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In Greek mythology, the Dactyls (Greek for "fingers") were the archaic race of small phallic male beings associated with the Great Mother, whether as Cybele or Rhea, spirit-men like the Curetes, Cabiri and Korybantes. The Dactyls were ancient smiths and healing magicians. In some myths, they are in Hephaestus' employ, and they taught metalworking, mathematics, and the alphabet to humans.

When Rhea, the mother of the gods, knew her time of delivery was come, she went to the sacred cave on Mount Ida. As she squatted in labor she dug her fingers into the earth (Gaia), which brought forth these dakyloi Idaioi ("Idaean fingers"), thus often ten in number, or sometimes multiplied into a race of ten tens. Three is just as often given as their number. They are sometimes instead numbered as thorty-three. When Greeks offered a most solemn oath, often they would press their hands against the earth as they uttered it.

The Dactyls of Mount Ida in Phrygia invented the art of working metals into usable shapes with fire. They also discovered iron. The three Phrygian Dactyls, in the service of the Great Mother as Adraste, are usually named Acmon (the anvil), Damnameneus (the hammer), and Celmis (casting). Of Celmis, Ovid (in Metamorphoses iv) made a story that when Rhea was offended at this childhood companion of Zeus, she asked Zeus to turn him to diamond-hard adamant, like a tempered blade. Zeus obliged.

The Cabiri (Kabeiroi) whose sacred place was on the island of Samothrace, were understood by Diodorus Siculus to have been Idaean dactyls who had come west from Phrygia and whose magical practices had made local converts to their secret cult.

On Rhodes, Telchines were the name given to similar chthonic men, nine in number, remembered by Greeks as dangerous Underworld smiths and magicians, and multiplied into an entire autochthonous race that had reared Poseidon but had been supplanted by Apollo in his Helios role.

In Crete, three Dactyls bore names suggestive of healing: Paionios (later associated with Asclepius), Epimedes, and Iasios. It was said that they had introduced the smithing of copper and iron. Of Iasios it was told (Hesiod, Theogony 970) that he lay with Demeter, a stand-in for Rhea, in a thrice-ploughed field and the Goddess brought forth Ploutos, "wealth", in the form of a bountiful harvest. Zeus struck down this impious archaic figure with a thunderbolt. This is all of the public version of this myth that survives. Doubtless, initiates must have known more.

An Idaean dactyl named Herakles (perhaps the earliest embodiment of the later hero) originated the Olympic Games by instigating a race among his four "finger" brothers. This Herakles was the "thumb"; his brothers were Aeonius (forefinger), Epimedes (middle finger), Jasius (ring finger/healing finger), and Idas (little finger).


  • Gods of the Greeks, Carl Kerenyi

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