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Mysteries Of The Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, And The Forging Of History Paperback – December 23, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (December 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306813289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306813283
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,618,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Mysteries of the Snake Goddess, Kenneth Lapatin traces the murky origins (and seriously debunks the authenticity of) "the most refined and precious" surviving object of Minoan art. The gold-and-ivory figure, now residing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, was discovered in the early 20th century by renowned archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Other, related figures (of equally dubious origin) retain pride of place in several North American and European museums. They are almost certainly forgeries, according to Lapatin, or at best, "neither entirely genuine nor fully fake." This is not a crime story but rather a tale of well-meaning overextrapolation. Evans, and others, took kernels of evidence to bake a large loaf of an idealized, matriarchal Cretan civilization. In short, Evans's desire to believe clouded his scientific caution. As well, Lapatin gently points out that very often our re-creations of the past are influenced by the ideas, mores, and, even, inadequacies of our present. His book is one of calm, inviting erudition that, mercifully, avoids the mean wrangling so common in academia. --H. O'Billovich --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Archeologist and art historian Lapatin (president of the Boston society of the Archaeological Institute of America) looks into the history of one of the most celebrated archeological finds of the 20th century and declares the work a modern forgery. A prized possession of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts since 1914, the six-inch ivory-and-gold statue known as the Snake Goddess was of doubtful provenance from the start. Supposedly excavated from the palace of Knossos in Crete, it was presented to the museum by Henrietta Fitz, a wealthy Boston Brahmin who had heard of the statue's discovery from the museum's director, Arthur Fairbanks, and provided the funds needed to acquire it. But precisely how Fairbanks obtained the statue is far from clear. The museum maintained it had been brought to America in fragments by a Greek peasant who immigrated to the U.S. in 1913, but the account sounds intentionally vague and with good reason, says Lapatin. The great mania for Greek antiquities that swept through Europe and America in the 19th century spawned a brisk trade throughout the Aegean and led to severe laws restricting the export of antiquities from Greece. This, in turn, created choice opportunities for smuggling, bribery and forgery. Lapatin presents both historical and artistic evidence to call the statue's authenticity into question, but he admits that a definite verdict will probably never be possible. He spends as much time examining the prevailing assumptions of antiquarians and archeologists of the period and speculates that the reconstructions of the ancient world by such figures as Schliemann and Sir Arthur Evans owed as much to the contemporary imagination as to the science of archeology. Although somewhat minute, this study will interest any reader with a taste for antiquities or classical history. Illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For over eighty years, within the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, pride of place has been given to the Snake Goddess, a statue that is sixteen centimeters tall. She is a spectacular sculpture, long regarded as the pinnacle of Minoan art from the sixteenth century BCE. She is of delicately carved ivory decorated with gold, a sensuous figure in a wide skirt of multiple tiers, a narrow, belt-encircled waist, and a bodice cut so low that her ample breasts are visible. She holds snakes in her outstretched arms. She pouts. She is one of the most famous pieces of ancient art in the world, a superb example of Cretan Bronze Age sculpture.
Except she isn't. Kenneth Lapatin, President of the Boston Society of the Archeological Institute of America, has been studying her for a decade, and casting doubts on her authenticity. Now he has published a book-length explanation, _Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History_ (Houghton Mifflin Company) of how the experts of art and archeology have been fooled, and with the book's exhaustive notes and appendices, this account is devastating. It also tells plenty about how archeology is done, what sort of characters do it, how we view the ancient past, and how wishful thinking, perhaps even more than greed, has perpetrated the forgery. The details of the origin of the statue are still unclear, and probably always will be. But Lapatin has dug into as much as can be known of its shadowy past, and has provided an expert's details. He can write, for instance, "Eyes with drilled pupils _and_ canthi have no parallel in Aegean sculpture and do not appear in ancient statuary before the second century A.D.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Gustafson on April 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lapatin does a good job in sleuthing through the surviving letters and other documentary evidence. He reaches the conclusion, mirrored by the lab report contained in an appendix to the book, that the "Boston Snake Goddess" is almost certainly a twentieth century forgery.
He reveals that it is impossible to carbon-date the ivory of the figurine itself, because of the techniques used to restore it. Ivory fragments associated with the find but not used in the reconstruction date back about four hundred years. The chemical composition of the gold in the find does not match ancient gold. The facial expression is unlike genuine examples of Minoan art, lacking either the archaic smile or the manga-style eyes of genuine artifacts.
His verdict is stated with caution, but the evidence seems to weigh against the authenticity of the Goddess. He also catalogues a number of similar statues, some of which are definite forgeries, and others have similarly dubious histories.
These images nevertheless reappear over and over again, not only in historical, but also in popular literature. They were adopted into popular culture, in fantasy novels, and as feminist symbols. They even became the keystone of enthusiasts' attempts to revive the worship of this apparently invented deity.
Where his argument breaks down is when he attempts to present the broader context. He asserts that Evans, the chief excavator at Knossos, was influenced by prevailing intellectual trends in positing ancient Crete as an idyllic society practicing a goddess-worshipping earth religion. In fact, though, he presents very little of Evans's own conclusions in making this argument. Where his theory comes from, and why it was wrong, is treated much less thoroughly in this slim book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Readable, concise, and absorbing account of the way archaeological interpretation and the manufacture of forgeries is influenced by current trends and fashions.
Sheds light on the extent to which Minoan discoveries were 'tailored' to fit their discoverers' expectations. Very important reading for anyone who is interested in 'interpreting' the art and artifacts of Knossos and Minoan culture. Otherwise, one would never know that many of the now-accepted images of Minoan culture were highly 'edited' and even created by Arthur Evans and his employees at Knossos.
If anything the book is too concise and focused on the Snake Goddess. I'd like to have seen a bit more on Evans' background and life. I'd stop short of calling it an 'expose',' but it certainly shows how archaeologists -- especially the gentleman adventurers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century -- were able to play fast and loose with the 'facts' to their own advantage. In fairness to Evans, he comes off as a well-meaning, if egotistical type more guilty of self deception than guile. But his complicity in the illicit trade in relics is documented.
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