"Sweet Maid." Appears to have originally been a Cretan divinity of hunters and fishermen. Her name is usually derived from βριτύς (britys), sweet or blessing, and μάρτις (martis), i.e. μαρνά (marna), a maiden, so that the name would mean, the sweet or blessing maiden.1
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 worshiped 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.
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 worshiped 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 δίκτυον, diktyon, a net).2
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 honors 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 sanctuary to her, and worshiped her as a goddess.3
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 harbors 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.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 14.2; Solin. 11.
- comp. Diodorus Siculus, v, 76.
- Antoninus Liberalis, 40.
- Dictionary of Antiquities s.v. Δικτύννια.
- Aristophanes. The Frogs, 1358.
- Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis, 189, with the Scholiast.
- Cicero. Ciris, 305.
- Euripides. Hippolyte, 141, with the Scholiast.; comp. Müller. Aegineticorum Liber, p. 163 ff.
- Euripides. Iphigeneia in Tauris, 126.
- Höck. Kreta, ii, p. 158 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 30.3.
- Scholiast on Aristophanes' The Frogs, 1402.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.