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Mysteries of the Great Gods

Still something of a mystery

Frieze of the choral dancers from the Great Gods' sanctuary in Samothraki. Photograph taken by Marsyas 16:49, 9 Apr 2005 (UTC).

The Great Gods of Samothraki and Lemnos were chthonic or Underworld deities, older and more potent than the Olympian upstarts of the patriarchal state religion, at whom even first poet Homer could poke fun.

Athenian Black Figure pelike attributed to the Eucharides Painter, from Samothrace (II)

But no one dared to mess about with the Great Gods; no writer revealed the mysteries, although they (like the more famous Eleusis mysteries) may have offered promises for the afterlife. Although dedications found at the sanctuary were simply ‘to the gods’, their Thracian secret names were revealed by a Hellenistic writer: Mnaseas, Axieros, Axiokersos, Axiokersa and Kadmilos, whom the Greeks identified with Demeter, Hades, Persephone, Kore and Hermes.

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Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Images by Dan Diffendale, Dimitris Siskopoulos, Marsyas assumed (based on copyright claims).