“Knossos and The Prophets of Modernism” by Cathy Gere: A Review

Just after Christmas my family and I visited Knossos in Greece. After seeing Sir Arthur Evans’s reconstruction I was curious about the thinking and evidence behind it. This book was available for download, so I bought it and I recently finished it.

Knossos is an ancient site on the island of Crete that Evans excavated from 1900 to the 1930s. He noted stages in construction and cultural artifacts that spanned almost a thousand years in the 2nd Millennium BCE. He knew that at some point the Myceneans – Greek speaking peoples from the mainland – came at some point towards the end of that time and most likely ended the rule of the previous population. He called this older civilization “Minoan”, and from bits and pieces deduced that it was a Goddess worshipping peaceful society, excelling in art, dance, and enlightened rum, all of which was ended with the arrival of the warlike Myceneans, who took over the buildings but could only be a poor echo of the Minoan glories.

This famous mural entitled “Ladies of the Minoan Court” was recreated in the 1930s by the father and son team who were both named Emile Gillieron. Note how little of the original fresco is actually there.

Professor Cathy Gere deconstructs all this in this book. Evans suppressed evidence of the martial activities of the Minoan and commissioned modern artists to complete murals that existed only in fragments. Not surprisingly, the reconstructed art matched what he thought the culture would produce, and Evans was subsequently taken in by several masterful forgeries. Gere runs through all the evidence and then shows how his reconstructions influenced such diverse people as Freud, Hilda Doolittle, and Robert Graves. The final chapter summarises the current state of archaeological knowledge about the Minoan culture, which has rejected many of his conclusions. This is the book that helps to tell what is Evans’s version of Knossos, and what the evidence actually says and does not say.

Minoan lady helping to sell Coca-Cola. It is evidently Ariadne, given the ball of twine that young Theseus used to find his way out of the Labyrinth in the legend of the Minotaur.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of Evans’s reconstruction is not to be found in arcaheology but in popular culture. His actual finds are in the the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion where the labels and explanations are all considerably more restrained thatn presented in his written reports. However, Minoan themes are found everywhere on Crete. If much of the modern western world seized on Classical designs based on the Parthenon to built banks , universities, and legislatures, the people of Crete have used Minoan themes in their banks and public buildings, and, as seen above, to help sell foreign brands of carbonated

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
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