Side B of the Enigmatic Phaistos Disc. Figurine of goddess Astarte with horned headdress

Enigmatic Phaistos Disc may be Ancient Hymn to Astarte, Goddess of Love

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An enigmatic clay tablet pulled from the ruins of an ancient Minoan palace has been one of the most puzzling mysteries in archaeology. But now a linguist believes a goddess is the key to unlocking the code to the Phaistos Disc.

Dr. Gareth Owens, linguist and coordinator of the Erasmus program and Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Crete has been working to decipher Linear A and Linear B, writing systems of ancient Greece and the Minoan civilization. In recent years, he has worked out some of its keywords and the general message it conveys.

Side A of the Phaistos Disc

Side A of the Phaistos Disc ( CC BY-SA 4.0)

Found by an Italian archaeologist in the palace of Phaistos on the south coast of Crete, the disc—a large, umber-colored, fired clay plate, is covered on both sides with a spiral of strange stamped symbols, circling clockwise towards the disc’s center. It’s presumed the 45 unique symbols were made by pressing hieroglyphic seals into the soft clay disc.

The Phaistos Disc, detail

The Phaistos Disc, detail ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Goddess of Love and War

Owens looked at groupings of signs found in three parts on one side of the disc. They spell out I-QE-KU-RJA, which means “great lady of importance”, while on the other side, he identified the word AKKA, which means “pregnant mother” .  His interpretation was that the Phaistos Disc is a prayer to the mother goddess of the Minoan era.

Speaking with Greek news website Iefimerida this week, Owens says that new analysis of the script suggests the pregnant goddess takes shape in the form of Astarte, the goddess of fertility, sexuality and war. Astarte, an important figure in Minoan beliefs, was the Hellenized version of the Middle Eastern goddess Ishtar, and was held in Greco-Roman world as Aphrodite, Artemis, and Juno.

Figurine of Astarte with a horned headdress, Louvre Museum.

Figurine of Astarte with a horned headdress, Louvre Museum. ( Public Domain )

“There is no doubt that we’re talking about a religious text. This is clear from a comparison made with other religious words from other inscriptions from the holy mountains of Crete, and other texts. We have words that are exactly the same,” says Owens. (Translated from Greek)

He adds, “I suspect that the Phaistos Disc is a hymn before Astarte, the goddess of love.”

Owens believes that one side of the disc is dedicated to a mother goddess, and the other to Astarte.

The Importance of Motherhood and Light

Owen speaks of the symbolism of the Phaistos disc, noting that Astarte is related to the mother figure, the center of the universe, the creator, without whom we would not exist. Also incorporated in the message of the disc is the concept of light—the British academic notes that even the word Phaistos is associated with light.

Owen, in collaboration with John Coleman, professor of phonetics at the University of Oxford, has so far completed ninety percent of the reading of the disc. The understanding of the message of the discs does not come from a direct translation, but from a vocalization of speech derived from the decipher of the ancient code by Michael Ventris.

Mysterious Ancient Codes

English genius and linguist Ventris is credited with having deciphered Linear B, along with John Chadwick and Alice Kober. "Thanks to Michael Ventris, who made the decipherment of Linear B, the writing system […] from the Mycenaean era, we can go further back in Minoan Crete and read Minoan inscriptions,” says Owen.

Dr. Owens tells Iefimerida that though they’ve gotten through ninety percent of the reading, it would be presumptuous to say they’ll be able to decipher one hundred percent of the meaning of the disc. The problem, he maintains, is in the understanding of the ancient message.

Phoenician figure representing an ancient Mideastern deity, probably the goddess Astarte. 7th Century BC.

Phoenician figure representing an ancient Mideastern deity, probably the goddess Astarte. 7 th Century BC. (uis García/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Not all adhere to Owens’ and Coleman’s decipherment of the Phaistos disc. Previous interpretations as to the significance of the symbols include the disc being an ancient prayer, a game board, an astronomical document, a message from Atlantis, an adventure story, a description of the mythical labyrinth, initiation rites for young women, or a solar calendar.

This new interpretation, with a connection to the Goddess Astarte, may shed light on the culture and belief systems of the ancient Minoans, and adds to the ever-expanding body of knowledge surrounding the mysterious Phaistos disc.

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