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Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete
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From Library Journal
In this companion to The Knossos Labyrinth (Routledge, 1990), Castleden gives us an outline of the Minoan culture that, he alleges, is more consistent with recent archaeological evidence: that Knossos was a temple, not a palace, in which occurred not only athletic games and graceful rites, but also human sacrifice and other behaviors pointing to a previously unsuspected dark side to the Minoan personality; and that the Minoan world view and distinctive artistic vision were stimulated by the widespread eating of opium. His revision is not implausible. In early cultures the line between church and state tended to be hazy; so with its architecture. On the other hand, in his zeal to reexamine all traditional theories Castleden frequently proposes scenarios drawn more from psychosocial inference than evidence, yielding arguments less compelling than the originals. A nation of addicts could scarcely have had the energy to execute drug-induced creativity, much less to develop the commercial empire that was ancient Crete under the Minoans. Thought-provoking nonetheless.
-Jo-Ann D. Suleiman, Sanad Support Technologies, Rockville, Md.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Displaying sound scholarship, Castleden cites excavations and theories in detailed but accessible prose. . . . A more complex, even contradictory, image of the Minoans than appears in other works."
"Strongly recommended for all ancient history collections."
"Well researched, well illustrated, and bang up to date as far as recent discoveries are concerned."
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Those who know something of the field will probably find little new other than a perspective change. Here rather than "palaces" the extant Minoan ruins are interpreted as "temples." This change allows new ideas regarding the character and accomplishments of the Minoan people to be aired, always a good thing since it allows new discoveries to test the reliability and likelihood of alternate hypotheses.
I probably don't need to caution the reader familiar with the literature that there is little material or written evidence to go on with respect to the Minoans; something the author observes as well but only belatedly in the last chapters of the work. For those less initiated, I would like to flag the author's most significant words: "perhaps," "possibly," "maybe," "should," "could," and "might." All of these modifiers are significant, and they encourage the reader to keep an open mind; in short, other interpretations than these are also possible.
I've studied ancient history, including the Minoans, and have been to a number of sites that figured highly in my studies. It was almost a matter of "pilgrimage." One of the sites I went to was Knossos where I expected something of an epiphany; well, I had one but not that which I had expected.
In treading the corridors and staircases of this very famous archaeological site, I noted that much of what was standing had been rebuilt, the modern materials composing it being abundantly apparent. This is as expected with archaeological reconstruction properly done. Seeing the vast degree to which the standing remains owed their existence to interpretations placed on them by Sir Arthur Evans, I was rather shocked. Admittedly such reconstructions are not based on nothing, but even what they are based on can be subject to preconceived ideas, personal biases, societal or cultural objectives, and other even less substantial influences. The very extent to which the site of Knossos was the result of interpretation and thus to such influences was what was surprising. This fact was very significant to me, since it is not always apparent from books on the topic, and books had been my primary resource on the culture until my visit. It made me realize how important an actual visit to an archaeological site is for anyone studying its history.
Lest the uninitiated think that this type of introduced bias in writing about the past might well be said of any ancient civilization, I would point out that there are far fewer contentions over Egyptian history, where archaeology and written history are able to reinforce and correct one another. This is not the case with Minoan Crete, where although there are written documents in at least four different scripts, their type and frequency are not always helpful to the historian. One can learn something about a person from their laundry and grocery lists perhaps, but not enough to say one actually "knows" them and definitely not enough to say one knows what they "think" or "mean."
I welcome the new perspective and lament the lack of newer field research.