Britomartis

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Britomartis (Βριτόμαρτις), was the Minoan goddess of mountains and hunting. She is among the Minoan goddess figures that passed through the Mycenaeans' culture into classical Greek mythology, with transformations that are unclear in both transferrals.[1] For the Greeks Britomartis (Cretan dialect[2] for "sweet maiden", "sweet virgin"[3]) or Diktynna (derived by Hellenistic writers as from diktya, "hunting nets")[4] was a mountain nymph (an oread) whom Greeks recognized also in Artemis and in Aphaea, the "invisible" patroness of Aegina.[5]

Britomartis ("sweet maid") is an epithet that does not reveal the goddess's name,[6] nor her character, for it has the ring of an apotropaic euphemism.[7] The goddess addressed as "Britomartis" was worshipped in Crete as an aspect of Potnia, the "Mistress". The oldest aspect of the Cretan Goddess was as Mother of Mountains, who appears on Minoan seals with the demonic features of a Gorgon, accompanied by the double-axes of power and gripping divine snakes. Her terror-inspiring aspect was softened by calling her Britomartis, the "good virgin", a euphemism to allay her dangerous aspect.

Every element of the Classical myths that told of Britomartis served to reduce her power and scope, even literally to entrap her in nets (but only because she "wanted" to be entrapped). The traditional patriarchal bias of Greek writers even made her the "daughter" of Zeus (see below), rather than his patroness when he was an infant in her cave on Mount Dikte, and they made her own tamed, "evolved" and cultured Olympian aspect, the huntress Artemis, responsible for granting Britomartis status as a goddess, a mythic inversion expressed by the Romanized Greek Pausanias, in the second century CE: "She was made a goddess by Artemis," Pausanias asserts (2.30.3), "and she is worshipped, not only by the Cretans but also by the Aiginetans" (see Aphaea, below). But the ancient goddess never quite disappeared and remained on the coins of Cretan cities, as herself or as Diktynna, the goddess of Mount Dikte, Zeus' birthplace. As Diktynna, winged and now represented with a human face, she stood on her ancient mountain, and grasped an animal in each hand, in the guise of Potnia Theron the Mistress of animals. The Greeks could only conceive of a mistress of animals as a huntress, but on the early seals she suckles griffons. Archaic representations of winged Artemis show that she evolved from Potnia Theron.

By Hellenistic and Roman times, Britomartis was given a genealogical setting that fitted her into a Classical context:

"Britomartis, who is also called Diktynna, the myths relate, was born at Kaino in Crete of Zeus and Karme,[8] the daughter of Euboulos who was the son of Demeter; she invented the nets [diktya] which are used in hunting."[9]

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