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Minoan Art Work


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Fresco of bull-leaping from Knossos

Fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side. From Knossos.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
This controversial fresco of bull-leapers comes from Knossos. It is generally thought that, imported from the Egyptian tradition, the pale figures are women and the dark figure is male. But they all wear codpieces. In addition to their physical function of protecting male genitalia, codpieces are a sign that the competition is particularly active (note #5 where the boys who are only boxing don't wear them). Bull-leapers all wear high-top shoes and wrist bands for the same reasons, as well.

The placement of the people may show either three stages of the bull-leaping (Silvia Damiani-Indelicato; 1988, according to Chapin) or the women as attendants while the male alone leaps over the bull. It is thought that both men and women participated in the contests, perhaps to show their worthiness as aristocrats.

Anne P. Chapin, in "Boys Will Be Boys: Youth and Gender Identity in the Theran Frescoes" says that it has been argued that the white figures are boys before initiation and that there is no gender implied in the basic form: hourglass body, slim waist, round hips, and broad shoulders; details like color, hair, jewelry and costume providing the gendering details.

The bull was probably offered as a sacrifice after the bull-leaping contest.

For more on Late Minoan Art, see:

Dartmouth's Lesson 14: Late Minoan Painting and Other Representational Art: Pottery, Frescoes, Steatite Vases, Ivories, and Bronzes.

"Boys Will Be Boys: Youth and Gender Identity in the Theran Frescoes"
Anne P. Chapin
Hesperia Supplements Vol. 41, Constructions of Childhood in Ancient Greece and Italy (2007), pp. 229-255

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