Corycian Cave


Corykian Cave interior taken from entrance looking to rear or main cavern.
Interior view of the Corycian Cave at Mount Parnassus, Greece.
Interior view of the Corycian Cave at Mount Parnassus, Greece.

The Corycian Cave (/kəˈrɪʃən/; Greek: Κωρύκιον ἄντρον, romanizedKōrykion antron)[1] is located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in central Greece. In the mythology of the area, it is named after the nymph Corycia; however, its name etymologically derives from korykos, "knapsack". A modern name for the cave in some references is Sarantavli, meaning "forty rooms". This cave was sacred to the Corycian nymphs and the Muses, and a place of worship for Pan. This cave is also thought to be the ritual home of Dionysus.[2]

Traditionally the cave has been a place of refuge for the surrounding population during foreign invasions e.g. from the Persians (Herodotus, 8.36) in the 5th century BC, the Turks during the Greek War of Independence, and from the Germans in 1943.


Administrative unit of Phocis.

Located on Mount Parnassus, in the region of Phocis, above the Greek Sanctuary of Delphi, the Corycian Cave stands between two worlds. The environment surrounding the cave is both markedly different than the foothills of Delphi as well as differing from the mountain. Thus, the cave can be viewed as the intersection of wilderness and civilization.[3] The cave is 5 kilometers away from Delphia and sits between 1250 meters above sea level.[4]

In Ancient Greek Sources

Entrance to the Corycian Cave
Entrance to the Corycian Cave

In ancient times, Corycian Cave was used as a sanctuary since at least 4000 B.C.E.[5] The Corycian Cave also showed up in several other ancient Greek sources: Strabo, in his Geography, writes:

The whole of Parnassos [Mountain in Phokis] is esteemed as sacred [to Apollon], since it has caves and other places that are held in honor and deemed holy. Of these the best known and most beautiful is Korykion, a cave of the Nymphai bearing the same name as that in Kilikia [in Asia Minor]. (9.3.1)

Pausanias in his Guide to Greece writes:

On the way from Delphi to the summit of Parnassus, about sixty stades distant from Delphi, there is a bronze image. The ascent to the Corycian cave is easier for an active walker than it is for mules or horses. I mentioned a little earlier in my narrative that this cave was named after a nymph called Corycia, and of all the caves I have ever seen this seemed to me the best worth seeing.... But the Corycian cave exceeds in size those I have mentioned, and it is possible to make one's way through the greater part of it even without lights. The roof stands at a sufficient height from the floor, and water, rising in part from springs but still more dripping from the roof, has made clearly visible the marks of drops on the floor throughout the cave. The dwellers around Parnassus believe it to be sacred to the Corycian nymphs, and especially to Pan. (10.32.2–7)

In Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca, the cave is mentioned when Zeus fights the monster Typhon. In this account, After Typhon steals Zeus’ sinews, he places Zeus in the Corycian cave:

However Zeus pelted Typhon at a distance with thunderbolts, and at close quarters struck him down with an adamantine sickle, and as he fled pursued him closely as far as Mount Casius, which overhangs Syria. There, seeing the monster sore wounded, he grappled with him. But Typhon twined about him and gripped him in his coils, and wresting the sickle from him severed the sinews of his hands and feet, and lifting him on his shoulders carried him through the sea to Cilicia and deposited him on arrival in the Corycian cave. (1.6.3)

Depiction of Typhon by Wenceslas Hollar

Connection to Dionysus

A mosaic from Antioch of Dionysos, 2nd century AD

While the connection to the Corycian nymphs and Pan are well established as they are mentioned in the nine inscriptions found at the cave as well in Pausanias,[6] the connection to Dionysus is not as clear-cut. One of the inscriptions, which has been severely eroded by weathering, seems to say that Thyiades participated in ceremonies at the Corycian Cave. Also, when looking at Aeschylus’ work, the Eumenides, there seems to be a clear connection set up between Dionysus and the Corycian Cave. [7]Additionally, in Pausanias’ Guide to Greece, when referring to the location of the Corycian Cave, Pausanias goes on to then describe the heights of Mount Parnassus and reveals to the reader that Thyiades raved there.[8] Despite the wild raves taking place on top of the mountain as opposed to the cave, a clear connection between the surrounding area of the Corycian Cave and the Cult of Dionysus can still be seen. Further evidence for the connection between Dionysus and the Corycian Cave stems from Pan being often depicted in scenes with Dionysus, hinting at a connection between the two gods.[9]

Finally, it is thought that the Corycian Cave is the place of residence of Dionysus, just as Apollo’s residence is Delphi. In the wintertime, when Apollo leaves Delphi, Dionysus comes down from the cave and occupies Apollo’s place in Delphi. This transition process involved the maidens of Delphi (assumed to be Thyiades) being sent to the cave and then help escort the god into the sanctuary and honor Dionysus in Apollo’s Temple.[10]

In modern times

Corykian Cave opening from exterior.

An excavation by French archaeologists in 1969 produced a plethora of objects of antiquity including a rare Neolithic male figurine, Mycenean shards, bone flutes, iron and bronze rings, miniature bronze statues, 50,000 terracotta figurines from the classical period and 24,000 astragaloi, or "knucklebones" (used for astragalomancy, or "prophecy by knucklebones").The majority of the knucklebones are not from the traditional cattle, but rather are from does and stags. As a result, scholars posit that the main groups of people making offerings at the Corycian Cave were goat herders, hunters, and shepherds.[11] The groups of people using the Corycian Cave, when compared to the use of Delphi by cities, tyrants, and kings, hints that there may have been class distinction involved with the use of these sanctuaries, with the Corycian Cave serving as the sanctuary for ordinary people. These excavations have also shown that the Corycian Cave has been used for cult practice all the way back to the Neolithic age. [12]

King Otto and Queen Amalia made a royal tour with 100 torchbearers to view the two chambers of the cavern which is enormous at 60 m long, 26 m wide and 12 m high.

Names of people found in the cave

In the cave there were the names of generations of Greek Priests that were discovered. The names were inscribed over a period of 214 years around the time period of 239 B.C.E. It was concluded that there were about 12 families from which these generations of priests came from. The first few generations of names on the list are of Greek origin and frequently had ties to Hermes, yet as time progressed the names began to reflect more of a Luvian origin but then changed back to Greek. This change was believed to be caused by the loss and subsequent regaining of power by the Seleucid people.[13]


  1. ^ Κωρύκιον. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 281.
  3. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 283.
  4. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 276.
  5. ^ Liritzis, Ioannis; Aravantinos, Vassilios; Polymeris, George S.; Zacharias, Nikolaos; Fappas, Ioannis; Agiamarniotis, George; Sfampa, Ioanna K.; Vafiadou, Asimina; Kitis, George (2015-04-01). "Witnessing prehistoric Delphi by luminescence dating". Comptes Rendus Palevol. 14 (3): 219–232. doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2014.12.007. ISSN 1631-0683.
  6. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 278.
  7. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 278.
  8. ^ "Pausanias: 10.32-38". Theoi Classical Texts Library. Theoi Classical Texts Library. |first1= missing |last1= (help)
  9. ^ "Pan-Greek God of Shepherds, Hunters, and the Wilds". Theoi Classical Texts Library. Theoi Classical Texts Library.
  10. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 279–281.
  11. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 276–268.
  12. ^ McInerney, Jeremy (1997). "Parnassus, Delphi, and the Thyiades". Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38 (3): 276.
  13. ^ Lytle, Ephraim (2011). "The Strange Love of the Fish and the Goat: Regional Contexts and Rough Cilician Religion in Oppian's Halieutica 4.308-73". Transactions of the American Philological Association. 141 (2): 333–386. doi:10.1353/apa.2011.0010. ISSN 1533-0699.

External links

  • Κωρύκιο Άντρο Korykio Antro or Pan's Cave
  • Korykian Cave in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
  • Delphi: The Bellybutton of the Ancient World. BBC 4. Michael Scott. 10:48 minutes in. Retrieved 23 November 2010.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  • Corycain Cave Path to Corycian Cave

Coordinates: 38°30′54″N 22°31′14″E / 38.51500°N 22.52056°E / 38.51500; 22.52056