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in our e-book     The Board Game on the  Phaistos Disk

by H. Peter Aleff

BOARD GAMES

Phaistos Disk Story

Summary of Volume One

Table of Contents

Riddle introduction

Translation examples

New perspective

Rosette symbolism

Rosette examples

Gameboard tracks

Heads on Disk

Philistine connection

Philistine fluted crown

Senet as key to Disk

Senet enduring magic

Calendar gameboards

Marks on Senet squares

Senet and Phaistos Disk

Metonic cycle on Disk >>

Command- Life- Down

T-shirt sign Tartarus

Preview Vol. 2

Reader responses

Game of the Goose
and Labyrinth

Goose Introduction
Riddle of Goose
Goose Game Rules
Labyrinth Riddle
Phaistos Disk Riddle
Labyrinth clues 1
Labyrinth clues 2
Labyrinth clues 3
Labyrinth rules 1
Labyrinth rules 2
Goose versus Disk
Solomon's Labyrinth 1
Solomon's Labyrinth 2

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Footnotes :

 

124 as noted by Gerald S. Hawkins: "Stonehenge Decoded", Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1965, page 178 bottom.

 

125 See Odyssey 20:307 and 21:288 for sun god's festival, 14:307 and 19:351 for the prophecies about the return at new moon, and 14:519 for the moonless night of his first incognito day on the island. Quoted from the translation of Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, New York, 1996.

 

126 Cyrus H. Gordon: "The Common Back- ground of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations", W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 1965, citing Ugarit Text #137 from the Epic of Kret, pages 53, 54, and 179.

 

127 John Boardman: "Athenian Black Figure Vases", Oxford University Press, New York, 1974; see plates 157, 226, and 240 for pictures of Hermes' staff; see also page 217: "Hermes ... usually ... carries a herald staff (kerykeion or caduceus) with the open 8-shaped terminal which is only later stylized as entwined snakes".

 

128 "New Larousee Encyclopedia of Mythology", first published 1959, this edition from Crescent Books, 1986, page 123 bottom left

 

129 Iliad 24:343-344, also Odyssey 5:51 and 24:1-5; see further Robert Graves: "The Greek Myths", 17g, first published 1955, edition consulted Penguin Books, Harmonds- worth, England, 1982, Volume 1, page 65.

 

130 See, for instance, Judy B. Goodenough: "Blackbird", in Gordon Bok, performer: "A Rogue's Gallery of Songs for 12- String", Folk Legacy Records, Sharon, Connecticut, 1983; this modern song ends: "I'm going to sleep in a lonely bed / With white and whiter linen spread, /  A cold grey stone at my foot and head /  And pennies on my eyes."

 

131 Detail from a photograph in "Greek Vase Painting" by Dietrich von Bothmer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970s, see item 15: calyx crater.

 

132 John Chadwick: "The Decipherment of Linear B", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, first printed 1958, quoted reprint 1982, pages 89 and 95/96.

 

133 Robert A. Armour: "Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt", The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt, 1986, page 156 top.

 

134 John Boardman: "Athenian Black Figure Vases", Oxford University Press, New York, 1974; see plate 261 "Hermes weighs souls (psychostasia)."

 

135 Robert Graves: "The Greek Myths", 17.f-h; first published 1955, edition consulted Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1982, Volume 1, page 65, for inventions ascribed to Hermes.

 

136 David Attenborough: "The First Eden - The Mediterranean World and Man", Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1987, see statue of Thoth on page 84 bottom.

 

  

  Volume 1: its siblings Senet and Snake Game,

 

 and its surviving sequel the Royal Game of the Goose

 
 


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5.2.2. The 19-year "Metonic" cycle on the Disk

  0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17   

A less artificial cycle for "meetings of sun and moon" used in many calendars of antiquity lasts 19 actual years. These are just over two hours short of 235 months, much closer than the above approximation after eight years, and they have the advantage that eclipses in one cycle repeat themselves on the same calendar dates in the next124.

This 19-year cycle is now called "Metonic", after the Classical Greek astronomer Meton who wrote its first surviving description in 432 BCE. However, there is circumstantial evidence that it may have been recognized much earlier.

The poet and mythographer Robert Graves argued that king Priam of Troy reigned legitimately for 19 years because 19 of his 50 sons were reported as legitimate. And Professor Gilbert Murray noted many decades ago in "The Rise of the Greek Epic" that the solar hero Odysseus warred and traveled for nineteen years to rejoin his weaving and unweaving moon-wife Penelope at the beginning of the twentieth. 

Odysseus arrived in the garb of an old man, in biting cold weather, and won his wife and kingdom back on the day of the sun god Apolloís great festival, meaning the winter solstice. We are also told repeatedly that "this very month -- just as the old moon dies and the new moon rises into life -- Odysseus will return!" His first incognito night on the island is "a foul night, the dark of the moon", so the festival on his third day there coincided with the appearance of the new moon125.

This nineteen-year journey of the sun matches also the 19 ray-haired sun-heads on the Disk, and the similarity is reinforced by the fallen- down position of the last one. It also matches the 57 Disk fields before "death" in 58 because the year in Crete had three seasons, like the Egyptian year, and 57 seasons there equaled 19 years. The bald head in 58 then died at the beginning of the twentieth.

This timing relates the Disk again to "little sun" Samson, the legendary poster-boy for the equation of life-force with hair. The Bible says in Judges 15:20 that "he was Judge over Israel for twenty years", and this timing was significant enough to emphasize because we are told the same again in 16:11.

Moreover, Samson died on the feast day of the Philistine chief god Dagon. Dagon was the father of Baal the storm and vegetation god126 and apparently another form of the pantheon ruler and sky-god El who is called father of the gods. Festivals to sky gods tend to occur on days of special events in the sky, so this feast is likely to have marked a solstice or an equinox, and Samsonís end seems to fit the pattern.

In the inclusive way of counting discussed above, the "twenty years" meant he had died after the end of the nineteenth and so conformed to the career of his Philistine neighborsí bristle-haired sun-head from the slightly earlier Disk.

These apparent traces of a "twenty" year lifespan for the sun, and the importance of the corresponding 25-year Egyptian cycle in the scenario of Senet, invite the speculation that the above mentioned "Game of twenty squares" might have alluded to that same "twenty" year cycle as the game on the Disk.

The last square of the twenty would then presumably have been reserved for the apotheosis of the gamepieces that had traveled, like the sun, through the nineteen preceding stations.

5.2.2.1. Sun and moon on the bald headís cheek

The bald head in Phaistos 58 and 61 bears two small circles imprinted on its cheek, one above the other as in our numeral 8.  

These appear to illustrate the meeting of the two big circles in the sky which led to its death.

Two circles stacked just like these, the top one sometimes opened to look like the sickle of the new moon, were in early Classical Greece the emblem on the herald staff of Hermes. These circles became only later stylized as the entwined snakes of the caduceus that is now the logo of the medical profession127.

Hermes was the messenger of the Olympian gods and had also the surname "Psychopompus"128.  This means "Conductor of Souls" and identified him as the messenger from Hades, the realm of the dead. He summoned the expired there by laying this staff upon their eyes, the same way he put the living to sleep and woke them up at will. Then he guided the departing soul to the afterworld129.

This placing of Hermes' two circles over the eyes of the deceased seems to survive in the folk custom to send off the dead with pennies on their eyes130.

That the two circles appear here not on the eyes of the deceased but marked on his cheek may be artistic license on the part of the pictograph designer who placed them where they can be seen most clearly, without cluttering other lines.

Hermestaff.jpg (37425 bytes)

This portrait of Hermes with his typical emblem is part of a larger scene by the painter Euphronios

on a magnificent wine-mixing krater from about 520 BCE, now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Hermes functions there in his role as guide of the dead, a parallel to the Egyptian Thoth who weighed their souls and then guided them to Osiris131.

To find this emblem from Classical Hermes' staff here on this head from the earlier Disk found in Crete should not surprise us either: gods usually kept the symbols which defined them, and Hermes was an ancient god. The thirteenth- century BCE Linear B tablets from Pylos mention him as "Hermahas" along with other gods known from Classical times132.

Even farther back, Hermes shared many basic myths and functions with the age- old Egyptian god Thoth whom Classical writers identified with Hermes as "Thrice Great" or "Trismegistos". Thothís name meant "messenger", just like the job description of Hermes, and he guided souls already in the Pyramid Texts where he was to "ferry the dead across the 'winding waterway' on his wings"133.

In one of the best known scenes from the "Book of the Dead", Thoth also supervised the weighing of the heart in the "Hall of Judgment" through which all dead Egyptians had to pass before they could enter eternity.  Hermes had the same job though he performed it himself: one of the Athenian black- figure vases, our earliest major corpus of mythological scenes in Greek art which dates mostly from the sixth century BCE, shows him weighing souls with a beam scale identical to that of Thoth134.

Hermes also "invented" in Greece a number of arts and instruments which had long existed in Crete and even earlier in Egypt where some of them were specifically ascribed to Thoth. Examples are the latterís above mentioned gifts of astronomy, reckoning, board games, and writing, as well as weights and measures which Hermes claimed also to have brought135.

5.2.2.2. The two circles as time limit for the sun

The emblem Thoth wore for his function as "Measurer of Time" was a circular disk, the sign of the sun, with a crescent moon placed above it136 and very similar to the one Hermes wore on his staff. The meaning of this calendar-masterís trademark was probably that the passage of lunisolar time was punctuated by the "Joining of Sun and Moon" which defined the cyclical life of the sun.

If the two joined circles on Hermes' staff depict a "joining" of the sun with the moon, as in the crown of Thoth the measurer of time, then we should not be surprised to find midway between Egypt and Greece the common emblem of this Egyptian and Greek mortuary god in the two circles on the bald head from Crete.

As usual for such shared emblems, the two circles on Hermes' staff seem to have meant the same as those above Thoth's crown, and those same circles on the Old Philistine bald head's cheek are likely to have symbolized the same. In the context of the Disk, they seem to imply the end of the time allotted to the "sun head", and so to confirm again the interpretation of the bald head as expression of the long-haired oneís death at the end of his cycle.

The two circles on the bald headís cheek may then stand as shorthand for something like

"The 'Great Year' between the meetings of new sun and new moon is over and time has run out for the old sun. Thoth-Hermahas marks this event on the dead sun with his emblem as measurer of time, and he guides the sunís soul into the afterworld".

This mark on the Phaistos bald head in the field of death matches again perfectly the timing of death in Senet right after a joining of sun and moon, except that the Egyptians used a different year-length for their calculations and so came up with a different period between such meetings. The similarity despite the difference only confirms that both examples were based on the same idea.

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