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Labyrinths

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Author Topic: Labyrinths  (Read 1253 times)
Gwen Parker
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« on: July 17, 2007, 12:00:19 am »



A Roman mosaic picturing Theseus and the Minotaur. From Rhaetia, Switzerland.

In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth (Gk. λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and which was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it.[1] Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a fateful thread, literally the "clew," or "clue," to wind his way back again.

The term labyrinth is often used interchangeably with maze, but modern scholars of the subject use a stricter definition. For them, a maze is a tour puzzle in the form of a complex branching passage with choices of path and direction; while a single-path ("unicursal") labyrinth has only a single Eulerian path to the center. A labyrinth has an unambiguous through-route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

This unicursal design was wide-spread in artistic depictions of the Minotaur's Labyrinth even though both logic and literary descriptions of it make it clear that the Minotaur was trapped in a multicursal maze.

A labyrinth can be represented both symbolically and/or physically. Symbolically it is represented in art or designs on pottery, as body art, etched on walls of caves, etc. Physical representations are common throughout the world, and are generally constructed on the ground so they may be walked along from entry point to center and back again. They have historically been used in both group ritual and for private meditation.

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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2007, 12:04:47 am »



Chakravyuha, a threefold seed pattern with a spiral at the centre, one of the troop formations employed at the battle of Kurukshetra, as recounted in the Mahabharata epic.



I'itoi, the "Man in the Maze", a popular design in Native American basketry
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2007, 12:05:39 am »

Ancient labyrinths

Pliny's Natural History mentions four ancient labyrinths: the Cretan labyrinth, an "Egyptian labyrinth", a "Lemnian labyrinth" and an "Italian labyrinth".

Labyrinth is a word of pre-Greek ("Pelasgian") origin absorbed by classical Greek, and is perhaps related to Lydian labrys ("double-edged axe," symbol of royal power, which fits with the theory that the labyrinth was originally the royal Minoan palace on Crete and meant "palace of the double-axe), with -inthos connoting "place" (as in "Corinth"). The complex palace of Knossos in Crete is usually implicated, though the actual dancing-ground, depicted in frescoed patterns at Knossos, has not been found. Something was being shown to visitors as a labyrinth at Knossos in the 1st century AD (Philostratos, De vita Apollonii Tyanei iv.34, noted in Kerenyi, p 101 n. 171)

Greek mythology did not recall, however, that in Crete there was a Lady who presided over the Labyrinth. A tablet inscribed in Linear B found at Knossos records a gift "to all the gods honey; to the mistress of the labyrinth honey." All the gods together receive as much honey as the Mistress of the Labyrinth alone. "She must have been a Great Goddess", Kerenyi observes (Kerenyi 1976 p 91).

That the Cretan labyrinth had been a dancing-ground and was made for Ariadne rather than for Minos was remembered by Homer in Iliad xviii.590–593 where, in the pattern that Hephaestus inscribed on Achilles' shield, one incident pictured was a dancing-ground "like the one that Daedalus designed in the spacious town of Knossos for Ariadne of the lovely locks". Even the labyrinth dance was depicted on the shield, where "youths and marriageable maidens were dancing on it with their hands on one another's wrists... circling as smoothly on their accomplished feet as the wheel of a potter...and there they ran in lines to meet each other."

The labyrinth is the referent in the familiar Greek patterns of the endlessly running meander, to give the "Greek key" its common modern name. In the 3rd century BCE coins from Knossos were still struck with the labyrinth symbol. The predominant labyrinth form during this period is the simple 7-circuit style known as the classical labyrinth.

The term labyrinth came to be applied to any unicursal maze, whether of a particular circular shape (illustration) or rendered as square. At the center, a decisive turn brought one out again. In the Socratic dialogue that Plato produced as Euthydemus, Socrates describes the labyrinthine line of a logical argument:

“ Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first.
Thus the present-day notion of a labyrinth as a place where one can lose [his] way must be set aside. It is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but, provided [the traverser] is not devoured at the midpoint, it leads surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning. (Kerenyi, p. 91.)
 
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2007, 12:06:11 am »

Herodotus' "Egyptian labyrinth"

Even more generally, "labyrinth" might be applied to any extremely complicated maze-like structure. Herodotus, in Book II of his Histories, describes as a "labyrinth" a building complex in Egypt, "near the place called the City of Crocodiles," that he considered to surpass the pyramids in its astonishing ambition:

“ It has twelve covered courts—six in a row facing north, six south—the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other. Inside, the building is of two storeys and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper storey, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade.
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2007, 12:06:47 am »

Pliny's "Lemnian labyrinth"

Pliny's Natural History (36.90) lists the legendary Smilis, reputed to be a contemporary of Daedalus, together with the historical mid sixth-century BCE architects and sculptors Rhoikos and Theodoros as two of the makers of the "Lemnian labyrinth", which Andrew Stewart (One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works, "Smilis") regards as "evidently a misunderstanding of the Samian temple's location en limnais, 'in the marsh'".

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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2007, 12:07:31 am »

Pliny's "Italian labyrinth"

According to Pliny, the tomb of the great Etruscan general Lars Porsena contained an underground maze. Pliny's description of the exposed portion of the tomb is intractable; Pliny, it seems clear, had not observed this structure himself, but is quoting the historian and Roman antiquarian Varro.
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2007, 12:08:15 am »

Ancient labyrinths outside Europe

At about the same time as the appearance of the Greek labyrinth, a topologically identical pattern appeared in Native American culture, the Tohono O'odham labyrinth which features I'itoi, the "Man in the Maze". The Tonoho O'odham pattern has two distinct differences from the Greek: it is radial in design, and the entrance is at the top, where traditional Greek labyrinths have the entrance at the bottom (see below).

A prehistoric petroglyph on a riverbank in Goa shows the same pattern and has been dated to circa 2500 BCE. Other examples have been found among cave art in northern India and on a dolmen shrine in the Nilgiri Mountains, but are difficult to date accurately. Early labyrinths in India all follow the Classical pattern; some have been described as plans of forts or cities [1]. Labyrinths appear in Indian manuscripts and Tantric texts from the 17th century onward. They are often called "Chakravyuha" in reference to an impregnable battle formation described in the ancient Mahabharata epic.
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2007, 12:08:56 am »

Labyrinth as pattern

In antiquity the less complicated labyrinth pattern familiar from medieval examples was already developed. In Roman floor mosaics the simple classical labyrinth is framed in the meander border pattern, squared off as the medium requires, but still recognisable. Often an image of a bull-man, a minotaur, appears in the centre of these mosaic labyrinths. Roman meander patterns gradually developed in complexity towards the fourfold shape that is now familiarly known as the medieval form. The labyrinth retains its connection with death and a triumphant return: at Hadrumentum in North Africa (now Sousse), a Roman family tomb has a fourfold labyrinth mosaic floor, with a dying Minotaur in the center and a mosaic inscription: HICINCLUSUS.VITAMPERDIT "Enclosed here, he loses life" (Kerenyi, fig.31).
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2007, 12:29:07 am »



Earliest recovered labyrinth, incised on a clay tablet from Pylos
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2007, 12:30:10 am »



Minotaur in the Labyrinth, a Roman mosaic at Conímbriga, Portugal
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2007, 12:31:08 am »



Wall maze in Lucca Cathedral, Italy (probably medieval)
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« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2007, 12:32:12 am »



Seven ring classical labyrinth of unknown age in Rocky Valley near Tintagel, Cornwall, UK
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2007, 12:33:07 am »



A Scandinavian "Trojaburg" ("Troy Town") seven ring classical labyrinth outlined with stones
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« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2007, 12:34:11 am »



Public hedge maze in the "English Garden" at Schönbusch Park, Aschaffenburg, Germany
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« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2007, 12:35:21 am »



A small turf maze near Dalby, North Yorkshire, UK
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