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Labyrinths

January 25, 2011

Been reading what I can find on A.B. Cook’s Zeus and he seems to take long tangents occasionally but it is always interesting.  Cut my finger on a can yesterday so typing hurts.  I’m going to cut and paste the parts on Labyrinths that I thought were interesting.

  • It would seem, then, that Attic tradition points back¬wards to a time when the Labyrinth was depicted, not as a palace, but as a maeander or swastika-pattern. The same result is reached on Cretan soil. Coins of Knossos from c. 500 B.C. onwards represent the Labyrinth by a swastika or by some derivative of the swastika. The pattern develops in two directions
  • it seems certain that both Attic and Cretan art presuppose the swastika as the earliest ascertainable form of the Labyrinth, That much-disputed symbol has a voluminous literature of its own; and critics are not yet unanimous as to its ultimate significance. But among, recent investigators, there is something like a consensus in favour of the view that it was a stylised representation of the revolving sun
  • the original Cnossian Labyrinth was not the great palace unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans, at least was not the whole of that palace but was a structure which somehow lent itself to an imitation of the sun’s movements in the sky
  • even in Roman times, the orchestra of the theatre at Athens was laid out as a swastika-mosaic
  • Theseus, having escaped from the Labyrinth by means of Ariadne’s clew, with the youths and maidens whom he had rescued wove a circling dance for the gods that resembled his own entrance into and exit from the Labyrinth, Daidalos showing them how to dance it. Eustathios adds that this was the first occasion on which men and women danced together, that Sophokles had alluded to ‘the dances of Knossos,’ and that old-fashioned folk in his own day, sailors especially, danced a certain dance with many twists and turns in it meant to recall the windings of the Labyrinth
  • Plutarch in his Life of Theseus writes: ‘Sailing away from Crete, he put in at Delos. Here he sacrificed to the god, dedicated the image of Aphrodite that he had received from Ariadne, and in company with the young men danced a dance, which, they say, is still kept up by the Delians. It imitates the circuits and exits of the Labyrinth by means of a certain measure that involves turnings and re-turnings. This type of dance as Dikaiarchos shows is called the Crane by the Delians.’
  • Finally the Labyrinth was taken over from paganism by Christianity. At Orleansville in Algeria the Christian basilica, founded in 324; A.D., had among other mosaics a Labyrinth, the centre of which was occupied by the words SANCTA ECCLESIA repeated in a complicated form. One of the state robes of the Christian emperors prior to the ninth century was coloured a fiery red and adorned with a Labyrinth of gold and pearls, in which was a Minotaur of emerald holding a finger to his lips
  • A small Labyrinth (19 ½ inches across) still exists incised upon a porch pier of Lucca cathedral (fig. 349) 2. The central group of Theseus and the Minotaur has all but vanished under the pressure of countless tracing fingers, but the adjoining inscription attests the designer’s meaning. Similar examples are, or were, in the church of S. Michele at Pavia (s. xi), at Aix in Provence, on the walls of Poitiers cathedral. Labyrinths of larger size are not very uncommon in continental churches
  • A fine specimen, composed of grey and white marble, decorates the middle of the nave in Chartres cathedral (fig. 350) 1. It measures 30 feet in diameter, and its winding path is 668 feet long. The centre was formerly adorned with a representation of Theseus and the Minotaur. Such a maze was called in the middle ages domus Dedali or maison Dedalu or even, as in the inscription at Amiens, Maison de Dalus; But new uses were found for the old design. Towards the close of the Crusades men who had broken vows of pilgrimage to the Holy Land did penance by treading these tortuous chemins de Jerusalem until they reached the central space, often termed le ciel. Later the same Labyrinths were used as a means of penance for sins of omission and commission in general. In Great Britain mosaic mazes are exceptional and late 2, but turf-cut mazes fairly common and early 3. They are mostly situated close to a church or chapel, so that not impossibly they served a penitential purpose. One at Alkborough in Lincolnshire, 44 feet across, even resembles in design the Labyrinth of Lucca cathedral. After the Reformation ecclesiastical mazes were converted into pleasure-grounds
  • It would seem then that in Great Britain, Scandinavia, the north¬east of Russia, and Iceland rough mazes of unknown antiquity exist which conform to the same general pattern as that of the Cretan Labyrinth. The first to grasp the full significance of this curious fact was Dr E. Krause. In a very noteworthy monograph devoted to the subject and in a subsequent appendix to the same he endeavoured to show that the maze of the countryside was no imitation of the classical Labyrinth, but that rather the classical Labyrinth was an imitation of it. Maze and Labyrinth alike were survivals of a remote past and were originally used for the purposes of a mimetic solar rite
  • Another point to be noticed is this. In Italy and France, where ecclesiastical Labyrinths abound, no rustic mazes are now to be seen. Conversely in Great Britain, Scandinavia, Finland, Lapland, Iceland, where rustic mazes are numerous, no ecclesiastical Labyrinths occur. Hence we infer that in southern Europe the rustic maze was pressed into the service or the church, while in western and north-western Europe it remained as a relic of paganism
  • In conclusion, it is clear that the Labyrinth, once the orchestra of a solar dance, has throughout mediaeval and modern times been, subjected to a slow process of degradation. The final stage was reached when the maze of the village-green was superseded by the ‘Labyrinth,’ the ‘Daedal,’ and the ‘Wilderness’ – topiary puzzles of a purely secular sort. From Knossos to Hampton Court may be a far cry; but it will be admitted that in the chain connecting them hardly a link is missing.
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