The Blue Monkey and His Mistress of the Theran Frescos
In today’s article, we are going to tell you about two of the main characters featuring in these valuable paintings (and their sexuality!) a little more. The Blue monkey and the Goddess Griffin.
What Does the Monkey Have to Do with Saffron?!
In addition to the blue monkey in the goddess fresco, blue monkeys are the subject of a fresco in which the animals are performing or imitating human activities.
One monkey picks a saffron, another plays a lyre, others hold a sword or sword sheath. One wears a necklace, another a gold earring. The monkeys are anthropomorphized and degendered. The area around their genitals is painted white and flat, blending with the stomach.
The Birthplace of the Monkeys
These monkeys belong to a species of long-tailed ape, kerkopos (Κερκωπος), an African vervet. The kerkops (Κερκοψ), or monkey men, were a race of mischievous dwarfs, trickster figures that were connected in legend with Heracles. They were later turned into monkeys by Zeus. This species seems to possess the rudiments of language, giving different alarm calls that tell whether leopards, snakes, or eagles are invading. With a semblance of language, their mimicry of human communication is convincing. Ordinary animals also serve as intermediaries in the psyche; they can bring forth the instinctual energy lacking in the conscious point of view and set off archetypal repercussions.
An Asexual Monkey
The monkey on the saffron-based fresco was drawn from life; it was not mythical like the goddess’s Griffin. This species was known in Egypt as an import from Africa and Syria. The degendering in the images is obviously intentional because the male monkey of this species has a startling turquoise blue scrotum.
Degendering situates the animal in an ambiguous role fitting for the liminal state between human and divine activity and also for the role of magician or alchemist that I noted above. This monkey is the primary servant for the Aegean/Minoan goddess shown on myriad seals in Crete, as attendant, adorant, and worshipper of the feminine divinity, or in front of the horns of consecration, where it is shown with raised arms.
Read also: The soil impact on saffron cultivation
What Does the Monkey Mean for the Girls?
As a mediator, the monkey is the bridge from the young girl bringing the saffron flowers to the archetypal feminine, the goddess. For a woman in analysis, “attending” to the archetypal energies
emerging from her psyche is essential to the process of strengthening her femininity. In here, monkey has to bring the saffron flowers to her mistress. The monkey also has a connection to women’s sexuality; in Egypt, monkeys appeared as decoration on women’s cosmetic containers. As the instinctual animal energy in the fresco, it also represents a link to the girl’s sexuality. The monkey as trickster is a powerful agent of change in analytic work.
The Goddess Griffin
The Griffin is a magical beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body and hindquarters of a lion. Sometimes its tail is said to be a snake. In the Enthroned Goddess fresco, tendrils from the Griffin’s eye end in spiral curls on its neck, from which wings spring. The Griffin is the goddess’s familiar; it wears a little red collar and red leash. It is close- mouthed, as opposed to open-mouthed with devouring intent, neither threatening nor aggressive in its role as magical attendant to the goddess.
Rather, it is in the posture of an adoring protector; it looks as if it is smiling up at the goddess. The fresco portrays the girl, the monkey, the goddess, the saffron, and the guardian Griffin in a lyrical intimate moment.
Griffin and Saffron in Greek Mythology
Classical Greeks believed the Griffin lived in the country of Scythia, where it guarded gold and saffron. As a mythical beast, the Griffin is the bridge between the anthropomorphic goddess and the miraculous divine. The fact that the Griffin is leashed refers to the goddess’s power: The Griffin is a high-ranking predator, but it is submissive to the goddess of its own will. There is no force here. Harmony reigns. The Griffin could also perform the role of sacrificial priest in Aegean ritual. Minoan culture conflated magic, religion, and medicine, a conflation inherent in the archetype of healing that we know from our analytic work.
Winged magical beasts hover around alchemical processes at thresholds of change in a patient’s development. In analysis, such creatures appear unexpectedly at moments of dire need to bring about the initiatory transformation or to herald a new mystery when a deep depression or possession has set in. They are potent spirits that embody the transcendent function. One woman, caught in an excruciating conflict between her husband of twenty years and a younger man with whom she had fallen in love, dreamed that the winged horse Pegasus flew down and took her on its back, then high up into the sky, depositing her on an island in a cold gray sea. When she woke, she realized that she needed to extricate herself from both men in order to orient and find her answer without external pressure. This self-imposed isolation would be challenging and lonely. But the winged saffron guardian knew that she needed to make this decision from her soul.
Did you enjoy reading this fantasy story about the Goddess of the saffron and her servants? We are thankful to Ms. Virginia Beane Rutter for publishing this great report about “Saffron offering and blood sacrifice”
Paul Rehak, “ The Monkey Frieze from Xeste 3, Room 4: Reconstruction and Interpretation,” in MELETEMATA: Studies in Aegean Archaeology Presented to Malcolm H. Wiener as He Enters His 65th Year, edited by P. P. Betancourt, V. Kargeorghis, R. Laffineur, and W.-D. Niemeier (Liege: Aegeum, 1999), pp. 705–709.
Marinatos, “An Offering of Saffron to the Minoan Goddess of Nature,” p. 128.
Rehak, “The Monkey Frieze from Xeste 3, Room 4,” p. 707.
Nancy B. Reed, “Griffins in Post-Minoan Art,” Hesperia 45, no. 4 (October– December 1976): 365–379.
Nanno Marinatos, The Goddess and the Warrior: The Naked Goddess and Mistress of Animals in Early Greek Religion (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 117.
Nanno Marinatos, Minoan Sacrificial Ritual: Cult Practice and Symbolism (Göteborg: Paul Åströms Förlag, 1986), p. 45.