KNOSSOS: PALACE, CITY, STATE || "The Minoan distance": the impact of Knossos upon the twentieth century


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  • "The Minoan distance": the impact of Knossos upon the twentiethcenturyAuthor(s): Gerald CadoganSource: British School at Athens Studies, Vol. 12, KNOSSOS: PALACE, CITY, STATE (2004), pp.537-545Published by: British School at AthensStable URL: .Accessed: 11/10/2014 13:16

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  • 49 "The Minoan distance":

    the impact of Knossos upon the twentieth century Gerald Cadogan

    The two major archaeological discoveries of the early twentieth century must be, at least in the eyes of the world, the tomb of Tutankhamun and the so-called Palace of Minos at Knossos.1 A third might be Ur in Mesopotamia, with its gold treasures and unusual aban- donment level that appeared to produce a rationale for the story of Noah's flood (Woolley 1950). Tutankhamun and Knossos have had a considerable impact on the ar- tistic and cultural development of the century that is now closing, but along somewhat different paths. What follows is a tentative, short, emphatically selective^ and probably overly Anglophone, introductory review of some of the cultural effects of the excavation of Knossos. (For a stimulating French view of the phenomena, see Farnoux 1996, especially 95-112: 'Minoan Art Nouveau').2 If it partially reveals how well - or other- wise - archaeologists have explained their archaeologi- cal results to a non-archaeological world, or how much they have helped to spread confusion by adopting or semi-adopting myth and palace models to show their discoveries, I shall leave to the readers to draw their own conclusions (although I make some fairly heavy hints). I believe that it is worth the effort to try to ex- amine, and thus re-evaluate, the accretions that have grown up around Knossos and Minoan Crete during the twentieth century; but this is very much an intro- duction to a topic that deserves fuller treatment.

    The immediate impact of Tutankhamun in the 1920s and 1930s was principally in architecture, where an Egyptianising style - which we could characterise even as a renaissance of the Napoleonic Empire style - be- came a regular part of the Modernist/ Art Deco school, notably in the design of cinemas, but even extending to such buildings as the Carreras cigarette factory of 1926 at Mornington Crescent in London, designed by M. E. & O. H. Collins as a major statement of neo- Egyptianism, complete to shaping the factory chimney as an obelisk (Cherry and Pevsner 1998, 385). The young pharaoh also affected fashion and jewellery, but in other respects his effect was limited. While there has long been a general interest in mummies, and a particular one in the fantasy of the curse of Tutankhamun (from which among the first to suffer may, or, rather, may not, have been Richard Seager [Becker and Betancourt 1996, 184], who fell ill on the boat back to Crete from

    Alexandria after visiting the famous excavation and died in Herakleion the day after he returned [Becker and Betancourt 1996, 178]), I know of only a handful of novels about Egypt or archaeologists in Egypt or the intricate relationships of the Dynasty XVIII royal fam- ily. The novel that has lasted best is, I suppose, Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile (1937).

    Mesopotamia's impact on the public was less. One can occasionally detect allusions in architecture, such as the massive brick ziggurat which was the chimney stack of Bankside power station (1957-60) in London, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (Cherry and Pevsner 1983, 582), which has now become the Tate Modern art gallery. There is also Christie's Murder in Mesopo- tamia (1936), in which the victim - the excavation di- rector's wife - is reputed to be modelled on Katharine, the notoriously difficult wife of Sir Leonard Woolley. (For the Woolleys, see Winstone 1990; also Piggott 1990.)

    When we turn to Knossos which, in its reconstituted form, has been the principal exemplar of the Minoan style of architecture, its impact on twentieth century buildings in a significant way (rather than adorning the roof of one's taverna or rent rooms with a row of horns of consecration or adding tapered columns to one's shop front) has been surprisingly little in Crete or outside the island. In Crete a few 1930s (or later) neo-Minoan buildings come to mind: the Dimarcheion of Ierapetra;

    1 I thank Katerina Kopaka and Giorgis Nikolakakis for telling me of Rahmizade Behaeddin, Yannis Alexandrakis of the Vikelaia Library for showing me the Behaeddin photographic archive and allowing me to illustrate Behaeddin's house (FIGS. 49.1-49.2), Cleanthis Sidiropoulos for sending me Markatou 1998, Peter Warren for sending Blakolmer 1999, Eleni Hatzaki for sending Farnoux 2003 and Treuil 2003 (during final edit- ing), and Katerina Kopaka and Lucy Cadogan for comments.

    2 See also now Farnoux 2003, and also Treuil 2003, both with references, especially for the impact on French culture.

    For the cultural impact of the prehistoric Aegean on Ger- manic Art Nouveau, see Blakolmer 1999, who discusses prin- cipally the effects of Mycenaean art, but does point to a coin- cidence (with possible influence, depending on the chronol- ogy) between Knossian spiral designs and those of Gustav Klimt: Blakolmer 1999, 139, pl. 27, figs. 7-8.

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    Fig. 4.i. The Heroon ofigjo in Plateia EleftheriaSy Herakleion. Courtesy Evans Archive, Ashmolean Museum.

    the old, small terminal building at Herakleion airport, as Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier reminds me, which was still in use in the 1960s; and the heroon on Plateia Eleftherias in Herakleion (Markatou 1998).3 The Herakleion heroon (FIG. 49.1), designed by Dimitrios Kyriakos, chief engineer of the city, in a style derived from the Knossos Miniature Fresco, was built in 1930 to celebrate the centenary of Greek independence (Markatou 1998, 314, figs. 3-4). Spyridon Marinatos, who was Ephor between the wars (when he commissioned Piet de Jong's magnificent reconstruction drawings, so redolent of Art Deco, of Knossian architecture for the Herakleion Museum), proposed that it be Minoan in style, which would make it distinctively and unmistakably Cretan. It also, however, shows Marinatos as following a similar path (or committing a similar error) to that of the nine- teenth century architectural neo-classicists (with results so familiar in the rest of Greece) in trying to achieve something that could be both contemporary and Minoan. The result is the "acpe^rjc avaxQovio^i ev veaQO QO|iavTixo ctQxaioXoyou" remarks Markatou (1998, 317). Today the heroon appears as an abandoned (but still interesting) piece of cultural his- tory, an anachronism that is utterly out of context, in a shabby state, and needs complete refurbishment. Kyriakos had wished to add wings to the building to house a historical museum and an ethnographic mu- seum, but there were not the funds (Markatou 1998, 315 and n. 82).

    Far more remarkable is a suburban villa that was built by a Turkish Cretan called Rahmizade Behaeddin to the west of Herakleion dating to around 1905, which

    must be the world's first neo-Minoan building. It in- corporated such details as a row of roundels below the eaves, following the roundels (beam ends) of the Town Mosaic, and had two levels of Minoan-style tapered columns, the upper columns as part of a balcony. Behaeddin was the leading photographer of Herakleion at the beginning of the twentieth century and a friend of the Danish architect Halvor Bagge, who was draw- ing at Knossos between at least 1902 and 1905 (Momigliano 1999, 164, 168) and sketched the house for him in 1904, it would seem as a first working sketch for Behaeddin and his builder. The building has not been identified and may no longer exist: Behaeddin's family reports that it was at Talos. A copy of Bagge's drawing (FIG. 49.2) and Behaeddin's photograph of the finished building (FIG. 49.3) survive in the Behaeddin photographic archive in the Vikelaia Library in Herakleion. Bagge's drawing suggests a row of running spirals where later there would be the roundels. The caption on the drawing is in Turkish (dated 1904) and also in English, where it reads: "The first draft of the project in building a Villa (Metoshi). Eventually it was constructed with little or no charge. This sketch was made by a DANISH friend of mine named HALVORE (sic) BAGGE. He was an architect and draftsman. He did it free of charge".

    The impact of Knossos, however, in writing and art, and intellectuals' attitudes to classical Hellenism, as well

    3 Outside Crete, neo-Minoan buildings have been reported at Psychiko outside Athens, and in Belgium.

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    Fig. 4.3. Behaeddins house as built (c. 1905). Photograph by Behaeddin. Courtesy, Vikelaia Library.

    Schrter; ed. Koktanek] 1966, 373-89 on Crete and "Kafti").

    For many, both lay and academic, the Knossos that Evans revealed was a significant factor, along with other major prehistoric excavations as well as contemporary advances in anthropology, psychology and knowledge of the Byzantine civilisation and, not least, encounter- ing the people and place of modern Greece (Sherrard 1978, 12-14), in demanding that they reconsider their attitudes towards classical Greece. Here in Crete was a sophisticated culture, in Hellenic lands, that was cen- turies earlier and could be classified from a narrow view- point as being, somehow, "pre-Hellenic", with appar- ently little linkage to classical Greece except through the myths. One side-effect was to make it that much more difficult to explain the phenomenon of classical Greece, another to boost the position of "anti-classi- cal" heretics sceptical of the glory of the sixth to fourth centuries by demonstrating that Greece could create other glories and other cultural landscapes independ- ently of the classical era.4 Sherrard (1978, 2-3) notes Virginia Woolf, for instance, as among those wonder- ing whether classical Greece was anything more than a mirage.

    4 By definition, the question cannot arise of Minoan Crete's owing any cultural debt to classical Greece, unlike Byzantine Greece where a/the debt is a matter of debate.

    as in popular culture especially as portrayed to jet age tourists in all too familiar ersatz-Minom forms, has been considerable. The excavation at once attracted wide interest and plenty of visitors to the site. There were reports in Nature (such as Hall 1902a, 1902^). In Vi- enna, Sigmund Freud, who had a strong interest until old age in prehistoric Aegean archaeology and collected Mycenaean, Cypriot and other antiquities (D'Agata 1994), knew by July 1901 of the excavations at Knossos and the claim that here was the real labyrinth of Minos (D'Agata 1994, 14). Among his books, to be seen on the shelves just behind his desk in his study in his last house in Hampstead in London, now the Freud Mu- seum, are The Palace of Minos at Knossos and, more sur- prisingly, volume 6 for 1 899-1 900 of The Annual of the British School at Athens, which contains Evans's first preliminary report from Knossos (Evans 1900). D'Agata (1994) describes the role of archaeology, and the writings of Evans, in Freud's forming his theories of psychoanalysis, even if he felt that "psychoanalysts, unlike archaeologists, "can sooner or later see their ob- jects whole and clear, and hold them fast"" (D'Agata 1994, 20 and n. 64, with references). Similarly, Oswald Spengler ([with Schrter; ed. Koktanek] 1966, 513-20) used the first two volumes of The Palace of Minos as well as S cripta Mino a i (Evans 1909) in writing The Decline of the West, which includes a short but provoca- tive section on the "high civilization" of the Minoans (Spengler 1928, 88: "A Mycenaean palace is a promise, a Minoan something that is ending". See also comments by Calder [2001, 153, 162, n. 8]; and Spengler [with

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    Sherrard also points to the impact of Knossos on D. H. Lawrence (Sherrard 1978, 14), citing his poem 'The Greeks are coming!':

    "it is ships of Cnossos coming, out of the morning end of the sea, it is Aegean ships, and men with archaic pointed beards..." (Lawrence [ed. Pinto and Roberts] 1964, 687).

    This was written not long before he died (in March 1930) and published posthumously among his Last Po- ems (Lawrence 1932). Another poem of the same vin- tage is 'Middle of the world' (Lawrence [ed. Pinto and Roberts] 1964, 688): the title refers to the Mediterra- nean. Here Lawrence writes as a voyager:

    "What do I care if the smoking ships of the P. & O. and the Orient Line and all the other stink- ers cross like clock-work the Minoan distance! They only cross, the distance never changes.

    ". . .1 see descending from the ships at dawn slim naked men from Cnossos, smiling the archaic smile..."

    In autumn 1929 (which may be the date of the poems) Crete was on his mind, as two letters of his of 1 Octo- ber 1929 show. One is a request for books on civilisa- tion in the eastern Mediterranean "before the rise of Athens - on Tree and Pillar cult - on the Chaldaean and Babylonian myths - Sir Arthur Evans on Crete is so huge and expensive" (Lawrence [ed. Sagar and Boulton] 1993, 506-7).5 The other rebukes the recipi- ent since the "impulse to your drawings is either Greek (Athens) or else Jewish". Lawrence...


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