in our e-book
by H. Peter Aleff
Volume 1: its siblings Senet and Snake Game,
and its surviving sequel the Royal Game of the Goose
This e-book offers the first verifiable and externally confirmed interpretation of the Phaistos Disk, a famous archaeological puzzle from Bronze Age Crete. The pretty pictures in the spiraling sequences of fields on that Disk were not writing signs, as most of its many "translators" had assumed. It turns out that those pictures were instead the marks for the fields of a board game that closely resembled the ancient Egyptian games of Senet and Snake Game.
Senet was a popular pastime in ancient Egypt from late pre-dynastic times on and is well documented because it became an important part of the funerary magic and then evolved into today's Backgammon. Its pieces simulated the passage of the player through life and, even more importantly, through death and its perils. On its last field, they were reborn into the eternal afterlife, just as the Backgammon pieces are still "born" at the end of their pursuit.
The Snake Game appears even earlier in the record, with the oldest surviving copies of any known board game. It helped at least one king in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts to ascend to heaven and so seems to have represented the same journey, except that its path was not folded, as in Senet, but coiled into the spiral of a snake's rolled-up body. On one of its sculpted stone boards, the tail of the snake ended in the head of a goose.
That spiral is the same as in the "modern" children's Game of the Goose which is in some countries known as Snake Game and which also represents the players' path through life and death before their pieces are also "borne" into heaven. In either version, many of its fields are consistently marked with certain special events that have remained the same in most editions published since the alleged invention of this game in Renaissance times.
That spiral is also the same as the inner part of the path on each side of the Disk, and the signs on these paths include the same rosette with eight petals that marked the significant fields on many ancient gameboards and that appears in other contexts typically with a meaning of "birth", "death", and "rebirth". Two of the four rosettes on the Disk, near and at the center of one side, are paired with a bald head that stands in marked contrast to the head with long rayed hair which is the most frequent sign on the rest of the path.
Hair was a symbol for life-force, as in the biblical story of Samson. Its absence meant death, so the bald head plus rosette shortly before the center matches the "death" square in Senet, and the same group in the center itself fits the rebirth into the afterlife at the end of the journey.
Moreover, when you combine the paths on both sides of the Disk, the bald heads wind up on fields 58 and 61 which is the end, excellent matches for the "death" in field 58 of the Goose and/or Snake Game, and for the "rebirth" in 63 at its end.
The other rosette on that side is on field 31 where the Goose features a "well". Wells, from the baptismal font to the fountain of youth, were and are a common symbol for rebirth and renewal, so the match is again perfect and fits also the "renewal" field in the middle of the Senet track. These and many other parallels between Senet, the Goose and Snake Game, and the Disk supply now the key for the meanings of many signs and fields on the latter.
Woven into the journey of the players towards their rebirth, this gameboard illustrated also the cycles of sun and moon, and it functioned as a visual record of the deeply rooted beliefs associated with these and their perceived rebirth which sustained the players' hopes for their own. The markings on the Disk give us now a uniquely detailed and coherent portrait of these beliefs, and insights into some core features of later Greek and Christian narratives which appear rooted in the story illustrated on the Disk.
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