Minotaur : Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth

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At the turn of the 20th century, Sir Arthur Evans claimed that he had discovered the labyrinth constructed by Daedelus at Knossos which housed the Minotaur. We know of the Minoans of Crete from the legend of Ariadne and Theseus, and from Homer's description in "The Iliad". Evans was the most notorious and celebrated archaeologist of the early 20th century, inheriting the mantle of Schliemann who uncovered the site of Mycenae, and the tombs of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon in the process, and claimed the site of Troy. As the discoverer of the last of the great lost civilizations, Evans saw it as his task to show the crucial importance of the Minoans to Western civilization. What we know now is that the pacific civilization of the Minoans and the reconstructions Evans made were a romantic invention, shoehorned into the prejudices and presumptions of late 19th-century historical thought. Evans was a fabulist, and from a close examination of Evans's papers, Professor MacGillivray shows him in his true colours quarrelling with his more scrupulous rivals, caught up in Greek and Turkish politics, a driven man arrogantly propounding a distorted view of the origins of Cretan culture.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 154 x 230 x 30mm | 539.78g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 24pp b&w plates
  • 0712673016
  • 9780712673013

Review Text

This is not just a biography of Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer or the 'Minotaur's Lair' in Crete, but a history of of Europe during his lifetime, and of archaeology itself. There are numerous diversions to Petrie's work in Egypt, for example, and the territorial machinations in the Balkans. This sets the context for Evans's development, and that of his site in Crete. MacGillivray draws diverse threads together to show not only the influence the times had on Evans (his desperately Eurocentric attitude, for example) but also the influence he had on his times. Among other things, he was instrumental in the settling of border claims in the Dalmations both before and after the Great War. Evans's father and grandfather were both amateur archaeologists. MacGillivray makes a very clear case for background and breeding influencing Evans's interests and development. His father took him on digs in Britain, and as a small boy he was soon making his own ritual burials of dolls and butterflies in the garden. His mother's death in his early childhood set him up to be sympathetic towards matriarchal cults, and this was compounded by the death of his wife not long after they married. This portrait of Evans is quite harsh - he shaped opinion in many fields, none more than his own, but not always accurately. He used his position to quash other people's theories and careers, and claimed all the credit due to others on the Knossos discovery. His half-sister Joan, in her biography, attributed his successes to being in the right place at the right time. Not so MacGillivray, who stresses that Evans researched thoroughly and knew exactly what he was doing when he schemed for the rights to dig at Knossos. This is the story of a man who had a vision, and dug to prove it, ruthlessly twisting the evidence to fit his own theories, perverting the unfolding of history as he went. He jealously guarded his most precious finds, and the truth about Knossos didn't become clear until his records were released after his death, allowing other scholars to study them. While sparing no sympathy for Evans, tyrant and bully, MacGillivray fairly praises his dedication to his task. He also portrays him positively in his conviction. his involvement with and generosity towards the nascent Scout movement, and his devotion and care for his adopted son, John Candy. The overall picture is one of a man who was a product of Victorian England. He always knew best, and felt perfectly secure in his right to ignore the laws and wishes of other countries and their people. But he also supported what he saw as the rights of others, and was very generous with his time, money and property. He wrecked the careers and reputations of fellow archaeologists, but adopted a sickly boy and brought him up in luxury. A fascinating, complex character, examined fairly, without indulgence. (Kirkus UK)show more