modernist minotaurs


That the heroes of Homer’s epics might indeed have inhabited a world no less real than the Dublin of Joyce’s youth had been potently suggested by the exploits of Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy and Mycenae. Yet it was not only Agamemnon and his fellow warlords who appeared to have been redeemed from the oblivion of the fantastical. So, too, from 1900 onwards, had an even more primordial generation of heroes. Joyce, ever sensitive to the zeitgeist, had made play with it by surnaming his fictional alter ego Dedalus, after “the hawklike man” who had built, among many other wonders, the labyrinth in which the Minotaur was imprisoned. The excavation of an entire civilization on Crete, known as Minoan after the fabled king who was said to have ruled the island at the height of its prosperity, had served to reveal a wellspring for European civilization even more ancient than the grim warrior city of Mycenae. “In my beginning is my end”: to fathom the culture of Minoan Crete, so artists, historians and assorted prophets came to believe, might be to catch a glimpse of the West’s future as well as its past.

more from Tom Holland at the TLS here.