As a child I loved reading mythology stories. Let’s face it, I loved reading everything. A magazine I subscribed to as a child had a lot of general information and science articles in it but the centre spread was always a favourite — a beautifully-illustrated episode of Greek mythology. In the years I subscribed to this magazine, I kept every issue in a binder and read and re-read them until they were virtually memorised. I can still ‘see’, in my mind’s eye, the story of Calypso weeping as Odysseus announces he must leave and continue his journey home to Ithaca.
Other myths were covered too, such as Norse mythology, Celtic mythology and tales such as “East of the sun, west of the moon.”
As I grew older I included more detailed studies of mythology in my leisure reading. I was finding that the more I studied science, the more my brain seemed to demand an equal portion of pure entertainment. Cramming for an exam would lead to an increase in displacement activity of trivia being involuntarily memorised.
As a result, when we first travelled to Greece over thirty years ago, we booked into whatever we could afford in tours of mythical places. We had three small children in tow, who had to be considered. My health was not good and back then I walked with crutches. So we planned to take our time. It was Jeff’s father who especially wanted us to visit his friends on Crete that had prompted the trip, but you don’t go that far from Australia without having a good look around while you’re there.
It was while we were sitting with the children in the grounds of the Minoan palace of Knossos, eating the sandwiches we’d brought with us, that the germ of a story idea took root. I could feel the history and pre-history of the place and all those stories of the people who had lived there whirled around in my head. When I started to write fiction some years later, among my first stories were the ones from our travels.
When we returned in 2018, our aim was to visit the children and grandchildren of my father-in-law’s old friends. But on the way, I had places I wanted to re-visit and other places to add to my list. My Greek mythology stories have grown in depth and volume, and I wanted to feel those places again, to ‘talk’ to my characters and get them to show me around.
And, of course, as happens when we travel, more stories emerge to tell themselves. They tug at my sleeves for attention, jogging my elbow and putting words in my head that they demand be noted down.
These places are real. Mythology is built on their past, on their truths. These people lived, laughed and loved. And this time, we went into their lives, and the evidence of their lives, in much more detail.
Knossos was a focus for us. Our hotel was across the road from the Heraklion Museum where so many of the treasures of Minoan Crete have been preserved.
Minoan Crete is so much more than mythology. This was an ancient civilisation, advanced and capable, a world centre for trade. All world trade was routed through Knossos. The treasures of Mohenjo-Daro, the spices of the east, even amber from northern Europe. Irish gold has been found in Minoan Crete. This was the hub of the world in its day. The stories tell of the people, and the archaeology confirms so much more. The paintings, the mosaics, the decorations on pottery and the jewellery show a great deal of their lives, as well as the similarity of the culture with other parts of the world at the time.
It’s not just pretty trinkets. The palace of Knossos had a drainage system that flushed every time it rained. The efficiency of design meant that things just worked. And they worked well.
The hill of Knossos was first settled, it is believed, 10,000 years ago in Neolithic times. The area is volcanically active and earthquake damage was one of the facts of life. But damaged buildings were generally rebuilt, bigger and better. With the wealth of the world concentrated in this one place, they could afford it.
The end of the Minoan civilisation came less than a generation after the 1500 BCE eruption of the volcano at Thera, now known as Santorini. That eruption produced an ash fall over months which itself didn’t impact Crete much. But when that volcano blew itself apart, there would have been a towering tsunami washing back and forth across the Mediterranean.
The palace of Knossos was badly damaged, but it still limped along for a few years. However, it owed its wealth to its position in world trade, and when all your trading partners have been badly impacted by the destruction, economic and political power imbalances can kill an economy faster than physical destruction. Invading Myceneans, more warlike, would have opportunistically plundered what they could. By 1100 BCE Knossos was abandoned.
To visit Knossos today is to view a snapshot in time, in fragments. Much of the palace is a pancaked ruin, but Arthur Evans reconstructed segments of the palace to his own vision. He got some of it right, but the main treasures are in the museum these days, while archaeologists work to ensure that what we see in the reconstructions of the palace are as close as possible to what we understand the reality to have been. However, Evans’ work itself has become history and is, ironically, protected.