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Præ-Aryan Religion in Greece

Abstract

FEW discoveries in the archæological field during the past few years have commanded such universal attention and have so profoundly modified our conception of the origines of European civilisation as the excavation of the Mycenæan palace and city of Knôssos in Crete by the able and energetic keeper of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, Mr. Arthur J. Evans. It is not many years ago since, in spite of the discoveries of Schliemann and his successors at Troy, at Mycenæ and at Tiryns, and of the steadily accumulating evidence from all parts of the Greek world, things “Mycenæan” were still looked at askance, especially by classical archæologists of the older school, who could never accustom themselves to the idea that the classical Greece which they and their forefathers for three centuries back had known by heart was but the second phase of Greek life and activity, that long before the First Olympiad Greece had been the seat of a magnificent and luxurious culture of which faint echoes are preserved to us in the Homeric poems, and of which the actual remains still exist upon Greek soil. The treasuries of Minyas and of Atreus still stood above ground, but none seemed to realise their intense interest; Mycenæ still existed off the road from Corinth to Argos, but nobody had thought of looking to see whether it had really been “golden” and “widewayed” until the firm belief of Schliemann in the historical reality of the Trojan War impelled him to go and look. We know what he found, and now, after twenty years, we can appreciate the revolution which he wrought in our conceptions of the earlier ages of Greece. Mr. Evans's Cretan discoveries have rivetted our attention once more upon the antiquities of the “Mycenæan” Age, and now we can see clearly, where before we saw but darkly, that the relics of the First Greece which we can hold between our hands are not those of any problematical “Mycenæan” period, the date of which was but doubtful and was, indeed, not to be too closely investigated lest it upset our traditional ideas too much—are, in fact, the relics of the Heroic Age of Greece. The Heroes existed: and here are their cities, their palaces and their works of art. No such actual personages as Agamemnon or Achilles or Minôs need ever have existed in life, but their magnificent figures undoubtedly represent the great kings who ruled in Mycenæ and the Isles, in Lacedæmon and in Crete, in times which to the Homeric singers were already ancient. The Trojan War is no sun-myth, it is a tradition of an actual occurrence. Theseus may never have actually rescued Ariadne from the Minotaur, but the Labyrinth has been laid bare by the spade of Mr. Evans, and the Cretan kings who are personified by the legendary Minos undoubtedly lived therein and venerated there a deity to whom the bull was sacred and to whom human sacrifices were very possibly offered in remote days long before the story of Theseus and the Minotaur took shape. And now Mr. Evans has discovered and placed before us the actual hieroglyphed tablets which contain the records, the accounts, the inventories, the registers of the daily transactions of the Minoans of the Heroic Age. We cannot yet read them, but there is no doubt that no energy will be spared to attain this end. We are on the brink of discoveries which may extend our knowledge of the beginnings of Greek, and therefore also of European civilisation, in directions which cannot as yet be guessed at. We may yet read the actual historical records of events of which Greek tradition has preserved to us but distorted and imaginative accounts.

Mycenaean Tree and Pillar Cult and its Mediterranean Relations.

By Arthur J. Evans. “Journal of Hellenic Studies,” vol. xxi. pp. 99ff. Pp. xii + 106. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1901.) Price 6s. net.

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H., H. Præ-Aryan Religion in Greece . Nature 65, vi–viii (1901). https://doi.org/10.1038/0650via0

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