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Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism
Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism
Cathy Gere
University of Chicago Press, 2009
288 pp., $47.00

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Timothy Larsen

Make It New

The modernists' fascination with Knossos.

In 1893 it took Arthur Evans' fancy to excavate Knossos. A wealthy Englishman, on his very first visit to Crete he promptly tried to buy the land. When he realized that a more legitimate-looking operation was wanted, Evans instantly claimed to represent the "Cretan Exploration Fund," an organization recently founded in his imagination. Seven years later he was in complete control of the site, beginning his first season of digging in the wonderfully modern sounding year of 1900. An immediate priority was to have a grand residence built for himself. He named it the Villa Ariadne, after the ancient goddess-in-residence. (Decades later, when the Greek government fled the Nazi occupation of the mainland, King George came to live in the villa, clearly the best dwelling on the island.)

Evans' home was built using the latest method—reinforced concrete—and he quickly decided that this would also be ideal for "reconstituting" Knossos palace. It thus happened that the most modern-looking structures on Crete in the early decades of the 20th century purported to be the most ancient ones, resurrected. Evans had a genius for allowing his own sensibilities and desires to inform his ostensibly historical findings, and thus reborn Knossos is uncannily modernist in design. In her tour de force, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Cathy Gere provides photographs in which Evans' Minoan palace is shown to be the separated twin of the Lenin Mausoleum.

Gere has hit a scholarly vein so astonishingly rich and seemingly inexhaustible that it is a wonder that she did not die of gold fever while trying to capitalize on it. A near miracle in itself in today's academic climate, she avoids both the Scylla of pedestrian chronicling and the Charybdis of bizarre and untenable theoretical impositions. Instead, Gere provides something surprisingly rare in current monographs—genuinely insightful analysis.

The back story focuses on Heinrich Schliemann and Friedrich Nietzsche. Schliemann ...

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