6 - THE AMNISOS RING (or Knossos AN1938-1120)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
Amnisos / Knossos, archaeological provenance unknown, LM IB, 1500-1450BC

This ring, whose provenance is unknown, having been sold to Sir Arthur Evans by an antiquities dealer on his second day in Crete, is a remarkable and complex depiction of the epiphany which exemplifies a range of visual conventions and seamless transitions from ritual to visionary space. Here, upon the smallest ring in the corpus (1.5cm wide), we see an epiphanic depiction of precisely the kind of pre-voyage ritual that Galanakis elucidates above.

Amnisos Ring
Fig 38. Amnisos Ring – Image and Sketch

Such a ritual may have taken place at harbour-sides, and it is significant that the ring was found at Amnisos, the Minoan harbour serving the largest urban area of Knossos, and facing northwards towards Thera and the Cyclades. Galanakis's discussion is relevant here:

“The arrival of the Goddess from different parts of the universe and the introduction of a new cult in new territories may be interpreted [through]... the trading activities of the Minoans... [and the fact that] excavations revealed the Minoan presence and the existence of Minoan settlements at Melos, Thera, Keos, Skopelos, Kythera, Rhodes and Karpathos.”

We might also include Aegina in this settlement list, and note Minoan influence in the wider Eastern Mediterranean, as far afield as Syria and Anatolia, and most remarkably in the artistic styles of frescoes and grave goods at Tell el Dab'a (Avaris) in Hyksos period Egypt that strongly suggest a lengthy Minoan presence in the city.

The depiction on the ring is worth describing at length, as this brings out some of the problems of interpretation, and the possibility that we are seeing here images of multiple visions. The overall scene is of a boat, attended by five sailors, some of whom appear to be holding vestigial oars, and gazing upwards, either at several floating figures above the boat or to the proudly gesturing male standing on what is presumably the harbour-side. Behind him, a seated or standing female figure appears to preside over the ritual performed by the male figure – behind her in turn a pithos (or possibly a large shield) is represented.

There is much here to be discussed. The presence of the pithos, or shield, at far left, strongly suggests trade goods, and the female at far left appears to function, if clues from other epiphany scenes are to be any guide, as a presider or enacted epiphany over the ritual. The appearance of the deities in the top centre are thus guaranteed by her presence.

Amnisos Ring - left figure
Fig 39. Amnisos Ring, left side detail

The harbourside male's posture is a stereotypical one which connotes the engagement of a 'sacred conversation' (type V) and we see that his outstretched arm gestures with emphasis towards a small female figure floating above the front of the boat, who in turn gestures back to the male. His arched back and elongated body-form suggest, following Morris & Peatfield an altered state of consciousness, a notion underscored by the depiction of his head as floating above his body, an image which, despite the ring's diminutive size, surely cannot be an error on the part of the engraver.

Two other figures in the scene also appear to be experiencing epiphany – these are the rearmost pair of sailors in the boat, one of whom is depicted with the same floating head phenomenon as the standing male figure. Above them is another floating, or flying, female (type Ia) figure – her depiction horizontally with arms out suggests dynamic movement – who appears to be gesturing towards the two sailors. Above her is a much more ambiguous image (type IIa? Ia?), possibly a row of dovelike birds, or another flying female figure, or more likely a figure in transition from the former to the latter, much as we see in the preceding Ayia Triada seal impression.

Amnisos Ring - analysis
Fig 40. Amnisos Ring – Iconographic Analysis

We find ourselves asking, again: who are the visionaries here and how much of what is depicted is epiphanic content? Several interpretations are available, and it is possible that the original artist intended all of them. The simplest explanation is to regard the 'sacred conversation' between the standing male and the leftmost floating figure as the primary epiphany on the ring, and thus the two flying figures at top right become shared visions experienced by the rearmost two sailors.

However, it is possible that a shared vision between all three visionaries is occurring, and all three floating/flying figures are being beheld by the standing male and two sailors together. The depiction of two, or perhaps three, dolphins swimming around the boat allows us to entertain another possibility, that the entire central and right-hand side of the image – floating figures, boat, dolphins, sailors and all – represent a complex vision experienced by the standing male. Here, the sailors as characters within the vision yet apparently experiencing an epiphany resonates with previous images (the Ring of Minos, for example) in which an epiphany (enacted or visionary) gazes at another epiphany (visionary). Some kind of shared vision between the standing male figure and all five sailors is also a possible interpretation of this image of intense visionary content.


'The Minoan Epiphany: A Bronze Age Visionary Culture'
Bruce Rimell, 2010 - 2013


Copyright (c) 2002-2019 Bruce Rimell : All images, artwork, and words on this site
are copyrighted to Bruce Rimell and may not be reproduced in any form unless stated otherwise.