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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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There are still fifteen minutes in October, and on Halloween night, for me to write a ghoulish themed post.

I have often wondered about ancient sites like Mycenae. If the legends are to be believed, horrific things happened at Mycenae, so where are the restless ghosts, the cold spots, the creepiness? It’s not the sort of thing archaeologists ever mention in their field notes. For that matter, where are the ghosts of Pompeii and Herculaneum, or the spirits of Knossos or Akrotiri? Does the negative energy dissipate once enough time passes, after people abandon the area and the site lies dormant for centuries, or is it still there?
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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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𐀓    𐀬    𐀱

ku-ru-so

The Mycenaean word ku-ru-so corresponds with modern Greek chryso, and was most likely pronounced khruso.  And below, you can see an example of Mycenaean gold work: a golden octopus ornament found at Mycenae.

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𐀘    𐀏    𐀙

Mu  ka  na

Mycenae.

Through an inscription at Kom-al-Hetan dating from the time of Amenhotep III, we know the Egyptians referred to Mycenae as m-w-k-i-n-u, or Mukana.  The Mycenaean Greeks would have written it as Mu-ka-na, as Linear B does not support diphthongs, but they would have said it as Mukānai, with the ā becoming ē at a later time.

Mukānai is not a Greek name; it is either pre-Greek Pelasgian or Minyan, which the Mycenaean Greeks kept when they inhabited the site.  It's difficult to be sure, since, despite various legends, no one is absolutely certain how the site got its name.


Update

Jun. 15th, 2011 07:44 pm
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I am not neglecting my journal on purpose, but am busy editing The Young Lion, which, at roughly 110k, is a very demanding job.  It still has to be beta read, and additional changes may need to be made, but you should be seeing it on Kindle within the next four weeks.

Below: a view of Mycenae from the Chavos ravine.

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Mycenae's famous Lion Gate may be the oldest coat of arms in Europe.  It utilizes a common feature of Mycenaean architecture, the relieving triangle, which was the Aegean Bronze Age's equivalent of the Roman keystone arch, bearing the load of the surrounding masonry. 

The Lion Gate dates to roughly 1300-1250 B.C., to Mycenae's greatest period of renovation and expansion.  Supporting terraces enabled the builders to extend the circuit walls, and bring Grave Circle A within the citadel, while providing more area for workshops, housing, and storerooms.  The Lion Gate was part of a defensive system which included high Cyclopean walls and a bastion, from which defenders would have rained missiles down on attackers.

The lions on the gate might have been lionesses.  They stand upon an altar, with a pillar between them; the pillar was a sacred symbol in Bronze Age Aegean iconography.  Does the altar/pillar represent Mycenae itself?  Are the lions/lionesses goddess symbols, like the griffins one sees the frescoes from the cult sanctuary?  Part of the imagery is missing.  We don't have the heads.  These would have faced outward, due to spatial constraints, and would have been carved from steatite or some other stone, and bolted on.   

In the early nineteenth century, the infamous Lord Elgin passed through Mycenae.  He took the last remaining marbles and bits of carved alabaster from the Treasury of Atreus, and would have taken the Lion Gate, too, had he been able to move the twenty-ton edifice.

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In 1951, workers renovating the so-called Tomb of Clytemnestra at Mycenae discovered a cemetery that is now known as Grave Circle B.  The burials were excavated between 1952-1954. 

Thirty-six years later, in 1987, British forensic reconstruction specialists John Prag and Richard Naeve were asked to give faces to some of the human remains.  Initially, they were asked to put faces to the skulls found by Heinrich Schliemann in Grave Circle A, hopefully to provide a glimpse of the men behind the 'Mask of Agamemnon' and the other death masks.  Unfortunately, due to the high alkaline content in the soil around Mycenae, and the haphazard archaeological techniques of Schliemann's day, not enough material remained to attempt a reconstruction.

The remains in Grave Circle B had fared slightly better, partly due to more advanced and careful archaeological practices.  Prag and Naeve reconstructed several faces, all male, with the exception of one woman whose skull was intact enough for the procedure.  Technically, she is known as Gamma 58, but the forensic team dubbed her 'Clytemnestra,' after the most famous woman of the Atreid ruling dynasty, even though she would have lived 300 years before a real-life Clytemnestra.  Her pathology indicated she was around 35 at the time of death, tall and strongly built, though slender.   She showed arthritis in the lower back as well as in her hands.  It isn't clear how she died, or whether she had any children.  

During the reconstruction, the forensic team noticed similarities between her heart-shaped features and those of her fellow grave occupant, a young man known as Gamma 55; they speculated there might be a blood relationship between the two.  Later DNA analysis confirmed that Gamma 55 and 58 were, indeed, brother and sister.  So she's really more of an 'Elektra' than a 'Clytemnestra.'   

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While browsing through Yahoo!Images and YouTube, I stumbled across an intriguing short film which seems to be the introduction to an unfinished project.   The soundtrack is a reconstruction of what Homer would have sounded like 2,800 years ago, and the images are a combination of real footage of Mycenae, some great miniature work, and actors in costumes.  I can't say much for the acted bits, but there's some great research here.


 


 


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