A class of sorcerers and scientific physicians originating in ancient Phrygia around the fifth century B.C.E. The number of members was given differently by different sources. Some said it equaled the number of fingers on the hands—five male and five female. Pausanias said five, Perecydes 52 (20 right and 32 left), while Orpheus the Argonaut mentioned a larger number.
The dactyls were magicians, exorcists, conjurers, and soothsayers. Plutarch said they made their appearance in Italy as sorcerers. Their mysterious practices threw the people of Samothrace into consternation. They were credited with the first a use of minerals and with developing the notes of the musical scale, as well as with the discovery and use of the Ephesian mines.
They supposedly introduced fire into Crete and musical instruments into Greece. They were good runners and dancers and were skilled in science and learning. They were said by some to have been the magnetic powers and spirits, whose head was Hercules.
Eliade, Mircea. Forgerons et Alchimistes. Flammarion, 1965. Translated as The Forge and the Crucible. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962.