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Myths about the Roman Goddess Cybele

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Myths about the Roman Goddess Cybele or Vesta the Elder
Cybele, or Vesta the elder. It is highly necessary, in tracing the genealogy of the heathen deities, to distinguish between this goddess and Vesta the younger, her daughter, because the poets have been faulty in confounding them, and ascribing the attributes and actions of the one to the other. The elder Vesta, or Cybele, was daughter of Coelus and Terra, and wife of her brother Saturn, to whom she bore a numerous offspring.

She had a variety of names besides that of Cybele, under which she is most generally known, and which she obtained from Mount Cybelus, in Phrygia, where sacrifices to her were first instituted. Her sacrifices and festivals, like those of Bacchus, were celebrated with a confused noise of timbrels, pipes, and cymbals; the sacrificants howling as if mad, and profaning both the temple of the goddess, and the ears of their hearers with the most obscene language and abominable gestures.

Under the character of Vesta, she is generally represented upon ancient coins in a sitting posture, with a lighted torch in one hand, and a sphere or drum in the other. As Cybele, she makes a more magnificent appearance, being seated in a lofty chariot drawn by lions, crowned with towers, and bearing in her hand a key. Being goddess, not of cities only, but of all things which the earth sustains, she was crowned with turrets, whilst the key implies not only her custody of cities, but also that in winter the earth locks those treasures up, which she brings forth and dispenses in summer: she rides in a chariot, because (fancifully) the earth hangs suspended in the air, balanced and poised by its own weight; and that the chariot is supported by wheels, because the earth is a voluble body and turns round. Her being drawn by lions, may imply that nothing is too fierce and intractable for a motherly piety and tenderness to tame and subdue. Her garments are painted with divers colors, but chiefly green, and figured with the images of several creatures, because such a dress is suitable to the variegated and more prevalent appearance of the earth.

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