Master of Animals
by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Master of Animals — a Late Bronze Age deity.
In Minoan and Mycenaean mythological and religious iconography appears a male deity, called later by the Greeks, Master of Animals. He is a counterpart of the Mistress of Wild Animals (Potnia theron)1 portrayed with wild animals, mainly lions, and exerting his power over them.
Some authors suppose that the Master of Animals could represent a hunting deity and protector of nature, or even a nature god.2 But sometimes this deity, accompanied by a lion, is armed with a spear and a shield and at other times he is again armed, but without the company of animals. M.P. Nilsson posed an interesting observation about the close relation between the Master of Animals and the armed god, as a hunter and war god. He believed, that the spear and the shield became a religious symbol of this god.3
In my opinion, the Master of Animals could represent from the beginning of the Late Helladic period, a nature god who is related with hunting. The Mycenaeans took this type from the Minoan belief system, which was the origin of this deity. After 1500 BCE and during the fourteenth century BCE the nature of this figure changed. The warlike tendency of the Mycenaean society was growing, and this could be the reason why their male god had to assume another responsibility. His attributes, mainly the shield, became frequent decorative motives in Mycenaean art and pottery production. Thus it is possible that the male god, depicted from the beginning primarily with animals, and later on with a spear and a shield, could be Enyalius (Enualios), known from Linear B script,4 and who is equated in Greek literature with Ares, the god of war.
On seals and ring-reliefs, the Master of Animals is depicted in the Minoan manner, wearing only a small cloth around his slim waist and turning his body to show his muscular torso in a frontal position. The head, usually with a beard and rich hair, has a strong facial expression. A gem from Kydonia and the Mycenaean seal ring illustrate him as such, while the well-known Aegina Treasure-pendant represents the Master of Animals with an Egyptian influence. The motif is created in a completely different way. The deity looks like an Egyptian, holding waterbirds in his hands and his surroundings consists of double snakes and papyrus flowers. Oriental seals from the Palace of Cadmus in Thiva show the Master of Animals with goats, some vegetation, and various symbols from Syrian and Mesopotamian mythology.
- Trckova-Flamee, Alena: Potnia
- Davaras, C. (1976). Guide to Cretan Antiquities. Athens, p. 13; Higgins, R. (1994). Minoan and Mycenaean Art. London.
- Nilsson, M.P. (1927). The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its survival in Greek Religion. Lund, p. 353.
- Chadwick, J. (1994). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge, p. 88.