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Itone

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee Ph.D.

According to Cretan myth, Itone was the daughter of Lyctius. She is one of the loves of the Cretan king Minos, who was a great lover with relations with many women. Itone bore Minos a son Lycastus, who became later the successor of his famous father.

Itone -- in old Greek ítéinos, itéiní –- means a willow tree written in the form of a female adjective. The origin of this name came perhaps from this old Cretan word and it had a close link to one of the characteristic features of the Minoan religion: the worship of trees. This Cretan belief was practiced mainly in country shrines where trees like olive trees or date palm trees, but also willow trees, were the objects of worship. They provided the people with fruits, while the willow trees played a certain role in the context with water. This cult was associated in Crete with the divinity of fertility.

The love story between Itone and Minos from which Lycastus was born represented a mythical episode with a symbolic character. This myth was related to the cult of trees, in this particular case to the cult of the willow tree. The fruit of this willow tree was Lycastus, the successor of Minos.

Later on the goddess Athena was connected with the name Itone and as well as with the willow tree. The temple of Athena Polias was built at Itanos in the most eastern Greek city-state of Crete. Originally the name of this place was perhaps "u-ta-no" from the Linear tablets B, by Herodotus mentioned as Itanos (today Erimoupolis, "Deserted Town"). The name of Itanos (ítéinos), which meant a willow tree man, was associated here with one of the nine Curetes.

According to Pausanias the temple of Itonian Athena existed also in Itone (which was located in the central part of Greece) for the general assembly of all Boeotians. There the statues of Itonian Athena and of Zeus were created by Agorakritos.

Concluding, we have to note, that this mythical event about Itone and Minos as well as the name Itone, which originated from the old Cretan word and belief, was reused probably for the new purposes under the Greek Olympian religion. Due to this reason the willow tree became later on associated with the goddess Athena and this goddess took also (beside others) the surname Itone.


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