Goddess of the Sea
by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
The Goddess of the Sea or Mistress of the Fishes has a very old origin in Greek tradition. She appears early in Minoan and Mycenaean art, sometimes called by the scholars the Goddess of Navigation or the Mother and Mistress of Sea Creatures, a counterpart of the Mistress of Wild Animals. Shrines dedicated to the Sea Goddess existed along the Minoan seashore, where her religious cult and marine festivals were probably celebrated. There is also a reference to a sea-journeying goddess in a boat with a shrine, who was represented on Minoan golden rings. According to some hypotheses this traveling goddess gave divine protection to the whole island of Crete.
As we can suppose from certain findings, the Mycenaeans worshiped the Sea Goddess or Mistress of the Fishes, who could be similar to the Syrian fish goddess Atargatis. On a seal-ring of carnelian and gold, found in the Mycenaean cemetery of Aidonia, she is depicted touching two big fishes or dolphins. The position and clothing of this figure are of Minoan influence, but her face and her hair are rendered in an unusual way. The other representation of the fish goddess came from the cult center of Mycenae. Between the terra-cotta statuettes discovered there, a female figurine exists with garment decorated with fish-heads, which probably served to show the sphere of her protection and activity over the sea.
The Goddess of the Sea took part in the creation of the world, in which life began in the water. In some myths, Eurynome and her partner, the serpent Ophion, represented such couple. According to Homer, the Mistress of the Sea was Tethys, the wife of Oceanus. She was the mother of the three thousand daughters and three thousand sons of Oceanus, "the origin of the gods" and "the origin of everything."
There is another sea deity, Thetis, the daughter of Nereus and mother of Achilles, whose cult was active at the cuttlefish-coast of Thessaly and Sparta. Sometimes she is called the granddaughter of Tethys and Oceanus, but Kerényi supposes, because of the similarity of the names — Tethys and Thetis — that they could be one and the same great Mistress of the Sea.
- Burkert, W. (1994). Greek Religion. Harvard, p. 172.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 337.
- Homer. Iliad xiv, 201, 246.
- Kerényi, C. (1992). The Gods of the Greeks. New York, p. 16.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 41.5.