The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a purely reconstructionist tradition, but a journey in relationship with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

To join the discussion about ancient Minoan civilization and Modern Minoan Paganism, head on over to our welcoming community at Ariadne's Tribe on Facebook.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Minotaur: A book review of a Sir Arthur Evans biography

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Sir Arthur Evans is the name most closely associated with the rediscovery of ancient Minoan civilization. Though local Cretan archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos discovered the site of Knossos and did some preliminary digging there, it's Evans who undertook a large-scale, systematic excavation of the largest of the Minoan cities with its enormous temple complex and who introduced the ancient Minoans into the modern world. Joseph Alexander MacGillivray is another archaeologist whose focus is on Minoan civilization, and he has written a fascinating biography of Evans, titled Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth.

First, let me point out that this book is a biography of Evans, not a retelling of the Minotaur myth. I've seen a few reviews from people who weren't able to suss out that fact (seriously, did you read the back cover or the online description?) and were disappointed when they read the book. It helps to pay attention before buying a book so you know what you're getting. What you're getting, in this case, is an amazingly detailed biography of a fascinating, complex, contradictory man who made quite a place for himself in history.

Every other biography of Evans that I've ever read has been, essentially, a long-winded eulogy, setting Evans up as some kind of larger-than-life figure who single-handedly restored a major part of European history to the modern world. But let's be honest: No one is that glowingly, shiningly wonderful. We're all human, and Evans definitely had his faults.

MacGillivray obviously admires Evans, and I get the feeling he started out with the aim of writing a glowing, though honest, biography. But given the way the book reads, it looks like he discovered more and more unpleasant bits as he dug more thoroughly into Evans' life and came away feeling quite ambivalent about the man. The title, Minotaur, comes from the nickname some of the people Evans worked with gave him for his bullish temperament. He was apparently not an easy person to deal with, and his powerful preconceived notions about the Minoans (whom he named for the mythical King Minos - that's not what they called themselves) colored his interpretation of pretty much everything he uncovered in his digs.

There's plenty of negative stuff in the book: Evans refusing to play nice with local officials so it took him ages to begin digging (he considered the locals, especially those of Turkish descent, to be inferior people - a man of his times, Evans was quite the racist). The "reconstructions" that Evans undertook that actually destroyed parts of the original temple complex. His constant arguments with and mistreatment of his workers. His pretended ignorance of the forging of antiquities that was going on in his own workshops. The list goes on.

Because of all these unpleasant details, a lot of people have taken the book to be a diatribe against Evans, some sort of condemnation of him. I guess, compared to all the glowing "Saint Evans" biographies that have already been written, it might look that way. But I don't see it that way at all. MacGillivray portrays Evans as a driven, opinionated, brilliant human being - not evil, just complicated, like we all are.

We get to see a multi-faceted person fight against his own nature as well as real-life adversaries. Watch him roll between success and failure, deal with public fame and personal sorrow. Did you know that Evans is almost single-handedly responsible for turning the Ashmolean Museum into the world-class institution it is today?

If you're looking for a pat collection of glowing highlights about "the amazing Sir Arthur Evans" then you'll be disappointed. But if you'd like to find out what drove Evans' obsession, how he thought and spoke and interacted with others, what his life was really like behind the scenes, this is the book for you. Saint or sinner (or both), Evans was a fascinating figure, and we really do have him to thank for bringing the Minoans back out into the world.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Last modified on
I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a particular passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. My first book was published in 2001; one of my most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. I've also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When I'm not busy drawing and writing, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

Comments

Additional information