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Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Minoan Treasure

Bull Jumping

   Quite possibly the eldest of all posts to be seen on this blog, this fresco is quite an amazing look into the history of the island city-states around Greece.  A fresco is simply painted plaster, but lasts for an incredibly long time in terrific state.  This breathtaking look into the past was discovered in the ancient city of Knossos, Crete.  It is fascinating that such a fresco, pertaining to an activity with bulls, would be found in Knossos, due to the mythological past of this city.  Crete was once the kingdom of the mythical King Minos, and he reigned in Knossos as his own capital city.  If one remembers, Minos was the son of Zeus and the king of Crete who had restrained the Minotaur.  Born from his wife as half bull and half man the destructive brut was trapped in a labyrinth under his palace, constructed by the genius of the famous architect inventor of mythology, Daedalus   While this doesn't particularly pertain to the piece itself, in order to understand a work, one must understand the culture.  Most cities have a specific animal or god to whom they devote their lives and society.  As Athenians focused on Athena and her wisdom, these people demonstrated a complete and absolute obsession with bulls, depicting them in their architecture, art, culture, and games.
   The fresco itself, probably completed around 1500 BCE, describes a popular sport of the time.  "Bull leaping" involves directly approaching a violent bull.  This appears similar to the spanish practice of bullfighting, however, there are two major differences.  First, this activity involves no harm to the bull, since they are a worshiped animal; no weapons are used and it would be useless to attempt to hurt the bull during the sport.  Second, the challenge, while only possible for the most physically able, is not a feat of pure strength.  An athlete of this sport would have to stand firm as a charging bull would charge directly at the competitor.  The person would then literally grab the bull by the horns, be jolted onto its back, and, if successful, land successfully on its back safely.  Unlike many Roman games, this was not meant to be a blood sport.  Any person who could successfully do this action once would be considered a hero for life.  While this form of bull leaping could have been successful has been debated, but all agree that an activity similar to this was at the center of this culture.  Each people have their own specific and fascinating practice, and this fresco allows for us to look into the practices of an otherwise mythical and mysterious people.

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