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
The rosette with eight leaves is our first equivalent of the "Rosetta-Stone" for deciphering the pictographs on the Disk. That sign occurs on many ancient gameboards, as illustrated in the pictures below.
The earliest example here, and one of the most beautiful, is an eight-leaf rosette carved through an ivory disk from about 28,000 years ago, shown above. It was found in a child’s 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.
Whatever this rosette may have meant to its maker, its pierced design evokes to modern eyes the concept of "passage" or "transition" through its central opening even more powerfully than any flat shape could.
Closer to us in time, and less open to doubt about its meaning, are the many ancient Egyptian pictures that show the young sun god being born in a lotus blossom with eight leaves. This image 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.
On the other hand, the association of that flower with birth was not unique to Egypt because in India, various gods, and particularly the Buddha, also emerged into the world from that same eight-petaled lotus.
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 lotus2.
The typical copy of that book also included 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 rises from his coffin and clutches two "Life" signs in his hands, leaving no doubt about the meaning of the scene.
Similarly, a painted portrait from Tutankhamun's tomb shows him rising out of a lotus blossom with eight petals that grows from his coffin and so illustrates his resurrection.
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 darkness3.
The Bronze Age Cretans, too, decorated 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 favorite 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 rebirth4.
Some of the wigs on the human-shaped clay coffins from Philistine-occupied Beth-Shean bear lotus flowers5, 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 apotheosis6.
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 achieve7.
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 destruction8.
Similarly, the symbolic meaning of the Near Eastern rosette included death, as on a fragment from the throne of pharaoh Thutmosis IV where that sign marks an enemy crushed by the king's foot9.
On Greek vase paintings of battles, or of Theseus killing the Minotaur, an eight-leaf rosette often conveyed that the combat ended in death. For instance, a vase painting from about 660 BCE shows a clash between the warriors on two ships. Where their spears meet over the opposing bows, the ancient painter placed the eight-leaf rosette the way a modern comic book artist would put there a graphically enhanced "Zap" or "Pow"10.
In Minotaur-slaying scenes, the rosette marks sometimes that monster to announce its upcoming death. At other times, it decorates Theseus and can be seen as a sign that he will return from his excursion into the labyrinth, a symbol of the underworld, and will thereby be regenerated11.
In India, and in a few cases also in ancient Mesopotamia, an eight- leaf rosette adorned the memorial stelae of widow- burning victims who had been killed in their husbands' funeral pyres12.
In general, the contexts in which we find the eight-leaf rosette suggest that it represented the birth, death, and rebirth of the sun (and/or of the planet Venus), in many of the ancient Near Eastern religions which could have influenced the maker of the Disk.
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