Thursday, July 1, 2010

More Minoan signet rings - Tales of Goddesses, Heroes and Myths

As I promised before, I will present a new series of Minoan signet-rings, just to leave you enough riddles to ponder on. This time, I will not refrain myself from posting images of signs even I have no idea about how to read properly. Just recline and enjoy the pictures.

In the first place, I would like to introduce the image I left out of my previous post. This beautiful, though somewhat crude ring from Mochlos supports us with a further image from the "divine romance" series we have seen before. This time the female figure (goddess) is sitting on a boat, carrying a stem of Ferula plant with her. Above the figure, a series of tiny objects is carved into the metal surface. They exactly repeat the word seen on one of the previous rings, this time in a more proper order: PI-PI-DO-NA.

On the next seal, we can observe yet another scene of the "divine romance" story we have seen in our previous post. Our favourite character, the "god with the bush" is attempting to entice a different woman - with perhaps less success. The object the female figure is grasping for, is the famous "sacral knot". A recurring theme in minoan iconography, this "sacral knot"(named by Evans) is not much of a rope, but a shoulderpad worn exclusively by females of high importance. This symmetric/double object must be distingusihed from the simple (asymmetric, single) neck-ties shown as worn by both male and female commoners. Adorned with two large appendices resembling feathery wings, if such piece of clothing existed in real life, it must have been impressive. Like some "angel feather wings", it is depicted as worn by goddesses or high priestesses only. In one case, we see a trinity of female figures, but only the central (and tallest) woman wears these shoulderpads. If the object is a divine attribute only (Like the staff and shoes of Hermes, for example), could this have been something similar to the "sheddable" wings of varkyries in Nordic mythology? I have no idea, but it seems like an interesting parallel (see the legend of Wayland).

If we look at the series of objects above the head of the goddess, we can immediately recognize a few signs. The first one of the series looks like a peculiarly modified double-axe (or 'A' sign). After that, the two following signs show a certain relationship to one of the inscriptions we have seen before. On an earlier seal, we have seen a name ?-NI (above the cyring/sleeping goddess), now we have a variant ?-NE. The character I marked with ? is the same on the two inscriptions, resembling either a cypress-tree (Pha *13, reading quite uncertain) or a twig (Pha *35, Hie *25, Lin AB *04 reading: 'TE'). The last sign is undoubtedly a one-handled vessel (Pha *20, Hie *52-53), corresponding to the 'NE' sign (*24) in Linear A and B.
As I told before, the 'A' sign (Pha *21, Hie *42, Lin AB *08) may occupy a special position. It does not necessarily form part of the name: it could denote something different. If we look at it closely enough, we can realize a strange modification of the sign: the two diagonal lines (with ends). It could have been an artistic modification (like the "rays" on the Phaistos disc version of sign 'A'), or something unexpected: a ligature!

In Linear B, no names were ever written with ligatures, and conversely, all ligatures observed in Linear A denote different types of goods and wares, but never names. Yet Minoan Hieroglyphic sealstones sometimes do feature ligatures - probably due to the artistic design - in words that cannot stand for anything other, but names. If this sign is indeed a ligature, then what could be the other sign added on to the double-axe? One sign immediately gives itself: the 'SA' or 'linen' sign (Pha *22, Hie *19, Lin AB *31). With branches always drawn upwards in Linear scripts, but frequently downwards in Hieroglyphics (and on the Phaistos Disc), it is a credible one: not only because of its shape, but because Hieroglyphic seals also feature the term (word, name?) 'A-SA'. This element is also found in a number of Aegean word-stems, dealing with ritualistic contexts: for example, A-SO-NA or A-SA-SA-RA-ME. If so, the term can only mean one thing: 'god(dess)', apparently a cognate to the Etruscan ais = 'divinity' (if the latter is not of IE origin). Its use would be quite plausible on a seal depicting mythical characters, especially when standing alongside their names. Another theoretic possibility is a ligature A+RE (which is even better based on the shape of the Hiero 'lily' or 'RE' sign (Pha *39, Hie *31, Lin AB *27), if turned upside down), but it would make perhaps less sense to read (A+RE-TE?-NE). That would enable to read and indentify the mentioned names as *Theni [Themis] and *Arthne [Artemis], but I feel this is overly contrived at this stage. Better not walk this path until we find objects with texts easier to read.

There are plenty of other seals - offering us at least a slight glimpse into the rich world of now-lost Minoan myths. I am not boasting: The next two images feature scenes of stories similar to that of the classic Greek heroes. On the upper seal, we can see a proud man raising to the domain of divines. On one side, a goddess is throning between two mighty birds (undoubtedly a divine attribute of some sort), on the other side, a god is tending to a mythical bush. Unfortunately for all of us, the inscription on this newly-found seal (from Poros Irakliou, published after 2000) is rather badly preserved. Running above the head of the protagonist, it more than likely records his name - but rendered almost unreadable by the wear of ages. A loss to religious history on a high scale, I am afraid.

The seal below the previous one features a very different story: in that case, the male protagonist is seen as surrounded by three females. Playful as they look, they resemble the nymphs of classic Greek myths. The one on the left displays an unmistakable attempt of seduction towards the protagonist, without him even noticing it. The rightmost one also leans towards him in a flirting pose. The female at the centre is however, aiming at the male figure with her arrows, in a hostile manner. The moment the seal is capturing is when the hero disarms the hunting goddess or nymph, by grasping the bow held in her hand. The inscription (or inscriptions) above the head of figures is crudely cut, and in a bad shape,and do not enable a solid transliteration. I wish we could learn the name of characters involved in the story, but that wish might remain unfulfilled forever.

For an appropriate ending, I present a few more enigmatic seal impressions found on Crete. One of these is the famous "Master Seal" found at Khania. Contrary to the popular belief, it most likely depicts the protector-deity of the city, and not a king. On the right and left side of the figure towering over the Minoan town, at least two, heavily damaged characters can be recognized. The rightmost one was almost obliterated (that is why it is missing from the "retouched" image), but was probably a cow-head characher (missing from Phaistos Disc, Hie *12, Lin AB *23 = MU). The leftmost character is slightly better preserved, but its value is unrecognizable due to the damage suffered. The semicircular string of points above the figure does not belong to the inscription: it is the depiction of the sun, so typical of Minoan iconography (and found on many other seals, too). It is concieveable that more signs were present on the original sealing, but this is all what was left. Needless to say, I cannot make out anything meaningful of the two surviving signs.

The sealing I show as last presents yet another grave problem - of quite different nature. This time, the signs can be seen as crystal-clear carvings above the head of a female figure (perhaps a goddess).It is also clear that they are not simple artistic decorations, but form part of an inscription - a single name. The problem is, that at least two of the four signs on the Haghia Triada sealing do not admit a good reading, they are so dissimilar to anything seen on other Hieroglyphic or Linear A documents. While the insects could have been bees (contrary to the opinion of Evans, the Minoan writing systems did not have any sign depicting butterflies), there is no good explanation for the cape-like third and the snake-like fourth sign. They could have been rare alternative signs in the Hiero system (in which case the chance of decipherment is exceedingly low), or otherwise well-known signs in the Linear system, whose Hieroglyphic counterparts were not yet identified. In the latter case, we still stand a chence to decipher this name - one day perhaps, but not now.

No comments:

Post a Comment