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Mistress of Wild Animals

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Mistress of the Wild Animals (Potnia theron) or Queen of the Wild Bees, appears under many names. Her Minoan name was Britomartis or Sweet Virgin and she was related to Diktynna. The name Potnia is known from the Linear script B tablets and was being used for the main Mycenaean female deity. For the iconographical type goddess surrounded by the animals, who was applied into Archaic Greek art, was used usually the name Potnia theron, but sometimes Artemis too.

The Minoan seals relief are showing the Mistress of Animals in frontal position with raised hands, turning the lower part of her body, dressed with a Minoan skirt. She is flanked by the beasts, a double axe and snakes, which are giving the evidence about her divinity. Her close relation with nature and domination over the animals is illustrated on the relief seal scene, on which one of the griffins, accompanying the deity, is suckling her breast. The other representation on the golden ring is showing the deity with a galloping griffin. The griffins, the same as the beasts, became followers of her divinity and also get a function as guardians. Sometimes, the mythical and wild animals depicted alone, or with some religious equipment (as an altar or column), are giving an information about the presence of the deity or about her sacred place.

During 15th century BCE the Mycenaeans, heavy influenced by Minoan culture, presented the Mistress of Animals with a Minoan manner and with her usual sacred symbols. But at the Late Mycenaean period the old type of deity flanked by the animals was forgotten. On the wall paintings the goddess is sometimes accompanied by the griffin and generally absolutely new iconographical religious themes and types were discovered.

In the early Archaic Greek art Mistress of Animals emerges again. The relief on the pithos from Thebes is showing her in frontal position with raised hands, accompanied by the lions and two small human figures, while a Boetian vase is illustrating her domination over many kinds of animals. The necklace plaques, decorated with the Mistress of Animals from the second half of 7th century BCE, are presenting her with wings in a daedalic style, surrounded by lions or with a body of bees without company of the animals. Finally, the Francois vase is representing the type of this deity again with wings, holding a lion and a deer, but in this situation she is called sometimes Potnia theron, sometimes Artemis.

Mistress of Animals, a counterpart of Master of Animals, is usually described as a hunting deity, but some authors associate her not only with wild animals, snakes, birds, but further with a sacred tree and pillar, with some poppy and some lily and finally she looks like a Mistress of Trees and Mountains. M.P. Nilsson believed, that she was an earlier form of the Minoan Mother of Mountains. The Mycenaeans adopted the iconographical type of Mistress of Animals and used it besides the goddess of nature, who was represented with vegetation, mainly palms and papyrus flowers. The archaic Greeks, following the tradition, used the old iconographical scheme with their own esthetic program, but later on the name Potnia theron, her attributes and functions were integrated with Artemis.


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