The Mistress of Animals is a widespread motif in ancient art from the Mediterranean world and the Ancient Near East, showing a central human, or human-like, female figure who grasps two animals, one to each side. The oldest such depiction, the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük is a clay sculpture from Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey, made c 6,000 BC. This motif is more common in later Near Eastern and Mesopotamian art with a male figure, called the Master of Animals.
Although the connections between images and concepts in the various ancient cultures concerned remain very unclear, such images are often referred to as of Potnia Theron (Ἡ Πότνια Θηρῶν, "Mistress of Animals"), a term first used once by Homer (Iliad 21. 470) and often used to describe female divinities associated with animals. The word Potnia, meaning mistress or lady, was a Mycenaean Greek word inherited by Classical Greek, with the same meaning, cognate to Sanskrit patnī.
Homer's mention of potnia theron is thought to refer to Artemis; Walter Burkert describes this mention as "a well established formula". An Artemis type deity, a 'Mistress of the Animals', is often assumed to have existed in prehistorical religion and often referred to as Potnia Theron, with some scholars positing a relationship between Artemis and goddesses depicted in Minoan art and Potnia Theron has become a generic term for any female associated with animals."
goddess flanked by two lionesses on a Knossos pithos
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- Fischer-Hansen, Tobias; Birte Poulsen (2009). From Artemis to Diana: the goddess of man and beast. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-8763507882.
- Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean world. Cambridge University Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-521-29037-1.
- Burkert, Walter (1987). Greek Religion. Harvard University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-674-36281-9.
- Roller, Lynn E. (1999). In search of god the mother: the cult of Anatolian Cybele. University of California Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-520-21024-0.
indefinite figures such as the Potnia Theron
- "Monte Rinaldo - Rete Museale dei Sibillini". Retemusealedeisibillini.it. Retrieved 11 April 2018.