The Origin of the Meander

Here above all the connection and the relationship of meander and labyrinth interests. The labyrinth can be proved securely only since 1220 BC (the clay tablet from Pylos). Nevertheless, the meander is much older, as it appears already in the Paleolithic. With the proof of the connection of meander and labyrinth the origin of the labyrinth would be much older to date than it was up to now possible. Nevertheless, a historical proof might be difficult, because only with today’s examination into the structure of both objects a resemblance can be ascertained.

According to the Lithuanian-American archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) the origin of the meander lies in the Upper Paleolithic (from 40,000 BC on). The meandering serpent and the meander border appear for the first time in the art of the Upper Paleolithic.

She is writing about that:

From the beginning the meander was not only an ornament; it was a symbol, a metaphor for water.

Upper Paleolithic armlet of ivory with rafters and meanders

Upper Paleolithic armlet of ivory with rafters and meanders, Mezin (18,000 – 15,000 BC) / Source: Marija Gimbutas, Die Sprache der Göttin (German edition), 1995, pict. 38

Jodi Lorimer means in her book: “Dancing at the Edge of Death – The Origins of the Labyrinth in the Paleolithic” that the labyrinth has its origin in the cave paintings of this epoch. In the representations of creatures with human body and animal heads she sees the first hints to the Minotaur in Greek mythology.

However, only in Ancient Greece (from 800 BC on) indications are found for the relationship of meander and labyrinth.

Karl Kerényi, Hungarian scholar in classical philology (1897 – 1973) pointed out, that “the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form”.

According to Hermann Kern (Labyrinthe, German edition 1982, p. 14) the meander could be a token for the labyrinth from the 5th century BC on.

Others speak of a sign or an ideogram for the labyrinth (Source: Eva Wilson, British Museum Pattern Books: Roman Designs, published in 1999, page 12).

The labyrinth is of pregreek origin, however, not so old as the meander. The geometrical labyrinth figure was presumably developed from the well-known basic pattern.
The connections between meander and labyrinth have been probably seen for the first time in ancient Greece.  They are related with each other by the common movement form.
The construction of the labyrinth from the meander happens by the takeover of the movement pattern. Both figures have a skilfully winding line with starting and end point.

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2 thoughts on “The Origin of the Meander

  1. Pingback: The Babylonian Visceral Labyrinth, Part 2 | blogmymaze

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