The Minoan Snake Goddess

738px-Snake_Goddess_-_Heraklion_Achaeological_Museum_retouched

Origins

The figurines that came to be known as the Minoan Snake Goddess were first discovered in 1903 by Arthur Evans, a British archeologist, in Knossos; an ancient city in Crete. The figurines are dated around the Neo-Palatial time period, around 1700-1450 BCE. The figurines are of a woman, dressed in typical Minoan-style clothing for that time as well as wearing a crown. The figurines also depict the woman holding a snake in both hands with the face of the snakes facing hers. The figurines were found in house sanctuaries and in the temple repositories, allowing Evans and other archeologists to agree that the figurines were of a woman or goddess that the Mycenaean people worshiped daily.

Representation and Connection

Evans connected the figurines with other clay sculptures found on Crete dating to the Neolithic period, 5700 B.C. to 2800 B.C.. The clay sculptures and the Snake Goddess figurines are similar as both are depicted of women believed to represent fertility and earth as the symbol of a snake is seen throughout Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology as a connection to fertility, wisdom and the earth. This lead Evans and other archaeologists to conclude that the Snake Goddess figurines are figurines of a Mycenaean Goddess, representing the earth, birth and wisdom.

The figurines can be connected to multiple different cultures that were around before and after the rise and fall of the Mycenaean people. In Egyptian mythology, the symbol of the snake is seen in the Goddess Wadjet. Wadjet is depicted in Egyptian artwork as either a woman with a snake-like body, a body of a woman with a snake-like head or at times just a cobra wearing a crown. Wadjet is the Egyptian Goddess of childbirth, protection of women in childbirth and the entire land of Egypt. The Egyptian culture also impacted the architectural designs of Knossos as archaeologists have found unique architectural patterns belonging to Egyptian buildings and artwork in Knossos and other smaller cities on Crete. This shows that the Mycenaean’s learned and evolved some aspects of the culture in Egypt.Figurine_of_the_Goddess_Wadjet_LACMA_50.37.14

Wadjet, Seen with a cobra on top of her head.

In Greek mythology, the symbol of the snake was seen throughout it. Hermes, Athena, Demeter, and Asklepios are depicted or connected to the symbol.

Asklepios is a male God that has a connection to snakes. Asklepios is a hero and a god of medicine, and is depicted as always having a snake-entwined staff. This is further explained and understood as the snake is his scared animal and is as a sign of wisdom as the snake. In Greek myth,  a snake healed a dying snake as it had the knowledge of healing and rebirth through the use of herbs.

21_Äskulap_bzw._Asklepios_-_Neues_Palais_Sanssouci_Steffen_Heilfort.JPG

Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and War, is depicted with a snake coiled around her shield in her statue; Athena Parthenos. This was seen as a sign of wisdom and a connection the chthonic power of the Goddess of Earth and to Athena herself.

447 Athena Parthenos

The Goddess Demeter is depicted and linked to snakes through her devotions as the goddess of rebirth, childbirth, and the earth, much like the Snake Goddess figurines.

These aspects show how hugely the Mycenaean culture and artwork impacted future cultures of the Greek and Roman people that came after the fall of the Mycenaean people.

Affecting the Archaeological Field

The Snake Goddess figurines have impacted the archeological field of women in antiquity. The figurines changed the views of the civilizations during the figurines dominate times as most civilizations were viewed as male dominated cities and ruled by only men, yet the Minoan civilization worshiped a strong, unique female deity that represented women during that time and shaped how women were viewed in their culture. This proved to be a powerful change in women in antiquity as it showed that women had a powerful rule in the religious aspect of the civilization and that the Minoans lived in a matrilineal society. The figurines impacted future mythology and goddesses that were worshiped by the Greeks and Romans as the symbol of a woman holding or being closely linked to snakes are found in both mythologies.

 

 

Bibliography

Cartwright, M. (2012, August 27). Demeter. Retrieved February 25, 2017, http://www.ancient.eu/demeter/

Encyclopædia Britannica (2010, August 12). Genius. Retrieved March 03, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/genius-Roman-religion

Gesell, G. C. (1976). The Minoan Snake Tube: A Survey and Catalogue. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America, pg. 247-259. doi:10.2307/503037

Gesell, G. C. (2004). From Knossos to Kavousi: The Popularizing of the Minoan Palace Goddess. Princeton, NJ: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, pg. 131-150.

            Gesell, G. C. (2010). The snake goddesses of the LM IIIB and LM IIIC periods. London, UK: British School at Athens, pg. 131-139.

            Lapatin, K. D. (2003). Mysteries of the snake goddess: art, desire, and the forging of history. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Trckova-Flamee, A. (200, February 19). Minoan Snake Goddess. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/minoan_snake_goddess.html

Witcombe, C. L. (200). Women in the Aegean: Minoan Snake Goddess: 4. Evans’s “Snake Goddess”. Retrieved February 25, 2017, http://arthistoryresources.net/snakegoddess/evansgoddess.html

Advertisements

One thought on “The Minoan Snake Goddess

  1. This is a very interesting text to me as before I had not truly known the symbolic significance of snakes in the ancient world until reading this. There are certain art works (particularly “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time” by Bronzino, for one example) which includes a half-snake, half-woman figure. Your interpretation of the symbolism of the snake has the potential to elaborate it’s symbolism in other contexts as well. To add, I think this text also does a great job at demonstrating the evolution of the snake-goddess figurine and it’s use throughout various forms of religious/mythological iconography.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s