June 15th, 2014

pylos ladies


Now that I'm finished with Knossos, I'm reading June Rachuy Brindel's 1980 novel Ariadne.  The writing is gorgeous and evocative, but God, I'm tired of the Mother Goddess/nurturing priestess-women = good versus sky gods/rapey, murdering men = bad trope.  Ariadne certainly isn't the first or last novel about the Minoan/Mycenaean world to take cues from Robert Graves's The White Goddess and The Golden Bough, and Jacquetta Hawkes's Dawn of the Gods.  I suppose the whole matriarchal goddess-rule/death of the year-consort/brutal suppression by patriarchal Mycenaeans trope was the thing back in 1980; I've seen it used in novels as late as a few years ago.

However, the archaeological evidence doesn't support this view.  The Aegean world of the Bronze Age seems to have been much more complex than early theories make it out to be.  We know the Minoans produced weapons and could defend themselves, although they probably relied more on a navy than on vast armies for home defense.  We know the Mycenaeans had their gentler side; they worshipped both powerful gods and goddesses, and aped Minoan culture even as they took over Crete.  Yet whether the takeover was a brutal invasion or something more subtle is a matter of conjecture.  In Knossos, I depict the Mycenaeans as already living in Crete, serving the weak native rulers as mercenaries and traders--becoming Cretans themselves--before eventually displacing them.  My model was the Germanic tribes in the late Roman world.  As one power collapsed, another stepped into its place.

As rulers go, the Minoans probably had a secular male ruler rather than a priestess-queen; we still don't know very much about Minoan administration, but the title mi-no ro-ja (royal Minos) has been deciphered on Linear A tablets.  Whoever the Minos was, no doubt he had priestly duties in the temple, as kings did in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece itself.

Well, you might say, but women ruled in the temples.  Maybe.  Priestesses and priests are depicted together on the famous Agia Triadha sarcophagus, so there might have been powerful priests as well as priestesses running the temples.  For physical evidence, the bodies of both a priest and priestess were found at Anemospilia, and the priest with his iron ring (a prized possession in those days) and amethyst seal stone was no slouch, though who held the knife that dispatched the young victim--the priest or the priestess--is up for debate.
pylos ladies

Myth Hunters: The Quest for the Minotaur's Labyrinth, Part Deux

Having watched tonight's episode of Myth Hunters: The Quest for the Minotaur's Labyrinth, I have but one conclusion to draw: do NOT refer to this program if you are researching Sir Arthur Evans and the excavation of Knossos.  If you are looking for a superior reference for Evans (and Schliemann, whose finds influenced Evans), I highly recommend the first two episode of Michael Wood's 1980s 6-part series In Search of the Trojan War.

The problems with this episode of Myth Hunters start right away.  I have never heard the story that Evans's favorite Greek myth was that of Theseus and the Minotaur, or that it was a driving force behind his excavation on Crete.  He was never really looking for the Labyrinth, but for the source of the earliest writing system in Europe.  Schliemann, on the other hand, claimed that his later quest for Troy was driven by a copy of the Trojan legends he had received as a gift a child--an anecdote that, by the way, he never mentions in his letters until his excavations in Turkey in the 1870s.

Myth Hunters mispronounces "Mycenaean" to the extent that my ears are still bleeding.  Watch In Search of the Trojan War instead.  I could listen to a younger Michael Wood's narration for days. *sigh*

Evans did go to the Balkans, but not necessarily as a spy (that red-lined cape is a crappy disguise for a British spy if ever I saw one).  He was a private adventurer (okay, so he did do a little spying) and a war correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, documenting the abuses of the Ottoman occupation.  The program never mentions this fact, or that his wife Margaret's health suffered from the constant trekking around and roughing it.  It never mentions why Evans took a shine to coins and seal stones.  He was near-sighted, necessitating the need for a cane which he called Prodger.  And his nearsightedness facilitated his sensitivity for making out fine details on objects such as coins and seal stones.  Again, Michael Wood manages to score an interview with Evans's godson, who remembers Evans using his little finger (his "excavator") to pick out details others would have missed.  If you want firsthand accounts of what Evans was like, you simply must watch this episode.

Evans did amass seal stones as well as coins, but the program neglects to mention that on his 1883 visit with Schliemann, there were seal stones in Schliemann's Mycenaean collection, and that Evans was far more interested in them than in the gold treasures.

Myth Hunters does mention Federico Halbherr, who went on to become the first excavator at Phaistos, but completely ignores the excavations of and Evans's visit with Minos Kalokairinos.  Evans not only viewed Kalokairinos's collection in Herakleion (called Candia at the time), but Kalokairinos took Evans to see his excavations at Knossos (which had been stopped by the local Cretans for fear that the Ottoman pashas would remove any artifacts to Istanbul).  Evans did not just happen to pull weeds from a wall and find some symbols; those symbols were on the remains of walls that Kalokairinos had found inside the western magazines.  Evans's 1900 excavation simply carried on where Kalokairinos's had left off.

The workers did not excavate in caverns.  The site was cleared top to bottom, the Great Staircase being reconstructed for preservation's sake as the workmen went.  The only excavation I recall that ever attempted to create passages in the earth was at Akrotiri, when Spyridon Marinatos tried tunneling through the Theran ash until the excavations became unstable.  Also, the shot of the Grand Staircase is actually a shot of the Theatral Area.  The fresco of the ships is from Akrotiri, not Knossos.  The program does not explain that the columns and many of the structures are reconstructions, and that Evans blew his inheritance on the restoration of Knossos.

So watch this episode if you absolutely must, then go find In Search of the Trojan War on Youtube, or own it on Amazon.  Better yet, buy the book that goes with the miniseries.  It's been updated, and still as good as when it first came out.