The Myth of Aphaea (Britomartis)

Temple of Aphaia

The Greek goddess Aphaea or Aphaia is exclusive to the island of Aegina. The myth of Aphaea dates back into the Ancient Era from about the 14th century BC and could have been a Minoan Goddess. Aphaea was the goddesses of fertility and was worshipped to bring good fortune to farmers of Aegina. The Greek archaic temple built on Aegina to Aphaea is of the Doric order and was constructed in about 500BC. The slender Doric columns and the relative proportions of the temple of Aphaea led experts to associate the temple with the female goddess.

Britomartis was the Minoan goddess of the mountains and hunting, in close relation to Diktynna and Aphaea, forerunner of Potnia theron (Mistress of Animals) and Artemis, partly identified with them.
The name Sweet Maid or Sweet Virgin is connected with the mythical story of Britomartis, the same as her later names - Diktynna in Crete and Aphaea (Aphaia) in Aegina (Aigina). According to a late myth, Britomartis was the daughter of Zeus and Carme, daughter of Euboulos. A virgin was pursued by Minos, she was running away from him, finally she threw herself into the nets. Artemis made her a goddess with the name Diktynna. She became the goddess of the mountains and the shores and ports, sometimes she is called the goddess of nets. In another version of the myth Britomartis escaped into the island Aegina, where she was worshipped as Aphaea, the protectoress of the island.
She was worshipped as Dictynna, goddess of the nets (dictys) or of Cretan Mount Dicte. The Greeks also identified her with Aphaea, a primitive local goddess of Aegina whose temple there is famous for its pedimental sculptures.

After the introduction of the worship of Artemis into Crete, Britomartis, between whom and Artemis there were several points of resemblance, was placed in some relation to her: Artemis, who loved her, assumed her name and was worshipped under it, and in the end the two divinities became completely identified, as we see from the story which makes Britomartis a daughter of Leto. (Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 189, with the Schol.; Paus. ii. 30. § 3; Schol. ad Aristoph. Ran. 1402; Eurip. Iphig. Taur. 126; Aristoph. Ran. 1358; Virg. Cir. 305.) The myths of Britomartis is given by some of the authorities just referred to. She was a daughter of Zeus and Carme, the daughter of Eubulus. She was a nymph, took great delight in wandering about hunting, and was beloved by Artemis. Minos, who likewise loved her, pursued her for nine months, but she fled from him and at last threw herself into the nets which had been set by fishermen, or leaped from mount Dictynnaeum into the sea, where she became entangled in the nets, but was saved by Artemis, who now made her a goddess. She was worshipped not only in Crete, but appeared to the inhabitants of Aegina, and was there called Aphaea, whereas in Crete she received the surname Dictymna or Dictynna (from diktuon, a net; comp. Diod. v. 76). According to another tradition, Britomartis was fond of solitude, and had vowed to live in perpetual maidenhood. From Phoenicia (for this tradition calls her mother Carme, a daughter of Phoenix) she went to Argos, to the daughters of Erasinus, and thence to Cephallenia, where she received divine honours from the inhabitants under the name of Laphria. From Cephallenia she came to Crete, where she was pursued by Minos; but she fled to the sea-coast, where fishermen concealed her under their nets, whence she derived the surname Dictynna. A sailor, Andromedes, carried her from Crete to Aegina, and when, on landing there, he made an attempt upon her chastity, she fled from his vessel into a grove, and disappeared in the sanctuary of Artemis. The Aeginetans now built a sanctury to her, and worshipped her as a goddess. (Anton. Lib. 40.) These wanderings of Britomartis unquestionably indicate the gradual diffusion of her worship in the various maritime places of Greece mentioned in the legend. Her connexion and ultimate identification with Artemis had naturally a modifying influence upon the notions entertained of each of them. As Britomartis had to do with fishermen and sailors, and was the protectress of harbours and navigation generally, this feature was transferred to Artemis also, as we see especially in the Arcadian Artemis; and the temples of the two divinities, therefore, stood usually on the banks of rivers or on the sea-coast. As, on the other hand, Artemis was considered as the goddess of the moon, Britomartis likewise appears in this light: her disappearance in the sea, and her identification with the Aeginetan Aphaea, who was undoubtedly a goddess of the moon, seem to contain sufficient proof of this, which is confirmed by the fact, that on some coins of the Roman empire Dictynna appears with the crescent. Lastly, Britomartis was like Artemis drawn into the mystic worship of Hecate, and even identified with her. (Eurip. Hippol. 141, with the Schol.)

DICTE (Diktê), a nymph from whom mount Dicte in Crete was said to have received its name. She was beloved and pursued by Minos, but she threw herself into the sea, where she was caught up and saved in the nets (diktuon) of fishermen. Minos then desisted from pursuing her, and ordered the district to be called the Dictaean. (Serv. ad Aen. iii. 171.)

In classical myths
Every element of the classical myths that told about 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 2nd 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 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.

Hellenistic and Roman period
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, the daughter of Euboulos who was the son of Demeter; she invented the nets [diktya] which are used in hunting."

The third hymn to Artemis by Callimachus tells how she was pursued by Minos and, as Diktynna, "Lady of the Nets", threw herself into fishermen's nets to escape him; thus rescued, she was taken by the fishermen to mainland Greece. She was also known as Dicte. This myth element "explains" the spread of the Cretan goddess's cult to Greece. Didorus Siculus found it less than credible:

"But those men who tell the tale that she has been named Diktynna because she fled into some fishermen’s nets when she was pursued by Minos, who would have ravished her, have missed the truth; for it is not a probable story that the goddess should ever have got into so helpless a state that she would have required the aid that men can give, being as she is the daughter of the greatest one of the gods."

Strabo notes she was venerated as Diktynna only in western Crete, in the region of Cydonia, where there was a Diktynnaion , or temple of Diktynna. "Oupis [Artemis], O queen, fairfaced Bringer of Light, thee too the Kretans name after that Nymph," Callimachus says. "She passed her time in the company of Artemis, this being the reason why some men think Diktynna and Artemis are one and the same goddess," Diodorus Siculus (5.76.3) suggested.

In Minoan art, and on coins, seals and rings and the like throughout Greece, Britomartis is depicted with demonic features, carrying a double-handed axe and accompanied by feral animals.


William Smith. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. London. John Murray: printed by Spottiswoode and Co., New-Street Square and Parliament Street. In the article on Soranus, we find: "at this present time (1848)" and this date seems to reflect the dates of works cited. 1873 - probably the printing date.
Other Minoan/Greek goddess figures -- that the scant archaeological evidence and speculative reading of literary sources suggest made the transition to classical Hellenic culture -- can be detected in aspects of the Olympian goddesses Hera, Demeter and Artemis, and in Europa, Eileithyia, Leto, Leucothea, Rhea, Pasiphaë, Ariadne, and even Helen. The subject is examined in detail in Martin P. Nilsson, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek Religion 2nd ed. (Lund) 1950, which is presented in two sections, "The Minoan-Mycenaean religion according to the monuments" and "Minoan-Mycenaean religion in its relations to Greek religion". See also Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 1985:10-47.
K. Pilafidis-Williams, The Sanctuary of Aphaia on Aigina in the Bronze Age (Munich: Hirmer) 1998, describes the distinctive local cult but is cautious in retrojecting the later cult of Aphaia to describe Britomartis at Aigina; the explicit identification of Britomartis and Aphaea is in Pausanias, ii.30.3 and in Diodorus Siculus, v.76.3.
For example, "...all but caught, she leapt into the sea from the top of a cliff and fell into the nets of fishermen which saved her. Whence in after days the Kydonians call the Nymphe Diktyna (Lady of the Nets) and the hill whence the Nymphe leaped they call the hill of Nets (Diktaion)," (Callimachus, Ode 3 to Artemis, 188ff.
Solinus, ix.8.
Α.Γ. Κρασανάκη, Ελληνική Μυθολογία, μύθοι της Κρήτης, σε μορφή PDF.
Αθανασίου Αγγελόπουλου, Νέο Λεξικό της ελληνικής μυθολογίας, εκδόσεις ελεύθερις σκέψις.
H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York) 1959:117, citing Theodor Mommsen's edition, 1864.
"A deeper source of Cretan Britomartis" paleoglot.blogspot.ca
A Christian parallel may render this observation even clearer: Mater dolens, "grieving mother", identifies the Blessed Virgin, but none of the four attributes—"grieving, mother, blessed, virgin"— gives her name, Mary.
"Her name is supposed to mean the 'Good Maiden' — which like Aristaios and Kalliste, may be a euphemism for its opposite, the Maiden of Death." (Carl A.P. Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth [Carolina Academic Press], 1994:113).
Diodorus Siculus, 5.76.3.
C. Michael Hogan, Cydonia, The Modern Antiquarian, Jan. 23, 2008
“Diktynna”, col. 584-588.
Pausanias (.36) saw on the high ground between the two cities "a temple of Dictynnaean Artemis, who is held in the highest honour by the people of Ambrosus; her statue is of Aeginetan workmanship in black stone."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 8. 30.
"The Minoan Deities Named: An Archaeologist Gleans Goddesses and Gods from Linear A". Retrieved January 8, 2012.
The Olympian assimilates the older goddess as an epithet. As Athens assumed control of Aegina, there are clear socio-political implications.

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