Friday, March 25, 2011

My Love Affair With a Bull

I grew up in a house full of books.  As a child I was fascinated by a paperback with a brown and black cover and stylized illustrations, similar to those on Greek pottery.  I don't know what was more interesting to me--the depictions of horrible mosters and flying horses, or the depictions of boys with no clothes on.

The book was Edith Hamilton's classic, "Mythology."  When I learned to read I loved the stories and I became a sort of mini ancient mythology geek.  Of course, I also loved the cool Ray Harryhausen movies that featured mythological stories and creatures, like Jason and the Argonauts, and the Sindbad movies.  At Okemos High School I had the opportunity to write my own independent study classes under the supervision of a teacher, so I expanded World Mythology I and II to World Mythology III through VI!  I have always been excited and interested in these wonderful stories and characters, and I was thrilled when Robert found an affordable trip to Greece for us that included visits to many places that are important in the myths.

We went to Crete, to visit the Palace of Knossos.  This was the center of the bronze-age Minoan culture, one of the oldest in the world, that disappeared shortly after a massive volcanic eruption on nearby Thera, and its subsequent tsunamis.  That happened around 1628 B.C.  For centuries the palace disappeared everywhere but in mythology.  It was reportedly designed by Daedelus, father of Icarus and the inventor of flight.  It was the home of King Minos, who angered the Poseidon. The revengeful Poseidon tricked Minos' wife into having sex with a bull in disguise, and she gave birth to the terrible Minotaur.  The Minotaur lived in a layrinth maze, and ate men.  The Minotaur was killed by the hero Theseus, who escaped the labyrinth with the help of the King's daughter, Ariadne, who had given him a ball of string so he could find his way out.

The Palace ruins were found in about 1875, when the area was controlled by Turkey.  Schliemann planned to excavate it after he finished at Troy, but he died.  When the English took over in 1900, a wealthy Lord named Arthur Evans bought the whole place and started digging up stuff.  The Palace has over 1,000 interconnected rooms, some quite small, and for a long time people thought it might be the remains of the legendary Labyrinth, but now it seems more like that a nearby cave complex/ancient stone stone quarry that includes more than three miles of tunnels and chambers, is the most likely candidate for that designation.  

Anyway, Evans decided to try to reconstruct the Palace as he thought it looked, and used the bits of artwork and stone remains as his guides.  Archaeologists either love him for all the work he did, or despise him for using too much conjecture in his designs.  The Greeks mostly love him, because unlike Lord Elgin, who took the Parthanon Marbles to London, Evans gave all the treasures he unearthed to the Greeks. 

So, even though almost everything at the site is a reconstruction, it was cool to wander around and imagine what it must have looked like. 


Some of the walls that made people think this was the labyrinth.

Reconstructed "throne room" and the famous bull-jumper mural.


This is not supposed to be a story about a palace and a myth and a history lesson!  It's supposed to be about me, and a bull!  

I fell in love with that bull the first time I saw him.  He was in another of my parents' books, about art history.  He is amazing--so powerful and perfect, carved 3,500 years ago.  He is about twenty inches tall and made out of black marble, with a white marble nose and inset eyes so well fitted you can hardly see the joins, and graceful golden horns.  I have always been attracted to depictions of animals and animal totems, but this bull sculpture has always just stunned me.  I had hoped to be able to see it, but we only had twenty minutes after the tour of the archaeological site, and I knew that wasn't enough time even if I had known exactly where the museum was and exactly where the sculpture was inside it.  The fact that the museum was closed for renovations sealed it for me.  Out of luck. 

But then, when we had returned to our bus to go back to the ship, the guide said, "Around that corner, there's a room, if you want to see something . . . . "   

The museum had moved most of its most popular pieces to one room during the renovations.  There were so many gorgeous and amazing things to see!  And I got to see my beautiful bos, so I can die happy!