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Does the border of the Bull Leap fresco present a Minoan calendar? Before we try it further with Great Year astronomy, and among the remains of its Minoan era, here is a summary of evidence so far.
The throne of Knossos is aligned to receive direct sunlight on Winter Solstice. The disc-and-crescent carved into the throne’s front facing match contemporary acknowledged lunar/solar symbols, and those have likely reference to the calendric timing of ceremonies and festivals.
With Starry Night astronomy-simulation software, centuries of observation show that a New (crescent) Moon and Winter Solstice meet or cross their anniversaries along chains or strings of 4- and 8-year intervals---lunar/solar rendezvous that arise as a pattern, repeat with close accuracy for brief periods or decades, and then disappear, to resume along new intervals.
Hence, the throne’s alignment and symbols, plus its back-rest with its “8 or 9” features, may correspond to an actual 8½ year lunar/solar cycle observable in Minoan Crete and continuing today. Goodison’s 2001 demonstration of the throne’s Winter Solstice alignment matched the calendric anchor in Herberger’s 1972 Thread of Ariadne, which first presented evidences of this lunar/solar calendar in the Bull Leap fresco from Knossos. It might be called a Minoan Great Year cycle.
Study of the most precise possible original fresco reveals features, patterns and anomalies in its border which, together, correspond to features, patterns and irregularities in this lunar/solar cycle. Those characteristics so far resemble or appear to be in relation to other Minoan remains in ceramics and seals, architecture and symbols, whose traits include aspects suggestive of astronomy and cycles.
With clues from Minoan writing, design comparisons, and strong indications of lunar/solar references and patterns in the fresco, the border appears to present features that work together as a calendric tracking and counting device. Beginning and moving forward at times with a single clue, it seems to unfold a generic, consistent logic of operation in its arrangement of elements: sequences and doublings, signs/countersigns, alternations, and a clue-guided method of “lunar jumps” and “solar skips.” Together, these elements produce numbers that unmistakably calculate a lunar and solar year, and that provide an intercalation function between them, to meet the central functions of an agricultural and religious calendar.
The operation of all fresco elements produces a 4-year cycle, which often corresponds to an actual New Moon/Winter Solstice in a 5th year. Doubling is a feature of these events and characteristic of central Minoan remains. The fresco border doubled tracks an 8-year cycle that begins at and returns to New Moon/Winter Solstice, while the throne room’s other extreme light-alignment points to their complementary phases of Full Moon/Summer Solstice. The inclusion of both observed doubled pairs at each Great Year cycle’s renewal makes this an 8½-year cycle.
The Bull Leap fresco border’s calendric structure is comparable to Crete’s 3-season ecological year. Its operations produce further patterns that match some central Minoan signs: they have their own correspondences, and yet match those of the fresco. Its border has predecessors in objects likely to have had calendric associations and functions. And, aspects of the fresco’s operations offer a visible basis for understanding more of the Knossos throne’s full tableau and dado (its “rhetorical gaze”).
The calendric patterns in the fresco border, composed of alternating orange/blue rows and guided by orange/blue crescents, appear to connect with mainstream iterations of the spatial and cyclic relationships between light and shadow: examples include the throne with its Great Year symbols flanked by (possible) Saros eclipses, the signs along the original hem of the Priestess Queen, and Labrys itself (anatomized in Chapter 6 along with more examples). On a more practical calendric level, the consistency of lunar phases at each of the 18 solstices along a Great Year cycle (9 x 2) makes each solstice a reliable annual lunar/solar reference point for the needs of a shorter-term calendar (more details in Chapter 7). There is no inherent requirement that a calendar reconcile lunar and solar cycles within 365¼ days and 12 moons or a single cycle of the seasons. Within a Great Year cycle, they always are in harmony.
Knossos was inhabited from at least the Late Neolithic, circa 3500 BCE. Driessen and Macdonald’s The Troubled Island (1997: 74) describes Knossos Labyrinth this way: as part of a Peer Polity (200 years), as Sole Center (60 years), as First Among Equals (120 years), as Cosmological Center (55 years), and as Capital of Crete (55 years), and this from at least 1900-1370 BCE.
If a Knossos Great Year cycle was no more or less central than Knossos was to Crete, we might suspect a calendar as one reason that Minoans made so much of Knossos for so long (the splendor of its ceremonies, commandingly timed with nature). It might represent only practices at Knossos, with its many strong peers insisting on their own ways while keeping compatible with their cosmological center. As Marinatos states it (2010: 186), Crete’s diverse localities might have participated through “clusters of traits that groups share while still maintaining local identity: this is the koine.”
Or, this “Calendar Fresco” and its symbolic relations might have been only part of a Late-period rivalry for control, part of a fragmenting Minoan world struggling for order in the midst of natural disaster and foreign imposition. More on these possibilities in Chapters 6, 7 and 8.
With the facts and clues above, it remains to explore three more kinds of contexts that might support or contradict this seemingly possible calendar. They concern more understanding of the fresco’s contexts, and of Great Year astronomy; more important remains and symbols; and, a clearer conception of the fresco and calendar in their cultural, political and religious day.
The fresco’s largest contexts may be lunar and solar. With a chronological idea of when the “several” Bull Leap panels took their places on the walls of their east wing loggia, we can then focus on the same and previous periods in Minoan skies. Although Herberger doubted that all the panels share the same dating, the best available research offers a workable span of time. With the results we might better judge whether “the” fresco is a calendar.
The first or “Old Palace” (dated from about 1900 BCE) was severely damaged by earthquake around 1700. In the midst of repair and new building, it was struck again around 1600---and thence, the “New” Labyrinth arose from what Driessen and MacDonald’s Island called a “striking” generation or two of creativity, which brought Knossos’ architecture to “new heights”---on the basis of Middle Bronze Age achievements (41). As we gather clues in time-order, recall that Chapter 2’s Minoan examples of the Bull Leap fresco’s “tooth or dentil” pattern date as well to this 1700-1600 period of transition. So do the Tylissos plaque with its disc-and-crescent (Chapter 1), and the X pattern in the central court fresco from Phaestos (Chapter 4).
We also found those “solar tracks” (now in orange and blue rows) in the Pillar Shrine and Grandstand frescoes, dated by Immerwahr (173) to around 1640. The Cameron/Hood Atlas suggested dating the Bull Leap panels from 1630-1600. MacDonald’s “Neo-Palatial” study (2002: 46) dated “new” developments in the throne room, and in the Court of the Stone Spout near the frescoes, to 1640-1600 (or, Middle Minoan IIIB-Late IA)---concurring with Niemeier’s dates (1987: 165). Although in Chapter 2 we arrived at a mid-to-late 1500s dating for the Bull Leap frescoes, these are at least some grounds for thinking that developments before the 1600 earthquake and New Palace might have included the bringing together of Great Year knowledge into what became the Bull Leap fresco panels. Further expert opinion follows below.
If 40-70 years of achievement followed the 1600 earthquake, the eruption of Santorini’s Thera volcano was a crippling blow. Driessen and MacDonald reason their way (22-23) among detailed theories from 1600 onward to an eruption date in “the last half of the sixteenth century,” or perhaps “a little earlier”---meaning roughly 1560-1530. As the multiple waves of natural consequences began to afflict “New Palace” Crete, the great building programs trailed off. In the same decades, Minoan “prestige goods” and cultural influences grew more apparent on the Mycenaean mainland (Island 82); possibly reflecting, like Crete’s then-decreasing population, a Minoan need to export many kinds of wealth in exchange for foodstuffs (92, 113-114).
And at this point---the close of the 1500s---we find the first export of “tooth or dentil” fresco patterns to the mainland, which in Immerwahr’s view begins around 1510 (and goes on through 1390: 175). This was one consideration behind her judgment that the Bull Leap fresco panels were especially “difficult” to date more precisely than 1600-1425 (or, somewhere from LM IA to LM II). With respect for Shaw’s 1996 speculation (179, 182: Chapter 2 here), it seems they had to be up on the Labyrinth’s east wing loggia rather earlier than 1510 to exemplify a design which, then, might be admired and/or exploited in some way on the mainland.
Knossos’ circumstances must have weight. As the likely heirs and teachers of Crete’s heritage in astronomy (see Blomberg and Henriksson’s “Juktas”), Knossos reached multiple “new heights” for decades after the 1600 earthquake. According to Dabney’s 1995 study, Crete’s palaces “exerted control at different rates and in different ways, according to their own resources” (47), but it was Knossos’ “superior organizational skills” that enabled its “first among equals” status. That might be the period most conducive to consolidation of calendric knowledge into a new form, and much evidence to come may reflect such efforts.
After Thera’s eruption, from perhaps the 1550s onward, Crete’s worsening situation presented decreasing energy in most endeavors. Brown and others noted much later “repairs” to the east wing environs of the Bull Leap panels, into which fragments might by then have been falling. As noted, however (Chapter 2), and as Immerwahr could not dismiss, by then the frescoes might have been many decades old.
With this range of dates, we can observe the matching lunar/solar skies from about 1650-1500 and consider more evidence relevant to the Bull Leap panels.
Below is a linear chart of Great Year events separated by 8½ years (New Moon/Winter Solstice followed by Full Moon/Summer Solstice), observable in Crete from 1651-50 to 1599-98. With the same methods presented in Chapter 1, we see each lunar/solar pair unfold its pattern along a string of anniversaries: where they began, how long each string endured, and when each string overlapped with another over time. We cannot know “the” Minoan Great Year chain, but we can date this cycle’s modulations with an interesting relevance to the period of the fresco’s creation and use.
Here we observe 6 strings overlapped in different ways across 50 years. Living along one of these strings of time, you see both pairs of Great Year signs along your own chosen 8½-year intervals---plus those of other Great Year strings that appear in-between your “official” anniversaries. In your life, no string presents more than 4 more anniversaries after the first paired events. Then its Great Year pattern fades (most often first at the Summer Solstice countersign). Yet, the longest strings span about a generation. Many people could observe anniversaries, see the overlaps, and live long enough to ponder the problems---perhaps to find or observe the best solutions.
Except for functions in the fresco, we have no Minoan evidence of complex mathematics working, as in Egypt and later calendars, to reconcile lunar/solar cycles in one year. A Great Year cycle is not a figment of subtle numbers and royal rhetoric. It is a visible dance of the sun and moon in their own imperfectly regular time and rhythms, for humans to observe and with which to align their endeavors.
Although we read of an octennial calendric cycle regular enough to be relied upon in Classical times (with 3 “extra moons” intercalated), observation shows the problems both cycles really present. They might seem insuperable, unless one has acquired some kind of criteria for tracking the most accurate and enduring string among several; and if, by the same means, one can recognize and manage the end of one string and the adoption of another.
The first problem calls for an age of inherited observation. The second (the vanishing of an officially-sanctioned lunar/solar pattern) demands adroit sociopolitical adjustments in practical and religious affairs. Many skills and the blandishments of festival must have made up the differences among “indefinite periods” along the octennium. At each disjuncture, we might imagine a priestly dictum proclaiming an intercalation or “patch of time.“ Gods may break their own laws. We can look closer.
The time-line below presents the same kinds of overlapping strings of paired Great Year signs, for the ensuing years 1599-98 to 1502-01. Please note: The time-line shows 4 overlapping strings, each with its 8½-year intervals. The orange string is the most accurate (closest dates of solstices and New/Full lunar phases). Two overlapping shorter strings appear in red, between brackets denoting their appearance-and-disappearance---and one string appears in green the same way.
This chart also presents a “sample case” in both the above problems that might assist understanding of the Bull Leap panels.
We do have Early and Middle Minoan examples of artifacts that appear to refer to lunar/solar cycles with features of “8 or 9” elements. If the Late-period Minoans after 1600 were already tracking the most accurate and enduring Great Year string---in orange, from 1599-98---its double-paired events would have appeared all the way to 1551-50. Then, however, at Summer Solstice 1550---at the center of the time-line, marked with “S”---the Full Moon’s countersign to Solstice arrived too late (10 days off from solstice). Again, when Summer Solstice moon and sun failed to rendezvous well within their 7-day fresco criterion (further addressed below), the string was fading out.
Instead they might have been tracking the (green) Great Year string from 1588-87 to 1548-47. That string, however, was soon to end at 1540-41. The same quandaries, of course, confronted them no matter which string Knossos used to time affairs and festivals. In such a situation---not to mention the “crisis years” of Late Minoan times---regularity and long-term continuity would have been priorities.
For convenience this same chart repeats below:
The Great Year string from 1599-98 to 1551-50 (in orange) is one of the longest tracked in this entire study (from 2000 BCE to the 1300s). If that makes it a fair candidate for “the” Minoan string in this period, what was to be done when the Summer Solstice countersign of 1550 failed?
Notice at the center of the time-line (orange string) that the very next Winter Solstice after this failure---that of 1550, marked with a “W”---presented a New Moon, and so a pair of new Great Year signs. The moon was then at First Quarter, which, over long periods of study, is often the first in a long new string of accurate anniversaries.
Then, the following Summer Solstice of 1549 presented Minoans with a Full Moon precisely on Solstice-day: a strong Great Year countersign. If Minoans could adjust to this mere 6-month disjuncture between their former string and the new one, they stood to gain a renewed string of Great Year cycles that worked perfectly through the end of the century. This case might help to describe how they handled Great Year disjunctures of other times---with carefully guided “jumps” among repeating elements. It is the same calendric design and strategy built into the Bull Leap fresco’s patterns.
With serviceable Great Year strings from about 1650-1500, and by the evidences above, this would have been the optimum time for Minoans of Knossos to have evolved or been trying to “codify” those 5 and 7-day criteria, built into the original fresco, for tracking the most reliable Great Year signs. How? Possibly, with “several” Bull Leap frescoes, each tracking a different Great Year string. That might explain why the crescent-shapes among panels appear in reversed-direction relationship.
Immerwahr (90): ”The background of the separate panels…apparently alternated between a sky blue and a saffron yellow” (or, light orange: emphasis added). Younger’s 1976 “Bull Leaping” found it “striking” that so many bull-leap scenes were concentrated in the Court of the Stone Spout, suggesting “that the Court served some function connected with the sport” (129).
Perhaps both Court and sport were connected with a function of the Bull Leap panels. While there is more evidence of time-keeping in the Court itself (this chapter, to come), this study has located no other theory for so much investment in the same scene in the same place and same period. Shaw summed up many remarks that the panels’ scenes present “rather few variations in the act itself” (1996: 181). MacGillivray’s 2004 “Astral Labyrinth” theorizes briefly that the fresco’s bull and human figures represent constellations (below).
If so, was that the case in all the panels? What was their function as such, and how did they work with other central evidences of organization? The Court, the sport and the frescoes do seem connected. Younger’s second bull-leaping survey includes a seal with a bull’s head, and an X between its horns, found there in the Court by Evans (1995: 538, note 64; Palace 1: 699, Fig. 522b).
If an age of achievement and then a long cultural crisis drove Minoan calendric progress, “several” panels pose less of a mystery than a possible response to what Minoans really faced in their skies and situation. Several panels painted within 1-2 generations could have performed such a tracking function for more than one Great Year string of signs. This is based only in the original evidence we have.
The fresco’s apparent calendric criteria are part of that evidence, and work as real guides among Great Year cycles. As shown, they are a 5-day maximum of New Moon connection at Winter Solstice (which must at times actually be 7 days to First Quarter Moon), and a 7-day maximum between Full Moon at Summer Solstice.
In testing these criteria, widening them decreases calendric accuracy and loses Great Year strings altogether. Tighten the criteria (without evidence), and Great Year cycles become too rare to be useful over time. The middle and successful ground lies in what we find built into the fresco. A 5-day Winter criterion, born perhaps of Egyptian New Year festival borrowings, is slightly short for optimum results in observation. But as such, it demands that observers and users of the calendar remain conservative, and that is part of what keeps calendar and cycle together.
Notably, these solstices over time also seem to have a circular relation. After a Great Year string of signs has faded (almost always via Summer Solstice), a New Moon will appear at the 7th (First Quarter) day after a Winter Solstice sun: it often begins a long more accurate Great Year string. Summer Sun and Moon wander away from each other in the dance: Winter weaves them back together.
What could be done in the midst of these Great Year disjunctures?
“The most likely situation,” according to Betancourt’s 2002 “Who Was In Charge?” (211), “requires what we would call a king. No other system can adequately explain the scale of the evidence for social and economic advancement over a period of several centuries within a peaceful landscape.” And yet, if there has been one consensus in Minoan studies, it concerns what Davis (1995: 19) called “the missing ruler”---a lack of visible, dynastic royalty and all its familiar trappings of centralized, hereditary, top-down power, as in contemporary Egypt.
“Jumps” among strings of Great Year signs by way of some purely royal fiat or intercalation seems too easy an explanation. In Crete, as Davis writes, the signs of power served “not king, but cult.” This is echoed in Hamilakis’ “Too Many Chiefs” (2002: 185): Crete’s “social and political formations were anything but centralized and homogeneous, and were held together more by ideologies and cosmologies than by political authority.”
Cult and cosmology. Minoan calendric methods older than and surrounding the Labyrinth, such as the equinox-devices discovered by Blomberg and Henriksson, would have helped to anchor and master the “indefinite periods” among contradictory Great Year signs. “Cult,” meaning ceremony and festival, would also help to smooth needed transitions among Great Year strings, just as spectacle undoubtedly assisted when the later octennium presented its own irregularities. As will further appear, Crete’s diversity, independence and factionalism required more of a mechanism capable of producing its clear organizational results than a body of icons laced with an “intended ambiguity” between “the god and king” (Marinatos 2010: 160).
Day/Relaki (2002: 234): “Large-scale ceremonial occasions played a significant part in reproducing the authority of the palace, but another important dimension of that was encompassed in daily, ordinary practices….Our integrative analytic scale must be temporal as well as spatial….The authority of [Knossos] was felt in the long run.”
The differences between “power” and “force” constantly emerge in detailed studies of Minoan iconography (for example, Marinatos’ Warrior 119). Knossos---with a winning combination of calendric skill and dazzling ceremony---would have been “the place to which subjects repeatedly returned, and which served to generate the major structural principles implicated in the constitution of different types of societies….Such dominant locales are central to the way societies bind space and time” (Thomas’ 1993 “Hermeneutics” 76, emphases added).
We can call this the camouflage of power, but it suggests how “the producers” of Knossos ceremonies might have negotiated the undeniable breaks and contradictory overlaps along strings of Great Year lunar/solar signs---which we had to notice, just as this society’s “lesser” individuals had to see them.
In a calendric way, only the elite knew the ways of Deities. Perhaps they did have decisive power to declare “arbitrarily” what time or year it was in Great Year terms. Here we are most challenged to look at Minoan experience through their eyes. If we talk about “1550-1510,” we lose most conception of living that life a day at a time. They had to get on. It was clear enough that nobody really controlled Sun and Moon. The majority of people outside the central calendric circle had to work between their own local time-indications (short-term) and long-term reckonings as adapted by Knossos leadership. Every “secondary” leader or chieftain knew that such declarations signaled the way Crete’s Knossos-centered trade and production were going to go forward in time from each major calendric adjustment. Few could afford to let their locality fall out of step with nature or Knossos.
Surely many times, Knossos inaugurated a new Great Year, and then---met with fading strings of signs, plus better overlapping ones---faced the music, adjusted their tracking, and resorted to other social powers to smooth “indefinite periods.” A series of calendric fresco-panels would find motive in this, and provide real help.
In a fiercely independent “heterarchic” society (Schoep’s term, 2002), what was easier for those of less expertise who did not miss the elite’s latest embarrassment---revolution, or to cynically enjoy another festival staged at Knossos’ expense?
While nothing about the “Calendar Fresco” depends on this further feature of the Court of the Stone Spout, no one but Herberger has suggested why a water-spout fed into the Court below the Bull Leap frescoes, only to arrive at a shallow “blind well,” as Evans’ floor-plan notes in the detail below. (Full plan-sections in Chapter 2.)
Was this structure an early form of clepsydra or water-clock, another kind of experiment in time-keeping? Its location near the Bull Leap panels, facing sunrise, might suggest so. The etymology of horae, meaning “priestesses” with a sense of “keepers of the hours,” seems consistent with such devices.
If these astronomical contexts speak to the fresco’s and its panels’ possible origins in calendric functions, another body of mainstream Minoan symbols and remains may have connected implications. The most prominent real animals in Minoan religion and icons---Snake, Bull, and Lion---were closely linked to seasons and calendars in Sumerian civilization, the Near East and Egypt. What clues might point to their parts in Minoan cycles of time?
Burkert’s Greek Religion (1977) detailed prehistoric conceptions of Snake as a tribal “father” (1985: 201). A post-Minoan tradition cited by Kerenyi (Dionysos 117) said that “Snake is the father of Bull, and Bull is the father of Snake.” We’ll explore this cyclic relationship. Snake: universally, a symbol of the underworld and cycles, its blood as cold as Crete’s winter rains; a symbol of storm-lightning, poison, and mysterious powers of regeneration in dark places of the Earth. In early Egyptian images such as the panel from a Decans series at left below, a great serpent met and guided travelers in the underworld (only later did it become an “enemy” of the sun and light).
The Cretan species’ jagged “adder marks” and scales became signs and motifs in writing, ceramics, textiles and more examples below. While there is doubt that “snake-feeding tubes” served that actual function (the collection below from a Knossos house in Nilsson’s Religion 89), the Knossos “Snake Goddess” and Gesell’s studies (1976, 1985, 2004) document the creature’s significance across Minoan life-ways from Early to Late. Nilsson and Evans together had no doubt of Snake’s “cults” through the entire Late or New Palace period (Religion 90; Palace 1: Ch. XXV, and 4: 138-87). For physical and symbolic reasons---its disappearance and return from cold seasons, shedding its skin in rebirth---Snake’s seasonal and calendric place might be Winter.
In the detail above from a Late Minoan larnax (fully shown in Chapter 8), a snake rears up (in a griffin’s tail) beside a heavenly body that presents lunar, solar and stellar aspects as well as familiar Great Year numbers. It seems clear that the underworld’s Snake also had celestial connections. The north star(s) above Early Minoans shone also on Pharaohs through apertures in Giza’s Pyramids, and Alpha Draconis or Head of The Dragon was then a prominent giant among them, brighter than Polaris. Its later name was Thuban, “the basilisk” in Arabic, for a reptile with a paralyzing gaze.
Head of The Dragon was as close as any star came to a Pole Star (and Door to the Beyond) from about 4000-1800 BCE. Then, because of Earth’s changing angle of rotation, primacy passed to Kochab, Kappa Draconis, close by The Little Dipper. Kochab reigned all the way through Homer’s post-Minoan times until it gave way to our own Polaris, when BC became AD. Phoenicians later called their own Doube, Speaking One, Guiding One.
Below for examples are these Late images from the gold Isopata ring and from seals and gems. Cain’s study of the ring sees a pair of “serpentine” shapes in the air at left and right (2001: 33), rather than “heaven lines”: the constellations and traditions above suggest why Snake might at times appear in the air, while how it connects with other calendric creatures is to come. The lower (red) sealstone presents a doubled crown of snakes (or “snake-frame headdress”) worn like horns, with a double axe between; and a female with a snake between doubled borders.
What about Bull and Lion? Younger’s two surveys (cited above) show at least 1200 Early to Late Minoan years of athletics and central religious significance around Bull, the most powerful animal in Crete. Across Old Palace centuries of contacts with Egypt and Sumer, Bull was the calendric sign of Spring, and Lion of Summer---Zodiac symbols for the magnitude of new life every year, and of its devouring by the Mediterranean sun. Below, this Akkadian seal (in Crowley’s Aegean and the East, Fig. 6) suggests their annual succession marked by signs in the sky: perhaps also the 8-point “star” of Venus (Ridderstad 22), or a Summer Solstice sun.
As we track the early appearance of Cretan bull-sports (at least 2300 BCE: Younger “III,” 508), and learn that Bloedow’s “Lions” research finds their images in tombs of the same age (296), we can see their Late Minoan relationship emerge.
No search has shown real lions in Minoan Crete, but Crowley notes lion imagery also arriving with Old Palace sea-trade (137), around 2000-1900. Examples might have included cups engraved with the Sumerian example, below, of a lion attacking a bull: they had old relations based in astronomy and the revolving stellar Zodiac (Hartner 1965: 7-8, 10). Stampolidis noted later Cretan traditions of lions as “a symbol of the sun” as well as of “the king” and, notably, the underworld (2007: 306). Yet, according to the Hallagers’ 1995 study (552), the “few” Minoan lions are not shown attacking any animal until much later---as of about 1600, the times that brought disaster and a New Palace. Crete’s lions began in a “heraldic” tradition (as in the Chapter 4 example, and shown just above): honorific and protective rather than aggressive.
The Late-period seals above reflect this change, and another aspect of a possibly-calendric Lion. As often for Minoans, she is female, a Lioness, like Summer a “devourer” because she has young to feed. This is the cyclic relationship that emerges at the same time that Bull becomes “the” central symbol of Minoan power (Hallagers 1995: 51), “pervasive” at Knossos if less so elsewhere (Younger 1995: 521). Lioness, meanwhile, as in the Late stone “rhyton” from Knossos at left below (Palace 2: 830), was almost Bull’s peer by the time of works dated between 1700-1600 (the last Middle century). Evans described leg and mane fragments of a life-size lion in “high relief” in the east wing near the Shrine of Double Axes (2: 333-4), its scale indicating “special religious significance.” He notes that the “magnificent silver” Lioness-head at right “made its way” from Crete to a Shaft Grave at mainland Mycenae (2: 536, 826).
Seals also show Bull in another shared connection with Lion, solar and/or stellar symbols. (Below, the upper pair of seals are Figs. 178b/f from Goodison’s 1989 Death, Women and the Sun: the lions, from Evans’ Cult 63.) If a moon, sun or star can occupy the same space as Labrys, quincunx, and the X-form, together they may bring Bull and Lion into clearer calendric family.
The creators of the masterpiece in gold below turned Bull’s forelocks into 4 spirals, whose upper ends resemble S- or solstice-forms. Four tracks of the sun, between the horns; and at the fifth Winter Solstice in a Great Year cycle, a New Crescent Moon is born. It could be purely-decorative coincidence, have some other meaning, or connect to a Knossos calendar of a Minoan Great Year. Likewise, at right, a Late-period ceramic bull painted with Labrys and X-forms---why? No other sacred animal is associated with quite so many signs that evoke Great Year calendrics:
Many cows surround Bull with many “attitudes” in Minoan images, but Bull arguably holds the center and is obviously male. Minoans might have conceived Snake as female, but no image really suggests either gender: the clues of Snake’s “fatherhood” are later, but many. Lion/ess, as noted, and a fourth significant Late Minoan creature, Griffin, are both female as often as male, as we’ll see in Part II of these contexts around the Bull Leap fresco.
With possible “sacred animals” of Winter, Spring and Summer---each of whom appears in relation to signs of a sun or a star---let us look at griffins in the next chapter. Crete’s ecological year is a 3 seasons, but we have seen many 4-square representations of that cycle, and griffins cannot be overlooked in the Minoan imaginary.
With these connections and contexts, we might be able to see whether Knossos, while raising and promulgating New Palace culture, might have tried to gather together Minoan calendric knowledge and traditions into a new form---toward a level commensurate with Late Crete’s achievements and its mortal crises.
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