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Blue Monkeys

As she turned to go, Dusani appeared to remember something. “Oh, Lady Shammat wants us to be her guests for the Festival of the Vines.” Rusa’s immediate reaction was to refuse. “Now, I know what you’re going to say, Rusa, but she sent an amphora of her best vintage to apologize for the other night’s damage.”

“That wretched beast,” he muttered. Shammat’s obnoxious blue-dyed monkey had screeched, broken, and hurled objects, terrifying the children and reinforcing Rusa’s natural loathing for the creatures. Shammat had professed herself astonished by her “baby’s” bad behavior. “What has him so riled?” She had clutched her ample bosom while making the comment, as if she thought Rusa might forgive the damages on account of her perfumed cleavage. “He never behaves this way.”

Rusa had had half a mind to seize the monkey by his scruff, take him outside, and strangle him. At least his daughters had stopped pestering him to give them their very own monkey.

“Shammat’s messenger assured me she sold Baby Blue just this morning.” Dusani stroked Rusa’s cheek. “I told her to expect us, dear. Now go wash. Our guests are waiting for you.”

--Excerpt from Knossos.

A common but less frequently commented-upon feature of the Minoan frescoes are the blue monkeys. They cavort about the walls of Akrotiri and the rooms of Knossos when frescoes were first introduced after the earthquake of 1700 B.C. No doubt monkeys were kept as pets by the Minoan elite, but in Minoan iconography they also serve the purpose of gathering flowers and other vegetation to present to the seated deity, as in the fragmentary panel from the Saffron Gatherer Fresco from Akrotiri.

Fragmentary monkey with offering to the goddess from Xeste House, Akrotiri.


More monkeys from Akrotiri.


A blue monkey from Knossos.

More on Kourotrophoi

Back in June, I mentioned kourotrophoi. These ceramic mother-child figures have turned up at Mycenaean sites all over the Aegean, particularly in children’s graves. Kourotrophoi were not exclusive to the Bronze Age; the practice continued into later times.

The kourotrophos might have represented a divine Mother Goddess and Child, like the Christian Madonna and Child, or it could simply have been a form of sympathetic magic. Mycenaean and Minoan Goddess and Divine Child representations have been found elsewhere, and my next post will be devoted to a very special such artifact.

I mention kourotrophoi in my books. Here is a passage from Helen’s Daughter in which Hermione reflects on childbearing and the talismans that accompany it.

As high priestess in Sparta, I had seen women die in childbirth. Sometimes, they asked for me, to give them my blessings, and perhaps avert disaster by it, but though I held their hands, wiped the sweat from their brows, and said the prayers, they died, anyway.

Opening my eyes, I gazed at the kourotrophos standing on the table nearest the bed. She was very old, crafted in an outmoded Cretan style. Her scarlet and black paint was fading, but she had faithfully watched over the confinements of my foremothers for eleven generations, and had not lost a single woman in childbirth.

Purchase Helen's Daughter on Amazon Kindle or at Smashwords.

Excerpt: Helen's Daughter

Seeing her legendary beauty for the first time with an adult’s eyes, I was not impressed. Helen was dainty and dark-haired like a woman in a fresco, but she was also cool and impenetrable. Why in the world had so many men wasted their lives fighting in her name, or had they even known what they were dying for? I would not have died for her.

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Buy Helen's Daughter at Amazon and Smashwords.



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