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I had originally intended to use this 13th century B.C. image of charioteers from Tiryns for the cover of Orestes: The Outcast, but the wear and tear on the fresco, and the unevenness of the checkered border made it unlikely.



There is a female counterpart of this image, in which a woman drives a chariot with her female friend as a passenger. So noblewomen could and did drive in those days.



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I am only into Chapter Two of the first draft, so we're nowhere near completing this mammoth book, but the cover artwork will give you something to look forward to.

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From an issue of Ancient Warfare magazine, a reconstruction of the megaron at Thebes based on archaeological evidence. You can see how absolutely garish the colors would have been. I have heard that at the issue's press time, the artist hadn't finished rendering the floor decorations, so pretend that the king--Oedipus? Creon?--is having the megaron renovated, and has hustled the painters out in order to receive important ambassadors, perhaps from Mycenae or Pylos.



After a week's rest, I have started on Orestes: The High King. I'm not offering these books in any format other than Kindle because there are too many issues with doing so. iBooks requires an exclusive contract, Smashwords sees very little sales to make it worth it, and I don't know how to format the text and images for print, and don't have the money to pay anyone to do it for me.
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First news of the New Year: the first draft of Orestes: The Outcast is finished, at 78,000 words; it is a short book, with The High King, the final book in the trilogy, set to be much longer.  I am now combing through The Outcast, weeding out typos and editing for content.  It should be ready by late January or early February.

November and December were great months for Helen’s Daughter.  Somehow, this book is selling far better than The Young Lion.  Do readers simply prefer novels with female protagonists?  Don’t shy away from the Orestes Trilogy!  Plenty of Mycenaean pageantry, adventure, and intrigue to soak up!

On an end note, some recent cartoons: Orestes and Hermione holiday shopping at IKEA Corinth, and the pair on Christmas morning.  The latter will be a diptych image, with Elektra and Pylades facing.

Note: if your eyes are good, you might be able to make out the Snake Goddess on the tree.





 

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Orestes is in trouble with Elektra and Hermione over his newly delivered 1249 B.C. nudie calendar. Poor guy can never catch a break.

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Some comic artwork I did for my Orestes Twitter account. Hermione clings to Orestes, who gives the thumbs-up as Elektra pursues Pylades in the background.

Note the chariot nuts.
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The fresco fragment known as the Lady of Mycenae was found in the Cult House below the palace of Mycenae. She is a rather stolid older lady, with ample arms and a sagging chin, offering necklaces to a deity.

Even though it isn’t a very scientific line of thinking, and there is no evidence that the Mycenaeans understood portraiture in the modern sense, my instincts tell me the woman behind the fresco must have been either Elektra or Clytaemnestra.
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I realize I have been neglecting my journal lately. But I have been working diligently on finishing Orestes: The Outcast, and on crafting this 1-inch scale doll: The Minoan Snake Priestess.

Each of those fringes was hand-applied; each row took about 2-3 hours to complete. Yes, she is holding a coiled snake around her left hand, and the background is the Throne Room fresco from Knossos; the picture was taken prior to her being settled in her shadow box. Pictures of that will follow once I can get around the reflection off the glass.





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A Minoan seal stone discovered during the most recent excavations at Vrysinas, near Rethymnon, Crete.  At one time, Vrysinas was an important Minoan peak sanctuary; the seal dates from the First Palace period (1900-1700 B.C.)  It is red jasper, and is carved on all four sides with Minoan hieroglyphics which are not Linear A.  In fact, the seal stone appears to be the earliest example of Minoan Hieroglyphic script yet discovered.

You can read more about the find here.

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Life-sized Minoan cult statues have not survived, but they have left some traces.  Bronze curls from one such statue, or xoanon, were found in the basement of the Great Goddess Sanctuary at Knossos, and other sites, such as Chania and Anemospilia, have yielded clay feet.  Minoan cult xoana were made of wood, probably cypress, as it was very durable.  Oftentimes the xoana were little more than a dressmaker’s dummy with a carved and painted head, with hair made from fine bronze or gold wires, and clay feet peeping out from under the sacral robes.  Incidentally, this tradition of dressing the deity in new robes carried on into later, Classical times.

Below is an illustration of the Anemospilia xoanon as it might have looked, surrounded by artifacts in the positions in which they were found; as you can see, the fringed robes are draped around the wooden body, concealing it. 

The ragged-looking mound to the lower right of the illustration is bare rock, and part of the altar.  Bronze Age Aegean altars often incorporated living rock, possibly for the worship of chthonic deities, the earth-mother goddess, or the earthquake god, Poseidon.



 

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The famous Dolphin Fresco, gracing what Sir Arthur Evans called The Queen’s Megaron. What you see today is a reconstruction which is not without its controversy. It’s thought now that the dolphins might have decorated a floor rather than a wall on the level just above, and when Knossos was destroyed for the final time around 1200 B.C., the upper floors crashed into the lower ones, and the fresco ended up lying in the so-called “The Queen’s Megaron.”
 
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Fresco from one of the rooms inside the Cult House at Mycenae.  A princess and/or priestess offers wheat ears to two goddesses, probably Hera and Athena; the blank area under the goddesses would have been the altar.  The griffin with the princess/priestess signifies the presence of a divinity, but I can’t say with any certainty what the two naked men between the goddesses represent.

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This charming pair of women with a young child is an ivory piece discovered on the palace mount at Mycenae.  It’s been speculated that the women might be goddesses, perhaps Hera and Athena, the patron goddesses of Argolis, and the child squirming between them a divine child.  The clothing detail is so exquisite that experts use the piece as part of their studies to determine what Mycenaean ladies wore, and how they wore it.  The back of the carving has the women (goddesses?) sharing a patterned shawl (possibly Athena’s tasseled aegis referred to in the legends?)



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An iconic fresco, the mysterious young Prince of the Lilies graces Cretan postcards and tourist tchotchkes.  Little do the tourists who flock to Knossos each year by the thousands know that the fresco is a fake.  Fake, that is, in that it was reconstructed three fresco fragments that might not even be related to each other.  In the image below, you can see that only the crown, torso, and part of the left leg are original fresco fragments; the rest is a fanciful modern reconstruction.

The Minoans followed Egyptian standards in coloring--that is, they used brown or Indian red for male skin, and white for female.  What is peculiar about the Prince of the Lilies is that his skin is white.  So the original fresco might have depicted a girl rather than a youth.

The fresco you see in the Corridor of Procession when you visit Knossos, and on postcards and other trinkets, is a reproduction; the original is housed in the nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

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This lovely bowl was carved in the shape of a duck from a single piece of rock crystal, and dates from between 1600-1550 B.C.  The rock crystal is Egyptian, but the carving appears to be Mycenaean.  At this time, Mycenaean artists began imitating the exquisite stone vases and vessels which came to them not only through their Minoan and Cycladic contacts, but also from farther-flung regions: Egypt, Syria, and Canaan.

Unlike other arts, such as weaving and fresco painting, which began as imitation but soon took on its own, unique Mycenaean character, Mycenaean stone carving remained true to its foreign prototypes.

The crystal duck bowl was discovered in Grave O in Mycenae’s Grave Circle B.


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I am not a war gamer, but while searching for images of Agamemnon I came across the concept art for Crocodile Games' Agamemnon and his Mycenaean Honor Guard.  As my father used to paint die-cast military miniatures, I am assuming Crocodile Games is making these figures available to paint and use for a Mycenaean-themed war game.

No Dendra panoply here.  It's interesting to note which features derive from actual Mycenaean armaments, such as the helmet and fringes, and which features have been modernized.  I doubt very much that Agamemnon would have worn such a cuirass, but he certainly looks badass in it.


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Among other things, Minoan artwork is known for its plethora of floral depictions.  It seems that the Minoans, like their Egyptian contemporaries, loved flowers, and wanted them in their homes; archaeologists have found not only fresco fragments with many species of Aegean and Cretan flowers, but the remains of hanging flower pots.  In fact, several floral species known today, including crocus and narcissus, retain some form of their original Minoan names.

Rather than parrot information from my sources, I am linking my readers to an exhaustive but wonderful article on flowers in ancient Crete.  Andras Zeke, the webmaster, has a marvelous blog on the Minoans, with particular emphasis on Linear A, so stay and peruse the articles.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say hello to several new readers.  My articles here are meant to be nibbles of information from the Mycenaean and Minoan periods, entertaining and informative without being too dry or scholarly.  I use my research to write my novels, and currently have a novel out on Kindle: Helen's Daughter, about Hermione, the daughter of Helen of Troy.  What, you didn't know Helen had children?  Yes, she did!  Head on over to Amazon and Smashwords to sample the novel and find out!


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While there is much that we still don't understand about Minoan religion, from the physical evidence it appears that the Minoans had a tripartite belief system. A tripartite altar was found on the western end of the Central Court at Knossos, near the Throne Room, and fresco fragments from the palace's north quarter depict what is probably that same altar as priestesses and other spectators sit on the surrounding terraces presumably waiting for the Bull Dance or some other spectacle.

 

Below is an artist's rendering of what a tripartite shrine might have looked like. It is not known exactly what the tripartite elements of Minoan religion were, but some have reasonably speculated that the Minoans worshipped the heavens, earth/sea, and the underworld, about which I will discuss in greater detail in a future post. 




Imagery of the tripartite shrine made it as far as Mycenae, where a delicate golden piece was found among the burials of Grave Circle A (circa 1500 B.C.).  If you saw the program The Exodus Decoded, then you saw journalist Simcha Jakobovici present this little appliqué as evidence that the Ark of the Covenant was made by Mycenaean goldsmiths, and that the piece itself is a view of the Ark with the doves, with the Tabernacle's high altar behind.  Sadly, no.  Jakobovici does not know his Aegean archaeology.  The gold work represents a Minoan tripartite shrine, with sacred doves and the horns of consecration. 


 

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A Minoan maze and bull fresco found near Avaris, Egypt.  Minoan artists were apparently working in Egypt around the time of Tuthmose III.  It has been theorized that, as the Minoan civilization on Crete went into decline, out-of-work artists settled in Egypt and decorated houses and palaces either for Egyptians who liked the Minoan style, or for wealthy Minoan expatriates seeking a better life in Egypt.

Out-of-work Minoan artists also took their skills to Mycenaean Greece, and, from recent archaeological discoveries in the Levant, to the Canaanite cities.

You can read more about the theories surrounding this puzzle here.

Frescoes

Aug. 19th, 2011 01:18 pm
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Fresco painting in the ancient world was buon fresco, which means painting on a thin layer of fresh, wet lime plaster.  The process involved laying down a layer of plaster, waiting an hour, then painting.  Fresco painters would have had seven to eight hours to complete their work, until the plaster became too dry to work any longer; the plaster would be completely dry within twelve hours. 

The process of mixing pigments with wet plaster would have fixed the colors and made the fresco more durable; had the Mycenaeans and Minoans worked a secco, or on dry plaster, their paintings probably would not have survived.  However, it was this same chemical process of mixing pigments with the alkaline plaster that limited the color palette.  This is why you see only reds, yellows, blues, whites, and blacks in Mycenaean and Minoan frescoes.




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