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
2.2.1. The symbolism of eight-fold rosettes
generally a symbol for the sun, or more precisely its cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and so indicated the passages from one state of existence into another.
For a few examples of such rosettes with their contexts, click on Appendix 2.
In Mesopotamia, the eight-leaf rosette was also the emblem of the fertility goddess Ishtar and her planet Venus. However, this apparent broadening of the symbol only 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, just as Venus the evening star disappears from the sky for some time and then heralds as morning star the return of the life-giving light. The symbolism is the same as that derived from the cycles of the sun.2.2.2. Heavenly matches for the eight leaves
Venus and the sun also both match the eight leaves of the rosette with their observable behaviors. 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 come close to eight solar years of 365.2422-days each, and they match them exactly, at 2920 days, when both periods are rounded to whole numbers.
Eight solar years are also the time it takes the "new" midwinter solstice sun to come again close to a new moon, within a day and a half of 99 months at 29.5306 days each. Here again, the rounded numbers come even closer, to 2920½ days, if the fractional day of the lunar month is counted simply as half a day.
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. Back then, however, world cycles based on the renewal of celestial conjunctions preoccupied the early sky watchers and thinkers very much.
In many Bronze Age religions, the sun was identified with the king, and so this "Great Year" determined also the length of 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.
Meanwhile, serious doubts have arisen about the literalness of those executions, but be that as it may, periodic renewal rites 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 probably 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 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 died like the Egyptian Osiris. The new laws Minos obtained in this abode of death from his dead father signified the renewal of his reign.
The expression "every ninth year" actually means "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, pregnancies lasted ten months instead of the modern nine, as stated in the Bible’sWisdom of Solomon 7:2, and the difference owes nothing to medical progress.
The interval between Minos’ journeys through symbolic death to renewal matched therefore the eight-year 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 the newborn boy’s 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. 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 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. Two others are in the outer ring of fields on each side. They, too, mark the beginning or end of their side if we do not simply 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 field on each outside, and going in the same direction to which the figures in it are oriented, that path follows the border on each side counterclockwise for twelve fields. The radial separator lines after that twelfth field are not like any of the others but bear four or five dots that set these apart.
The next field right after that dotted boundary is also unique: on both sides, it extends from the border into the second ring of the path. The arrangement suggests that the counterclockwise path around the periphery ends at the dotted line and then reverses direction with a U-turn to spiral from there to the center.
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