CHAPTER SEVEN: ONES
6. HARMONY AND MELODIC LINE
THE IDENTITY OF "DAEDALUS"
CAVES AND SLAVES
APPLICATIONS OF LINE
ABSTRACT LINES AND META-NETS
6. HARMONY AND MELODIC LINE
The figure of Daedalus was one of the principal heroic personifications in the tradition of devising the cosmic icons, mysteries, riddles, and rituals intended to express the fundamental harmony and order of the world through number, letters of the alphabet and the calendar. Anciently in Greece, according to Plato and to Pythagoras before him, and in the Orphic tradition before that, music was the preferred means by which human society expressed and maintained, not only its own logic of coherence, but also the grander relationships of our species within a context of ecological awareness. Earthly music was taken to be a token of cosmic harmony, through number and measure, in the redoubtable tradition known as the Music of the Spheres.
The name Orpheus itself belongs to the oldest level of Greek names: those ending in -eus (for example, Theseus). Such are pre-Homeric. Early representations show him singing, drawing animals to him by the power of his song; also as a festival singer, whose listeners--significantly--are men....Such a figure would have been associated with the initiation of young men--in the wilds of nature, excluding women. There something significant was disclosed to them in music and song that delivered them from their blood-spilling savagery and gave a deep sense to the ceremonies of transit from immaturity to adulthood. And the announcer of this mystery played the lyre, but was not a mere singer.
Later on...their modes of presentation...were divided into a lower, largely ritualistic category, and a higher, purely spiritual, philosophical one, where the initiators were, indeed, philosophers: first the Pythagoreans, but then others also: Empedocles and onward to our dear and well-known Platonic banqueteers.
In the teaching of Pythagoras the philosophic quest for the arche, the first cause and principle of all things, was carried to a consideration of the problem of the magic of the Orphic lyre itself, by which the hearts of men are quelled, purified, and restored to their part in God. His conclusion was that the arche is number, which is audible in music, and by a principle ofresonnance touches--and adjusts thereby--the tuning of the soul. This idea is fundamental to the arts of both India and the Far East and may go back to the age of the Pyramids. However, as far as we know, it was Pythagoras who first rendered it systematically, as a principle by which art, psychology, philosophy, ritual, mathematics, and even athletics were to be recognized as aspects of a single science of harmony.
[Campbell, Occidental Mythology, p. 184 f.]
Music fully came of age in Italy, some say, with the Baroque--in a sense realizing, about two hundred years later, what architecture, sculpture and painting had accomplished in the way of a rebirth of Classical sensibility in the belated spirit of a Renaissance. Yet the evidence for how ancient music actually might have sounded was almost totally unavailable--unlike that for art forms leaving material remains. Despite scattered literary references and musicological fragments, our knowledge of ancient music is today, in fact, not appreciably any better. But the early opera in the Age of the Baroque signaled, at last for Italy, a revival of what was imagined to be the antique spirit of music identified with Orpheus, whose lyre (from the god Apollo, who in turn bartered for it from its inventor, Hermes) charmed the wild beast roaming not only the field but also residing within all our hearts. For it was his magical, transforming music that was even proof over Death, since Orpheus had been able to descend into Hades and to return once again to the world of earth and sky--even though he was unsuccessful in bringing back his beloved Eurydice from the Realm of the Dead.
By about 1590 [Giulio] Caccini had become a prominent member of the circle of poets and musicians [in Florence]....Their aim was to discuss the lost music of Greek drama. It has sometimes been claimed that Caccini invented monody: this is incorrect, but it can certainly be allowed that he made a great contribution to the composition of music for the single voice....Le Nuove Musiche (1601)...contains...a number of separate airs and madrigals. The latter especially are used to express Caccini's innovation of giving musical point to the texts by emphasizing their emotional qualities. He does this chiefly by the use of elaborate, florid ornaments, known as "gorge." The preface to the book is extremely important, because it discusses this new technique in detail, and it remains a landmark in the history both of music and of singing. It may, indeed, be regarded as the foundation of the Italian method of voice training, bel-canto, universally adopted until the introduction of the declamatory style by Wagner [in the nineteenth century] and still characteristic of Italian opera.
[John Carter and Percy H. Muir, editors, Printing and the Mind of Man: The Impact of Print on Five Centuries of Western Civilization, London, Castle and Co., (1967), p. 65.]
Although the new approach to opera in particular, in the late 1590s and the early 1600s, had close affinities with the visual and plastic arts of the Baroque, it is no mere coincidence that the titles chosen for several of the most innovative, popular and influential early operas took as their subject matter the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Another of the musicians of the courts in Florence working with Caccini, was Jacopo Peri, who composed the now lost Daphne (1597), and Eurydice (1600), considered to be the first two operas. The great Claudio Monteverde's Orfeo was produced in Mantua (1607), introducing exquisite musical lines that anticipated the modern recitative and aria. In 1646, the Cardinal Mazarin invited Luigi Rossi to Paris to stage his opera Orfeo, the earliest Italian opera heard there. Over a century later, Christoph Willibald von Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was produced in Vienna (1762), and returned the qualities of dramatic fitness that characterized the first operas. Although Monte-verde's Orfeo was revived in the twentieth century, Gluck's is the first full-length opera maintaining a regular place in the repertory.
[See, Percy A. Scholes, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford Univeritys Press, London (1952), various entries, sub nomine.]
In Classical Greece of, say the fifth century BC, the newly powerful god Apollo had taken over science as his own mythic turf, based on increasingly sophisticated expressions of mathematics, objective measurement and inductive reasoning, medicine, and (through his patronage of the Muses) the arts. The arrows of Apollo also brought draught, famine, disease and death, but by playing his strong suit of science he was able to usurp the province of Ares, the god of War, and to sublimate the teachings of the archaic Orphic tradition, through the civilizing influence of the abstract intellect.
And then, as Aristotle states, the Pythagoreans supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things, and the whole heaven to be a musical scale and number. So that, finally, knowledge, not rapture, became the way to realization; and to the ancient ways of myth and ritual art there was joined harmoniously the dawning enterprise of Greek science, for the new life.
[Campbell, Occidental Mythology, p. 185.]
What this might have meant for Greek music can be learned from the lessons of the mythic contest between Apollo, the lyre-playing god who flayed alive Marsyas, whose flute playing was accompanied by drums and ecstatic dancing which made him the "ignorant" favorite of the people and of King Midas the ass-eared judge. The tuned strings of the lyre, the harmonics of which were demonstrably a function of numerical ratios, were--in this technical respect--no different from tuned pipes, such as the pitch-pipes that played an important role in the early music, magic and mathematics of China. The critical distinction was in the performance since, of course, the flute player could not, himself, sing while playing. Accordingly, the lyre became the insignia of the bardic poet accompanying his own song or story--insuring that instrumental music retained an appropriately subordinate function. The key was in the value placed on the human voice and, musically, on the melodic line: the oral tradition at its highest level of expression.
THE IDENTITY OF "DAEDALUS"
Today the spirit of Apollo has usurped Pluto, the god of wealth and Lord of Hades, but promotes the fear of and obsession with death. Hermes maintains a position of power in this troika as god of liars and thieves: lawyers, politicians, and sundry would-be Great Communicators. But identifying the creative, clever, inventive spirit who weaves in and out of the labyrinthine past is quite another challenge. The avatars of Daedalus, whether priests (as seems quite probable), or secular counselors, who today might be either schoolmasters or project engineers, were all craftsmen, inventors, artists, and teachers. An archaic "Daedalus" must have been master of the line: first as a maker and handler of material cordage, then more abstractly, as one who understands the principle of lines, from practical geometry to the less-tangible observational astronomy. Twined with such knowledge was the basal Neolithic wisdom involving deep knowledge of cycles and of fertility principles underlying stock breeding and seed agriculture.
This knowledge was keyed to calendrical reckoning, which led to further intellectual abstraction of fertility cycles (whether of plants or of animals) as ideas of genetic lineage. With the arrival of monumental stone architecture at Saqqara in the 3rd Dynasty of Old Kingdom Egypt (circa 3000 BC) the predecessor or prototype of Daedalus can be identified with a particular human being: the visionary architect Imhotep who directed the entire enormous and elegant temple complex building project for King Zoser, and much else besides.
A half-mythical yet historic figure hovers over the birth of stone architecture: Imhotep. Two millenniums after his death, he was raised to the stature of a god of healing. While he was alive, Zoser entrusted to him the highest office of the land. He was grand vizier, also "'chief judge,' overseer of the King's records,' 'bearer of the royal seal,' 'chief of all works of the King,' 'supervisor of that which Heaven brings, the Earth creates and the Nile brings,' 'supervisor of everythig in this entire land.'"...Though his existence had not been doubted, the first direct proof of it from his own period came to light in 1925-26 when the Zoser complex was slowly freed from sand and rubble. Near the step pyramid, Firth discovered remnants of a statue of King Zoser on the base of which beautifully executed hieroglyphs give a direct account of Imhotep's existence. "This begins with a series of titles, followed by the name of their holder, one Imhotep...The Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt, Chief under the King (or Upper Egypt?), Administrator of the Great Mansion, Hereditary Noble, Heliopolitan High Priest, Imhotep."
[Giedion, The Beginnings of Architecture, p. 269 f. Giedion quotes first, J. B. Hurry, Imhotep, Oxford (1928), p. 6 f.; then, B. Gunn, "Inscriptions from the Step Pyramid Site," Annales du Service des Antiquits de l'Egypte, Cairo, XXVI (1926), p. 192. Lamentably, in this study Professor Giedion did not pick up the Daedalian thread.]
Nor were these official titles and functions likely to have been mere puffery, since at this relatively early stage in Egypt's glorious history the traditions inherited from the great intellectual and technological revolutions of the High Neolithic were already old.
In hard and perilous ages, what information should a well-born man entrust to his eldest son? Lines of descent surely, but what else? The memory of an ancient nobility is the means of preserving the arcana imperii, the arcana legis and the arcana mundi, just as it was in ancient Rome. This is the wisdom of the ruling class. The Polynesian chants taught in the severely restricted Whare-wananga were mostly astronomy. That is what a liberal education meant then.
Sacred texts are another great source. In our age of print one is tempted to dismiss these as religious excursions into homiletics, but originally they represented a great concentration of attention on material which had been distilled for relevancy through a long period of time and which was considered worthy of being committed to memory generation after generation. The tradition of Celtic Druidism was delivered not only in songs, but also in tree-lore which was much like a code. And in the East, out of complicated games based on astronomy, there developed a kind of shorthand which became the alphabet [though only fully so when the notational conventions were adapted to record Greek.]
As we follow the clues--stars, numbers, colors, plants, forms, verse, music, structures--a huge framework of connections is revealed at many levels. One is inside an echoing manifold where everything responds and everything has a place and a time assigned to it. This is a true edifice, something like a mathematical matrix, a World-Image that fits the many levels, and all of it kept in order by strict measure. It is measure that provides the countercheck....When we speak of measures, it is always some form of Time that provides them, starting from two basic ones, the solar year and the octave, and going down from there in many periods and intervals, to actual weights and sizes....The connections were what counted. Ultimately so it was in the archaic universe, where all things were signs and signatures of each other, inscribed in the hologram, to be divined subtly. And Number dominated them all.
[De Santillana and von Dechend, Hamlet's Mill, pp. 7-9.]
Although no sacred scriptures have come down to us, nor any works of literature, there were two different forms of writing on ancient Crete. The earliest of these is called Linear A, and was hieroglyphic in nature but has not yet been satisfactorily deciphered. Both forms seem to have been used mainly by the palace bureaucracies. The later system of writing, called Linear B, was actually a form of the early Greek language. It records accounts and inventories of the royal power structure--as in the tradition of Imhotep, fulfilling his responsibilities--and represents something like an official version of many proverbial, prosaic laundry lists. The decipherment of Linear B is one of the most engrossing mystery stories of intellectual history. Michael Ventris enjoyed crucial early collaboration with the American scholar Alice Kober who established that Linear B was an inflected language, and he was joined in the later work by a classical philologist from Oxford, John Chadwick. One of the most instructive lessons to have been learned from the whole process of decipherment was methodological, involving a distribution function of information: the procedure of gradually publishing through successive stages of circulating the Ventris "Work Notes."
[See, Maurice Pope, "Kober, Ventris, and Linear B," The Story of Archaeological Decipherment: From Egyptian Hieroglyphs to Linear B, Scribners, New York (1975), pp. 159 passim.]
The script remained tantalizingly unreadable for more than fifty years after its discovery, until its mysteries were revealed, not by an archaeologist or philologist, but by Michael Ventris, an architect with an interest in the statistical technique of code-breaking....From [the texts] we learn, among many other things, that at the head of the social hierarchy was the king, and below him a war-lord who was presumably responsible for the military organization. A succession of feudal lords apparently owed allegiance to the king and received his protection in return. A free population of craftsmen and workers supplied the economic foundation of the system, and at the bottom of the scale came the slaves.
[Ward, et. al., The Quest for Theseus, p. 91.]
CAVES AND SLAVES
One of the labor-intensive, dangerous and severely debilitating jobs probably given to slaves in Bronze Age Europe was that of mining. Here we cannot be far from those elements of the Daedalus myth about the use of the clew for finding one's way into and back out of caves or mines. Modern spelunkers carry much of the same equipment as used by mountain climbers because their physical activities are so similar, despite the obvious differences between free and enclosed space; the principal practical item for both is rope, the clew of Daedalus.
What Everest is to mountains, Ghar Pharu is to caves--"the big one." No one knows if it is the biggest pothole in the world because no one has yet succeeded in getting to the bottom of this gigantic complex cave system. But in September of 1972 a sixteen-man British expedition, led by veteran caver David Judson, took up the challenge to plumb the depths of Ghar Pharu and, if possible, to break the world's record for a descent below the earth's surface....Heavily armed with advanced mountaineering and caving equipment--including lamps, ladders, ropes, carabiners, dry suits--they climbed downward for eight days--through hazardous pitches, subterranean rivers, cathedral-sized galleries and tortuous tunnels.
In the end, the assault team met defeat at a level of 3,000 feet in the form of a sump of water at the end of a narrow cave. Without diving equipment, there was no way to continue the descent or to ascertain whether further progress was possible.
[David Judson, Ghar Pharu, Macmillan, New York (1973), dust jacket. The existing world's record--at the time Judson's book was published--was Gouffre Pierre St Martin in the French Pyrenees, at 1,165 meters. Judson opines, "It seems possible that there may be cave systems of twice this depth waiting to be explored," and he does draw several important distinctions between mountaineering and caving.]
A flavor of archaic mining traditions may be preserved in the remarkable trans-tribal network of African blacksmiths, a hereditary subculture of great secrecy and sociological complexity, remnants of which have survived among people such as the Dogon, living in Mali. Because of the extraordinary dangers attending mining activities, only select individuals who had observed rigorous taboos (usually including sexual abstinence and dietary prohibitions) and who had performed extensive purifications were permitted to participate. Apparently, the idea of entering the earth was, in some mysterious but understandable way, analogous to re-entering the body of the Mother. In Europe, since the Bronze Age, when this mystery was profaned by the greed and passion for accumulating precious metals, this work was given to slaves.
It is clear that, at least in Attica and the Cycladic island of Syphnos, there was commercial mining. Lead from mines in both places has been found in sites of the Early Helladic II period in Crete and Boiotia [i.e. in the Early Bronze Age, by around 2200 BC]. The discovery of two lead ingots from the wreck of the EHII period, at Dokos off the Argolid, points clearly to the lead and silver mines of Laurion near the tip of Attica eighty kilometers away....[I]n the first half of the 3rd millennium lead was probably already a commercial product in the Aegean. The recent metallurgical research also indicates that the conventional belief that the Laurion mines began to be worked only in the 5th century BCE is wrong by at least two thousand years.
[T]here is a fascinating likelihood--shown by lead isotope analysis--that two 11th-Dynasty [Egyptian] statues from the 21st century BC were made with silver from the mines of Laurion in Attica.
As Eric Cline argues...[the yellow glaze on one of the fragments from Mycenae known as Taylour's plaque and subjected to lead isotope analysis] was manufactured in Egypt using lead imported from Greece.
[Bernal, Black Athena, II, pp. 145, 157, 480. See, N. H. Gale and Z. A. Stos-Gale, "Lead and Silver in the Ancient Aegean," Scientific American, No. 244 (1981), pp. 176-192; Eric Cline, "An unpublished Egyptian faience plaque from Mycenae: a key to a new reconstruction," Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 110, pp. 200 ff.]
APPLICATIONS OF LINE
Let us assume that Daedalus was master of cordage, that he knew how to make it and how to use it, that is, the principle of line. And Daedalus was also the master of the Labyrinth, understanding the certainly Paleolithic hunting techniques of traps and blinds. This was the person able to build a labyrinth into which bulls could be lured, perhaps long before the appearance of cut-stone masonry. At first, such devices were no doubt wattled or woven from brush branches and tied with some sort of plaited twine, only to have been secured in place by stones or boulders. The technique of using a maze-like structure into which ground birds or game could be driven would work as well for a fish weir. Today it is sport fishermen who cast flies or accept the limitations of hook and line. If there is a family to be fed with the spoils of the field or stream, then one is well advised--as a practical matter--to consider employing a net, the very efficacy of nets explaining their prohibition by laws that regulate sport. It is, in fact, the indiscriminate and murderous efficiency of drift nets --some of them tens of miles long and frequently cut loose with criminal irresponsibility, only made possible by using the petroleum-based artificial cordage of nylon--that presently, catastrophically threatens the naturally self-renewing cycles of the world's oceans.
The utility of line--actually fairly heavy rope--for handling livestock is magificently illustrated by two gold cups, dating from the middle of the fifteenth century BC, found in a Lakonian Greek grave at Vapheio, but accepted as being of Minoan workmanship. On one of the cups the scene is depicted with violent energy: in beautifully worked gold relief a bellowing, contorted bull with his legs sprawling has been trapped in a rope-net, secured to two small olive trees. In a landscape with palm trees and scattered rocks, another huge bull is shown in the "flying gallop," an artistic convention seen elsewhere on Minoan murals. On the other side of the cup a third fierce bull tramples one young man and, with his head lowered, prepares to gore another. In contrast, the scene on the other cup is idyllic and serene. The principal motif shows a cow who raises her tail and turns her head toward a bull partially covering her and apparently intent upon mating. On the other side of the cup another massive bull approaches the pair, sniffing at the ground. A youth dressed in the typical Minoan loincloth holds the end of a rope tied to one of this bull's hind legs.
The bulls dominate both compositions to such an extent that at first one does not notice the human figures. This is particularly true in the dramatic scene, where two youths are in greatest danger...both boys are tumbling head-first to the ground--one is about to be gored by the bull's horns. How could anyone imagine that the famous Cretan bull sport is represented here? This is no sport; it is in deadly earnest....On the cup with the dramatic composition violence rules, but on the idyllic one the motif is cunning: a cow is set up as the lure and attracts the bull's attention, so that men [actually, one man alone!] can catch them without too much effort. On one side a single young man has tamed the bull by cunning, whereas on the other side two men are in danger of succumbing to the bull.
[Hampe and Simon, The Birth of Greek Art, p. 97 f.]
Another order of refinement in the use of the line was essential for the development of cut and dressed stone on an architectural scale. The Daedalus figure on Crete, we may presume, laid out the Labyrinth from the tower; that is to say, probably with some command of perspective, at least in the sense of being able to project accurately the two-dimensional plane of a structure from a real or imaginary point of view along a Z-axis. We recognize the foundations of geometry in the Elements of Euclid from the 3rd century BC. These formalizations, however, came at the end of what must have been an enormously long period during which there evolved progressively more precise--and concise--understanding of the abstract principles of geometrical relationships. The well known method employed for Euclidian constructions requires limiting oneself to the use of compass and straightedge. There is, of course, another practical way in which to mark a straight line: with a cord, such as a mason's line, that might be rubbed with chalk and stretched taut, then snapped in place, leaving its mark. When working at an appropriate scale, a cord with one end staked through a loop also makes a very serviceable compass for marking curved lines.
We know that one of the most important dicta of the medieval masons was Ars sine scientia nihil est, which -- properly translated -- meant "Practice without theory is nothing." Accordingly, we may assume the historical roots of archaic geometry, and also of trigonometry, were the software components of this Daedalean tradition. An accurate line of sight was not only essential for the construction of such edifices as King Zoser's temple complex at Saqqara, the Great Pyramids at Giza, the Labyrinth at Knossos, or the Parthenon on the Athenian Akropolis, but it was also a key to the precise orientation of these structures with respect to both natural landmarks and astro-nomical observations. In turn, these depended upon establishing clear, objective conventions by which to reckon standard units of space and time, which we now know were truly geodetic, or Earth-commensurate.
ABSTRACT LINES AND META-NETS
The meta-net of Daedalus therefore corresponds to the mapping of the night sky, which was the grand frame of reference within which even the sun ran its daily and yearly course. The "reading" (which significantly comes first in readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic) must refer to the Heavens being read, with precision, in the dimension of time, i.e. lunar cycles (and in some places, tides), the solar day and year, the sidereal year (by which the flooding of the Nile was accurately predicted), eclipses, relative planetary positions, and the ultimate cycle of some 25,920 or so years related to the precession of the equinox. This was all understood as cosmic theater, and was not only readable but was, for the most part, perfectly obvious.
That body of intergrated knowledge, paced by celestial cycles and organized by number, enabled the priesthoods of the Neolithic to know in some certain measure what was coming next. Among the most dramatic events related to observational astronomy were eclipses: the more frequent lunar and the rare but spectacular total solar eclipse, as fancifully portrayed, for example, in a medieval setting by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. By that time in history, however, empirical awareness of celestial phenomena in a context related to daily life, for most people in Europe, had become so repressed by authority and pervaded by ignorance or debased by the recrudescence of primitive superstitions that the remarkable event of a supernova's appearance in 1054 passed virtually unnoticed (except in China). This spot in the heavens is still marked by the Crab Nebula, which represents the slowly dispersing remnants of the supernova that exploded among the stars of the constellation Taurus exactly between the horns, where the astral bull's forelock is envisioned by star charts, just a little to one side but otherwise precisely in the position corresponding to the 16-petalled flower blossom of pure gold an ancient artist/metalsmith placed on the silver and gold Mycenaean bull's-head rhyton from the 16th century BCE found in Shaft Grave IV by Heinrich Schliemann and now in the National Museum at Athens.
Although some traditions of bull cults remained in Egypt after their influence peaked in the 12th Dynasty, the leading cosmological and religious emblem as manifested by the royal cult toward the close of the 18th century BCE had become the asterism of Aries as the ram god Amon. The highly-organized and powerful priesthoods of Middle Kingdom, integrated with state power in this dynamic period, successfully transferred the bull cult to Crete. This line of spiritual teaching and ritual practice not only survived but prevailed through a series of devastating earthquakes and incursions from the north, down to what appears to have been a cataclysmic destruction of the buildings, the social structure and Minoan cultural life in the 12th century BCE.
By retaining the centrality of the bull cult for many centuries throughout the Palatial Period, the Cretans preserved the reli-gion of Early Middle Kingdom Egypt. A parallel for such a pattern can be seen in East Asia. Korea and Japan borrowed massively from China in the Sui and Tang dynasties. They preserved many aspects of this culture while Chinese civilization moved on. Within a few hundred years, these Chinese archaisms, modified by the local culture, came to be considered peculiarly Korean or Japanese. For example, even today the Korean "national dress" for women preserves Chinese fashions of the 7th and 8th centuries AD. A more immediately relevant religious parallel can be seen in the virtual disappearance of Buddhism in its original home in India and its survival in Sri Lanka, Tibet and Southeast Asia, in all of which it has become thoroughly distinctive and local.
[Bernal, Black Athena, II, p. 184. Bernal here expands on an observation about the importance of Cretan conservatism by the Aegean archaeologist Sinclair Hood.]
This aspect of conservatism obscures the important fact that while Egypt kept up with the times, on Crete the official religion-- whatever wealth of local tradition it may have embodied--was no longer keyed to the "real time" of the cosmos. The main form representing the divine spirit became fixed, and was no longer directly based upon what was the case: the objective matter of fact confirmable by astronomical observation and demonstrated to all as something perfectly obvious. Buddhism, however, offered a fundamentally different approach to time:the temporal world (samsara) was taken much less seriously as a matter of general philosophical disposition. The Buddhist experience of other worlds (nirvana), whether real or imaginary, largely relieved of the theological issues confounding other faiths, tended to be focussed psychologically on the processes of meditation rather than on coordinates of Altitude or Right Ascension.
The original message of the Neolithic bull cults, as of the ram cults by which they were largely superseded in Egypt and the Middle East, was that the sacrificed animal was a valid substitution--or surrogate--for the sacrifice of a human being. In order to appreciate what seems to have happened on Crete in one intense circumstance, we might review the main features of the idea of sacrifice.
Some form of ritualized cannibalism was being practiced by our ancestors around 500,000 BC in caves such as those of Choukoutien, at the same time as the early representatives of mankind were learning to control fire. Presumably as cranial capacities increased, together with our abilities to communicate explicitly in spoken language, people arrived at conventional agreements to reduce anxiety and promote the common state of well-being by constraining murder. Social groups--such as foraging bands, or interrelated clans--may have modeled their organization on net-like, meshed, plaited, or woven receptacles which (though unprovable) certainly would have been handy inventions. The practical success of cooperative hunting--based on a contemporary technology of knapped or flaked points for spears (and later, arrows)--could very well have provided sufficient bounty to further obviate any compelling, practical need for cannibalism. Throughout the entire Paleolithic Period the bountiful Earth was able to support a comparatively miniscule population of human beings, thought to have risen only to about three million people by 25,000 BCE.
There is now abundant, compelling ecological and anthropological evidence for identifying the Late (High) Paleolithic as having been the Golden Age famed in myth and poetry, song and lore. As the poet Gary Snyder once remarked in a talk on "Poetry and the Primitive," this was one of the three times in history when all of humanity was One. This assertion is confirmed by abundant proof that all over the world wherever people lived, with relatively minor local and temporal variations, they were living essentially the same way, with the same kind of tools and generally with the same material culture. In a sense, the religion must have been pretty much the same too, because the sacrifice was the killing of the animal hunted. No peoples today who have managed to perpetuate a substantially Paleolithic lifestyle, surviving, somehow, in the invariably extreme marginal locations (such as in the central Australian desert, or on the Arctic tundra) harbor any doubts about this: the animal killed in the hunt is the sacrifice.
This way of life was changed dramatically by the revolution of the Neolithic. The two principal innovations of grain agriculture and animal husbandry immediately began to produce an abundance of food and correspondingly, there began the progressively steep, rising slope of the human population curve. Many other innovations followed on the formation of settled communities. Where private property once meant no more than one could carry on her or his own person (maybe a weapon or digging stick, and a bag or a headband), it became eventually a matter of surplusses, which in turn necessitated systems of accounting when some people amassed more than they could use, and far more than they could ever carry. Such, anyway, was the use served by all of the first written numbers and letters. Thereafter, documented in the early records of writing were efforts to raise armies, which may be considered simply a new form of human sacrifice as practiced by the emerging entities known as cities, states and nations. Love songs and lyric poetry only came to be written down a long, long while later.
Even a group of chimpanzees will share a meal of meat with communal spirit, but not a banana. The pattern of sacrifice for the animal remained basically the same, but that for grain evolved in a curious way. The understanding of sacrifice also changed in that it came to be based on the mystery of the seed which, when planted, was everywhere said to "die," and then, upon sprouting, the life spirit of the plant was thought to have been "born again." Searching for empathy and compassion in our hearts, it is not impossible to imagine how and why such beliefs perpetuated ideas and practices of human sacrifice. This task is simplified by recognizing that human sacrifice was there first, in the caves with Sinanthropus pekinensis, together with fire and skulls carefully opened with the highly specialized bone tool permitting ingestion of what appears to have been a favorite feast.
The taboos and prohibitions against murder and cannibalism are among the deepest notions upon which are founded our sense of self in relation to the society of all fellow human beings. But the characteristic feature of all such profound and pervasive taboos is that the prohibition never applies to everybody all of the time. There is always some specially defined class of people (whether priests or police) for whom the concept of "murder," as it would apply to any other ordinary member of society, is redefined as "killing," and hence rationalized and legally condoned. This is the principle that applies to circumstances of the cannibalistic feast documented among the Marind-amin of Irian Jaya as a now-rare survival of equatorial plant-oriented ritual sacrifice, that was once a widespread religious rule.
The abundance of the plant kingdom as manifested by harvests of the particular staple food stuff--whether tuber or grain: manioc and yam, or barley, wheat and maize--everywhere resulted in a ballooning human population. We can only speculate about when the consequences of over-population may first have come a distinctly perceived threat, although as the anthropologist Michael Harner has suggested, it may have provided a compelling social imperative for Aztecs who, with a diet seriously deficient in protein, just prior to the arrival of Cortez, had performed rituals resulting in a mountainous pile of hundreds of thousands of human skulls. Elsewhere, no doubt in order to retain the vividness and efficacy of the lesson, the ritual may have involved, say, a single individual candidate, selected by an assidulously sanctioned process, duly anointed and blessed and--for all we know--fulfilling their own lifelong high calling to public service combined with personal and collective spiritual realization, praised and honored by their community in full congregation.
One of the major selling points of those religious systems that historically arose to challenge the practices of human sacrifice was the argument that it did not have to be a REAL human being. This may go some way toward explaining the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in Genesis. The earliest of the several texts that comprise this first book of the Old Testament date from the ninth century BCE, in what scholars have identified as the "Yahwist Creation Cycle." This early Judean myth repeats in its essential elements the pattern common to that widely-dispersed planting culture of the tropics, except that the story has been turned on its head. The sacrificial killing which in the agricultural myth guarantees the health and welfare of all through the abundance derived from cultivation of plants, in the Judaic reinterpretation, causes Yahweh to put his mark on Cain as a curse, expelling him to wander, and to
dwell in the land of Nod [= "Wandering"], east of Eden....The ground no longer bears to Cain its strength and he is to wander on the face of the earth--which is, of course, just the opposite result to that which the ritual murder [sic! or "killing"] of the agricultural myth produced. The myth has been applied, also, to an exaltation of the Hebrews over the older peoples of the land. Cain was an agriculturalist, Abel a keeper of sheep: the people of Canaan were agriculturalists, the Hebrews keepers of sheep. The Hebrew deity therefore prefers the latter, though the other was the elder. In fact, all through Genesis there is consistently preference for younger against elder sons....The lesson is not far to seek. And as though to give it point, there has recently been found an old Sumerian cuneiform text of c. 2050 BC, bearing the tale of an argument between a farmer and a shepherd for the favor of the goddess Inanna--who prefers, of course, the farmer and takes him to be her spouse.
[Campbell, Occidental Mythology, pp. 104 ff. Campbell's note direct us: "For a thoroughgoing analysis of the elements, dates, and critical theories, cf. W. O. E. Oesterley and Theodore H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament, Meridian, New York (1958).]
Similarly the grain-sacrifice of Abram which, in Neolithic fashion, would have mandated the offering of the "first fruits" was rejected in favor of the animal sacrifice surrogate. But then, Abram's FIRST-born son was Ishmael, although his MOTHER was an Egyptian and a slave, whereas Sarai--later to be renamed Sarah as the source of aspiritual matriliny, though not of matriarchy--was the proud and jealous, ethnocentric mother of Isaac, actually the SECOND-born son of Abram, who then became Abraham. We do not know what would have transpired had Ishmael been available, for he, too, was wandering: winding up as the voice for Melville's tale of the Pequod's descent into the maelstrom: floating, as the sole survivor, on the ark of Queequeg's coffin. This frame of reference may help us appreciate the situation on ancient Crete when the efficacy of the surrogate animal sacrifice--there a bull, rather than a ram or a lamb--was seriously at issue as the momentous temblors and threatening chthonic rumblings arrived, perhaps the very ones that came from the Aegean island of Thera (some seventy miles to the north), anouncing one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in human record.
Pressed by the looming catastrophe and perhaps also by the anxietiess of the Cretan court and an unsettled populace, the college of priests may have felt an imperative urge to return to the "old way" of performing the sacrifice in a desperate ploy to requite the perceived enmity of the gods. The victim of choice was apparently a priests from the very tradition whose magic was on the brink of imminent, self-evident failure, and who may very well have been (under those circumstances) reconciled to his fate. The remains of such a person, adorned with a rock crystal amulet and other identifying regalia, were excavated on a temple site at Arkhanes (a few miles to the south of Knossos, the modern Iraklion) trussed up in precisely the same way as the sacrificial bulls painted on a Late Minoan limestone sarcophagus of from Hagia Triada, not much further away.