February 20, 2007

Last summer I went to one of the most interesting places in the known universe: Knossos.

Knossos is interesting not so much for the later legends the Myceneans wrapped around it, but for itself; the Minoans may well have been the first culture to produce ‘art for art’s sake’ i.e. for the sake of expression rather than for ritual purposes. Women had strong roles in society and, whilst the Minoans may have had a powerful navy, the ritual modifications made to the weapons shown in their artwork suggest that they weren’t a warlike race, or at least not amongst themselves. One of their favourite sports was bull-leaping, and the images they painted of this sport show lithe, joyful, naturalistic yet idealised representations of the human form.

Another thing they painted, contrasting with the more formal, martial style of the Myceneans who probably conquered them, is people smiling. They are always smiling. Now I know you can’t understand the past using the standards of the present, but hey, I’m going to hazard a guess that they were happy.

They made their money selling rare purple dye, later called Tyrian Purple, made from crushed Murex shells (odd little crustacean thingies). Now I suspect my grasp of history to be somewhat tenuous, so I’ll let you lot find your own sources and instead show you some of my pictures of the palace complex, as well as one lovely picture fragment from the museum at Heraklion; I’m not sure if the face sketch was part of the original and has been restored, or if it’s been projected based on minoan art style, but in any case it’s an evocative image.






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