Thursday 13 April 2023

Into the Labyrinth: The Knossos Exhibition's First Room

"The Labyrinth in Greek myth was a maze designed for King Minos to house the monstrous Minotaur," is the introduction on the first wall at the Ashmolean Museum's latest exhibition, The Labyrinth was said to be on the Island of Crete, at Knossos. However, as the two objects on either side of those words show, there are different interpretations of what a labyrinth is. On one side we have a reconstruction of an ancient tile showing a maze-like puzzle of routes, on the other is 21st century art showing a design with a single twisting path from the edge to the centre. That art is from London's Green Park Underground station, in the series I blogged about recently.

The first room at Labyrinth: Knossos, Myth and Reality retells the tale of the Minotaur using objects from the ancient world, including a Roman statue of the bull-headed monster, and an animated video with storytelling. Other items include Greek and Roman coins, with large-scale reproductions, showing labyrinths and demonstrating how much these later inhabitants of Crete embraced the myth. 

However, there are still mysteries about what truth lies behind it, and people long searched for the actual labyrinth or maze. In 1878, Cretan archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos found evidence of a Bronze Age palace on Crete. His work was controversially taken over by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated there in the early 20th century. Evans' interpretations of what he found, and his partial reconstruction of the buildings, are highly controversial too. 

Archaeologists are still excavating the site and finding out new things about the people who lived on the island over 9,000 years. Further rooms in the Ashmolean's exhibition explore the history of the excavations as well as what was found, and look at recent discoveries that might hold clues as to the real meaning of the tale of the Minotaur. I'll be blogging more about that in the future. 

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I've long been fascinated by labyrinths in their various forms. As well as writing about the art on the Underground, I've reviewed a few books on the topic and walked Julian's Bower. You can see some links to other posts below.

Labyrinth - Knossos, Myth and Reality is on at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 30 July. Full price tickets are £15.30. There is also a book accompanying the exhibition, which you can see on Amazon.  

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