To the Kouretes, Warrior Dancers
Translated by Catherine Proppe, November 18, 2015
Σκιρτηταὶ Κουρῆτες, ἐνόπλια βήματα θέντες,
Leaping Kouretes, armed marchers, thence
ποσσίκροτοι, ῥομβηταί, ὀρέστεροι, εὐαστῆρες,
Stomping, whirling, mountain-dwelling, celestial
κρουσιλύραι, παράρυθμοι, ἐπεμβάται ἴχνεσι κούφοι,
Lyre-striking in rhythm, marching a nimble trail,
ὁπλοφόροι, φύλακες, κοσμήτορες, ἀγλαόφημοι,
Armor-bearing watchguards, glorious cosmic leaders
μητρὸς ὀρειομανοῦς συνοπάονες, ὀργιοφάνται·
Mountain Mother’s mantic army, secret rites’ illuminators,
ἔλθοιτ' εὐμενέοντες ἐπ' εὐφήμοισι λόγοισι,
Come, benevolent ones, upon famed words well-spoken,
βουκόλωι εὐάντητοι ἀεὶ κεχαρηότι θυμῶι.
Bull-tenders most gracious, eternally cheerful spirits.
 Kouretes are young warrior dancers who make loud, rhythmic music with their armaments.
The Kouretes are credited with making a loud racket to conceal the cries of the Goddesses Leto and Rhea in their travail of parturition as well as concealing the cries of their offspring Artemis, Apollo, and Zeus to protect them from those who would do them harm.
Strabo, in Geography 14.1.20 (trans. Jones), describes how the Kouretes concealed Leto’s childbirth:
“…and then the city Ephesus. On the same coast, slightly above the sea, is also Ortygia, which is a magnificent grove of all kinds of trees, of the cypress most of all. It is traversed by the Cenchrius River, where Leto is said to have bathed herself after her travail. For here is the mythical scene of the birth (of Artemis and Apollo), and of the nurse Ortygia, and of the holy place where the birth took place, and of the olive tree near by, where the [G]oddess (Leto) is said first to have taken a rest after she was relieved from her travail. Above the grove lies Mt. Solmissus, where, it is said, the Curetes stationed themselves, and with the din of their arms frightened Hera out of her wits when she was jealously spying on Leto, and when they helped Leto to conceal from Hera the birth of her children.”
Diodorus of Sicily, in Library of History 5.65.1-4 (trans. Oldfather), describes how the Kouretes first developed the means of domesticating livestock, beekeeping, hunting, living in civilized communities, and armor-making; they also protected Rhea in childbirth by making a loud ruckus with their war dance, and nurtured Zeus after his birth:
“…according to accounts we have, there were nine Curetes. Some writers of myths relate that these [G]ods were born of the earth, but according to others, they were descended from the Idaean Dactyli. The home they made in mountainous places which were thickly wooded and full of ravines, and which, in a word, provided a natural shelter and coverage, since it had not yet been discovered how to build houses. 2 And since these Curetes excelled in wisdom they discovered many things which are of use to men [and women] generally; so, for instance, they were the first to gather sheep into flocks, to domesticate the several other kinds of animals which men [sic] fatten, and to discover the making of honey. 3 In the same manner they introduced the art of shooting with the bow and the ways of hunting animals, and they showed mankind how to live and associate together in a common life, and they were the originators of concord and, so to speak, of orderly behaviour. 4 The Curetes also invented swords and helmets and the war-dance, by means of which they raised a great alarum and deceived Cronus. And we are told that, when Rhea, the mother of Zeus, entrusted him to them unbeknown to Cronus his father, they took him under their care and saw to his nurture…” http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/5D*.html
Thaletas (Fragment 10 from Scholiast on Pindar, trans. Campbell) and Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.204 (trans. Rackham) also state that the Kouretes invented and taught dancing in armor.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.4-5 (trans. Aldrich) and Statius, Thebaid 4.782 (trans. Mozley) also describe how the dancing Kouretes made a loud racket with their armaments to conceal the birth of Zeus.
 The Mountain Mother is Rhea-Kybele, the immortal Mother of the Goddesses and Gods.