Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of February 14th - February 20th,  2003

Back of the Bull

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   There's a recurring theme in Greek mythology which returns like a musical refrain to be repeated again and again. Can it be that the culture which gave to us so many gifts: democracy, art, literature, medicine and myth to name a few, were limited by their imaginations in coming up with a variety of themes, or were they telling a story which carried a deeper meaning than we have heretofore realized?

Apis Bull

Apis Bull

   In previous episodes of the WEB, we have explored how the early Egyptians, about the time of the reign of King Namor in 3200 BC, looked back to their own origins by placing the Solar Disk between the horns of the Bull, initially stylized as the Apis Bull. This familiar Egyptian motif remembered a time when the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring, was marked by the Sun on that day falling between the horns of the constellational Bull of Heaven, Taurus. From 4200 BC until about 3100 BC, this was an accurate astronomical marker. As time moved on, the precession of the equinoxes 'slid' the first day of Spring from the horns to between the head and shoulder of the Bull, just where the epic of Gilgamesh tells us that the 'cut' must be made. Between 2900-2700 BC, the Vernal Equinox fell between the Hyades and the Pleiades, marking the head and shoulder of the Bull.

Rape of Europa

Rape of Europa

   But after 2000 BC, the VE begins to slip into an area of heaven that is void of bright stars. Once it moved beyond the Pleiades, there weren't any clear correspondences that could be pointed to as precisely marking the first day of the agricultural year, and so the myths generated in the following centuries began to refer to the 'back' of the bull or cow. The stars in the head of the Ram, the next brighter markers close to the ecliptic, aren't approached by the Vernal Equinox until around 600 BC; so the period of time from 1900 to 600 BC was variously considered to be either the back of the Bull or Ram. In the earlier centuries, having just emerged from out of the bright stars of Taurus, this constellation held the 'upper hand' and predominated in continuing to mark this important point in time.

Bull Leaping

Minoan Bull Leaping Ceremony

   When Europa is tempted by Zeus (the sky god) in the form of a beautiful Bull, he gets down so that the princess may mount his back, wherein she is abducted to Crete. Minoan youths were taught to grab the horns of a charging bull, do a flip over onto it's back, ride along for a while, and then dismount off the rear. The first two palace periods of Minoan Culture ran from 1900 to 1380 BC, perfectly fitting our corridor of time. When Cadmus is told to go in search of his sister Europa, the Oracle at Delphi tells him that he should follow the wanderings of a cow until it should lie down, at which time he is to found a city. When Zeus follows Io to Memphis, she sinks down exhausted, succumbs to Zeus's will, and becomes the ancestress of the three great Greek dynasties, Argos, Thebes, and Crete. Helle and Athamas ride on the back of a Ram on their way Colchis. Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece must harness fire breathing bulls, and from behind them ploughs the furrow across the 'field of Ares'. These themes are singularly unimaginative for their repetitiveness, lacking in artistic creativity, unless you understand that they were all marking their own place in time as they watched a slowly changing sky picture across the canopy of heaven.

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