The Thriae or Thriai were
nymphs, three virginal sisters, one of a number of such triads ("maiden trinities" Jane Ellen Harrisoncalled them) in Greek mythology[ Hesiod's " Theogony" gives the Gorgon, the Horae, the Moirae, and the Charites; later myth adds the Erinyes, the Graiae, the Sirens, the Hesperides, and Greek cult has given more: see the list in Scheinberg 1979:2.] who were able to see the future and interpret the signs of nature and omens, a gift they taught Apollo, who passed it to Hermes. They received names Melaina("the Black"), Kleodora("Famed for her Gift"), and Daphnis ("Laurel"). [ In the second century CE, Pausanias understood ("Description of Greece" 10.5.5) that "Daphnis" had been the "first" prophetess of Gaiaat Delphi: "For they say that in the earliest times the oracular seat belonged to Earth, who appointed as prophetess at it Daphnis, one of the nymphs of the mountain... The Delphians say that the second temple was made by bees from beeswax and feathers, and that it was sent to the Hyperboreans by Apollo."] The Homeric Hymn to Hermes places them in Mount Parnassus, where they have taught the art of divinationto the youthful Apollo who addresses Hermes in the hymn:
:"There are three holy ones, sisters born [The text had been corrupted to the more familiar
Moirai; Johann Gottfried Jakob Hermannfirst recognized that the Thriai could possibly be intended here, and modern texts keep the emendation (Harrison 1922:442 note 2; Scheinmann 1979.)] - three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white barley meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassos. These are teachers of divination apart [The Homeric word here invariably means a literal geographic separation: "the adverb helps isolate the sisters from the mature Delphic Apollo" (Scheinberg 1979:10.] from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honeycomb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak the truth; but if they be deprived of the gods' sweet food, [The Hymn does not explicitly state that this food of the gods is honey, but Susan Scheinberg (1979:5) quotes Porphyry's "De antro nympharum" to this effect. ] then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response - if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia ... ' So he spake. And from heaven father Zeus himself gave confirmation to his words, and commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of omen ... and also that he only should be the appointed messenger to Aides, who, though he takes no gift, shall give him no mean prize." —Homeric Hymn IV, to Hermes, lines 550-563, Hugh G. Evelyn-White, tr., 1914.
"They are in a word '
Melissae', honey-priestesses, inspired by a honey-intoxicant; they are bees, their heads white with pollen." Jane Harrison observed. [Harrison, "Prolegomena to the Study of Greek religion" 3rd ed. 1922, p 442.]
A fragment of
Philochorusquoted by Zenobiusadditionally makes them nurses of Apollo, of which Jane Ellen Harrison observed "Save for this mention we never hear that Apollo had any nurses, he was wholly the son of his father. Is it not more probable that they were nurses of Dionysus?" [Harrison 1922:441-42] and she noted from the Sudasa remark "they call the madness of poets "thriasis". Through a doubtful etymology William Smith asserted the Thriae were "believed to have invented the art of prophecy by means of little stones ("thriai"), which were thrown into an urn" (Smith 1870) and the assertion is often repeated, though Philochorus makes it plain that the mantic pebbles were named after the three Thriae, rather than the other way round. The earliest mention of the Thriai, in a fragment of Pherecydessimply states that they were three in number, whence their name. Susan Scheinman argues that the bee-nymphs should be disassociated with the Thriai, "by the omission of any reference in the "Hymn" to the chief attribute of the Thriae, their mantic pebbles." (Scheinman 1979:14); she prefers the reading "Semnai" for the three bee-maidens.]
The Thriai may have been conflated in the Homeric hymn with the
Coryciae, nymphs of the prophetic springs of Mount Parnassos, and in such a connection thought of as "daughters" of Apollo. "The Thriai inspired the old crow [either a bird, or an old seeress] ." Callimachus, "Hecale" (Fragment 260). [Hugh Lloyd-Jones and John Rea, "Callimachus, Fragments 260-261" "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology" 72 (1968, pp. 125-145) p 143 note that, in Callimachus' ambiguous wording, whoever has sworn the oath has referred to herself as "the old crow" and claimed prophetic powers given by the Thriai. ] Callimachus also alludes to the Thriae in his "Hymn to Apollo" (line 250)
The Rhodes gold plaques of bee-goddesses are not unique; a relief in the
Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonalso depicts a goddess with the head of a woman and the body of a bee.
*Harrison, Jane Ellen 1922. "A Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion", 3rd edition, pp. 441-43.
*Robbins, Frank Egleston Robbins 1916. "The Lot Oracle at Delphi" "Classical Philology" 11.3 (July 1916), pp. 278-292.
*Smith, William, 1870"Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology": "Thriae".
*Scheinberg, Susan 1979. "The Bee Maidens of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes" "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology" 83 (1979), pp. 1-28.
* [http://www.theoi.com/Nymphe/NymphaiThriai.html Theoi Project - Nymphai Thriai]
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