At the center of the scene, over the opposing bows, the ancient painter placed the eight-leaf rosette to show this was a matter of life or death, and he further dramatized the encounters of the spears and of the ships' bows with distorted stars the way a modern comic book artist would use a graphically enhanced "Zap" or "Pow" to convey the deadly violence of the battle. Redrawn from George F. Bass, ed.: "A History of Seafaring based on Underwater Archaeology", Walker and Company, New York, 1972, page 41 top. vase painting attributed to Aristonothos, about 660 BCE; Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome

  

 

 

 

Footnotes :

 

 

 

21A Sig Lonegren: "Labyrinths: Ancient Myths and Modern Uses", Sterling Publishing, New York, 2001, pages 108 and 109.

 

 

 

21B Raymond Faulkner: "The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The first authentic presentation of the complete Papyrus of Ani", Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1994. See Plate 8 for the Hathor cow with the eight-leaved rosette, and next to it Ani rising from his coffin.

 

 

 

 

  

21C  Manfred Lurker: "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt ", Thames and Hudson, New York, 1980, page 78 top right.

 

 

 

21D  Jonathan Meader and Barbara Demeter: "The Egyptian Blue Water Lily", KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt", Vol. 15:2, Summer 2004, pages 57 to 63, see images page 60 top.

 

 

 

21E  As reported at http://www.
entheology.org/
edoto/anmviewer
.asp?a=65

 

 

21F  James B. Pritchard, ed.: "The Ancient Near East - An Anthology of Texts and Pictures", first published 1958, edition consulted Princeton University Press, 1973, plate 104.

 

 

  

 

 

 

21G  See Jacquetta Hawkes: "Dawn of the Gods - Minoan and Mycenaean origins of Greece", Random House, New York, 1968, plates opposite pages 176 and 216.

 

 

 

21H Trude Dothan and Moshe Dothan: People of the Sea - The Search for the Philistines", Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992, page 59 middle.

 

 

 

21J Glenn Markoe: "A Nation of Artisans", Archaeology, March/April 1990, pages 31-35, see page 35 right.

 

 

 

21K Erich Neumann: "The Great Mother - an Analysis of the Archetype", Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1974, page 153 of illustration section. I also have an unidentified guidebook to Greece with a photograph of another such sculpture and the caption "Gigantic sculpture at Eleusis".

 

 

 

   

 

21L  Joseph Campbell: "Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Volume II: The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part I; The Sacrifice", Harper & Row, New York, 1988, page 38 middle and bottom.

 

 

 

21M  Miranda Green: "The Sun-Gods of Ancient Europe", Hippocrene Books, London, 1991, pages 12-13 and 18-19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

21N Mark S. Smith: "The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient IsraŽl", Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002, see chapter: "Yahweh and the Sun", pages 148 to 159.

 

 

 

 

21P William M. Schniedewind: "How the Bible Became a Book", Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 71

 

 

 

 

 

21Q Jane M. Cahill: "Rosette stamp seal impressions from ancient Judah", and "Rosette-stamped Handles: Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis" by Joseph Yellin & Jane M. Cahill in IEJ vol. 54 #2; both published by The IsraŽl Exploration Society.
as summarized at  http://www.lmlk.
com/research/lmlk
_rose.htm

 

 

 

 

22 Sir James George Frazer: "The Golden Bough: A study in magic and religion", London, 1922, edition consulted MacMillan, New York, 1963.

 

 

 

 

23 Diodorus Siculus iv.60 and v.79; Apollodorus iii.1.2.; and Strabo x.4.8., as cited by Robert Graves in "The Greek Myths", Volume 1, 1955, edition consulted Penguin Books, Harmonds- worth, Middlesex, England, 1982, pages 294 and 295. See also Odyssey 19: 204 and 205.

 

 

 

 

24 Joanne Besonen: "The Yattir Mosaic: A Visual Journey to Christ", Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2001, page 38.

 

Solomon's Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
     ©
2015 Peter Aleff
              Scroll 4

 

  2.2.1. The symbolic meanings of the eight-fold rosettes

 
  

 


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Eight-petaled rosettes like those on the Disk were not exclusive to those ancient gameboards but appeared also on many other objects and so allow us to reconstruct their symbolic meaning from the contexts in which they were used. Their frequent appearance on gameboards may reflect their importance in real life to mark major events because many early gameboard paths were meant to simulate real life.

It turns out that these rosettes were generally a symbol for the sun, or more precisely for its cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and so indicated the passages from one state of existence into another.

The earliest documented example of this ancestral sign, and among the most beautiful I have seen, is an eight-leaf rosette carved through an ivory disk from about 28,000 years ago, shown above. It was found in a childís burial at the late Aurignacian site of Sungir in Russia, and its funerary context suggests that it may have been associated with the rebirth-and-renewal cluster of ideas already back then. Why else would anyone leave charms or other gifts with the dead if these were not expected to somehow live on and use them?

Whatever this rosette may have meant to its ancient carver, its pierced design evokes to modern eyes the concept of "passage" or "transition" through its central "funnel" opening even better than any flat shape could, and our intuitive perception may well echo that of its long gone maker.

The widespread and long-lived association of that eight-petaled flower with major life events, particularly in the "life" of the sun, is again attested in this account by Sig Lonegren, a researcher of labyrinths and archaeo-astronomy, about his visit to one of the Irish burial mounds from the fourth millennium BCE:

"In Cairn T at Loughcrew, northeast of Dublin in Ireland, another cruciform chamber, I witnessed the spring equinox sunrise. The light of the rising sun focused sharply on the enormous stone that formed the chamber's back wall and moved slowly from left to right across that wall. The climax came when it seemed that the sunlight was about to eat a circle with an eight-petal daisy inside it. (The circle and daisy were pecked into the face of that boulder on the chamber's back wall.)"21A

Many ancient cultures in temperate climes had their year begin with the spring equinox which coincided with the re-awakening of nature and the beginning of new life. That equinox rosette on the wall may therefore have meant here the renewal of the sun itself, just as in the many other megalithic examples of such solar displays and alignments that marked instead one of the solstices at the end of its path.

Closer to us in time, and equally leaving no doubt about their meaning, are the many ancient Egyptian pictures that show the young sun god being born in a lotus blossom with eight leaves. This image still reflects a sunrise over the flooded lands of the Delta where lotus, which grows as the Nile rises, covered the waters to the horizon. It was therefore a fitting sign for that daily rebirth and new beginning.

The Egyptian "Book of the Dead" calls the king of the gods Re in Chapter 15 "the golden youth who came forth from the lotus", and in Chapter 81 the deceased utters the desire to be transformed into a sacred lotus21B.


The generic but typical image above shows the sun god Re rising out of a lotus blossom with eight petals and two buds that grows from the water below indicated by the zigzag lines. The box around that water suggests a coffin and so illustrates his resurrection from the rejuvenating waters of the underworld. 

 

A very similar scene is also painted on a wall in Tutankhamun's tomb where he rises from the same eight-petaled flower, but in his case it grows unmistakably out of his coffin and so reinforces the above interpretation that Re's lotus did the same.

The Book of the Dead also included often a vignette of the cow-headed sky-goddess Hathor, the "mother of light", emerging from the burial mound with an eight-leaved rosette on her neck. Right next to her, the tomb owner's head and arms rise from his coffin, holding two "Life" signs in his hands and thereby leaving no doubt about the meaning of the scene.

Such images led the symbolist Manfred Lurker to propose in his illustrated Dictionary "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt" that the rosette represented the sun breaking forth after the night and the defeat of the abysmal darkness21C.

Sacred lotus 


This interpretation becomes intuitively obvious when you look at the flower of the so-called Egyptian sacred blue lotus which is in modern terms the blue water lily Nymphaea caerulea.

 

Jonathan Meader and Barbara Demeter, the authors of an informative article in KMT about "The Egyptian Blue Water Lily" and its ancient symbolic meanings along the Nile, describe why this intuition is so obvious:

"At the simplest level of observation, it is easy to see why the blue water lily fascinated the Egyptians. The flower is both beautifully colored and fragrant, with sensuously arranged parts that move subtly and change in the light. It is only open in daytime; and, when the petals have spread, a closed cluster of long, yellow stamens with blue tips is revealed. When these stamens in turn spread, beneath them -- seated on a velvet reddish brown disk flecked with gold -- is a perfect little sun. The radiating yellow stamens and the sky-blue petals further enhance the flower's micro-macro connection between nature and the cosmos, so important to the overall belief structure of Ancient Egypt. (...)

[The blue water lily] was of such considerable importance that it was even assigned its own god, Nefertum, son of Ptah and Sekhmet, who is depicted with a water lily blossom on his head (often with a pair of plumes). (...) Nefertum was associated with the sun god who emerged from [that lily]."21D

These authors also mention that in the typical Egyptian depictions of this flower, as seen from above,

"... it was always round and tended to have an even total number of less-pointed petals (often eight or sixteen)."

Moreover, this often eight-petaled flower had an additional connection with board games because, to quote again from their same article:

"The stem's cross-sectional structure (peduncle) apparently became the inspiration for a number of ancient Egyptian game pieces. As they do in the stem, the ducts in these millefiori glass pieces run end-to-end. The reference to the flower's stem seems clear, and further suggests that slices of blue water lily stem themselves very well may have been used as economical game pieces (mimicked by the more expensive glass pieces). The stiffness of the stem and its ability to seal itself when cut would have made it suitable for such a use."

As a further parallel with the sun,  this blue water lily closes at night and sinks underwater to re-emerge in the morning and bloom again, unlike the actual lotus which stay on the surface, but just like the sun itself.

Its resemblance with the resurrected rising sun as well as its very pleasing fragrance and medicinal properties made this lily the preferred flower of the ancient Egyptians, both living and dead. Many of their pictures show both holding blue water lilies to their nose or offering them to a god or king or to each other.

When king Tutankhamun's mummy was found strewn with these flowers, historians thought they were there for purely symbolic reasons. However, more recent research suggests that ancient Egyptians used this blue lily widely as a general remedy against illness and even to induce an ecstatic state, stimulation, and/or hallucinations. This multi-talented Sacred Blue Lily of the Nile is even said to contain phosphodiastrates, the active ingredient of Viagra21E. No wonder the ancient Egyptians, accustomed to reason in analogies, expected this flower to revive their dead.

Yet, the ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern symbolic meanings of that same rosette also included death, as illustrated, for instance, on a fragment from the throne of pharaoh Thutmosis IV where that sign marks an enemy crushed under the king's foot21F. The images below show two other examples where this eight-petaled rosette conveyed this meaning of death.

On the Greek vase painting of Theseus killing the Minotaur, shown below, the eight-leaf  rosette on Theseus' hip seems to have conveyed that the combat would end in death. That rosette also suggests that Theseus would emerge renewed from his excursion into the labyrinth, a symbol of the underworld. In other Minotaur-slaying scenes, the rosette marks sometimes also that monster to announce its upcoming death. The image below is redrawn from a Greek jar dated to the first century BCE, now in the British Museum, as shown in Carl G. Jung: "Man and his Symbols", Doubleday, New York, 1964, page 125 bottom right.


 

 

On the other vase painting, shown above, the ancient painter placed the eight-leaf rosette at the center of the scene, over the opposing bows, to show this was a matter of life or death. He further dramatized the encounters of the spears and of the ships' bows with distorted stars the way a modern comic book artist would use a graphically enhanced "Zap" or "Pow" to convey the deadly violence of the battle. Redrawn from George F. Bass, ed.: "A History of Seafaring based on Underwater Archaeology", Walker and Company, New York, 1972, page 41 top. vase painting attributed to Aristonothos, about 660 BCE; Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome.

But the birth-and-rebirth associations of that rosette appear to have predominated because it was long a favorite motif for decorations throughout the ancient Near East.

The Bronze Age Cretans, for instance, embellished many objects with eight-leaved rosettes, including the ceiling of the "Throne Room" in the palace at Knossos. Like the later Philistines and Canaanites, they used that rosette as one of their preferred pottery ornaments.

The presence of golden eight-leaf rosettes in tombs at Mochlos, Crete, from around 2,000 BCE, and in Mycenaean graves from more than half a millennium later, attests that in these cultures, too, this sign was associated with a symbolism of death to be followed by rebirth21G.

Some of the wigs on the human-shaped clay coffins from Philistine-occupied Beth-Shean bear lotus flowers21H, and the sarcophagus of king Ahiram from the Phoenician city of Byblos, dated to about the time of Solomon, displays a ceremonial scene common in Phoenician art which shows him holding a lotus flower as a sign of his rebirth and apotheosis21J.

The Classical Greeks were equally fond of the eight-leaved rosette motif. One particularly revealing stone sculpture at the former site of the Eleusinian mystery cult shows an initiate emerging from the center of a giant eight-petaled flower bud that is marked all over with eight-leaf rosettes. The context leaves here no doubt that this sculpture illustrated the spiritual rebirth which the initiate to those mysteries was said to achieve21K.

The association of that eight-petaled rosette with birth was not unique to Egypt or its region because in India, various gods, and particularly the Buddha, also emerged into the world from that same eight-petaled lotus.

On the other hand, in India, and in a few cases also in ancient Mesopotamia, eight-leaf rosettes also adorned the memorial stelae of widow-burning victims who had been killed in their husbands' funeral pyres21L, whether to signify their death or their hope to be reborn with their husbands.

Even as far away as in the sun cults of ancient Northern Europe, a wheel with eight spokes represented the sun and its regenerative powers but appeared also as a symbol of death and destruction21M.

The above examples are just a few out of many that illustrate the contexts in which we find the eight-leaf rosette. They suggest that it represented the birth, death, and rebirth of the sun in the various ancient Near Eastern religions which could have influenced the maker of the Disk. And since these three events the rosette stood for were also major steps in any life, it was to be expected that the gameboards which projected those lives on their path would also prominently feature those rosettes in their most significant fields.

2.2.2. Heavenly matches for the eight leaves

An apparent exception to the rule of viewing the eight-leaf rosette as a sign for the sun is that in Mesopotamia, it was also the emblem of the fertility goddess Ishtar and her planet Venus. However, this broadening of the symbol actually confirms its basic meaning of birth and death and rebirth.

In a well-known myth, Ishtar descended into the underworld and was held there as dead before she returned to life and to life-giving. This parallels Venus the evening star which disappears from the sky for some time and then heralds as morning star the return of the life-giving light. The symbolism of death and rebirth is the same as that derived from the summer-to-winter cycles of the sun, and the observable behavior of Venus also fits the eight petals of the typical rosette just as the sun does.

Venus disappears for an average of eight days in the glare of the sun during its transition from evening to morning star. Furthermore, five complete Venus cycles of 583.92 days each (= 2919.6 days) come close to eight solar years of 365.2422-days each (= 2921.9 days), and they match them exactly, at 2920 days, when both the Venus cycle and the solar year are rounded to the whole numbers of 584 and 365.

Eight solar years is also the time it takes the "new" midwinter solstice sun to come again close to a new moon, within a few hours of 99 lunar months at 29.5306 days each (= 2920.8 days). Here again, the rounded numbers come even closer, to 2920.5 days, if the fractional day of the lunar month is counted simply as half a day.

Until this eight-year cycle was replaced by the more accurate "Metonian" cycle of 19 years which we will encounter in chapter 5.2.2., the eight years from one such "meeting of sun and moon" to the next were called a "Great Year" and measured the life span of the sun because at each of these "meetings", the old sun died and the new one was born for the next cycle.

Today, such a meeting is known as a  syzygy and matters mostly in word games like Scrabble where its rare letters get high scores. Back then, however, world cycles based on the renewal of celestial conjunctions preoccupied the early sky watchers and thinkers as well as their royal targets very much.

In many Bronze Age and even later religions, the sun was equated with the king. This is well known from ancient Egypt where the king was the son of the sun god or sometimes that god himself and in many cases had "sun" among his titles. The same belief was also prevalent among Egypt's semi-neighbors in Mesopotamia where subjects of several rulers from the late third millennium BCE on compare these to the sun god. The same identification was also common in Canaan, where even the king of the relatively small city-state of Ugarit had his subjects address him as "my sun"21L.

Even the biblical king Hezekiah, a religious reformer and purported strong monotheist, styled himself as the sun on his royal seals impressed on jar handles. These seals came in many styles and varied levels of craftsmanship, but they typically featured the inscription "lemelek" or "belonging to the king", and a design that depicts a flying sun disk or Egyptian-style sun beetle with two to four wings.

During the century after Hezekiah's reign, this royal sun emblem borrowed from Egypt was replaced by  rosettes21P that had most commonly eight or twelve petals21Q. These were an equally well established and locally maybe even more familiar solar symbol that also expressed the same identification of the king with the sun. The Hebrew kings so claiming solar powers by adopting the sign of the sun rosette included even king Josiah, the other major religious reformer and purported monotheist.

Because of this close identification of the sun with the king, the "Great Year" of the solar cycle determined also the length of some early royal reigns, at least theoretically. When it ended, the old king had to die to be replaced by a new one.

Much has been written about this ancient belief since the 1920s when Sir James George Frazer built his monumental "Golden Bough" around the idea that the kings were actually killed on those occasions22.

Although Frazer's theory was highly acclaimed at the time, serious doubts have since then arisen about the literalness of those executions. Presumably, those kings would have wanted to have a say in how exactly to re-enact that meeting in the sky, and many of them would likely have acquired enough clout to overrule the priests who proposed to sacrifice them for their ritual. Being kings, they must have learned to delegate tasks they could not or did not want to perform themselves, so they would naturally have found some way around their all too personal role in this ritual.

Be that as it may, periodic rites of renewal for kings and their kingship are well attested from many ancient civilizations, and each such renewal had to be preceded by a death. Whether that death was real or symbolic makes no difference in our context, though it clearly did for those kings.

For instance, the mythological king Minos of Crete was said to reign for eight years and to then visit the cave of his father Zeus every ninth year to bring back a new or reconfirmed set of laws23. Entering a cave is a symbolic substitute for entering the underworld of death, and this particular cave was the burial place of the Cretan Zeus who did not share the immortality of his mainland counterpart but had died like the Egyptian Osiris. The new or newly sanctioned laws that Minos obtained in this abode of death from his dead father signified the renewal of his reign.

It is probably no coincidence that another famous story about Minos said that every nine years, the Athenians had to send him seven youths and seven maidens as sacrifices for the Minotaur monster that roamed in the perpetual darkness of an inextricable labyrinth. That dark prison without discernible exit was another metaphor for the underworld. These legendary victims offered every ninth year to a supernatural being with a bull's head may therefore have functioned as substitutes for Minos himself who probably preferred to delegate his own role in this sacrifice to those more expendable Athenian youths and maidens.

The expression "every ninth year" actually meant "at the end of every eighth year" because the ancient Greeks and many of their Near Eastern neighbors used the inclusive way of counting time. In this system, for instance, pregnancies lasted ten months instead of the modern nine, as stated in the Bibleís Wisdom of Solomon 7:2, and in many other ancient writings.

The apparent modern shortening of the average normal human gestation span from ten to nine months may suggest that life is easier for modern mothers, but it owes more to semantics than to medical science and has no more practical impact than the mathematical proposition that nine women working together can produce a baby in one month.

The interval between Minosí journeys through symbolic death to renewal, and between the supplies of likely substitutes for his real death, matched therefore the approximate eight-year moon-meeting cycle of his model the sun.

The number eight was also a symbol of new beginning in the Bible, as when Noah saved eight persons from the flood to start over. Similarly, the Jewish rite of circumcision which marks the beginning of a newborn boyís relationship with God is performed on the eighth day, and in Leviticus 9:1, the inauguration of the Tabernacle as the new dwelling place for the presence of God took place after seven days of preparation on the eighth.

Eight kept that meaning in Christian iconography. The star of Bethlehem was usually shown with eight rays, and several famous early churches, such as Hagia Sofia in Constantinople,  were built on octagonal ground plans. Also, in another survival of inclusive counting, Easter Sunday, when Christ rose from the dead, was seen as the eighth day after Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus had entered Jerusalem24.

2.2.3. The rosette fields on the Disk

On the Phaistos Disk, one of its four eight-leaved rosettes appears at the middle of one side and so marks the beginning or end of the track there. Another one appears three fields from that center and shares the same signs with the central one, so these two are related. The other two rosettes are in the outer ring of fields on each side. They, too, mark the beginning or end of their side if we do not blindly accept the common assertion that the entire path is a spiral but look at its actual layout on the Disk.

Starting with the rosette-bearing fields on each outside, and if we go in the same direction to which the figures in them are oriented, that path follows the border on each side counterclockwise for twelve fields to then encounter a radial separator line that is not like any of the others but bears four or five dots that set it apart.

If the path went in or came from the other direction at that starting or ending rosette, the layout of the fields suggests that it would go straight into the second ring of fields and leave the outermost ring untrodden. It appears therefore more likely that the path went indeed into the same direction as the strider in one of the rosette fields is striding, or the dove and spiky-haired head in the other are looking -- "against the sun" for twelve fields each.

The next field right after that dotted twelfth-field boundary is also unique because it extends from the outer border into the second ring of the path where the largest part of it resides and starts the new ring in a new direction. In the example at right, that next field has only two signs and is therefore not long enough to indicate these two transitions, so the longer field after that short one is also extended to the outer rim to visually confirm the U-turn of the path.

The arrangement suggests that the counterclockwise path around the periphery is completed at the dotted line, and the next field forms a bridge which connects that outer rim with the next ring inwards. There the path reverses direction with a U-turn to then spiral clockwise to the center.
 

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