Before the holidays, we were examining pottery fragments dated from four to six thousand BC, during what we would call the Age of Gemini. The two dominant artistic motifs from this period were the serpent and bird goddess; appropriate symbolic images which may have marked the then current circumpolar constellation and vernal equinox, in terra cotta shorthand. We can date these fragments archaeologically, and while they may represent a symbolic notation, there are no writings to which we could turn to better understand what these people actually thought.
In the centuries following Gemini's passing, this tradition of air images continued, but slowly begins to lose its preeminence. Birds are widespread in the Egyptian pantheon, and are so strongly identified with divinity that they are seen as the gods, with falcon, ibis, and vulture some of the most popular examples. The divine will was still interpreted through bird flight for many centuries. Several millennina later, during Greek times, the gods and goddesses have birds identified with them, but are not generally depicted as feathered foul, per se. At Rome during the period of the late Republic, priests specialize in the reading the flight and studying the actions of birds. Homer is familiar with this tradition, and uses it several times in both his works, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
From Homer's Odyssey*, Book II:
"Now Zeus who views the wide world
sent a sign to him,
* Robert Fitzgerald translation
Naturally, the entire Odyssey becomes the fulfillment of this prophecy, and we can only speculate, but Homer may be drawing upon a tradition already centuries old at this writing.
On a Wing and a Prayer
During the Age of Gemini, an Air Sign, the 'word' of God was believed to have been revealed through, but not limited to, the flight of birds. Hence, the number of bird and egg images found on archaeological artifacts dating to this period, c. 4,000 to 7,000 BC.
As the Egyptians took over from the older culture, birds became identified with various gods. Horus was depicted as the Falcon, pictured above. Thoth, the Scribe, was an Ibis. The Vulture headdress, pictured above right, is worn by Nefertari, daughter of Ramses II.
The Greeks, too, related the power of birds to the gods. The bird of Zeus (Jupiter), was the eagle. The raven belonged to Apollo (Sun). Aphrodite (Venus), claimed the dove as her own, while the owl was Athena's. As times changed, these associations slowly faded from the social consciousness, surviving only as myths, legends, and tall tales.
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