A hilarious work of Minoan historiography

May 19, 2009
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jacket imageAs Sir Arthur Evans unearthed the ruins of an ancient Cretan civilization in the early twentieth century he claimed to have discovered a culture that was pacifist and matriarchal, pagan and cosmic—so very unlike his native England. Freud, Joyce, Picasso, and many others embraced this vision of a lost paradise.
Reviews have begun to arrive for Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism in which Cathy Gere explores how disillusioned modernists sought—and created—an ancient culture that offered an alternative to the one they inhabited. A review in Harper’s notes that Gere uncovers a century of “bizarre misreadings of the nearly unknown ancient culture of Crete, and in so doing has produced that rarest of literary surprises: a genuinely hilarious work of Minoan historiography.” The review continues:

[Gere traces] the unexpected genealogy of the ancient Cretans in the modern imagination, from the time they were first unearthed beneath a modest hillock at the end of the nineteenth century to their emergence as peaceful pastoralists who worshiped a goddess, pirouetted over bulls, and displayed suspicious tendency to reflect in great detail the moral, political, and even sexual preoccupations of Sir Arthur Evans, the English millionaire who led the excavation for almost half a century.
Gere locates the original impulse for “Minoan modernism” in Nietzsche’s theories of the birth of tragedyand in the “excavations” the charlatan Heinrich Schliemann carried out at Mycenae and Troy. Schliemann breathed into the nascent discipline of archaeology a fairy-tale atmosphere of childhood longing and quasi-supernatural wish-fulfillment… that runs through Gere’s series of portraits of those writers and artists “who would make the ancient world urgently relevant to literary and artistic modernism…”

The book has also just been reviewed in the Economist, which begins by drily noting that “archaeology is an inexact science.” Find out more about Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism on our website.

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