Dr. Dempsey Discusses Underlying Significance of Bull-Leaping Fresco

The Bull-Leaping Fresco is peculiarly asymmetrical, in fact the painting contains such noticeable discrepancies from one side to the other that Dr. Charles F. Herberger believes a lunar-solar calendar is embedded in the border. Dr. Herberger’s close colleague, Dr. Jack Dempsey in a lecture at the Robert S. Peabody Museum, entitled “New Secrets from the Labyrinth: Bull-Leapers, Great Years, and Kingship,” discussed the significance of Herberger’s discovery. The lecture was part of the North East Chapter Meeting of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. Archaeologists found this fresco at the Great Palace in Knossos, Crete. They believe that it is from the 17th to 15th centuries B.C. When it was first found, it was believed to be a simple depiction of the bull-leaping contests common to the ancient Cretan civilization. In his lecture, Dr. Dempsey also shared the discoveries of his colleague, Dr. Charles F. Herberger, who could not attend. In an audio recording, Dr. Herberger said that after careful study, he noticed asymmetry in the fresco. According to Dr. Herberger, patterns of differently colored crescents represent the phases of the Minoan lunar calendar. Small line segments, illustrating the days in the solar calendar, border the crescent pattern. In his 1972 book, The Thread of Ariadne: The Labyrinth of the Calendar of Minos, Dr. Herberger outlined a consistent and intricate calendar mathematically measured in lunar and solar cycle. Dr. Dempsey counted the eight circuits in the fresco’s rectangular border to show that it follows the Winter Solstice/New Moon and Summer Solstice/Full Moon. According to Dr. Dempsey, the discovery of the lunar-solar calendar greatly affects historians’ views of the Minoan civilization. He said, “A calendar is a society’s daily diagram: it reckons cosmic cycles of nature, and reveals what its people hold sacred…Dr. Herberger rigorously demonstrates that the famous ‘Bull-Leaping Fresco’ from the Labyrinth of Knossos is a special work of art at the foundations of Western civilization.” The civilization centered on Minoan Crete was the longest period of continuous Western cultural development in history, lasting over 1600 years. During this period, the Cretans were essentially a nonviolent web of sea-traders. Dr. Dempsey said, “They were said to be very peaceful at home and abroad. There was a certain utopian nature of Minoan Crete.” Research has failed to substantiate any evidence that the mythical King Minos, after whom the civilization is named, ever existed. Thus historians are still working to discover how the Minoan civilization was so harmonious and well organized. He said, “We see for ourselves that this fresco articulates and expresses the soul of Minoan Crete – its unmatched, attentive delight in nature, and its fierce devotion to the sacred-celebratory dance of male and female as complementary equals.” Dr. Dempsey is a writer and editor of colonial New England texts who graduated from Brown University with a Ph.D. He plans to work with the Iraklion Archaeological Museum to promote the study of the fresco’s calendar. Dr. Herberger received his Ph.D. from Boston University, and is a Professor Emeritus of English at Nasson College, Maine. He wrote a sequel to Thread of Ariadne, entitled The Riddle of the Sphinx.