PICTURE AND SYMBOL - EARLY PICTORIAL
Enigma of the Phaistos Disc
A Question of Language
Appendix F of the Genius of the Few by Christian and Barbara
Joy O'Brien - Pages 340 to 352 - with additional images).
Lords departed - The High assembly ended.
In it, the Lord had spoken at that time in
Eme-an - the language of Heaven:
Let us set up dwellings of cedar-wood.
Three: Kharsag Epic No. 5
connection between Sumer and Crete is further accentuated by
the discovery of the famous Phaistos Disc in a storage magazine
at the north-eastern corner of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos
in southern Crete, in 1908, by Dr Luigi Pernier, who was a member
of the Italian archaeological mission.
- side one and side two
of the earliest picture language into cuneiform text.
Each sign was accompanied by specific phonetic sound
It was a
strange artifact - a baked clay disc, roughly circular, about
six inches in diameter. It was inscribed, as shown above, with
die-stamped pictographs in a spiral framework on both the obverse
and reverse sides.
date of the destruction of the Minoan Old Palace, and the presence
of Linear-A inscribed tablets in the same storage, it has been
generally agreed that the emplacement of the Disc could not
have been later than 1700 B.C. The disc, itself, of course,
must be older - but by how much remains a mystery.
which are reproduced in the following pages are natural and
well-drawn but, as yet, no satisfactory decipherment has been
the pictograms bear a superficial resemblance to signs used
in other Cretan scripts such as have been widely used for literary
purposes in both the Near and Middle East from very ancient
times. On the other hand, a single occurrence of an axe-head,
has been compared to the Cretan double-headed axe, and used
as an argument for a local origin.
But in this
respect, it should be borne in mind that a similarly inscribed
axe-head occurs on one of the upright monoliths at Stonehenge
in England. These two diverse symbols were the starting points
from which we have found it possible to develop the interpretations
that follow - interpretations that are based in clear affinities
between the Phaistos Disc pictograms and archaic Sumerian inscriptions
from the earliest, vertical writings. However, by themselves,
the two symbols carried only cursory conviction, but they served
to open an avenue of rewarding research.Further study revealed
that all forty-five individual Disc symbols - without exception
- could be matched with standard, archaic Sumerian ideograms;
some pairings having an out- standing degree of conformity.
Furthermore, this comparison suggested that the Phaistos pictograms,
with their rounded, pictorial style were original models for
the cruder, and often angular, Sumerian outlines.
started with the first, and dominantly significant, sign at
the centre of the primary side of the Disc, from which the spiral
picture writing begins. This is the eight-petalled symbol-
sometimes referred to as a Sun-sign - but considered, here,
to be a 'divinity' or 'aristocratic' determinative which, in
Crete, was closely associated with Zeus; and which, by comparison
with a number of other dingir-like signs, widely-spread
in space and time, pointed to a Sumerian connection.
of these clearly associated signs is the Sumerian Archaic, dating
back to the end of the fourth millennium B.C.; but the most
important, for the purposes of this study, is the third down
in Fig. 10 - Knossos (b) (see page 343). In the chain
of development in Sumerian writing, this symbol lies between
the Sumerian archaic sign and that used during the Ur Dynasty
some five hundred years later - and, in identical form, it was
in use in Lagash in the time of Eannatum, in the later part
of the first half of the third Millennium.
the plain, eight-rayed, linear star is associated with the petalled
variety of Knossos (a in fig. 10 below) - and is found, minus
the central alignments, as the opening pictogram of the Phaistos
Disc. In Sumer, the embellished eight-pointed star was the symbol
of Ugmash (later to become Shamash, the Babylonian 'Sun God').
Almost invariably, it appeared above his head on bas-reliefs;
and this correlation points to a connection - either in person
or in position - to both Shamash and Zeus.
between the Phaistos Disc symbols and the archaic Sumerian signs
allowed us to compile later cuneiform equivalents, make standard
transliterations, and suggest English translations. In the Tables
on the following pages, the first column ascribes numbers for
convenient reference, while the second lists the pictograms
found on the Disc, in anti-clockwise order around the spiral
framework. In the third column, we have placed what we consider
to be the equivalent Archaic Sumerian pictogram, followed in
the fourth column by the cuneiform ideogram into which the Sumerian
pictogram would have developed by the middle of the third millennium,
be noted, that at some time between the Archaic and the Ur Dynasty
phases, Sumerian writing changed from a vertical top to bottom
order, to a horizontal left to right order. All signs were thus
rotated, anticlockwise, through ninety degrees. This change
is particularly easy to spot in numbers 2, 3, 6 and 7. In column
five, we show the, so-called, Assyrian cuneiform into which
Babylonian writing developed by the beginning of the first millennium
B.C., and which is now used by scholars for transliteration
comparisons. The sixth column shows the transliteration of the
foregoing writing of columns 3,4 and 5 into Sumerian phonetic
syllables; and the final column gives our determinations of
the most likely English translations, based on the evidence
of the emerging context.
pictogram (at the centre - Side One), being a hierarchical determinative
(or dingir), refers to the Shining One, or the
'Great Lord' - and, in the context of Cretan symbols, should
signify the 'god' Zeus. The second pictogram (2) represents
the Sumerian symbol gu which translates, unequivocally, to 'speak'.
The third pictogram (3) - an arrow in both Sumerian and the
Disc - qualifies the mode of the Lord's speech. For this the
translation' quickly' has been chosen, but it could equally
well mean, 'forcibly', 'directly', or 'penetratingly'. Thus
the first phrase translates, credibly, from the Sumerian as:
'The Great Lord spoke quickly.'
pictogram is a graphic illustration of a man striding out, and
its angular, archaic Sumerian equivalent gives a similar impression.
The later cuneiform rendering has no known phonetic value but
it is translated in the Kharsah Epics as 'raise up' or 'rise
up', from which the more colloquial' get up and go' may be deduced.
The Great Lord, therefore, was urging someone into action.
Eight-rayed Divinity Symbol of Zeus (with its antecedents) and
the Developments of the Archaic Sumerian 'Divinity' Symbol
was extremely fortunate because, as all Sumerian scholars know,
it is difficult (and, at times, impossible) to obtain a justifiable
translation from an early, unilingual, Sumerian text without
a knowledge of the context. In this respect the Phaistos text
is helpful to the translator - near the beginning, it refers
to 'com','oxen' and seven lords; and when the syllable sub
appears, which meant I escape', the context of the piece falls
into place. The 'seven lords' bring to mind the Council of Seven
of the Anannage and of the Archangels; and the number occurs,
as has been seen, in a number of other hierarchies of the Shining
of this piece of good fortune, we believe that the translation
which follows is broadly correct, but, of course, it cannot
be guaranteed in every detail because of the shortness of the
text, and the limited number of pictograms available. The multiplici-
ty of meanings assigned to individual Sumerian ideograms, and
the spread of phonetic values, combine to make it unlikely that
there can be a unique solution to a text of this kind. In the
poet- ic style, outlined below, the numbers at the right-hand
side refer to those assigned to the Phaistos symbols.
are notable in their similarity to the peculiar, repetitious
style and context of the Kharsag Epics; and it may be that the
Phaistos tale was originally part of a collection describing
the world-wide activities of the Anannage in an undisclosed
farming Settlement which has all the hall-marks of another Kharsag.
The reference to our Great Lady [? Ninkhaisag] in Line 10, however,
suggests that the poem may be referring to Kharsag, itself.
Lord may have been Zeus in the context of Crete, but he was
undoubtedly Father Enlil in the context of the Kharsag Epics;
and the Great Lady was none other than Ninkharsag, wife of Enlil
and the Mother of Life, whose responsibility would have been
the fertility of the plantations at the Settlement. She was
the Great Mother who was to become the prototype for all the
Earth Mothers in the deifying mythologies that grew up in the
wake of her departure. As suggested earlier, the Seven Lords
were the Anannage Council of Seven that controlled the destinies
PASTORAL DISASTER] Side 1
Great Lord spoke quickly:
'Go and collect helpers
spread out in the cornfield,
surround the oxen of the Seven Lords.'
Great Lord spoke quickly:
- before the corn is destroyed
collect helpers for the Seven Lords.
[the oxen] must be pacified.
escape could destroy the harvest [abundance]
by our Great Lady:
of the oxen is threatening the land -
of the Seven Lords.
must all be pacified.'
The stampeding oxen of the Lord(s)
had streamed out and escaped.
'They must all be pacified -
(for) the oxen went as a herd.
Spread out into the cornfield
and surround the oxen of the Seven Lords.
They must all be pacified.'
The rampaging oxen of the Lord(s)
stampeded and escaped.
In their midst, the birds scavenged.
Great Lord went (to learn) the fate
of the (oxen) of the Seven Lords;
the ox-herder hurried after him.
The corn of the Seven lords
was being trampled down.
had rejoiced over that grain
but the oxen (?) of the Great Lady (obscured)
of the Council had escaped.
the Heights, the lively oxen
were all in the fields and meadows;
the running herd was destroying the
(harvest) of the Seven Lords.
Leaders were saddened;
the ox-herder in the meadows was saddened -
for all the bee-hives were overturned.
The Seven Lords hurried to stop the stampede
into the Father's meadows
ravagers ruined the saddened land:
the cornfields of the Great Lady were ruined.
The crushed cornfields had been
ready for harvesting -
the lofty, bright, fertile cornfields
of the Mother.
bee-hives were overthrown
and (lay) broken in the fields -
in the Father's fields and meadows:
the Father's corn was destroyed.
powerful oxen were rampaging
in the midst of the lofty,
bright fields (farm) of the Mother.
The Father's fields had been fertile;
the strong helpers were saddened.
lofty fields were bright and fertile -
the oxen ran through the plantations of the Lord.
corn of the Great Lady
was fated to be flattened by the herd:
the herd went into its midst -
escaped into the midst of Achaia.
corn and the bee-hives
had been rich in that place.
The Great Lord ran to the ravaging oxen
after (they had destroyed)
the tranquility of the Lords;
but they had crushed the corn and the beehives.
surrounded ravagers bellowed
in the midst;
as those who had gone to help
approached the escapers in the fields.
And as the herd was flattening the grain,
those who had gone to help
shackled the escaping cattle.
the ranks of bee-hives in that place
were ravaged by the bellowing oxen.
Thereupon, the Lords captured the culprits
the oxen in the cornfield and in the meadows
behind the House of the Mother of the
In the Kharsag
Epics, there is mention of honey, but not of bee-hives; however,
the possibly paronomastic phrase of pictogram 35 - hu-nad
- meaning 'a nest, or bed, for fliers', combined with the skip-like
shape of the sign, appears to be unequivocal. Hu-nad
was a bee-hive.
destruction of Kharsag, and the move of the Anannage into Mesopotamia,
the Sumerian term uri (seen in pic-togram 20) was used
to designate the land of Accad (Akkad). A liberty has been taken
in the last line of the fourteenth stanza where uri has
been translated as 'Achaia', the original name for the district
in which Kharsag was established. There is substantial evidence
that the name Achaia was carried to Mesopotamia by the
Anannage, where it was subsequently corrupted into Accad.
We are very
much torn between attributing the story of the Phaistos Disc
to activities on the Lasithi Plateau in Crete, and attributing
it to the original Kharsag. It is written so much in the style
of the Kharsag Epics, with references to the Father and the
Mother, that it would seem, at least, to have been written by
the same chronicler. Two lines are particularly reminiscent
of the Epics:
their midst, the birds scavenged.' and
'On the Heights, the lively oxen ...'
the Kharsag Epics, it was stated:
bird discovers the sown field.' and
'... its fields were full of lively horns;
the vigorous young animals raced about the Heights."
Heights' were frequently mentioned in the Epics.
balance, we would consider it likely that the Phaistos Disc
is a Cretan artifact carrying a story which originated in Kharsag,
and had been written in the original pictograms of the proto-Sumerian
language of erne-an.
first sight, it may be thought that this was a very trivial
tale to be recorded on such a tablet as the Phaistos Disc; but
it has to be realised that the loss of a harvest in the first
years of a Settlement could have been a very serious matter,
both for the Anannage and for the tribes-people that they were
supporting. On the other hand, it is also true that the importance
of the Disc is of our own making; and there is no evidence that
the scribe who conceived it, intended it to be other than, for
example, a child's reading primer.
have to remember that we, in Britain, have our own apparent
trivia that have repeatably been published for centuries
as Nursery Rhymes. One such has the same theme as the tale on
the Phaistos Disc:
Boy Blue come blow your horn!
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn!
Where is the boy that looks after the sheep?
He's under a haycock, fast asleep!
knows the age of our older nursery rhymes nor, indeed, where
their origins lay. But, as so much of Western culture has stemmed
from Sumeria, it is amusing to speculate whether the Phaistos
Disc might record the antecedents of 'Little Boy Blue'.
here, it would be remiss of us not to mention that the above
interpretation of the Phaistos Disc was submitted by us to a
prestigious scientific journal, and turned down without serious
comment. It was obvious that its referee had no knowledge of
Kharsag and its subsequent history.]