The meander, also known as the meandros, the Greek key or the Greek fret design, is an ornamental motif found throughout Greek art from the geometric period onwards.
The motif takes its name from the Greek, Maiandros, the name of the Ancient Meander River which flowed from the highlands of southern Phrygia into the Aegean Sea, near Miletus, and was noted for its exceptionally winding and twisting path.
The meander design appears frequently on Greek pottery, especially in the Geometric period, but is also used in monumental sculpture, for example, in frieze decoration on temple pediments.
The meander motif can take a number of different forms; it is commonly comprised of a series of right-angled interlocking lines, forming either a continuous spiral, or a maze-like network of broken and connected lines. Consequently, it has also often been symbolically associated with the labyrinth.
The meander can be described as one of the most important symbols in Ancient Greece, because of its connotations with unity and infinity; the continuous interlocking lines and repeated motif reflects the fluid movement of the ocean wave, and thus the eternal flow of things, the meandering of life. It also symbolizes the everlasting bonds of friendship, love and devotion.
The twisting pattern has also been thought to mimic the serpent, symbol of guardianship and healing. Perhaps this is why the design was also used on armour, such as this shield of Philip II of Macedon.
In the Roman period, the meander was commonly employed in pavement mosaics in villas throughout the Roman Empire.
The motif has remained popular in contemporary art and design up until the present day – for example the Versace logo which features the head of Medusa encircled by the Greek key motif.
Author: Alexandra Hamburger for It’s All Greek