Have you ever taken time to finish the sentence, “In the center of all things is…” It’s a helpful exercise; it brings to light an important foundational belief.
In the center of King Minos’ labyrinth was a minotaur. Much could be said about this Greek myth, its elements, and its implications. The story involving this royal family has been told in various ways throughout history, but the presence of the minotaur has been a part of symbolic representations of the story since its inception. Labyrinths and minotaurs were not usual choices for mosaic artists during the Roman period. This third century example is found in the House of Fountains at Conimbriga (modern-day Portugal).
It was interesting to see a “Roman Style” labyrinth, in other words a labyrinth that moves through four areas, one at a time, next to a classical seven circuit labyrinth whose path moves back and forth through the whole pattern several times. Clearly labyrinth symbol in its various form fascinated those responsible for these installations. While the minotaur head is found in the center of the 4 quadrant labyrinth with its longer journey to the center, there is no clear “center” in the squared-off seven circuit labyrinth. What we would identify as “center” is more of a niche where the path simply comes to an end. There are other labyrinth-related forms nearby. The greek key form (which can be expanded to make a classical seven circuit labyrinth) borders the labyrinths on one side, a labyrinth-like arch pattern flanks another. Separating the two labyrinths (and flanking the Roman-style labyrinth on the other side) were forms that resembled axe-heads (labryses) which some have associated with labyrinths in antiquity. Nearby are two large squared off spiral mosaics. Labyrinthmania!
A third mosaic labyrinth, a small seven circuit labyrinth, can be found not too far away in the House of Cantaber. Its rounded form is currently covered to protect it from the elements. Unfortunately I was not able to see, study or photograph it. In my next posting I will continue to discuss the Conimbriga labyrinths. Photos from the mosaic which is on display in the museum will also be included. Be ready for another minotaur in the center!
In the meantime, why don’t you spend some time pondering what lies at the center of everything?
Special thanks to Dan Geoffrion for using his 6’4″ height to get the best perspectives for the photos of the Conimbrigia labyrinths!
To see the post on the 7 circuit labyrinth in the House of Fountains at Conimbriga, click here.