Mino: The Fertile Island

· Matsuri

Updated on September 24, 2014

Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans is credited with naming the Minoan civilization for the legendary King Minos [“Evans”]. However, evidence suggests that both the king and the people were named after a reference to the land, which appears to have been named for the Egyptian god of fertility

In the Odyssey, Homer describes Crete as “a beautiful, fruitful land, surrounded by the sea” [Odyssey, 19:173]. As a polycultural society, the Minoans had cultivated barley, chickpeas, figs, grapes, olives, vetch, and wheat. The Minoans had also domesticated bees, cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep [“Minoan”]. The Linear A (LinA) texts suggest other commodities, which may be discussed in subsequent articles.

Minu (Mnw, Mnu, or Min), as the Egyptian god of fertility, is depicted with his erect penis in his left hand. During the new kingdom, he was associated with, or was represented as, a white bull [Seawright], which is prominent in Japanese art as the mythical white Minotaur.

Min also holds a flail–an agricultural tool for threshing grain [“Flail”]–over his right shoulder, which speaks to his second role as god of the harvest. Among the Cretans, the μνοία (mnoia) (alt. μνώα (mnoa)) constituted a class of serfs or vassals [L&S 2nd] who worked the land. Cf. me-no-e-ja, me-nu-a2, and me-nu-wa.

The festival of Min was traditionally celebrated with processions and offerings at the beginning of the harvest season [“Min”]. Atheneaus, a Greek writer who lived in Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy II (285-246 BCE), describes a procession in Alexandria that is led by men who are carrying a 55- meter, gilded phallus [“Of Monsterous Moles”]. Likewise, each spring for the past 1,500 years, the Japanese have carried a 2.5-meter phallus on a portable shrine (mikoshi) as they celebrate the Hounen Matsuri, the Shinto fertility festival. One of the meanings of hounen is fruitful year. The phalli are carved from cypress trees [“Hounen”], which, also, were once plentiful on the island of Crete when cypress wood was a major Minoan export [“Cypress”]. In addition to the processions, festival participants make offerings to ensure successful births and bountiful harvests. The festival also features phallus-shaped souvenirs and cakes [“Honen”], which were similarly present in the ancient-Greek ῾Αλῶα (Haloa) festival [“Haloa”]. Regarding the latter, there have been reports, largely discounted, that women would dance with genitalia-shaped clay objects around giant phalluses [“Celebrating”].

There are countless Japanese words that suggest a reference to the fertile land of Crete and that may be verified in the Japanese/English dictionary. Minoriaru (実りある) is an adjective that means bountiful, fertile, fruitful, or productive. It is derived from the infinitive, minoru, which means to bear fruit. Compare Minosu, which is the Japanese name for Minos. Minato means port, and minami refers to the south and may be a surname or may be attached to place names [“Minami”]. This southern reference may reflect Crete’s location with respect to mainland Greece.

The table on the left shows the left-turned (sinistroverse) and the right-turned (dextroverse) images of a LinA symbol that has not yet been assigned a phonetic value. However, Japanese gives two readings–seki and shaku–for an identical symbol, which means stone and which is related to an archaic unit of measurement that is nearly equivalent to the Minoan “foot” (see The Minoan “Seki”). In the kanji for min–which means nation or peopleseki and shaku appear to have the sense of foundation. Moreover, Mino is the name for numerous geographical divisions in Japan [“Mino”].

LinA/B 073, which has been assigned the phonetic value, /mi/, appears to depict a penis. /Mi/is found in the Greek μνᾶ (mna), which we understand as mina, a unit of measurement that, perhaps, refers to grain and which promotes the theme of Mnu. The Greeks associated grain and seeds with semen because both were perceived the “germs” or σπέρμα (sperma) of life, which could be “planted”. However, contrary to such flattering notions, men carry not the “seed” but the fertilizer for human life.

Compare MI.NU.TE, which appears in Haghia Trada (HT) texts 86, 95, and 106. While, initially, I was inclined to agree with Cyrus Gordon et al. regarding an interpretation of fine wheat in a list of commodities [Raymoure], I no longer hold this view. Specifically, in HT 86, MI.NU.TE is listed among words that I understand not as commodities but as toponyms. Nevertheless, I accept the definition of fine wheat as a significant clue in the identification of MI.NU.TE. While this word does not have a direct equivalent in Japanese, its closest equivalent is the surname, Minote. The shift from /u/ to /o/ is somewhat problematic, insofar as the LinA-to-Japanese shift typically happens in the reverse, from/o/ to /u/. However, the shift is too minor to cause much concern at this time.

The preceding analysis makes a strong case for a Minoan association with Japan. Not only does it provide both phonologic and etymologic links between the Egyptian Minu and the Japanese Mino, it also provides a linguistic link between LinA and Japanese. Moreover, it offers reinterpretations of the legends of both King Minos and the Minotaur, as well as an Egyptian origin for a traditional Japanese festival that appears to be far older than the estimated 1,500 years. The Japanese are simply Minoans who brought their fertility celebration to a new island on the other side of the world.

MLA Citation:

  • Leonhardt, Gretchen E.  Mino: The Fertile Land. 22 Dec 2011. Ret. on [date]. <konosos.net>.


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