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Mazes and Labyrinths

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Kabrina Teppe
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« Reply #45 on: March 19, 2009, 01:24:25 pm »

shaped in plan and was evidently the repository of a giant emblem (Fig. 12. See plate, p. 42).

Long before Dr. Evans' excavations in Crete the great

p. 34

[paragraph continues] German archaeologist Schliemann, during his researches at Mycenae on the mainland, unearthed from one of the graves an ox-head of gold plate, with a double axe between the upright horns. The double axe was also the sign of the Zeus worshipped at Labraunda in Caria, a country to the north-east of Crete, on the mainland of Asia Minor, where the implement was known as the labrys.

The cult of the bull was also much in evidence in the palace remains. Schliemann, in excavating the site of Tiryns in 1884, came across an extraordinary wall-painting depicting a man holding one horn of a great bull whilst he leaps over its back, the animal meanwhile charging at full speed. Several examples of such scenes have since been discovered, painted upon walls, engraved on gems, or stamped on seal-impressions. Amongst the debris of one of the rooms in the palace at Knossos was found a painting of a scene in which two girls are engaged in dodging the charge of a bull, whilst a boy, who has evidently just left hold of its horns, turns a somersault over its back.

Near the main north entrance to the palace was brought to light a large plaster relief of a bull's head, no doubt originally forming part of the complete beast. This relief was a masterpiece of Minoan art. It was of life-size and beautifully coloured, and particular attention had been given to the modelling and colour of the eye, the fierce stare of which, in conjunction with the open mouth, conveys a fine effect of frenzied excitement.

These are only a few examples, amongst many, which go to demonstrate that the sport of "bull-leaping"--or ταυρωκαθαψια, as it was called by the Greeks--was beloved of the Minoans and was probably practised in the precincts of the palace.

In the light of these discoveries Dr. Evans concludes that the palace of Knossos was the Labyrinth, or House

p. 35

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Kabrina Teppe
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« Reply #46 on: March 19, 2009, 01:24:38 pm »

of the Labrys, which gave rise to the classic legend, the idea of the Minotaur originating in the practice of training captives to participate in the dangerous sport of bull-leaping. (Tauros = bull, hence Minotaur = Bull of Minos.) We will refer further to the etymology of "labyrinth" in a later chapter. The palace was certainly of sufficient complexity to render it difficult for the uninitiated to find their way about it, but the plan of its remains exhibits no resemblance to a designed labyrinth of the conventional type. There is, however, a suggestion of the latter in the meander pattern painted on one of the walls, to which reference has been made above. The notion as to the Labyrinth having been a prison from which escape was impossible may also have some connection with two deep pits beneath the palace, whose function was possibly that of dungeons for prisoners.

In considering the origin of the legend, we must remember that a period of several centuries elapsed between the destruction of the Knossian buildings and the first written account of the Labyrinth, and must take into account the probability that the people who in later ages became the dominant race in Crete would be likely to make ample use of their imagination in formulating an explanation of the vast and complicated ruins of the burnt city, with their mysterious frescoes and enigmatic symbols.

It may also be borne in mind that the excavations in Crete have by no means reached a final stage, and that, although no architectural remains of a plan conforming to the usual conception of a formal labyrinth are yet forthcoming, there is a possibility that something of the kind may yet turn up, though indeed the chance seems very remote. Even as this book is going to press appears an article in The Times by Sir Arthur Evans announcing yet further enthralling discoveries; he finds abundant signs of a great earthquake, causing ruin over the whole Knossian area, about i 600 B.C., also evidence

p. 36

[paragraph continues] --including portable altars and huge ox-skulls--indicating an expiatory sacrifice recalling Homer's words, "in bulls doth the Earthshaker delight"; and finally, on a floor-level about thirty feet down, the opening of an artificial cave with three rough steps leading down to what was apparently the lair of some great beast. "But here, perhaps," says Sir Arthur, "it is better for imagination to draw rein."



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Kabrina Teppe
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« Reply #47 on: March 19, 2009, 01:24:54 pm »

p. 37

CHAPTER VII
THE ETRUSCAN OR ITALIAN LABYRINTH
IN addition to the Egyptian and Cretan labyrinths, a few other structures are referred to as being in the same category, but not until a fairly late period.

Pliny (died A.D. 79) mentions one built by Smilis of Aegina, after the Egyptian model, on the island of Lemnos, and says that it was renowned for the beauty of its 150 columns and that remains of it existed in his time. He also mentions one at Samos, said to have been built by Theodorus, and says that "all of these buildings are covered with arched roofs of polished stone." No other details concerning these edifices have come down to us, but Pliny quotes from Varro (116-27 B.C.) a detailed description of a very extraordinary tomb at Clusium (the modern Chiusi), said to be that of the great Etruscan general Lars Porsena. This is the only Etruscan tomb described by the ancient writers, and is mentioned by Pliny solely because it was alleged to contain a subterranean labyrinth. It must have been a most elaborate, not to say extravagant, monument. Even Pliny feels some qualms about accepting responsibility for the description, and therefore makes it clear that he is simply quoting from information received.

"It is but right that I should mention it," he says, "in order to show that the vanity displayed by foreign princes, great though it is, has been surpassed. But in

p. 38

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Kabrina Teppe
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« Reply #48 on: March 19, 2009, 01:25:06 pm »

view of the exceedingly fabulous nature of the story I shall use the words given by M. Varro himself in his account of it: 'Porsena was buried below the city of Clusium in the place where he had built a square monument of dressed stones. Each side was three hundred feet in length and fifty in height, and beneath the base there was an inextricable labyrinth, into which, if any-body entered without a clue of thread, he could never discover his way out. Above this square building there stand five pyramids, one at each corner and one in the centre, seventy-five feet broad at the base and one hundred and fifty feet high. These pyramids so taper in shape that upon the top of all of them together there is supported a brazen globe, and upon that again a petasus 1 from which bells are suspended by chains. These make a tinkling sound when blown about by the wind, as was done in bygone times at Dodona. Upon this globe there are four more pyramids, each a hundred feet in height, and above them is a platform on which are five more pyramids.' The height of the latter, Varro is ashamed to add, but, according to the Etruscan stories, it was equal to that of the rest of the building. What utter madness is this, to attempt to seek glory at a great cost which can never be of use to anyone; not to mention the drain upon the resources of the country. And all to the end that the artist may receive the greater share of the praise!"

There have been many discussions as to the possibility of a monument of this nature having existed, and various reconstructions have been attempted, notably one (Fig. 13), based on Varro's account, by a celebrated French scholar of a century ago, M. Quatremère de Quincy.

One enthusiast, a certain Father Angelo Cortenovis, even wrote a treatise to prove that the whole contrivance was nothing more nor less than a huge electrical machine!


 

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« Reply #49 on: March 19, 2009, 01:25:28 pm »



Fig. 13. Tomb of Lars Porsena at Clusium.
Conjectural restoration by Quatremère de Quincy after Varro's description.



 

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« Reply #50 on: March 19, 2009, 01:25:54 pm »

p. 39

Most writers on the subject have been inclined to look upon Varro's description as at best a gross exaggeration, but Professor Müller gave it as his opinion that the labyrinth described did actually exist, and that the upper part, though no doubt highly embellished in the description, was not the mere offspring of fancy. He thought it quite probable that there was a square basement of regular masonry supporting five pyramids as recounted by Varro, but that the latter described the upper part from hearsay. He drew attention to the fact that a tomb somewhat of this nature is still in existence on the Appian Way at Albano, the pyramids being represented in this case by cones. It is commonly called the Tomb of the Horatii and Curiatii.

In the early part of last century a British traveller, G. Dennis, made a study of the antiquities of Etruria and gave particular attention to the remarkable rock-cut labyrinths of which that province furnishes several examples.

He pointed out that the possession of a labyrinth was the distinguishing feature of Porsena's tomb which alone caused Pliny to mention it. The expression "Sub Clusio" used by Pliny, he says, led subsequent writers to infer that the subterranean passages beneath Chiusi were intended, but such an arrangement would be at variance with the general sepulchral practice of the Etruscans, and the tomb of Porsena must be looked for outside the city walls. Dennis then goes on to describe the great cemetery that had recently been discovered in the hill called Poggio Gajella, about three miles to the north-east of Chiusi. His sketch of the principal "storey" of this labyrinthine excavation is shown in Fig. 14.

Here again we may note that the design of the passages, although perhaps puzzling to a stranger, especially with imperfect illumination, in no respect approaches the traditional "labyrinth" pattern. That the conventional form was not unknown to the Etruscans, however,

p. 40

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« Reply #51 on: March 19, 2009, 01:26:00 pm »

is shown by the occurrence of a design of this type on a vase found at Tragliatella which we shall mention later.

It is, of course, possible that the tomb of Porsena was erected on the hill above this labyrinth, but we have not much evidence on the point. If the tomb possessed a labyrinth, no doubt the latter would have been something of this type. Dennis also mentions various other labyrinths of this nature in Etruria--for example, one near Volterra, "a long passage cut in the rock, six feet wide but only three high, so that you must travel on all-fours. From time to time the passage widens into chambers, yet not high enough to permit you to stand upright, or it meets the passages of similar character opening in various directions and extending into the heart of the hill, how far no one can say. In short, this is a perfect labyrinth in which, without a clue, one might very soon be lost."

He also mentions one at San Pietro, Toscanella, "in the cliffs below the Madonna dell’ Olivo, about half a mile from the town. Here a long, sewer-like passage leads into a spacious chamber of irregular form, with two massive columns supporting its ceiling and a rude pilaster on the wall behind. But the peculiarity of the tomb lies in a cuniculus or passage cut in the rock, just large enough for a man to creep through on all-fours, which, entering the wall on one side after a long gyration and sundry branchings, now blocked with earth, opens in the opposite wall of the tomb."

These Etruscan labyrinths were all of a sepulchral character, and one is naturally reminded of the catacombs of Rome, Paris, and Naples, to which, however, the term "labyrinth" is not customarily applied. Strabo uses the word in reference to a catacomb near Nauplia, which he calls the Labyrinth of the Cyclops. In Pliny's time the word would appear to have been used to denote a winding path following a more or less formal design of intricate

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« Reply #52 on: March 19, 2009, 01:26:23 pm »



Fig. 14. Poggio Cajella. Labyrinthine Cemetery. (Dennis)
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« Reply #53 on: March 19, 2009, 01:27:01 pm »



Fig. 12. Bronze Double Axe from Tomb of the Double Axes.
(From Archæolagia, by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries and Sir Arthur Evans)

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« Reply #54 on: March 19, 2009, 01:27:27 pm »



Figs. 15, 16, 17, 18. Early Egyptian Seals and Plaques. (British Museum)
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« Reply #55 on: March 19, 2009, 01:27:38 pm »

pattern, but not necessarily connected with sepulchral purposes.

When speaking of the Labyrinth of Crete he says, "We must not compare this to what we see traced upon our mosaic pavements or to the mazes formed in the fields for the entertainment of children, and thus suppose it to be a narrow path along which we may walk for many miles together, but we must picture to ourselves an edifice with many doors and galleries which mislead the visitor. . . ." This passage shows that the term "labyrinth" had come to have a fairly broad significance. It had long been used in a metaphorical sense, even as we find Plato, over four centuries earlier, employing it to describe an elaborate argument. We also find it applied by extension to other objects, such as traps for fish, to judge by a certain passage in the works of Theocritus.

The only buildings to which the ancient writers applied the term, however, were those to which we have already referred.

Of the two phrases which we have italicised in the above quotation from Pliny, the second is of interest in connection with a matter we shall deal with later on, whilst the former brings us to the subject of our next chapter.


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Footnotes
38:1 A sort of low-crowned round hat with a broad brim.



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Kabrina Teppe
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« Reply #56 on: March 19, 2009, 01:27:52 pm »

p. 42

CHAPTER VIII
THE LABYRINTH IN ANCIENT ART
THERE has been considerable speculation as to how the typical labyrinth form first came into existence. It became stereotyped long before the Christian era and retained its character for many centuries.

The coins of Knossos furnish us with abundant examples of it, and, from the fact that in certain of the earlier specimens the corresponding figure is a simple repeated meander, it has been supposed that the typical labyrinth design arose by elaboration of the meander. The resemblance between this form and the very wide-spread and primitive sign known as the fylfot or swastika has also attracted some attention. It is a somewhat long step, however, from a loose combination of meanders like that shown in, say, Fig. 20, to the compact conventional labyrinth of Fig. 30. The adoption of the former design may possibly have been inspired by the fresco on one of the walls of the Minoan palace, to which we have made reference in Chapter VI (Fig. Cool, portions of which may have been visible among the ruins for several generations. There does not appear to be any evidence that the complex meander pattern of the fresco was an allusion on the part of the Minoans to an actual constructional labyrinth; it may quite well have been a purely ornamental conception, without any symbolical significance. Meander designs were used by the Minoans at a

p. 43

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« Reply #57 on: March 19, 2009, 01:28:27 pm »

much earlier date than this, one example, though of simpler charmer, having been found in the older palace, and others, either snake-like or of a squarish nature, on ivory seals unearthed at other Minoan sites (Zakro and Hagia Triada). Similar designs exist on certain Egyptian "button-seals" of an approximately contemporary period--from the VIth Dynasty onwards--and Sir Arthur Evans has expressed the opinion that these will possibly prove to constitute the source of the Labyrinth in Art. Figs. 15, 16, 17, 18 show



FIG. 19.--Early Egyptian Plaque or Amulet.
(Prof. Petrie's Collection, University College, London.)
specimens of early Egyptian seals and plaques of this character in the British Museum. Professor Flinders Petrie very kindly drew the writer's attention to a steatite plaque in his collection at University College, London, which is somewhat similar to one of those mentioned above, but of rather more elaborate design (Fig. 19). The labyrinthine pattern on this is surmounted by a representation, in the peculiar "linear" fashion often adopted by early Egyptian artists, of two seated human figures facing one another, the knees being drawn up. Professor Petrie acquired the plaque at Memphis. He considers that it dates from a period round about 3000 B.C., and points out that if the broken lines be completed there would appear to be five false turns to be avoided before reaching the centre.

In discussing the designs on these seals and plaques, Sir A. Evans alludes to a possible connection with two of the hieroglyphs of the period, which are of the nature of simple square meanders of a kind extensively employed in ancient ornament. One of them (mer) is the sign used for indicating irrigated land. The other (aha)

p. 44

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« Reply #58 on: March 19, 2009, 01:28:43 pm »

p. 44

is a simplified form of a more elaborate sign representing the plan of a palace court, a figure to which one of the Minoan signs bears a close resemblance.

The Knossian coins shown in Figs. 20 are from the British Museum collection and are reproduced by the courtesy of the Keeper of the Coins and Medals Department, who supplied the writer with plaster casts for the purpose. They date, of course, from times greatly posterior to those of the Minoan civilisation, from times when the culture of Greece had long replaced that of the Mycenaeans, or whatever similar race it was that succeeded the Minoans (see Appendix IV, i.).

Figs. 20, 21, and 22 show silver coins dating from about 500 to 430 B.C. They portray on one side the Minotaur and on the other a symmetrical meander pattern which, it needs very little imagination to see, has reference to the labyrinth in which the monster was alleged to dwell.

Fig. 23 shows a silver coin of a rather later date, representing on its obverse a female head which is thought to be that of Demeter or Persephone, and on the reverse a meander-labyrinth containing a star at its centre.

Fig. 24 shows a similar obverse, but on the reverse we see a bull's head surrounded by a simple meander frame.

Fig. 25, the obverse of which is likewise adorned with a female head, gives on the reverse the design of a square labyrinth of the conventional type that thereafter predominates.

Fig. 26 shows a bronze coin having on one side the head of Apollo and on the other a labyrinth with a star.

The four coins last described date from a period between 430 and 350 B.C. The next (Fig. 27) is rather later in date and shows on its obverse the head of Hera and on the reverse a square labyrinth together with an arrow-head and thunderbolts and the Greek characters ΚΝΩΣΙΩΝ.

The bronze coin of about 220 B.C., shown in Fig. 28,

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« Reply #59 on: March 19, 2009, 01:29:04 pm »



Figs. 20 to 25. Coins of Knossos. (British Museum).



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