Bronze Age Mediterranean: Minoan Culture
Ring of Minos
Gold ring: Late Minoan I, Knossos, Crete. c. 1500 BC.
A small boat carrying a shrine or something in the bow. A sort of circularity, from the boat, to the reaching up, to the lowering down, and back to the boat.
'Some people assume that the scenes depicted on Minoan rings must be things the artist saw in everyday life,' said Miranda. 'I suppose dancing women, acrobats and ships with oars and sails might have been, but if the culture was as steeped in religion as most people suppose, there must also have been religious stories and myths that the artist would want to express.'
'Like the myths depicted on classical Greek vases,' suggested Quintin.
'Exactly,' replied Miranda. 'Nobody suggests that a Greek vase showing somebody rolling a rock up a hill tells us that the ancient Greeks liked to roll rocks up hills. It depicts the myth of Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a rock up a hill in Hades, only to watch it fall back down again endlessly and his labour to have to begin anew. So why should Minoan art be any different? What strikes you most about the Ring of Minos, the one that was found by a little boy near the Palace of Minos at Knossos in 1928, probably from a nearby tomb, and confirmed to be genuine near the beginning of this century?'
'A hill with a building on top. Trees. A male figure reaching up into one of these trees. A female figure lowering herself down from one. Stones, or are they coffee beans? Pomegranate seeds? A small boat carrying a shrine or something in the bow. A sort of circularity, from the boat, to the reaching up, to the lowering down, and back to the boat.'
'I think we can rule out coffee beans, but what's striking about the boat?'
'It has a shrine on board,' said Quintin. 'A shrine with upwards-pointing horns, like those in the Palace of Minos.'
'It reminds me of the candelabra of lighted candles in the bow of the enchanted boat that sailed without any crew and with only a bed on board, in Marie de France's Breton lai,' observed Miranda. 'The one which brought Guigemar to the lady who healed him of his wounds before he returned to Brittany.'
'It’s being rowed in a very strange way,' replied Quintin. 'In fact, I don't think it is being rowed. It's possible to propel a boat with a single oar, but usually when it's fixed to a rowlock on the transom at the stern. This looks almost as though the woman has the shaft of the oar behind her back. That's a steering oar. She's steering it, not propelling it.'
'So how is it being powered?' asked Miranda.
'I don't know.'