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THE EXHIBIT

Palaikastro, Temple of Dictaean Zeus. 6th-4th c. BC
(text of the 4th-3rd c. BC inscribed in the 3rd c. AD)

The sanctuary and temple of Dictaean Zeus was founded on the ruins of the prehistoric city of Palaikastro in the early Historical period. Here was found the inscription with the so-called Hymn of the Curetes, which is associated with rites of passage into adulthood, as well as a wealth of bronze offerings of the Geometric and Archaic periods. The stele with the inscription is preserved in five unevenly sized fragments of blue marble with white veins. The text is reconstructed to a satisfactory degree. It consists of more than 27 verses incised with the aid of a guideline. The height of the letters is reduced after the 7th verse, while the writing is more condensed. From the preserved 22nd verse onwards, the text becomes larger and more widely spaced again. This poor workmanship, combined with the fact that scattered pieces of the same text with many errors were originally incised on the back of the stele, indicate that the inexperienced artisan had to re-carve the corrected hymn in its final form.
The language of the text is Late Classical Koine with Doric and deliberately Archaic features. The text is uniquely important for the study of Cretan poetry of the Historical era and the distinctive religious beliefs of the island. Opinions differ on how far the hymn expresses survivals of the cult of the Minoan Young God of vegetation, known in Historical times as the Cretan-born Zeus, who dies and is reborn each year, syncretically merged with the Greek Zeus of the Twelve Gods of Olympus. This is even more difficult to determine because the inscription was carved five to six centuries after the hymn was originally composed, in the context of the renewal of a sanctuary dating back to prehistoric times and the twilight of the old religion.
Combining the preserved sections on both sides of the stele, the text is reconstructed in six stanzas and a refrain repeated seven times in all, at the beginning and the end of the hymn and between each stanza. The text is divided into three parts (the invocation, the argument and the petition to the god), and is freely translated as follows:

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.

We address hymns to you with harps and pipes
And chant standing around your altar.

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
For in this place, divine infant, the shield-bearing Curetes who raised you
Received you from Rhea and hid you, stamping their feet,

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
…………………

And you created the beautiful Day.

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
Your daughters the Seasons bring abundance each year. And among mortals J
ustice reigns and wealth-bearing peace governs all creation.

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
Preserve our family hearths, protect our fleecy flocks and send temperate breezes to our crops and trees.

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
Cover our cities and our seafaring ships with your aegis
Watch over our youths and protect our glorious Authorities.

Hail, great son of Cronus,
Most brilliant, all powerful. You come leading the Curetes to Dicte each year and delight in song.
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