Zeus (Ideon Antron) Cave

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Zeus (Ideon Antron) Cave

The caveIdeon Antron or Arsenio, is located on the eastern slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis), in the plateau of Nida.The cave has not any special geological value, but has enormous mythological and cultural value, as this is the cave in which, according to the legend, the greatest Greek god, Zeus, was grown up. Today, thousands of tourists visit the cave every year, especially during the summer months.

According to the legend, an oracle said that the son of Saturn and Rhea would take the power from Saturn, who was the greatest God. Thus, every time Rhea born a child, Saturn devoured it, so as not to lose his power. When Zeus was born in Dikteon Antron, his mother, Rhea, decided to save him. So, she wrapped one stone with cloth and gave it to Saturn, who then swallowed it, thinking that it was the baby.

Then, Zeus was moved from Dikteon Antron, where he was born, to Ideon Andron. During the moving, in accordance with Diodoros, his navel fell near a river, which is the today’s Karteros River, east of Heraklion. According to another weaker version of the myth, Zeus did not only grow, but was also born in Ideon Andron.

The native warriors Curetes (Kourites) guarded the entrance of the cave. Also, every time that baby Zeus was crying, they masked the crying by banging loudly their legendary shields with their swords, thus Cronus could not hear Zeus. According to another version, Curetes danced a very fast dance and their armors banged loudly. This dance, they say, is the ancestor of today's Pentozalis, a traditional cretan dance.

The nymph Melissa undertook the upbringing of Zeus. The mythical goat Amalthea, the gold horn of which provided all sorts of goods, nursed him with her milk. When Zeus grew up, he got the throne of Cronus and, thus, the oracle was verified. The upbringing of Zeus in Crete is illustrated by reference to him as Kritagenis Zeus, meaning Cretan-born Zeus.

The name Ideon Andron means the cave of Ida. Many locals call the cave as the Cave of the Shepherdess or just Cave. They say that the wife of lord of Gortyna, Haridimos, was buried there. According to the poem Erotokritos (poet: Vitsentzos Kornaros), Haridimos accidentally killed her while hunting in Psiloritis. Finally, the cave is referred as Arsenion or Arkesion Andron, from the ancient Greek word “arkesion” which means help. It is believed that the name comes from the worshippers who were arriving in the cave to ask for the help of Zeus.

Τhe cave has been the most important cave of Minoan Crete, with a revival of the cult in the Hellenistic and Roman times.Before the Minoan-palace-period, a young Minoan was god worshiped there, who was the personification of the vegetation, and was dying and rebearing like the four seasons. Near the end of the Minoan Era, the Minoan god was replaced by Zeus, which according to a local legend, was also reborn every year.Finally, the mythical king of Crete, Minos, came to Ideon Andron every 9 years to worship for Zeus and to get new orders from him.

Inside Ideon Cave the Philosophers Plato and Pythagoras and the Seer Epimenides were initiated, as this was a sacred cave wherein initiations and purifications took place. There are no historical references to the mysteries that took place in the cave, as the initiated worshippers were forced to conceal the rituals from the public.