:

1. Mirror (Ǽsoptrona; Gr. Ἔσοπτρονα)
2. Knuckle-Bones (Astrágalos or 'dice;' Gr. Ἀστράγαλος)
3. Sphere (Sphaira; Gr. Σφαῖρᾰ)
4. Top (Rómvos; Gr. Ρόμβος)
5. Apple (Míla; Gr. Μῆλα)
6. Cone (Kóhnos; Gr. Κῶνος [Orphic verses] or Stróvilos; Gr. Στρόβιλος [Clement])
7. Pókos (Gr. Πόκος, tuft of wool or donkey hair)

The above list is found in the below quotation:

"The mysteries of Dionysus are wholly inhuman; for while still a child, and the Curetes danced around (his cradle) clashing their weapons, and the Titans having come upon them by stealth, and having beguiled him with childish toys, these very Titans tore him limb from limb when but a child, as the bard of this mystery, the Thracian Orpheus, says:-

'Cone, and spinning-top, and limb-moving rattles, And fair golden apples from the clear-toned Hesperides (ed. Ἑσπερίδες, the Nymphs of the orchard of Íra [Hera; Gr. Ἥρα] where grew apples which bestowed immortality).'

And the useless symbols of this mystic rite it will not be useless to exhibit for condemnation. These are dice, ball, hoop, apples, top, looking-glass, tuft of wool."
[1]

 

Arnóvios of Síkka and the Toys of Diónysos

Arnóvios (Arnobius; Gr. Αρνόβιος) of Síkka Ouænæría (Sicca Veneria; Gr. Σίκκα Οὐενερία, modern El Kef in Tunisia) was another Christian apologist from the era of the emperor Diocletian. He gives a shorter but almost identical list. It is likely that he had access to Clement's work, which was a century before that of Arnobius, so he may simply be accessing the earlier text.:

"...how Liber (ed. the Roman name for Diónysos; Gr. Διόνυσος), when taken up with boyish sports, was torn asunder by the Titans; how he was cut up limb by limb by them also, and thrown into pots that he might be cooked; how Jupiter, allured by the sweet savour, rushed unbidden to the meal, and discovering what had been done, overwhelmed the revellers with his terrible thunder, and hurled them to the lowest part of Tartarus. As evidence and proof of which, the Thracian bard (ed. Orphéfs; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) handed down in his poems the dice, mirror, tops, hoops, and smooth balls, and golden apples taken from the virgin Hesperides." [2]

Arnóvios was writing in Latin. The words which this translator renders as "hoops" are volubiles rotulas, which is a spinning wheel.

The two above quotations are from Christian authors who are trying to humiliate our religion, so this must be taken into account; their lists are given here because, despite their origin, they are the most complete sources from antiquity which enumerate the toys. W
here Klímis and Arnóvios obtained their information is unclear:

"None of the (ed. Christian) Fathers appears to have been initiated into the Mysteries and none claims that he is repeating what was told by initiates converted to Christianity. It is indeed strange that statements of ex-initiates were not available." [3]

In reality, it is not so strange that initiates would be unwilling to divulge the secrets of the Mysteries, because they believed in their great sanctity. Perhaps the information given by these early church fathers was simply common knowledge. The existence of the toys is not their invention; nor is the tradition concerning the toys of late origin, only found in the Christian era; reference to the toys is found in non-Christian literature, both predating and during the Christian era.



PAGAN SOURCES CONCERNING THE TOYS


The Gurob Papyri and the Toys of Diónysos

We have yet another mention of the Toys, a Greek text from the Gurob Papyri, where there is mention of a basket with a cone, top, knuckle-bones, and mirror, and this all in relationship to Diónysos in a brief but distinctly Orphic fragment. [4] This text comes from the latter part of the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, about 250 BCE. [5] The extant text is fragmentary at this very section, so the rest of the toys were likely in this list.


The Sanctuary of the Káveiri at Thívai and the Toys of Diónysos

In the excavations of the Sanctuary of the Káveiri (Cabeiri; Gr. Κάβειροι) at Thívai (Thebes; Gr. Θῆβαι) in Viohtía (Boeotia; Gr. Βοιωτία) pottery and statuettes have been uncovered depicting a child (παῖς) which would seem to be Diónysos-Zagréfs. Also found were votive offerings in the shape of spinning tops and knuckle-bones, some made of bronze and some of pottery. [6]




THE MEANING OF THE TOYS

Thus, we have a story of a child-God given seven toys, but do these toys have some kind of meaning? The German scholar C. A. Lobeck did not think so, as we find in W. K. C. Guthrie's book on Orpheus:

"Over a century ago (ed. Christian August) Lobeck, in a passage of astonishing learning (Agl. 699 ff.), was prepared to show that in spite of the attempts to attach an original mystical significance to these objects, every one of them was in origin nothing but what the story made them out to be---children's toys." [7]

Later, Guthrie gives evidence otherwise, when commenting on the toy, the tuft of wool:

"...Lobeck himself quotes for us passages from the Etymologika showing that religious significance was attached to wool (it was used, say Photios and the Etym. Magn., in mystic ceremonies and in spells, and specifically at Athens), we are let by his own learning to doubt his original assumption that all the objects mentioned are without exception examples of children's toys." [8]

Other than brief quotations which give reference to certain of the toys, the Mirror in particular, there is little information to be found in the writings of antiquity concerning the Toys of Diónysos. Nonetheless, discussion of the words designating each toy and the associations they have in Greek religion shed some light on their meaning.


Mirror
 (Ǽsoptrona; Gr. Ἔσοπτρονα)


Plohtínos (Plotinus; Gr. Πλωτῖνος) speaks of the mirror:

"But the souls of men see their images as if in the mirror of Dionysus and come to be on that level with a leap from above: but even these are not cut off from their own principle and from intellect. For they did not come down with Intellect, but went on ahead of it down to earth, but their heads are firmly set above in heavens." [9]


The mirror is spoken of by Próklos (Proclus: Gr. Πρόκλος):

"Formerly also by theologists, a mirror was assumed as a symbol of aptitude, to the intellectual completion of the universe. Hence they say, Vulcan (ed. the Roman name for Íphaistos or Hephaestus; Gr. Ἥφαιστοςmade a mirror for Dionysius, or Bacchus, into which the God looking, and beholding the image of himself, proceeded into the whole partible fabrication of things." [10]


The mirror is mentioned in the writing of Nόnnos (Gr. Νόννος) of Panopolítis (Gr. Πανοπολίτης), late 4th or early 5th century CE.:

"...the Titans cunningly smeared their round faces with disguising chalk, and while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror they destroyed him with an infernal knife."  [11]


Knuckle-Bones
(
Astrágalos or 'dice;' Gr. Ἀστράγαλος)

In the quotation from Klímis of Alæxándreia, we have the "limb-moving rattles," at least that is the translation given. The Greek from which this translator renders this is παίγνια καμπεσίγυια, which is obscure; καμπεσίγυια is "limb-moving," but παίγνια is "play, sport, or game," so perhaps this may be a then-common moniker for the knuckle-bone game, the knuckle-bone being one of the components of the limbs. It has also been translated as a "doll with moving limbs."





Sphere
(Sphaira; Gr. Σφαῖρᾰ)















Top
(Rómvos; Gr. Ρόμβος)

The word rómvos is etymologically related to the verb ῥέμβω, which means "to turn in circles;" rómvos is a noun which denotes something which has that same quality. It is known that the rómvos can be a bull-roarer or a top and various other things, such as a tambourines or kettledrums. The 
rómvos is also a name for the penis. The word is frequently associated with the Mystíria and the cult of Diónysos and Rǽa (Rhea; Gr. Ῥέα).
Cf. below to CONE.




Golden Apple of Æspærídæs
 (Míla; Gr. Μῆλα)

Klímis of Alæxándreia says that one of the toys was a Golden Apple, a fruit which bestows Immortality, for Zagréfs will rise again after his dismemberment. The Golden Apple comes from a tree protected by the Æspærídæs (Hesperides; Gr. Ἑσπερίδες). This tree was a gift to Queen Íra (Hera; Gr. Ήρα) by Yaia (Gaia; Gr. Γαῖα) on her wedding day. The Æspærídæs are daughters of Nyx (Night; Gr. Νύξ), lovely Nýmphai (Nymphs; Gr. Νύμφαι) who are Goddesses of the Night and the golden sunsets.




Cone
 (Kóhnos; Gr. Κῶνος [Orphic verses] or Stróvilos; Gr. Στρόβιλος [Clement])

Klímis of Alæxándreia, after quoting the Orphic verse (see above), substitutes the word στρόβιλος for the cone in the list of seven. The translator renders στρόβιλος as "hoop," but στρόβιλος, according to the Greek lexicon of Liddell & Scott, is nowhere defined as a hoop, but is called a ball or even a top, but it is also a name of the pine tree, and likely is here used as a type of nickname meaning the pine cone, which is a symbol of Diónysos.

From W. K. C. Guthrie's work on Orpheus:

"Over a century ago (ed. Christian August) Lobeck, in a passage of astonishing learning (Agl. 699 ff.), was prepared to show that in spite of the attempts to attach an original mystical significance to these objects, every one of them was in origin nothing but what the story made them out to be---children's toys. The strongest support to a contrary theory was furnished by the words konos (ed. Gr. Κῶνος) and rhombos (ed. Ρόμβος) in the Orphic lines. The former means, in the first place, a pine cone, and pine cones were carried by the worshippers in Dionysiac processions on the tips of their wands, the thyrsoi (ed. θύρσοι). The latter means a bull-roarer, an instrument which when whirled around the head produces a noise, and is or has been used in the religious ceremonies of primitive peoples in many lands. It happens, however, that both words also mean spinning-top, and Lobeck went so far as to discover a passage in a Greek writer which explained exactly the difference between the two, for every small boy, it seemed knew that a konos was not the same as a rhombos. One was the kind you whipped, and the other was not. We shall soon come to some evidence, unknown to Lobeck, that in the story of the divine child it was spinning-tops that were in question. [121]

Tuft of Hair
 (
Pókos; Gr. Πόκος, tuft of wool or donkey hair)














(More to come.)

NOTES:

[1] Clement of Alexandria Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter II.176—The Absurdity and Impiety of the Heathen Mysteries and Fables About the Birth and Death of their Gods; translation from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Fathers of the Second Century, editors being Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Cox, 1885.

[2] 
Arnobius Against the Heathen V.19, trans. Hamilton Bryce and Hugh Campbell. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

[3] Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries by George E. Mylonas, 1961. We are using the 1969 reprint. Princeton Univ. Press (Princeton, NJ USA), where this quotation may be found on p. 287.

[4] Orphic Fragment 31 as numbered by Otto Kern.

[5] Source: Illahun, Kahun and Gurob: 1889-1890 by W. F. Petrie, Chapter IX.64 The Greek Papyri by A. H. Sayce, p. 34.

[6] See Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie, 1935. We are using the 1993 reprint published by Princeton Univ. Press (Princeton, NJ USA), pp. 123-124.

[7] Ibid. Guthrie, p. 121.

[8] Ibid. Guthrie, pp. 121-122.

[9] Plohtínos (Plotinus; Gr. Πλωτῖνος) Ænnæádæs (Enneads; Gr. Ἐννεάδες) IV.3.12, trans. A. H. Armstrong, 1984 in the book entitled Plotinus in Seven Volumes, Loeb Classical Library 443, where this quotation may be found in volume IV on pp. 13-14. This quotation is also numbered as O.F. 209 Plohtínos Ænnæádæs IV.12 from the Orphic fragments compiled by Otto Kern.

[10] Próklos (Proclus: Gr. Πρόκλος) Commentary on the Tímaios (Timaeus; Gr. Τίμαιος) of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) at 33b, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1820. We are using the 2006 edition entitled Proclus' Commentary on the Timæus of Plato in two volumes, Vol. XV of The Thomas Taylor Series, published by The Prometheus Trust (Dorset UK), where this quotation may be found on p. 491 of volume 1.

[11] Nόnnos (Gr. Νόννος) Dionysiaká (Dionysiaca; Gr. Διονυσιακά) VI.171, trans. W.H.D. Rouse 1940. We are using the Loeb Classical Library 1962 edition entitled Nonnos Dionysiaca Vol. I, Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, MA USA) and William Heinemann (London, England UK) where this quotation may be found on p. 227.

[12] Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie, 1935. We are using the 1993 reprint published by Princeton Univ. Press (Princeton, NJ USA), where this quotation may be found on p. 121. 


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Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 



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