Dictaean Zeus

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Hymn to Dictaean Zeus

Bronze plaque from the Dicteon Cave
Bronze plaque from the Dikteon Cave
with a worshipper carrying a ram on his shoulders
as an offering to the gods (7th c. BC).

As part of the festivities celebrating the annual rebirth of Zeus in the Dikteon cave, the worshippers sang the Hymn to Dictaean Zeus. Dictaean Zeus (or Dikteon Zeus or Diktaion Zeus) is the Zeus of Mt Dicte.

In the excavation of Palakastro, an inscription bearing the Hymn to Dictaean Zeus was found, broken into many pieces. At Palaikastro, as at Praisos, there were sanctuaries which probably operated under the control of the central sacred cave of East Crete where Zeus was born according to myth, the Dicteon Cave. 

The inscription, now in Heraklion Archaeological Museum, is dated to the 2nd-3rd c. AD. On the basis of the language used, this is an older text, perhaps dating to the 4th-3rd c. BC, based in turn on an even earlier text, now lost.

According to Michalis Tiverios, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the hymn was sung by naked youths, dancing orgiastically and clashing their bronze shields in imitation of the legendary Curetes who guarded the holy infant, concealing his cries from his father Cronus by dancing noisily and beating their shields.

According to Professor Tiverios, these events formed part of initiation ceremonies for young adolescents, who now became men. Documentary evidence exists of similar ceremonies held in other parts of the Dorian world.

The Hymn to Dictaean Zeus

Hail! Greatest Kouros, Son of Kronos
master of all gone below ground
return to Dikta for the changing year
at the head of the divine pageant
and rejoice in our happy hymn,
which we blend with harps and pipes
and sing as we stand
round your well-walled altar.

for here they took you from Rhea,
babe immortal, the shielded wards
and beat the dance with their feet.

of Dawn’s fair light.

and the seasons were fruitful
when men served Justice
and prosperous Peace swayed all creatures.

and come now to fill our empty jars
come for our fleece and crops
and come to fulfil our fertile desires.

and come for our people and cities
come for our sea-faring ships
and come for new citizens and good Law.

(Trans. J. A. MacGillivray)


As students of religion note, Christians today beseech God for the same things in the Benediction.

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