From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pliny's Natural History mentions four ancient labyrinths: the Cretan labyrinth, an Egyptian labyrinth, a Lemnian labyrinth and an Italian labyrinth.
Labyrinth is a word of pre-Greek (Minoan) origin absorbed by Classical Greek and is perhaps related to the Lydian labrys ("double-edged axe", a symbol of royal power, which fits with the theory that the labyrinth was originally the royal Minoan palace on Crete and meant "palace of the double-axe"), with -inthos meaning "place" (as in Corinth). A lot of these symbols were found in the Minoan palace and they usually accompanied female goddesses. It was probably the symbol of the arche (Mater-arche:matriarchy). This theory is confirmed by the worship of Zeus Labraundos in Caria of Anatolia, where also existed a sacred site named Labraunda. Zeus is depicted holding a double-edged axe.
In classical Greece the priests at Delphi were called Labryades - the men of the double axe.- The complex palace of Knossos in Crete is usually implicated, though the actual dancing-ground, depicted in frescoed patterns at Knossos, has not been found. Something was being shown to visitors as a labyrinth at Knossos in the 1st century AD (Philostratos, De vita Apollonii Tyanei iv.34). A palace of similar complicated structure was discovered at Beycesultan in Anatolia, on the headwaters of Meander river.
The labyrinth is the referent in the familiar Greek patterns of the endlessly running meander, to give the "Greek key" its common modern name. In the 3rd century BC, coins from Knossos were still struck with the labyrinth symbol. The predominant labyrinth form during this period is the simple seven-circuit style known as the classical labyrinth.
"Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first." ... Thus the present-day notion of a labyrinth as a place where one can lose [his] way must be set aside. It is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but, provided [the traverser] is not devoured at the midpoint, it leads surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning.
The most popular potential site for the Labyrinth in the myth of the Minotaur is a Bronze Age site at Knossos. When Knossos was excavated by explorer Arthur Evans, he found various bull motifs, including an image of a man leaping over the horns of a bull, as well as depictions of a labrys carved into the walls. The palace is thought to have been the site of a dancing-ground made for Ariadne by the craftsman Daedalus, where young men and women, of the age of those sent to Crete as prey for the Minotaur, would dance together. By extension, in popular legend it is associated with the myth of the Minotaur.
Herodotus' Egyptian Labyrinth
Even more generally, labyrinth might be applied to any extremely complicated maze-like structure. Herodotus, in Book II of his Histories, describes as a "labyrinth" a building complex in Egypt, "near the place called the City of Crocodiles," that he considered to surpass the pyramids in its astonishing ambition:
It has twelve covered courts - six in a row facing north, six south - the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other. Inside, the building is of two storeys and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper storey, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade.
During the 19th century, the remains of the Labyrinth were discovered "11½ miles from the pyramid of Hawara, in the province of Faioum." The Labyrinth was likely modified and added upon "at various times. The names of more than one king have been found there, the oldest" name being that of Amenemhat III. "It is unnecessary to imagine more than that it was monumental, and a monument of more than one king of Egypt."
Other Ancient Labyrinths
Carving showing the warrior Abhimanyu entering the chakravyuha - Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu, India At about the same time as the appearance of the Greek labyrinth, a topologically identical pattern appeared in Native American culture, the Tohono O'odham labyrinth which features I'itoi, the "Man in the Maze". The Tonoho O'odham pattern has two distinct differences from the Greek: it is radial in design, and the entrance is at the top, where traditional Greek labyrinths have the entrance at the bottom.
A prehistoric petroglyph on a riverbank in Goa shows the same pattern and has been dated to circa 2500 BC. Other examples have been found among cave art in northern India and on a dolmen shrine in the Nilgiri Mountains, but are difficult to date accurately. Early labyrinths in India all follow the Classical pattern; some have been described as plans of forts or cities.
The full flowering of the medieval labyrinth design came about during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with the grand pavement labyrinths of the gothic cathedrals, notably Chartres, Reims and Amiens in northern France and the Duomo di Siena in Tuscany. These labyrinths may have originated as symbolic allusion to the Holy City; and some modern thinkers have theorized that prayers and devotions may have accompanied the perambulation of their intricate paths. However, no contemporary evidence supports the idea that labyrinths had such a purpose for early Christians.
Over the same period, some 500 or more non-ecclesiastical labyrinths were constructed in Scandinavia. These labyrinths, generally in coastal areas, are marked out with stones, most often in the simple classical form. They often have names which translate as "Troy Town". They are thought to have been constructed by fishing communities: trapping malevolent trolls or winds in the labyrinth's coils might ensure a safe fishing expedition. There are also stone labyrinths on the Isles of Scilly, although none is known to date back as far as the earliest Scandinavian ones.
Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth).Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded, and they served primarily for entertainment, though recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence. Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks. Labyrinths are used by modern mystics to help achieve a contemplative state. Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind. The Labyrinth Society provides a locator for modern labyrinths all over the world.