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Diktynna, Cretan Goddess of Nets

Mieke Prent in Cretan Sanctuaries and Cults states that “Deep-tooted patterns of continuity have been noted especially the the realm of religion and cult (in ancient Crete). Pre Greek divine names, such as Diktynna, Britomartis and Paiwon and the epithets Diktaios and Velchanos for Zeus, are well attested and may, as observed by Brukert, be taken as ‘evidence for the continuance not only of vague recollections, but of living cult.” (page 3) So Diktynna should be considered more carefully in terms of what contribution there might be of the Minoan Culture.

There is this from Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 76. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.): “Britomartis, who is also called Diktynna, the myths relate, was born at Kaino in Krete of Zeus and Karme, the daughter of Euboulos who was the son of Demeter; she invented the nets (diktya) which are used in hunting, whence she has been called Diktynna, and 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; and the Kretans have instituted sacrifices and built temples in honour of this goddess. 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 its 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.”

There are at least three temples dedicated to Dicktynna

  1. Rodopou, The Diktynneion — In NW Crete at the NE tip of the elongated and mountainous peninsula of Rodopou lies the remains of a long-known sanctuary.
  2. HYPSOS Town in Lakedaimonia (Southern Greece) — Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 24. 9 :
    “By the sea [at Hypsos, Lakedaimonia] is a temple of Artemis Diktynna on a promontory, in whose honour they hold an annual festival.”
  3. III) AIGINA Island (Southern Greece) — Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 30. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
    “In Aigina [the island], as you go towards the mountain of Zeus . . . you reach a sanctuary of Aphaia, in whose honour Pindar composed an ode for the Aiginetans . . . She was made a goddess by Artemis, and she is worshipped, not only by the Kretans but also by the Aiginetans, who say that Britomartis shows herself in their island. Her surname among the Aiginetans is Aphaia; in Krete it is Diktynna (Goddess of Nets).”

There are a number of interesting associations with Diktynna which may bear on the development of Greek Classic religion. What we may see in the development of the myth is a transition of the thought about a goddess as the culture changed. During early times fertility was associated with women because of their birthing capability. So a goddess of wild nature making game available seems productive. Early hunters used throwing sticks but later someone developed a net. The history of weaving suggests that first came baskets then string, and them string woven into baskets. Finally looms wove string into cloth. So nets were developed at the time that women were beginning to clothe themselves with string and knotted garments. Also, at this time men became aware of their role in the birth of a child. The net is both a symbol of beauty enhancement and a symbol of obtaining a woman to produce a family. The notion of family seems more important as the male becomes aware of his role. The concept of virginity becomes important at this time. A man desires to marry a virgin so he can certify his children to himself. So the net can also be the symbol of protection of virginity. Later the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, becomes the goddess of virginity. So we seem to have a goddess concept that goes from fertility goddess when culture only vlaued babies to goddess of beauty enhanced by netting, to virgin who could produce a known family. Diktynna may have been a Minoan goddess. The Mycenaens and Dorians seem to have taken her over. Then she was assimilated to Artemis in Classical times.

The name ‘Britomartis’ is said to mean ‘sweet maiden’. This is according to C. Julius Solinus geographus Latinus 11.8. Yet the name does not resolve itself in this way according to Indo-European roots.

In Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.30.3: “In Aegina, as you go towards the mountain of Zeus, God of all the Greeks, you reach a sanctuary of Aphaea, in whose honor Pindar composed an ode for the Aeginetans. The Cretans say (the story of Aphaea is Cretan) that Carmanor, who purified Apollo alter he had killed Pytho, was the father of Lubulus, and that the daughter of Zeus and of Carme, the daughter of Eubulus, was Britomartis. She took delight, they say, in running and in the chase, and was very dear to Artemis. Fleeing from Minos, who had fallen in love with her, she threw herself into nets which had been cast (aphemena) for a draught of fishes. She was made a goddess by Artemis, and she is worshipped, not only by the Cretans, but also by the Aeginetans, who say that Britomartis shows herself in their island. Her surname among the Aeginetans is Aphaea; in Crete it is Dictynna (Goddess of Nets).”