The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos

The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos

The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos

The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos

Synopsis

The first excavators of the lost site of Knossos in the nineteenth century saw the site through the eyes of the classical authors. Rodney Castleden gives an alternative insight into the labyrinth which is equally exciting.

Excerpt

Knossos is a symbol. Part of the appeal of Knossos, the principal city of bronze age Crete, lies in that symbolic nature. Like the Acropolis, Stonehenge, or the Pyramids, it stands powerfully for an entire ancient culture. Older by far than Athens, the Knossos Labyrinth was first built in the reign of Sesostris II, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian pharaoh; it is sobering to reflect that the sarsen monument at the heart of Stonehenge was little more than a century old when the first Labyrinth was raised at Knossos in 1930 BC. It was from the start the focus of a strange, glittering, artistic and exotic culture, its people honouring lithe and virile boxers, athletes and bull-leapers, revering mysterious snake goddesses and other animal deities, earnestly worshipping their gods and goddesses on mountain tops and in caves, delighting in every aspect of nature.

Homer has left elusive clues about the court at Knossos. Odysseus claimed to have visited it and some scholars have wondered whether Homer's description of King Alcinous and his people, the civilized and pleasure-loving Phaeacians, is really a description of the bronze age Knossians and their benign ruler. There was a persistent classical Greek tradition of a great and ancient sea-empire stretching across the Aegean Sea and ruled from Knossos by King Minos. In the nineteenth century AD, as the lost site of Knossos gradually re-emerged from obscurity, it was inevitable that the first three people to take an active interest in excavating it—Minos Kalokairinos, Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans—should be predisposed to seek archaeological evidence of Homer, or at any rate evidence of the past as presented in classical Greek literature.

One theme of this book is that this line of thought was actually a false trail, and one that has obscured the true nature of the Labyrinth. Arthur Evans' Palace of Minos, 'this dwelling of prehistoric kings' as he called it, has gripped the imaginations of scholars and tourists alike for nearly a century. The reasons why Evans followed this interpretation of the building and the reasons why he may well have been mistaken will be explored. Alternative explanations are available. The Labyrinth may have been a necropolis or a temple, and we will need to examine these alternative hypotheses with

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