Welcome back aboard! You’ve already come a long way—like our Cyprian diplomat Pyrrha, her new post-Minoan partner Deucalion “Sweet Wine,” and others in their company (including a Libu or Libyan leader and people from Sicily, hoping for their homes)—out of the ruins of Crete (Days 1-4 here) to new homes in Alashiya-Cyprus (Day 5), to Syria’s Ugarit (6) and the cities of Byblos, Ascalon and Gaza (7).
Crusty old master Ramose cares for nothing but his ship’s safe passage, and his pastime taking pokes at passengers’ pretensions. The land has turned our boat toward the sun and the most powerful nation of this world, where (in these islanders’ matricultural, king-suspicious eyes) a vast priesthood and a state of ranked and vested interests endow their Pharaohs with power-absolute, that he may take and conquer where they will. Everybody says Egypt shaped this world: fewer confess where the petty Baal-kings of Canaan find their grandest example.
Ramose threads the mouth of The Nile, whose changeable marshes and canals can “dead-end in crocodile swamp or bring you a town with gold-peaked buildings.” As ever, the “tourists” stick out as they gaze open-mouthed at works in stone that seem beyond human construction—and this visit reaches only the Lower Nile’s vast “breadbasket,” through a gauntlet of inspections, officials and judicious gifts.
The visit, like the state here, narrows down to the sanction of a single seated individual while others stand, bow and plead: this time, just for refreshment of trade-connections. Deucalion’s struggling to learn, because he’s drowning (an almost-priest) in the gilded glyphs that speak urgent unintelligible messages everywhere—“I must have been dazed. Even a window looking at a one-tree marsh felt like relief, and there were none in the great hall for business….”
In their quarters there’s a glimpse of yet-more works by dispossessed Minoan artists. Well, if old Cretans bear old Egypt a grudge as one player in their downfall, this world as it is needs facing, so life can go on. Now we’re coasting westward, next stop the island Pharos, with a past as powerful as its future.
This image of modern Balos, Crete, gives a fair idea of early Pharos—except that you don’t see the massive breakwater forming Pharos’ first great sheltered harbor with a half-ring of 24-ton stone blocks. By Deucalion’s time in the wake of the Thera volcano catastrophe, this first colossus was half-shattered. But 1990s underwater archaeology by a Franco-Egyptian team supports scholar Dorothy I. Sly and others (see Philo’s Alexandria, 1996) that this construction dated back to Middle Minoan times (after 2000 BCE): a massive cooperative project between two “highly sophisticated shipping cultures” using Cretan design and Egyptian labor. So began the centuries here of cosmopolitan traffic:
Another link with old home can mean opportunities. From the last days of Knossos we see a Cretan officer leading a troop of African, probably Libyan or Libu men:
When Night of the Griffin (Day 4 here) destroys ancient Knossos, some of them join Deucalion to leave these lives they want no longer. Such is Merire on the boat with him now, rejoicing that his country’s coast is coming into sight—and such is the long coastal-African journey that here, in his far Meshwesh tribal country, is where they’ll winter.
This is the matricultural homeland of Great Mother Ngame, “Dripping Rain,” some say the mother of the islanders’ Athene. Her men wear the textiles and web-of-X tattoos of their families and their connections: this woman bears a palm in a bull-horned planter, her cap of likely goatskin like the young ones dedicated to Athene:
There’s trade in grain and olive oil, in citrus-wood and the tasty fish-sauce garum. But now comes promise of a trade very high in the hopes of Pyrrha and Cyprus’ women. For only here in this stretch of Meshwesh Libu’s actual coast grew the plant—much, it’s believed, like Giant Fennel (below)—called sylphium.
A little medicine decocted from sylphium was “so much a surer thing against childbirth than wild carrot, or a pessary, or wool soaked in lemon and oil” that by Roman times, the traffic for it driven by demand wiped out the species. For now, with its new trade built on the miracle-return of Merire’s family, it has the promise of a powerful long-term instrument.
After all, if signs of troubling patriarchal change bear out in these lifetimes and beyond, people like Pyrrha who look and build ahead have a will to hold on to tribe-protective ways as old as evolution—practices lumped by patriarchal time into the dismissive empty syllables of “fertility cult.”
Ahh, yes: that heathen multi-deity polyamorous sex-obsessed worship of base blind natural lust without ethics, real comfort or consequence, from which we are saved by kings, chaste obedience, and rumors of reward after all our suffering.
Unless of course women’s skills and powers in sexuality and reproduction might actually foster optimum conditions for many happy children: “happy” meaning a number in balance with natural conditions, but not enough for forced-labor-gangs and predatory war.
What happens to this knowledge? Time and tale will tell.
Next stops: Sicily, Pylos, Islands—and Home!