The Dactyls of Mount Ida in Phrygia, fabulous beings to whom the discovery of iron and the art of working it by means of fire was ascribed. Their name Dactyls, that is, Fingers, is accounted for in various ways; by their number being five or ten, or by the fact of their serving Rhea just as the fingers serve the hand, or by the story of their having lived at the foot (ἐν δακτύλοις) of Mount Ida.1
Most of our authorities describe Phrygia as the original seat of the Dactyls.2 There they were connected with the worship of Rhea. They are sometimes confounded or identified with the Curetes, Corybantes, Cabeiri, and Telchines; or they are described as the fathers of the Cabeiri and Corybantes.3 This confusion with the Cabeiri also accounts for Samothrace being in some accounts described as their residence;4 and Diodorus states, on the authority of Cretan historians, that the Dactyls had been occupied in incantations and other magic pursuits; that thereby they excited great wonder in Samothrace, and that Orpheus was their disciple in these things. Their connexion or identification with the Curetes even led to their being regarded as the same as the Roman Penates.5
According to a tradition in Clemens Alexandrinus6 the Dactyls did not discover the iron in the Phrygian Ida, but in the island of Cyprus; and others again transfer them to Mount Ida in Crete, although the ancient traditions of the latter island scarcely contain any traces of early working in metal there.7 Their number appears to have originally been three: Celmis (the smelter), Damnameneus (the hammer), and Acmon (the anvil).8 To these others were subsequently added, such as Scythes, the Phrygian, who invented the smelting of iron,9 Heracles,10 and Delas.11 Apollonius Rhodius mentions the hero Titias and Cyllenus as the principal Dactyls, and a local tradition of Elis mentioned, besides Heracles, Paeonius, Epimedes, Iasion, and Idas or Acesidas as Dactyls; but these seem to have been beings altogether different from the Idaean Dactyls, for to judge from their names, they must have been healing divinities.12
Their number is also stated to have been five, ten (five male and five female ones), fifty-two, or even one hundred. The tradition which assigns to them the Cretan Ida as their habitation, describes them as the earliest inhabitants of Crete, and as having gone thither with Mygdon (or Minos) from Phrygia, and as having discovered the iron in Mount Berecynthus.13
With regard to the real nature of the Dactyls, they seem to be no more than the mythical representatives of the discoverers of iron and of the art of smelting metals with the aid of fire, for the importance of this art is sufficiently great for the ancients to ascribe its invention to supernatural beings. The original notion of the Dactyls was afterwards extended, and they are said to have discovered various other things which are useful or pleasing to man; thus they are reported to have introduced music from Phrygia into Greece, to have invented rhythm, especially the dactylic rhythm.14 They were in general looked upon as mysterious sorcerers, and are therefore also described as the inventors of the Ephesian incantation formulae; and persons when suddenly frightened used to pronounce the names of the Dactyls as words of magic power.15
- Pollux, ii, 4; Strabo. Geography x, p. 473; Diodorus Siculus, v, 64.
- Diodorus Siculus, xvii, 7; Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, i, 1126; Strabo. Geography l.c.
- Strabo. Geography x, p. 466; Scholiast on Arat. 33; Servius on Virgil's Georgics iv, 153.
- Diodorus Siculus, v, 64; comp. Arnobius. Adversus Nationes iii, 41.
- Arnobius, iii, 40.
- Stromius, i, p. 362.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica i, 1129; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vii, 57.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, l.c.
- Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, i, p. 362.
- Strabo. Geography l.c.
- Eusebius. Praeparatio Evangelica, x, p. 475.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 7.4, 14.5, 8.1; vi, 21.5; Strabo. Geography viii, p. 355.
- Diodorus Siculus, v, 64; Cicero. On the Nature of the Gods iii, 16.
- Plutarch. De Musica, 5; Diomedes, p. 474, ed. Putsch; Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, i, p. 360.
- Plutarch. De Facie Quae in Orbe Lunae Apparet, 30; Compare Lobeck. De Idaeis Dactylis; Welcker. Die Aeschylische Trilogie, p. 168, ff.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.