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date: 15 January 2021

caves, sacredlocked

  • Roger Beck
  •  and Antony Spawforth


The Greeks associated caves with the primitive (see trogodytae), the uncanny, and hence the sacred. In myth they witness divine births (Zeus on Mt. Dicte), are home to monsters (the *Cyclopes), and conceal illicit sex (see selene). Remote and wild, real caves attracted the cult of *Pan and the *nymphs, for whom several dozen cave-sanctuaries are known (e.g. those of Attica; the Corycian Cave at *Delphi) Natural or man-made, and sometimes within a temple, they could house oracles (see claros; delphi; taenarum). In Italy the most celebrated holy cave was the Lupercal on the Palatine (see lupercalia). Of imported cults, the most associated with caves was Mithraism (see mithras), whose rites were celebrated in real or make-belief caves because the cave was considered an ‘image of the universe’. That thesis is also central to Porphyry's On the Cave of the Nymphs (best in Lamberton's translation, 1983), an allegorical interpretation of Homer's description in Od.

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