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Pavel A. Voronin

Location: Moscow, Russia
Joined: 17 Mar 2011

Posts: 1

PostPosted: Thu 17 Mar, 2011 2:39 pm    Post subject: Mycenaean daggers: help needed         Reply with quote

There are several well-known Mycenaean daggers with lions or other felines on them.
They mostly depict some form of hunt and are truly magnificent:

I'm researching this particular one of them:

What I'm interested in are these wavy stripy things around the big cats. The author of [1], [2] claims that it is one of the two earliest recognizable depictions of cumulus clouds in Western art -- or any art for that matter. (The second one is Vafeio cup, found in a context similar to the dagger's; those are quite some clouds!)

Authors of [3] and [4] seem to agree: they identify these features as "clouds above and rocks below".
The author of [5] is a bit reserved about it: "Wavy contours in niello flow from the margins to fill spaces".

I have my doubts, too. Why are the rocks and the clouds indistinguishable? Why are the clouds almost touching the animals?

So, here's where I need help. There are at least two more Mycenaean daggers with what was identified as clouds on them. They are both described and depicted in the following book:

T. J. Papadopoulos, The Late Bronze Age daggers of the Aegean I: the Greek mainland, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998

Google-books has a limited preview of it, that has no images.
I searched all over the web and found no other illustrations of the ones I need, either.

The daggers in question are:

28. Prosymna (Argolid). - Chamber Tomb III. - Dagger, L. 19.2 cm (Pl. 3, 28). <...> On both sides the blaid bears inlaid in gold, silver and niello figures of birds <...> the gold plate towards the butt is covered with a dark accretion, the irregular effect suggesting clouds. <...> Athens Nat. Mus. (6416).

29. Provenance unknown (Pylos-Messenia?). - Dagger, L. 18.5 cm (Pl. 3, 29). <...> On either side of the midrib the blade bears a row of four birds <...> with clouds and rocks shown above and below. <..> Japan, Tenri Mus. at Nara (68-87).

I would appreciate it immensely if someone could help me obtain the scans of these two illustraions.

Of course, any informed discussion would be very much welcome, too.

Thanks in advance!

[1] SD Gedzelman. Cloud Classification Before Luke Howard. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 70, Issue 4, pp.381-467 (1989). (pdf)
[2] SD Gedzelmanm. The Soul of All Scenery: A History of the Sky in Art. Unpublished book, 1993. (online)
[3] T. J. Papadopoulos. The Late Bronze Age daggers of the Aegean I: the Greek mainland. Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998. (limited preview)
[4] NR Thomas. The Early Mycenaean Lion up to Date. Hesperia Supplements, 2004. (full article on google books)
[5] John G. Younger. The Mycenae-Vapheio Lion Group. American Journal of Archeology, vol. 82, No 3, 1978. (pdf)
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Gregory J. Liebau

Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Thu 17 Mar, 2011 3:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Pavel,

I would highly recommend obtaining books on Minoan artwork to supplement your research. The late-Helladic era of Mycenaean culture was very influenced by Minoans considering the presumed Mycenaean takeover at Knossos and the establishment of permanent and extremely close ties between the cultures c. 1500. Many of the items in the shaft graves from Mycenae and discoveries at other mainland sites are commonly attributed to Minoan artists or at least their styles. The naturalistic features of early Mycenaean art are certainly derivative of established Minoan art, and there may be any number of frescos or other decorated scenes that attest to the use of these shapes as clouds or rocks. Check out surviving scenes from Akrotiri, Knossos, Hagia Triada, etc... To see if there are relevant links between these cloud/rock depictions and elements of contemporary Minoan art. I think you'll hit on some fascinating similarities that reveal possible explanations for their design.


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Matthew Amt

Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,456

PostPosted: Fri 18 Mar, 2011 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Could it be water? Like in this scene of a fight at a river:

Or it could be showing a lion in a cave or in his den. Or it could be abstract shapes meant to fill the space...


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Kurt Scholz

Joined: 09 Dec 2008

Posts: 390

PostPosted: Sat 19 Mar, 2011 4:04 am    Post subject: problems with art         Reply with quote

It could be anything. My personal favourite would be the wind caused by this fast moving feline.
There's also the theory of horror vacui (
I don't know if the studies you refer to are based on a broad and systematic study of Mycenaean art. Certain shapes were most likely part of a code imbued with meaning. A colleague of mine has worked this out for Latène art and it took her several years, thousands of objects and a computer aided analyses. If you compare it to the Greek and the Latène art representations of myths played a central part and there could be different stories for different groups of the society, such as in Latène, where animals were for the commoners and chimeras for the guys in rich graves. It's not only about art, but also about the context of art... Best luck finding out.
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