Tuesday, October 21, 2008


A spiral: " a plane curve generated by a point moving around a fixed point while constantly receding from or approaching it."

1551, from M.Fr. spiral, from M.L. spiralis "winding, coiling" (1255), from L. spira "coil," from Gk. speira "coil, twist, wreath," from PIE *sper- "to turn, twist."

Spiral-like formations are found in plants and animals. Prehistoric peoples, independent from each other, drew/carved spirals (particularly triple spirals) on rock walls (entrance of passage-tomb at Newgrange, Ireland 3000 BC).

For years artists have drawn attention to the spiral-like quality of the human ear

The image of the labyrinth is in Cretan art is a complex spiral.

Coins of Knossos [Crete] bore the symbol of the labyrinth. Symbols are natural shapes elevated to significance...The spiral is the shape a worm draws with its coiling bore, a fern with its bud, and a periwinkle with its shell...In Athenian work the spiral mirrors wind and waves; in Gothic, the serpent Satan. - Guy Davenport, "The House that Jack Built" from "The Geography of the Imagination. Forty Essays by Guy Davenport (pg 47-48) "San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981.

Davenport also notes how Brancusi's 'portrait' of James Joyce is a labyrinth spiral. The main character of Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses" is Stephen Dedalus. Daedalus designed the Cretan labyrinth which housed the minotaur. He is the ancient symbol of artist-creator.

Daedalus designed a golden honeycomb (hexagonal wax). When it was hung on a tree in the royal garden bees made it their hive and home for their young.

The supreme artist creates something worthy of nature.

Spirals coil and twist evenly around an immovable center. If you could stand on one, each point would present a different view of the immovable center.

The queen who lived after her time, named Nitocris, was wiser than she who had reigned before; and in the first place she left behind her monuments which I shall tell of; then secondly, seeing that the monarchy of the Medes was great and not apt to remain still, but that besides other cities even Nineveh had been captured by it, she made provision against it in so far as she was able. First, as regards the river Euphrates which flows through the midst of their city, whereas before this it flowed straight, she by digging channels above made it so winding that it actually comes three times in its course to one of the villages in Assyria; and the name of
the village to which the Euphrates comes is Ardericca; and at this day those who travel from this Sea of ours to Babylon, in their voyage down the river Euphrates will come to this village three times on different days.

-Herodotus, "The Histories" (Bk. 1 Ch. 182)

This river obviously was constructed in the manner of a spiral. The village repeatedly reached on three different days the center. And each day different men working, different women with baskets on their heads, different angles of trees, children, rooftops.

(Important; Spirals should not be confused with swirls, which if made with strawberries and sprinkles, is a delightful ice cream treat.)

The Lobelia plant (seen in one form above) is famous for its spiral formations:

Highly unpredictable if ingested. Various Native American tribes have been known to smoke small quantities of it, with an effect of euphoria. Perhaps many native people connected the euphoric daze with the illusion of movement in staring at the plant's spirals. The image and the function were mixed, as in the example of the ear-as-spiral (the sound formations of human language and thunder as entrants into maze). It was tested a few times on syphilis patients unsuccessfully. It is highly toxic and if eaten will result in coma and death.


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