CHARLES F. ‘CHUCK’ HERBERGER, JR.:
IN MEMORY & HONOR
of a GREAT AMERICAN SCHOLAR
In the early hours of Saturday January 14, 2017, my friend and fellow-scholar Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” Herberger, Jr., passed away after long illness, very close to the age of 100 years (although, born on Leap Day February 29th, he was technically only about 25). Chuck’s mind, heart and spirit were young to his last day, and here I hope to show something of the man and his priceless, fundamental contribution to the recovery of our real (and positive) human heritage.
After 25 years of study and travel to understand the foundations of our world in Minoan Crete, I learned in the early 2000s that Chuck—living in my own Boston-area backyard in Centerville on Cape Cod, Massachusetts—had already changed those foundations. In 1972, Herberger published The Thread of Ariadne: The Labyrinth of the Calendar of Minos (New York: Philosophical Library), and the book went straight into the Minoans’ two central mysteries: their unknown systems for reckoning time and—since no archaeology could show us a familiar kind of Minoan “king”—how their society coped so well with the crucial challenge still with us, of organizing and controlling political power to the benefit of the general population.
Minoan Crete, after all, created the still-longest and most successful continuous period of Western history (c. 3600-1400 BCE), based in love and respect for nature, egalitarian class and gender relations, and in their world’s highest average living standards. The genius of Herberger’s Thread was in showing that both central mysteries had closely related answers: a calendric system based in lunar/solar cycles that epitomized Minoan religion, governed their ceremonial and festival life and, on those bases, worked to impose unique and remarkably successful limitations on individual executive power. Thanks to Herberger, we began to recover the core of a real heritage—life-embracing, non-imperialist, techno-savvy and spiritually exuberant—whose deliberate burial has cost us dearly, each step of the “bloody progress” way to these days of yet more selfish, “charismatic” and recklessly destructive pseudo-leadership.
100 years of study had suggested only that Minoan leaders—unlike Egypt’s elite, hereditary, life-long and omnipotent Pharaohs—ruled for a uniquely-limited span of time (“8 or 9 years”), and faced either regular (cyclic) confirmation, or replacement. Herberger was among the first to look at nature and, then, at central Minoan images and icons—and their correlations made him the first to find Minoan nature and their symbols in a precisely-observed, elegant, sacred conversation that made their society work.
Herberger’s Thread of Ariadne, then, presented and built on his central perception that the famous Toreador or Bull-Leap Fresco, from the central complex of Minoan culture called Knossos Labyrinth, displayed a uniquely-complicated but consistent pattern in its border “decoration”: a pattern that precisely tracked an 8½-year cycle of the sun and moon (which explained the “8 or 9 years” legends), and whose features and phases also correlated with other once-mysterious Minoan artifacts, from the throne of Knossos (with its lunar/solar symbols and alignment with Winter Solstice sunlight) to Labrys the double (and sometimes oddly re-doubled) axe.
Predictably, because Chuck was not a down-in-the-digs archaeologist, his Thread was neither published nor reviewed by their industries’ elites—except by one world-class open-minded professional, Dr. Alexander Marshack, who had first dug the very ancient Anatolian town of Catal Huyuk and was then a professor at Harvard University. Marshack judged Herberger’s Thread to be “valid and valuable,” quite worthy of more investigation. But even as Chuck soldiered on, publishing numerous related small-journal articles and, in 1979, his further evidences in The Riddle of the Sphinx: The Calendric Symbolism in Myth and Icon, nobody took up the challenge.
Meanwhile, all through publishing Ariadne’s Brother: A Novel on the Fall of Bronze Age Crete (Athens: Kalendis 1996), I failed to discover Chuck’s work until a Cape Cod friend of my father’s told me about it in 2002, and put us in contact. Knowing how much the kinds of evidence and argument in Minoan studies had changed since the 1970s, I began to meet many times with Chuck as a deeply-intrigued critic: he met me always as a welcome friend. Like all the best scholars with whom I’ve been blessed to work, Chuck was interested not in ego or status, but in the best-possible answers to his fields’ important questions. So, with his learning, rare grace, warmth, humility and philosophical humor, Chuck aided and encouraged every kind of challenge and scrutiny I could bring to the core Minoan evidences in his Thread of Ariadne.
Over the next 10 years, as Chuck lived bravely in the face of increasing health-limitations (and kept publishing new articles, essays and books of poetry), we pressed together as hard as we could into the further investigations that became Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth (free online at Ancientlights.org). And while some of Chuck’s evidences (linguistics, mythology) could no longer serve, we continued to find that, from long-term computer-simulation astronomy to the latest findings in others’ Minoan archaeology and scholarship, Chuck’s discoveries both stood up to challenge, and are still gaining crucial correlations in the world-class new works of independent others, from studies of Knossos to Homer’s epics, the Olympics and the “first computer” the Antikythera Mechanism. If it’s true that the overwhelming critical mass of physical evidence is on his side (and it is), then time will inevitably bring his greater recognition.
I don’t know how many hours Chuck Herberger and I spent together in this work and friendship, but I am grateful for each one. While he knew that outsiders who contribute to most professions find no hearing or place until time proves them stunningly right, Chuck gave me a full measure of his doggedness and ultimate optimism. For both of us, this was not without great disappointment and some dread over the current course of our society. But we did agree that, in doing the work of substantiating such a solid and positive-spirited civilization like the Minoans’, we were adding to the chance and hope that what was changed for the worse long ago can again be changed for the better.
Chuck Herberger crackled with life, engagement and spunk, solidly centered and easygoing—as peaceful and dynamic, as learned and always-learning as the Minoans themselves. That is a friend and colleague to never let go or to stop learning from, and in the face of our sadness and loss this day, I feel only deeper gratitude, respect for his achievements, and the surety that such friendships never end.
EXPLORE AND ENJOY THESE HERBERGER LINKS:
The Thread of Ariadne at Amazon:
A 2015 Interview with C.F. Herberger:
Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth
The Knossos Calendar: Minoan Cycles of the Sun, the Moon,
The Soul & Political Power (Mystis Publishers 2016):
A short (incomplete) bibliography of Herberger works:
—, 1972. The Thread of Ariadne: The Labyrinth of the Calendar of Minos. New York: Philosophical Library
—, 1979. The Riddle of the Sphinx: Calendric Symbolism in Myth and Icon. New York: Vantage Press
—, 1983. “The Mallia Table: Kernos or Clock?” Archaeoastronomy 6 (1-4), 114-117
—, 1985 (Oct.). “The Odyssey as a Journey Through Time.” Los Angeles: Griffith Observer, Griffith Observatory, 2-10
—, 1991. “The Labyrinth as an Emblem of The Womb, the Tomb, and Lunisolar Cycle.” Los Angeles: Griffith Observer, Griffith Observatory, 55 (3), 2-19
—, 2000. “Theran Ritual.” NEARA (Journal of the Northeast Antiquities Research Association), 34 (2), 79-88