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Forms of Time
Nilsson’s 1920 Primitive Time-Reckoning detailed the long human process of arriving at the concept of a year: it may have first concerned only a period from sowing to harvest, and then measured from “a season to its recurrence”: a challenge amid fluctuations that was aided by the daily utility of the moon, “the first chronometer” (354, 359, 148). Cohen’s 1993 study of ancient Near Eastern “cultic calendars” found their origins also in seasons and lunar cycles beginning with a First Crescent (3-4).
Crete lives a round of three distinct and reliable seasons: After 90-95 days of cool rainy Winter, about 140 days of Spring lead into Summer and the grain harvest; and about 130 days from thence bring Winter again. MacGillivray’s 2008 study of The Decans confirms a Cretan year of three seasons, each (with their overlaps) about 4 moons/months in duration. A type of Early Minoan seals called triskeles above (from Evans’ Palace 2: 196-7) may register early abstractions of a 3-season year.
Of early similar Canary Island stones (pintaderas), the 2001 Belmonte/Betancourt study Astronomy, Landscape and Culture noted (101):
We studied 125 pintaderas, counting the numbers of strokes, small…divisions, or other decorative elements….It was really astonishing to notice…the distribution…centered at key astronomical numbers….The chances of this phenomenon having occurred fortuitously are extremely small. Consequently, we believe that some astronomical skill or tradition, either religious, calendric, or both, is represented in a large number of pintaderas, some of which were “decorated” accordingly with astral symbols.
Mount Dikte in Winter
Lasithi in Spring
Summer near Archanes, Crete
Yet, no civilization ignores the sun. If the sun’s cyclic extremes of light and shadow are Summer and Winter Solstice, its midpoints are Spring and Autumn Equinox. And from Early Minoan times we find seals, ceramics and other designs that seem to represent their cultural share of those 4 cardinal points in ecological time. Below are a Middle-period bead-seal and a vase from Evans’ Palace (2: 203 and 205).
Do the seal’s lifted and falling leaf-figures signify a year in the life of vegetation? They suggest a pair of equinoctial signs, crossed by the vertical S-form, commonly construed as a reference to solstices; and the solstice S bears doubled pairs of lobes and bars. We see an ellipse, but the seal’s likely referent is a cycle: hence it seems a cousin of the more familiar wheeled cross much-shown ahead. On the vase above, the vegetation-forms are either short (spring/winter) or long (summer/harvest). As Marinatos (2010: 38) observes, “a large and complex pictorial dictionary is beginning to emerge.” “We may postulate an entire system of interconnected concepts that cohere first by the nature of their morphology, and second by their semantic links” (i.e., by their forms and how each one speaks through relations to the others). They comprise “a vocabulary of sacredness,” much of which “revolved around the sun.”
The group of Middle-period seals below (Evans, Palace 3: 21; Betancourt 2007: 212) might suggest other conceptions of ecological cycles: equal and opposed spirals, lunar crescents as equinoctial leaves, or “raying” moons or suns: a wheeled cross or X-form tipped with spirals. As scholarship cited below in this chapter reflects, spirals have both solar and lunar associations.
Let us track Crete’s 3-season ecological year along
the Bull Leap fresco border. In the process we can evaluate correspondences
between them and more apparent operations of a lunar/solar calendar.
Year 1 can connect these seasons with what we learned in Chapter 3 of counting through the border. Note that Winter in Crete does not begin at Solstice (our counting anchor-point), but almost 8 weeks earlier—almost precisely each year on what we call November 1, with the return of cool cloudy weather and heavy rains. A month or more before that, the voras or north wind closed the sea to ships.
Tremendous thunderstorms roll down Crete’s mountains. By December, snow blankets their high peaks from the west to central Ida and Mount Dikte on Lasithi Plateau. Many years, snow remains when red corn poppies blossom near Spring Equinox. So, as Crete’s average winter lasts 3 moons/months and more, we find its days divided between 43 and 46 (adjusted) solar tracks in the fresco’s two verticals; at left with the 2nd moon pointing to Spring and its festival, and at right, with the 11th moon descending toward the end, with their matching 3 days.
We jumped, between the Second moon’s two full days, from left vertical to upper horizontal (left end). In Crete the waning Second moon is the last edge of winter, the rains less intense and the clouds casting shadows on the whitecap sea. It opens the long upper-horizontal stretch of 143 days from Spring through Midsummer, counting from top-left to the row’s right end. Migratory cranes arrive near equinox in ancient rendezvous with Cretan farming (Chapter 9). Farmers break ground, prune and prepare for new crops of grapes and olives.
Through this time the meltemi bring fresh northwest breezes. As last year’s planted grains begin to rise, the bright mild weather opens the sea for fishing, trade and diplomacy. Midsummer (or, the Sixth moon) sees the sun reach its fierce peak at Solstice, and the land burns for want of rain. The grain harvest centers these weeks’ lunar/solar festival. Often by this time, hot dry blasts of wind full of sand and flies blow across the southern sea from the Sahara.
Then the fresco’s calendric signs commit us to our second jump, from the upper right orange crescent to the identical one in the lower horizontal (at right end). As we jump, we reverse direction under the year’s Seventh moon at its First Quarter (7th day), and the balance of summer runs right-to-left in the Cretan year’s second long stretch, 133 days through Autumn Equinox. Harvest of every crop afforded by the land begins. Home come the sailors. By the Ninth moon, the still-strong sun dries acres of grapes into raisins, and millions of bees share of the sugars before these are gathered for store. Meanwhile, as the cranes depart, the land is full of its great yearly labors, harvesting grapes and planting new grain, getting ready for the olive harvest too on the early side of Winter.
A 3-day Harvest Festival would consummate so much organized crucial work. And then comes our longest jump, across the fresco and Bull’s back, from blue at lower left corner to blue at the top of the right vertical, with a Waning moon in the sky. From there, 46 days grow darker and colder till they reach Winter Solstice, and the seasons turn subtly again.
The fresco’s calendric breakdown of days resembles Crete’s 3-season year. If a 2nd -moon Spring Festival seems early and an 11th moon Harvest Festival late, consider how much labor was involved to make Spring ready to produce and to secure it all by Autumn. An early Spring focus on ceremony would have maximized the believed human ritual role “essential” to nature’s resurrection. On the other end, a late Harvest Festival would have secured the food (and next year’s) first.
Winter Solstice, as its seasonal and conceptual center, breaks Winter almost evenly. The long Spring and Summer belong to the long horizontals. And, while we begin at New Moon/Winter Solstice according to several clues, their Summer countersigns fall close to the opposite top-right corner, near the jump from upper to lower horizontal. There begins the sun’s long fall from its Solstice peak. The end of a year turns from hard labor to hard Winter, and from that point (lower horizontal, left end), pattern and logic demand our longest jump across the center.
Ahead we may see reasons why the fresco does not offer any distinct visual mark among the upper-row tracks for Summer Solstice’s normal occurrence at Sixth moon/20th or 21st day. Nor does the fresco closely, visually align its solar tracks for the days of the Sixth Full Moon (13th-14th days) with the lunar phase-crescent below them that “should” mark a Full moon. Perhaps reasons for exceptions will emerge from other correspondences.
Let us see how the same signs, guides and clues in the Bull Leap fresco’s Year 1 take us into Year 2 and through its successors. Look once more at Year 1’s right vertical row, where we concluded the count for that year.
Our Year 1 circuit of the border used only the outermost row of tracks on each side. When we reached the blue crescent atop of the right vertical, we no longer found a corresponding, outermost blue row of tracks along which to descend. This compelled our first counting-step inward, into the fresco, in terms of the layout of orange and blue rows, and now it reminds us that we need reliable guides.
We were guided down the only outermost blue row by a blue (top, right vertical) crescent, and descended to the end of Year 1. In lunar terms, we found ourselves at the very end of the 12th Moon’s Dark phase: in the fresco’s counting terms (where, as shown last chapter, crescent-color is now 1 phase out of step), we finished on an orange crescent (right vertical, bottom). In solar terms, we reached the last track beside it. By alternating pattern, we now need an uncounted, outermost, orange row that leads to the next correct alternation (blue).
Which rows of tracks at hand meet all criteria? Only one: the right vertical’s uncounted outermost row is orange, matching the orange crescent where we just arrived; and, this row of crescents leads to a blue one. The only way forward is to start the new year by reversing direction along the border.
Within these demonstrated parameters, a consistent new track seems chosen for us. Happy New Year. By the same steps that began Year 1, we skip this “first” orange crescent of Year 2 and, with it, the first 5 solar tracks—where an annual 5-day Winter Solstice festival also takes its place along the 8½-year continuum of 18 solstices, in the “great” cycle of the midwinter death and rebirth of moon and sun. Ahead we will see how regularly over time the lunar phases fall along these lines, and might have structured festival days with both repetition and variety, year by Great Year.
From here in Year 2 (above), the same logical criteria apply, and the same patterns of guiding signs wait along the fresco’s rows of lunar crescents and solar tracks. For example, counting from Year 2’s Winter into Spring, we arrive at the blue crescent atop the right vertical, beside its group of 3 “extra” tracks. As we search for a matching blue crescent to which to jump next, we find (along the left side) 3 possible blue crescents that each begin a new row, and each as well presents a matching group of 3 “extra” tracks. But, while the left vertical’s top blue crescent fulfills all the criteria (including a correctly-alternating, outermost blue row of tracks), that row by all evidence comprises the latter half of Year 2’s winter, and would be out of seasonal and calendric sequence.
The bottom horizontal’s blue crescent and 3 “extra” tracks offer the same criteria-signs, but that would be to jump from almost-Spring to almost-Winter again. The one remaining possibility—jumping from right vertical to top-left horizontal—is the only one that leads from late Winter through the same annual signs of early Spring.
From here—through Year 2, Year 3 (with its Leap Day) and Year 4—we reverse our counting-direction each year, and the alternating color-guides in the lunar crescents and solar tracks unfold along their original fresco rows. In effect, these spiral inward through the complete border. Along the way, Years 2 and 4 reveal the answer to one of the first visual anomalies noted (Chapter 2).
The two uppermost rows of tracks just below Bull’s feet in the lower horizontal do not match the other horizontal pairs, but present instead orange-over-blue. As you travel through Years 3 and 4 below, you see the explanation, and it unfolds from the fresco’s original patterns and logic.
We discover that this is exactly the arrangement demanded for these two rows just below Bull’s feet, if we are following rows of solar tracks according to the fresco’s color-alternation pattern, and find the outermost row of right-colored tracks at every juncture. The anomaly seems to prove necessary in keeping with a calendric design.
Why is this a 4-year calendar if a Great Year is an 8½-year period of moon and sun? The sky itself may be the fresco’s own countersign to double its period of years. A 5th year’s pentaeteris (New Moon/Winter Solstice) is a common herald between 4-year periods. Doubling is a feature and technique already observed to be generic in these matters of astronomy and symbolism. We will see more ahead in central evidences.
In its layout of solar forms, the rectangular (almost square) Bull Leap fresco presents an inward-spiraling wheel of the seasons. Most generally, spirals are agreed to represent “tracks of the sun” (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005: 360). As Ridderstad points out (13, and see her Figure 11), spirals from the Megalithic temples of Malta to England’s New Grange are symbols of the sun’s (and as likely, the moon’s) cycles; “closely connected to the representation of the sun as concentric circles” (shown in Evans’ chart in Chapter 2, with examples ahead). The fresco’s solstice-centered spiral path, in orange and blue, is laid out in two colors which, according to the crescents’ lunar sequence, correspond to light and shadow.
Another design coincidence? Perhaps. Below is a second phenomenon that issues from fresco operations—the cross or X in a spiral wheel, a form noted earlier here.
The charts below isolate the color direction-guides in the Bull Leap fresco.
Every year, our longest jump crosses the fresco’s central space. In two years, we have done this twice, as shown below: from lower left to upper right in the first half of Years 1 and 3, and from lower right to upper left in the first half of Years 2 and 4. Jumping over Bull inscribes the fresco’s center with a pair of forms illustrated below.
One is the double axe Labrys, twice: each with 2 blades, 4 points, and a 5th point where the two jumps cross at center. The central 5th point makes the whole form a simultaneous quincunx. The tracking of time issues in Labrys and its quincunx twin across the fresco. We find this X from seals (like the two Middle-period examples above) to ceramics, such as the Early Minoan II design on a female figurine below (from Evans Palace 4: 163). And, as Davaras has laid out the intimate connections between "the stylized double axe" and the "basic design" of a labyrinth (1976: 172), it might not surprise us if the labyrinthine Bull Leap Fresco's calendric operations seem to manifest a form (X) that is also identical with a doubled Labrys. If these forms are related, the Bull Leap fresco’s operations appear to have been constructed out of older forms unrecognized as calendric in any way, and from other aspects of Minoan symbolism that require these chapters to show.
There may have been a ceremonial use for the well-known marble “cross” or X (of light and dark stone, above) that Evans found in the West Wing’s Temple Repositories. Nilsson (Religion) lists clues that it formed an “inlay” for a lost wooden chest. This does not forbid its use as a symbol or ceremonial object, although Hatzaki (2009: 22) shows that it was “killed” or broken and sealed away with other objects by perhaps 1600. If it was found in this sacred cache, it had sacred associations. Below, we find this somehow-significant use of the X near the entrance to Phaestos palace, dated by Pendlebury to about 1700-1600, or Middle Minoan III (in Evans’ Palace 1: 373 it is dated to the first Late period)—and, in a seal’s bull-leaping scene. In both designs, the central X crosses a border itself composed of X’s, like another kind of doubling effect.
Chapters ahead track this enigmatic X through many forms. A brief return to the more “legible” Knossos throne room finds this probably-multivalent X in two central places: one of them visible, and one invisible yet important, and surely no accident.
In Goodison’s “Perceptions of the Sun” diagram (above), we find an X inscribed by light itself in the shadows of the throne’s anteroom: light projected by one year’s two solstices, from the extreme-outer doorways to the point where they cross conceptually, before the central pier of the throne room’s entrance.
Then, inside (below), we find the throne, in the “numerical shape” of a Great Year cycle, between its dado’s doubled pair of groups of X’s, with 3 in each group. Immerwahr (137), though cautious about this dado restoration, writes that “the throne room at Knossos and its paintings seem a Minoan creation, even if the final form took place [when] Mycenaeans were present.” As we’ll see, Marinatos accepts the dado as original enough to correspond to a known-original design in another central Knossos location. If, then, this restoration of the dado matches the Late and/or last Minoan period’s throne room, there were/are 6 X’s on each side. Is this X some multivalent sign that can evoke months and/or pairs of calendar years, as well as other meanings?
A total of 12 X’s might refer to a year’s 12 moons, and make the throne a 13th element in this tableau; corresponding, like the throne’s alabaster color, to the first (13th) night of a Full moon, as well as to the 13 typically-remaining nights that together bring increasing shadow across the moon’s face, devouring it in darkness. It seems much less clear what an X which signals “two years” might mean in this arrangement. But Goodison shows that light and shadow, as a dynamic element of Minoan ceremony, inform the Knossos throne room’s whole complex, and its architecture yields another Great Year form that may be helpful.
There is much more to consider behind those “blue clues” at both sides of the throne, parted by white and by red X’s. If the forms painted on the dado are accurate to Late-period originals, there is another way to understand this throne room tableau with reference to lunar/solar astronomy, a way that is consistent with Great Year cycles—and to doubled ones. A Middle-period artifact called the Phaestos Table (treated here further on) can begin to show us that second throne room possibility.
What about Labrys in these X connections? Labrys belonged most to Knossos, which was surrounded by old, locally useful and perhaps rival calendric practices. Gesell’s study of palace, town and domestic ways notes that while heavy stands for Labrys remained in public areas, the axes were kept hidden away for display at only certain times. Between those times, the stands marked its absence or invisibility.
In Briault’s “conservative estimate” (2007: 252), the numbers of finds “equate to one double axe being deposited at one site roughly every two years” (emphasis added); or perhaps in a longer periodic cycle, their finds averaging to about “one ritual episode per decade during which five double axes were deposited at a single site.” In that case also, one double axe at least coincidentally equates to a 2-year period. This is clearly consistent with 2-year and Labrys-form aspects of the Bull-Leap Fresco’s calendar operations; and an estimated decade is not very far from an 8½- or 9-year period. If a 2-year rhythm within a Great Year cycle inscribes the fresco with an invisible Labrys/quincunx, perhaps the huge impractical examples that rise toward the roof of Heraklion Museum (below) were “shown forth” in ceremonies according to that interval. Major postings and showings-forth at least became the practice in late New Palace times (Haysom 2010, and Chapters 6-8). Regular ritual displays and even “wonders” of nature and culture were essential to a social order based in religion. On those same grounds, however, Labrys might have “shown forth” more usefully once per month. We have two fair examples of contexts to see in this chapter that might suggest a “month” meaning in this X.
Labrys, X and quincunx at times share the same symbolic place, as shown in these Middle-period seals. Surely they are more than interchangeable yet mostly-inscrutable figures of “the sun.”
The throne’s disc-in-crescent, Labrys, X, and quincunx seem to manifest or point to something sacred and central, framed between the upturned tips of a crescent or bull’s horns. We note with Haysom (2010: 37) and others that when Bull and Labrys first appeared together on seal images, Labrys was positioned “upside-down” (as on the much later seal from mainland Argos, above). Yet perhaps Chapter 6’s close study of Labrys can suggest why. With the reader’s patience, these forms and connections will be substantiated even further. But these are further clues that the Bull Leap fresco border is part of this enigmatic Minoan family of signs. As all these forms likely predate the fresco, its border patterns appear to be designed to resonate meaningfully as astronomy in the midst of its society’s central extant religious symbolism.
These questions will surely return. As correspondences between the fresco and other central forms emerge, are there similar design aspects coming out of the Minoan past? The knowledge built into the Bull Leap fresco must have roots.
Above is an incised tablet dated (in Evans’ Palace 1: 632) to the Early period. It comes from the Psychro area in the mountains close to the Minoans’ mythic “creation-point,” the great cave of Mount Dikte. The emergence of humans from the cave’s “womb” was a movement from shadow into light, and a cyclic one as mortals returned to the dark below—sometimes in collective graves dug in the shape of Labrys. The tablet presents a raying sun and crescent moon, “horns of consecration” and doubled “trees of life” (Marinatos 2010: 108), and the Linear A/B sign for “Snake” near the hand of the bird-headed figure, whose mask and disjointed hips suggest whirling and even visionary dance.
Notably, the tablet surrounds its symbolic scene with a rectangle whose border is incised with double-rows of tracks. Are these “tooth or dentil” patterns merely abstract? They hardly seem an appropriate design for a mountain-country “rocky surround,” while they may demarcate a temenos or sacred space in a “coincidental” way. In mythic traditions, “King Minos” descended into Dikte Cave at intervals of “8 or 9” years to bring back laws and divine revelations.
If all these details were aspects of a cyclic journey, timed by astronomy and connected to civic life, the tablet might suggest at least how some Early Minoans conceived a rectangle as its proper frame. To the Coda of this work it will have proven a very long-lasting design-concept. Other contemporaries created or adapted different forms for cycles of time, clues to which have been noted in the round Mallia Table (see Herberger, and Rumpel) and in the faces of numerous boulders with pecked-in features (Ridderstad).
The Middle-period Phaestos Table, below, takes us further into Minoan shadows and lights. Dated between 2000 and 1700 BCE, it was found in a west-courtyard shrine of that major southern peer of Knossos. (Its easily hand-held size is about 14 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 1-3 inches deep: Heraklion Museum Gallery III, Case 42.)
Marshack, in his review of Thread of Ariadne, considered this artifact our best early proof of Minoan Great Year patterns, and of their grasp of longer astronomical cycles—namely, those of eclipses. We are coming closer to how this might apply to the Knossos throne and its dado of X’s and colors, and this brief indirection takes us there.
The Bull Leap fresco presents no apparent clues to the cycles of lunar and solar eclipses. Yet, Minoan leaders deriving advantages from calendric knowledge had to deal with them—a disturbing phenomenon sure to vex an order constructed around light(s) and shadow(s), whose irregularities were sure to embarrass an elite’s pretensions of kinship with heavenly bodies.
If we use Starry Night computer simulations to watch the moon and sun over long Minoan periods, we find eclipses of different types (Total, Partial etc.), durations and varying visibility. Even the most regular eclipses may not be visible from the same location (three in a row are rare enough for a name, Exeligmos). While eclipses seem rare in everyday life at one location, dozens of lunar and solar ones occur over generations and centuries. NASA offers a vast Internet archive of observation tables (ancient and modern) that confirm the basic facts presented here.
The most regular ones are called Saros eclipses, which occur with clock-like precision along a “String” of anniversaries in time—every 223 lunar months, or 18 years/11 and 1/3 days. Their accuracy, when visible twice or more along a String, is at least a day sharper than Great Year-based calendrics over time.
And yet, eclipses present vexing problems as calendric anchoring-points. Variations of type and visibility challenge credibility when a society’s calendar and leaders look for natural events to confirm their human order. The calendric timing of ceremony turns nature into a confirmatory “backdrop” for the doings of power, or it fails to. If the “royal light show” is interrupted by frightening, unpredicted cosmic events, leaders will be looked to for answers.
For example, a Total Lunar Eclipse occurs only at Full Moon. A Starry Night simulation shows that in 1647 BCE (6/23, 11p.m.), a 6-hour Total Eclipse darkened that possible Great Year festival’s Summer Solstice Full Moon. Had it happened visibly on the solstice 18 years before, making this time predictable and thus, powerfully useful? (The answer is Probably Not; for before, Full Moon appeared 11 days off Summer Solstice—as that Great Year string itself was fading out.) What would happen to Knossos’ ceremonial and calendric status if its elite that night stood as dumbfounded as the Minoan public?
Furthermore, would the next eclipse affect the moon or the sun? If an 18-year interval can be discovered and tracked for either (or even both bodies), what about all the other eclipses that shadow the moon and sun at almost-irrational, chaotic intervals between the chosen clock-like anniversaries? We see that both Great Years and Saros-eclipse cycles present overlapping strings of repetitions down the years. (They are also alike in that a Great Year concludes its 8-year cycle in a 9th, and a Saros eclipse makes its 18-year appearance in the 19th.) Most important, while Saros intervals are more accurate, they can prove less visibly reliable. On its own as a calendric anchor, the Saros’ 18-year period seems impractical for anchoring a civilization in ways that a calendar must.
Yet, with these basics about eclipses, we turn to study The Phaestos Table’s features on our way back to Knossos. Below is a schematic of the table’s border, accurate to the detail, created by Herberger for The Thread of Ariadne.
Etched around the rectangular border are 111 signs: a total of 18 horned quadrupeds likely bulls (3 dispersed at corners, plus groups of 6 and 9), along with 93 S-forms in unequal groups.
Herberger does not explain his orientation of the table, nor the start-point and direction of his count—except that Linear A and B read left-to-right. We can note that the 3 lone bulls face one way, and the “herds” of 6 and 9 all face the other. His count also reads S-forms and bulls as equivalent “numerals” without distinctions.
With these limitations, Herberger suggests that if the table‘s 111 signs all signify months or moons—and, if counting begins in the moon after a Saros eclipse—then a complete circuit brings us one moon short of one-half the time to the next eclipse along the same Saros String (223 lunar months). Doubled, this difference would bring us 2 moons short of the actual eclipse. Without solving the many problems of meaning, distribution and count among the signs, we can observe a second numerical feature.
No matter how we count the circuit of signs, 102 of them flank the table’s largest group of 9 bulls. Possibly, the circuit tracks a Great Year (102 Moons), which ends and renews at the 9th year’s Summer Solstice/Full Moon. There on the Phaestos Table falls the largest herd of 9 bulls; a number with reference to an ending Great Year, and perhaps a major sacrifice of blood at its renewal. Why, then, two kinds of signs? Perhaps to keep elite secrets secret, though hidden in plain sight.
The Phaestos Table’s rectangle may register a Great Year and, simultaneously, grasp at a Great Year’s relationship to Saros eclipses. What we can say is that the table’s numbers evoke a full Great Year that must be repeated or doubled to match (almost) one Saros period. Two circuits of the Bull Leap fresco fulfill its 8½-year functions. Two circuits of the Phaestos Table’s 102 Moons (plus 9 perhaps-ceremonial signs), a period of 8½ + 8½ years, total 17 years, two months short of a Saros eclipse cycle (again in solar terms, 18 years/11 and 1/3 days).
We have already seen calendric possibilities in this Middle Minoan seal:
Now we notice that the vertical axis with its solstice referents, and its doubled pairs of lobes and bars (8 of them, plus the S itself: a Great Year numeric form) are flanked by “leaves” with a total of 19 tines in their stems. The seal may present a secondary level of references—to the relationship between Great Year and Saros cycles. Lights flanked by shadows. And this is a design with central correlatives we have seen but perhaps not recognized as family. Hopefully these chapters will show them.
Between the Middle-period seal’s design
and the Phaestos Table’s pair of cyclic possibilities, we might remark the
possibility that some old, existing conceptions of astronomical rhythms might
have found new forms in the Late throne room of Knossos and its elaborate dado.
The difference between a doubled Great Year and Saros eclipse is “about one year.” We have already seen a way to understand the dado’s doubled pairs of grouped X’s (3 X’s in 4 groups) as referents to a single 12-month year, making the throne a lunar “13th element” in the tableau. With that reading comes the possibility that the throne’s position suggests a seated initiate’s skills and powers in the mysteries of calendrics and intercalation—if we assume that Knossos Minoans of the Bull Leap fresco’s times needed to add a 13th moon every 3 years. That has not been apparent so far.
At the same time, the throne’s 4 outward contours (doubled plus 1 at the top) speak to an 8-year cycle that renews in the 9th. The diagram that follows illustrates the same relation conceived between Great Year and Saros Eclipse noted in earlier forms.
Granted, the dado is a reconstruction, but it does match the dado presented as original by Cameron in his “Last Notes” reconstruction below. Evans (4: 919-920) presented a schematic of these designs which, he wrote, he found “inserted” into the dado as “incurved objects”—referring to the red space between the curved blue-white forms, which he called “elongated half-rosettes” (2: 606). Marinatos, as noted (and in her “Kingship” study treated further on) accepts its forms as credibly Minoan, judging by further evidences. She also sees a cosmic pillar or axis mundi in each of the red central forms (2010: 138). Indeed this “vocabulary of sacredness” has many interlocking parts.
An annual reading of the throne’s tableau suggests that one X refers to 1 month, and so does this possibility that the throne’s “decorated” dado refers to eclipses. How? We saw reasons to designate blue the color of Waning Moon and therefore “the color of shadow.” Minoans perhaps saw little essential difference between the shadow that regularly “waned” the moon and the effects of eclipse on its Full face.
In terms of astronomy, the throne’s tableau suggests correctly that a solar and/or lunar eclipse will occur in each of the 6-month periods that precede and follow a doubled Great Year cycle. Long-term computer simulations confirm this. There can even be more than one eclipse in those 6 months at each end: in the “classic Saros” pattern, a lunar eclipse soon follows a solar one, sometimes within days. The throne's symbolic tableau does, at least, stand consistent with what Davaras called "doubling and re-doubling" (1976: 274) as a pattern in Minoan iconography. If he is correct that this is especially so in regard to Labrys and "sacral horns," we'll see in our studies of both ahead that all of these forms speak to each other in consistent Great Year-calendric terms.
This drinking cup found at Thera (Akrotiri/Santorini), imported from Minoan Crete, dates from the mid-1600s BCE time of the great volcanic eruption. Its doubled X-form and flanking spirals may evoke a doubled Great Year cycle preceded and followed by Saros eclipses—and many more examples and variants of the pattern continue through post-Minoan times (Chapter 9).
While not extremely accurate, these correspondences exist and from time to time would prove useful enough. The problems of eclipses simply had to be dealt with somehow by a calendric, religious and social elite whose forms of power appear to have centered symbolically around the relationships of light and shadow. Vexed by Saros eclipse intervals, Minoans apparently had experience to build on, and installed clues and hints of its imposing understanding around their throne; at least, to increase the appearance of understanding and so of having secret power over them.
In terms of structure—the throne as white as Full Moon, the blue shadows below at either side—the tableau creates a sense that light is born and rises out of shadow, and that thus, light and order prevail, in the midst of “mystery” and darkness, through calendric understanding of cycles. The X’s in this sense would not need to signify one period to communicate this if understood or intuited by color. The X’s might need only to represent the mysteries and skills (or by their red color, powers) of calendrics—the powers required to organize, manage and renew enduring order between nature and civilization.
This seems consistent with each blue form in the throne’s dado. Each blue “shadow” is backed, encircled and contained by a larger white crescent-shaped field. This white also cuts through the middle of each blue shadow, as if sustained by the rows of red X’s that split or part each. The X’s lift it away and press it back toward “lower realms.” (Remember that each X in Minoan eyes might also be a pair of double axes and/or quincunx.) If an X does relate to the Bull Leap fresco as shown, here again it might be intended to signify the powers derived from skilled calendrics. As these chapters will show in detail, X is not so persistent a form because of its decorative value. As such, it cannot be overlooked in a reading of these forms. In Chapter 9’s evidences, X will appear to have tribal-identity connections and meanings.
Marinatos (2010: 135-38) compares this dado’s “split-oval rosettes” to a Hittite hieroglyph meaning “house of god”: it therefore “signifies the sun of the East and West,” while “the incurved podium signifies the cosmic pillar in the center.” That may be correct, but it does not account for color, or for the X-forms, themselves painted in potent red. Nor does it show why the white crescents (which are not usually a symbol of the sun) are so heavily obscured by doubled blue fields, which in turn, contrast so vividly with the white throne, while positioned below it. As Labrys will confirm (Chapter 6), an astronomical period of “doubled Great Year within Saros” seems visible, and a “theme” of light over shadow. Both will appear consistent with more evidences.
The Bull Leap fresco’s form reflects the main rhythms of Cretan ecology, and there are similarities by which the fresco connects to earlier Minoan calendric forms and to its contemporaries, to answer the demands of a calendar. Minoan astronomers and leaders stood to gain by creating the most compellingly complete descriptions of nature’s ultimate powers: they needed to somehow incorporate or relate the shadows of eclipses into their rhythm of seasons and calendric light. While the Bull Leap fresco seems not to deal with these less “rational” cosmic events, its formal relatives in the throne room and elsewhere (to come) appear to take up their representation as effectively as they can.
Above at left is a seal whose “incurved altar” matches the throne’s dado design especially well (and at right is a real example from Archanes). Coincidentally perhaps, the solar/stellar symbol above the “podium” or axis mundi features 9 rays and 9 dots between them (a Great Year’s 9, a Saros cycle’s 18). Yet, we must note that the paws of the griffins on each side of the throne are atypically separated from their altars by the tableau’s intervening painted band of “marbling,” perhaps contradicting such a primary function; and, again, that the dado’s red forms and the altars as shown at left above resemble Labrys’ own double-crescent form. Ahead are more examples of it “stood on end” this way. Given the range of Minoan artists’ use of visual puns and multiple meanings, none of these interpretations are necessarily contradictory. More evidence may help to separate, understand and articulate them, each and together.
Just above, this fragment of a running frieze also seems to relate to the dado’s blue forms. The frieze adorned the west bastion of Knossos Labyrinth—facing the great west ceremonial courtyard, the sunken grain bins where the harvest was threshed and laid by for store, and further west, the already-ancient burial grounds on the hills to that side of the palace. Even a dual meaning—“the house of god,” and “the house of light and shadow”—would have a useful coherence for those in power much because of their skills and results in astronomy and calendrics. With each chapter of evidence, the sky will appear more important in the Minoan cosmos.
It took Marinatos’ skills to notice a close correlative to the forms painted into the Knossos throne’s dado. Her 1995 “Divine Kingship” found it in the pattern sewn into the hem of the great skirt that adorns the “Priestess Queen” (detail, below); in one of the largest and most intentionally-impressive of Minoan frescoes, that of the “Corridor of Processions,” which shows Minoans bringing honors and gifts to Knossos Labyrinth. Her 2010 Minoan Kingship does not include this example of the “split rosettes” as a solar sign. While Evans explained his restoration bases (2: 722-24), and Immerwahr’s Aegean Painting found “little justification” for “this figure…holding aloft double axes” (89), clearly “the patterned border of her skirt” is one of this fresco’s original elements.
In 1995 Marinatos saw, in what she called the hem’s “half rosettes and round beam-end patterns,” the same doubled crescents that flank the throne. This connection is “architectural,” she wrote: this woman “must be the Mistress of the Throne Room,” and “embodies the palace on that basis” (“Kingship” 46). Is it likely that the signs connecting a queen and her throne are decorative rosettes and beam ends? Purely solar (2010: 138)? The throne’s front bears a disc in white alabaster that might be the sun, but a lunar sickle too. On the other hand, if the throne’s half-rosettes have a more primary reference to waning, eclipse and shadow, the white-footed Full Moon Goddess rises out of them like the white throne—linked with astronomy and underworld mysteries.
Clothed in signs of time, she emerges to “show forth” as in the “epiphanies” detailed by Niemeier (1987). As B.R. Jones has revealed (2005: below), Labrys also was woven into forms of clothing as “the quintessential religious symbol,” and closer study appears in Chapter 6. For now—pending more scrutiny, and including this chapter’s final examples below—it begins to appear that major and minor Minoan designs and symbols have correspondences with calendric features and operations in the Bull-Leap Fresco; or rather, that Fresco features borrow and build on them (like its use of numerals and crescents), as it codifies Minoan lunar/solar understandings. That is what we should be finding, if this Great Year cycle really did permeate their civilization from daily-practical to high-symbolic levels. Why a woman might want her daily skirt and her family’s grave to enfold her and them in the shape of Labrys may emerge as we look for more of this daily/yearly calendar’s reach into Minoan religion and metaphysics.
This chapter closes below with a look at what our Great Year learning so far can illuminate in five disparate, small-scale artifacts—some further soundings to see how they resonate with Fresco patterns. First, let us sum up this chapter’s main explorations forward.
We followed the Fresco’s visual logic to count through its register of 4 complete lunar/solar years. The process showed its coherence of design, its formal resonance with Crete’s 3-season ecology, and credibly clarified another visual anomaly. We found that the calendar, to track the full Great Year cycle, must itself be doubled or turned around like other calendric artifacts including Labrys (Chapter 6). And its rectangular form—with resemblances in earlier calendric artifacts—contains operations that work along an inward-spiral track, a recognized lunar/solar figure.
We saw that each 4 years of operations (half the cycle) entail a double crossing (X) of the central field: a feature, yes, invisible, and yet surely significant, like the proven crossings of real Solstice light in the throne room. For this X-form is both a common and centrally-interchangeable sign (i.e., equally sacred), with many credible calendric meanings so far: we’ll need and we will find more telling examples yet, as we work to understand it. Meanwhile, its first studies brought us to see that the Great Year tableau in the throne room, like the ancient Phaestos Table, includes features of its own doubling within Saros cycles of lunar/solar eclipses. One by one, the Fresco’s features resonate with other known representations of lunar/solar realities. While more correspondences await in other Minoan mainstream traditions, let us see how this vocabulary speaks in a disparate sampling of designs.
The above seal-impression from Knossos (Evans Palace 2: 202) dates from Middle Minoan I A (roughly 2160-2000): only a few generations before the Phaestos Table, and contemporary with the very beginning of the Old Palace. Its elements include 13 spirals, 2 linked S-forms, and 4 wheeled crosses, each of which is paired with a crescent and that forms the edge of a “raying,” possibly-vegetal form.
We saw fairly clear reasons to regard these motifs as solar and lunar signs. How are they arranged? We see a solar (Solstice) cross and a lunar (New Moon) crescent paired at one extreme of each S-form, like a new Great Year cycle at its start. Each S-form (or cycle) connects and turns a lunar/solar pair into a doubled pair, like the ending countersigns of a Great Year. And connecting these doubled pairs is a central line flanked itself by doubled groups of (4) dots. These seem to amount to a visual rendering of a doubled Great Year cycle (2 x 8½ years).
If we read the Knossos throne’s tableau correctly, we might expect 18 or 19 spirals (a Saros eclipse period) surrounding the design’s inner circle. What, then, have we noted about the number 13? Sometimes construed as a reference to a “13th moon” intercalation, it is also the first night of Full Moon—and the number of days thereafter in a cycle through which the moon takes on shadow and grows increasingly dark. Its further centrally-cosmic (stellar) meanings will appear.
As we found no need for a 13th moon in the Great Year calendar, this use of the number may yet refer to shadow, to waning, and to eclipses that flank or surround a doubled Great Year cycle. As we will see, this configuration corresponds to aspects of Labrys also, seen with Great Year eyes.
Evans, meanwhile, felt “tempted” to
suggest that Early Knossos artisans often adopted such patterns “for decorative
designs on a larger scale,” including “friezes on ceilings” (2: 202-3). Hood
dated the “Labyrinth Fresco,” for example (in Evans’ Palace 1: 357) to
around 1700 (MM III A: 2005, 80), relating it also to designs in the Early
Palace period at Phaestos; and those patterns are built around the main “solar
Evans (1: 260) called this object a “coin” from post-Minoan Knossos, yet its design resembles Early and Middle-period examples (seals, 2: 200, Fig. 110a; and 2: 732 as a textile pattern). It presents a wheel crossed by a pair of S-forms (1 and 1) that double around at each tip (2). The doubled tips produce 4 labyrinths, whose corners create 8 turning-points around the wheel. The central wheel of 8 more points doubles the total to 16 features. 1: 2: 4: 8: 16. In the Bull Leap fresco, we track a single row (1) along each pair of rows (2), complete a year’s circuit with 4 rows, and complete the calendar every 4 years, tracking an 8 (and ½)-year cycle. Double that (to 17), and behind and just before us in cyclic time is a Saros shadow.
The object’s 8 circles at the center of a 4-point design also make the central 9th feature yield 13. Besides that number’s referents noted just above, by number and position this is the Zodiacal “13th element” associated with the North Star or northern constellations: as we’ll see, the place of the Star Door between the worlds to an Afterlife Beyond.
This vase, dated Late Minoan IA (or between 1600 and about 1480, contemporary with the Bull Leap fresco), comes from Palaikastro, an important center at the far-eastern end of Crete (Palace 2: 215). At center is a likely sun that appears to be raying out strongly (Summer Solstice); with a doubled second ring around it, that might be a companion Full Moon. The solar again in the arms of the lunar. Six spirals circle both, the number of the yearly Moon when they meet like this at full strength, to part again. If the spirals and core-design total 7 elements, they might commemorate as well the 7th-Moon start of a new Great Year cycle. Count the spirals plus 2 lunar/solar elements at center, and 8 results. If the core-design is 3 elements (Sun and 2 discs), they total 9.
Not least in this color-code, the sun is
black. Another multivalent visual pun; a broken norm that may say more. If the
artist intended only a Summer Sun at its blazing peak, it was easy to leave the
center open. Winter Solstice sun is as dark as it usually gets. On that basis,
though we lack a New Moon’s crescent here, both solstices might be referents of
It appears that at times, Minoan religious leaders, proto-astronomers and artists must have been working together to create quasi-public artifacts with meaningful referents in organized time; and, that there was clearly more than one way to invoke and emphasize different aspects of Great Year lunar/solar rhythms and configurations.
Finally, we return to this painted
fragment from work that adorned the Labyrinth’s west court “Pillar Shrine” (above
and below, restored by Cameron/Hood’s Knossos Fresco Atlas). It dates from
the last Middle to the first Late Minoan times (perhaps 1640-1580). Pillars, horns,
and many a Labrys appear above the chain of flower-rosettes. Above and below
the chain of flowers are paired blue and orange rows with “misaligned” rows of
tracks. Use this enlarged detail (below) of the chain to test for any calendric
patterns consistent with the Bull Leap fresco.
With each rosette, a flower of 12 petals opens. Each tiny blue disc at center might be a Winter Solstice along a chain or astronomical string, the sun at the extreme of its wane. Again, no crescent-form evokes the lunar solstice sign. Yet, the blue disc has a red outline, red the color of waxing power. The flower opens into a white 12-point circle (white, like orange, a color of light): a year’s Summer Solstice sun and perhaps Full Moon, the season when flowers are at their peak. Beyond that moment the sun, for its long ferocity, is waning toward autumn and blue darkness.
By colors from the center outward, we find shadow, waxing power (spring), fullness of light, and shadow again, which wanes into a deeper shade. These possible meanings are consistent with the colors denoting lunar phases in the Bull Leap fresco. Whichever came first, fresco and flowers appear to speak in the same vocabulary, and more central related configurations will appear.
Evidently these features evoke seasons, phases and concentric cycles, in sequences. From the red circle-outline of a waxing sun grow 8 stamens/pistils, like a sun of one year taking its place along a chain. For within a wheel of 12 points (perhaps a lunar year), a wheel of 8 linked red elements surrounds a 9th feature in the center. If Marinatos in “Kingship” correctly described the Shrine as a locus of Minoan power, calendrics appear to have been part of it.
Chains and strings of flowers: possibly, in colors and forms of time, more signs of life’s magical, rhythmic rebirths.
This doubled kind of ceramic animal-figure sometimes called a "pushmi-pullyu" comes from Cyprus (2000 BCE). While there are many later Minoan examples of the form, no definitive answer explains them. But they do present a doubled pair of horns—so far, and ahead in Chapters 7 & 9, a motif that might have reference to lunar/solar cycles. This one is also inscribed with “circled circles” much like Minoan ideograms for heavenly bodies (Chapter 1; and, Evans Palace 1:221, Figure 109).
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