Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
Thisbe, Boeotia - Of questionable authenticity, LH IB (?), 1500-1450BC (if genuine)

The so-called Ring of Nestor, reported by Arthur Evans as having been uncovered at Thisbe, Boeotia, on the Greek mainland, has long been the focus of intense scrutiny as to its authenticity, for a variety of reasons, principally among them the unusual iconography for both Minoan and Mycenaean contexts and suspicion over its archaeological provenance and Evans' initial reports. Evans considered the artefact a glimpse into the Minoan afterlife but this has largely been discredited.

Ring of Nestor detail
Fig 49. The Ring Of Nestor (Impression) – Image and Sketch

Certainly, the division of the image into four ritual scenes through the depiction of a large dominating tree is most unusual in Aegean Bronze Age iconography, but the scenes shown are reasonably transparent to Minoan or Mycenaean interpretations. Recently, technical observations of the artefact confirmed a Bronze Age provenance for the ring.

Ring of Nestor
Fig 50. The Ring Of Nestor (Impression) – Archaeological Illustration

Only one of the four scenes concerns us here: in the upper right (note: the illustration is drawn from the impression rather than the original) branches of the tree, two seated female figures are seen, both in stereotypical poses we have already witnessed in other scenes. Above them, two sets of visionary epiphanies are seen, with possibly a construal or transforming narrative sequence. The lowest row appears to depict two butterflies (type IIb) while the upper row shows two dovelike birds (type IIa), the left most of which appears simpler or less well formed than the right, and may depict an early stage of transformation.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
Knossos, precise archaeological provenance not found, LM IB – LM II, 1450-1400BC

This is another ring uncovered by Evans but whose authenticity is assured. We see here an excellent depiction of the 'sacred conversation' of the Amnisos ring unhindered by any other details, though with the curious variation of switched gender roles. A female celebrant attends a shrine and experiences a visionary epiphany of a young male deity whilst maintaining a saluting posture.

Epiphany Ring
Fig 51. Epiphany Ring – Archaeological Illustration and Sketch

Though we see the normal gender roles in this scene reversed, it is noteworthy that other visual conventions of the epiphany are conserved here. The young male deity's descent from the sky is signalled by his downward-pointing feet and dots around his head suggestive of hair waving in the breeze. Behind the female celebrant, plants emerging from rocks appear, and the shrine building is surmounted by trees, both of which resonate with images of wild nature in other scenes. The pillar or wall in front of the shrine is unusual, and may have identified a specific shrine location rather than a generic place of sacred wild nature.

Marinatos remarks that the clenched fist salute so commonly seen in peak sanctuary figurines and on this image is “a special form of greeting addressed by mortals to gods and has Hittite and Egyptian parallels” though we note that similar epiphanic imageries are absent from Hittite and only occasional in Egyptian iconography. We also recall McGowan's experiment with posture which included the tense salute.

Chania Archaeological Museum
Ring seal impression, House IV, Chania, LM IB, c.1450BC

The Master Impression is a seal impression found in a midden near House IV on Daskaloyiannis Street, Chania, where the Minoan town underlays the modern one. The ancient name for the town was Kydonia, and the topography seen here closely matches that of Kastelli hill in the town. It depicts a young male figure with a striking resemblance to the figure on previously-reviewed scenes, bearing a large staff and standing atop a group of buildings, or possibly one large, multi-winged building. Dimopoulou and Rethemiotakis have noted the similarity between the depiction of rocks on the shoreline and those of the Ring of Minos, suggesting a visual convention for shorelines that is also hinted at in the Mochlos ring. It is an epiphany of type III rather than a deity's icon, and the epiphanic nature of this image is confirmed by its striking similarity to other images in the corpus.

Master Impression
Fig 52. The Master Impression – Image and Sketch

The posture here is similar to that of the celebrant on the Amnisos ring, and identical with the floating young male deity on the Epiphany Ring above, even down to the bearing of the staff. Clearly a specific deity is intended here, one who may also be depicted on the Chieftain Cup, a goblet carved from steatite found at Ayia Triada. Here, an almost-identical figure to the Master Impression, but with long hair and copious jewellery, is seen holding a body-length staff in a pose which Rethemiotakis describes as one of authority. Facing him is a youth with a sword in one hand and a curved object in the other (a scythe or sickle?)

Traditional interpretations of this scene revolved around notions of military drills, but modern interpretations such as those of Koehl or Rethemiotakis suggest links with male age-grading systems or the 'sacred conversation'. The striking similarity between the older male's posture of the Chieftain Cup and the male figure on the Master Impression are highly indicative of an epiphany of a deity. That this deity cannot be exclusively a figure of the age-grading initiatory system is evidence by the preceding Epiphany Ring in which this deity appears to a female celebrant, and Boulotis considers the sceptre he bears to be one of the symbols of Minoan male authority, just as Gimbutas considers the double-axe to be the same for female authority.


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


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