תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

of the eighth century have actually been discovered beside the church which may safely be assigned to this building, which was erected by John VII between the Temple of Vesta and the Palatine. Plato, the father of John VII, made many additions to this part of the Imperial Palace, and especially a great stairway, as mentioned by John in the epitaph on his tomb in the Church of St. Anastasia. The Pontifical Court resided in this part of the Palatine, overlooking the Forum, until the tenth century, and this explains the beauty and the size of the church recently discovered. In it is to be recognised the Pontifical Chapel dedicated to the Virgin. On the wall at the end is represented Christ surrounded by a halo of cherubim and angels in attitudes of adoration, and in the apse is the figure of the Saviour, the symbols of the Evangelists, and scenes from the life of Joseph in Egypt. These paintings of the early ages of Christianity are of extraordinary interest, and are a notable addition to the astonishing series of historical antiquities by which the history of Rome can be traced from the earliest period down to modern times.”Daily Graphic.

Discoveries in Crete.-Our members have, doubtless, remarked the various accounts of exploration in Crete which have appeared from time to time, with none the less interest that they lie outside the province of British archæology; for it has always been the prerogative of this Association to pay lively regard to everything that helps forward the knowledge of antiquity. The following letter, which was sent to the Press some little time ago, gives the fullest account that has yet been published of these interesting and startling discoveries :

The preoccupation of the public mind caused by the war in South Africa made it impossible last year to press the claims of Cretan exploration. Sympathy, indeed, was not wanting. A representative committee was formed, and we were able to initiate a fund, to which the patronage of the High Comunissioner of the Powers in Crete, Prince George of Greece, was graciously accorded. Thanks to the good ottices of his Royal Highness, a number of important sites were set apart for British excavation. But of the £5,000 required for the adequate realisation of our scheme, barely a tenth part was collected by private subscriptions. Meanwhile, Italian and French missions, supported by Government aid, had already been in the field for several months. Even to hold their own, it was absolutely imperative that British representatives should make a beginning. We had no choice but to embark, last spring, on an enterprise which, once begun, for the honour of British science must be carried through.

The sum of less than £500 that had been privately collected was devoted to the assistance of two separate enterprises. Half of the amount went to assist one of the undersigned in the excavation of a site already acquired by him at Kephala, on the site of Knossos, which proved to contain the remains of a prehistoric palace. How inadequate was this contribution may be judged from the fact that five-sixths of the cost of the work--still far from completion-have fallen on the explorer's shoulders. The other half of the sum collected was allocated to the Director of the British School at Athens for the exploration of the prehistoric town and tombs of Knossos, and of the great Cave of Zeus on Mount Dicta. This was supplemented by £200, spared with difficulty from the annual income of the school, and by the payment of an architect from the same source. The extraordinary results which rewarded both these undertakings have attracted such wide attention that a very brief statement will suffice here. The discoveries made at Knossos throw into the shade all the other exploratory campaigns of last season in the Eastern Mediterranean, by whatever nationality conducted. It is not too much to say that the materials already gathered have revolutionised our knowledge of prehistoric Greece ; and that to find even an approach to the results obtained, we must go back to Schliemann's great discovery of the Royal tombs at Mycenae.

The prehistoric site, of which some two acres have now been uncovered at Knossos, proves to contain a palace beside which those of Tiryns and Mycenae sink into insignificance. By an unhoped-for piece of good fortune the site, though in the immediate neighbourhood of the greatest civic centres of the island in ancient, mediaval, and modern times, had remained practically untouched for over three thousand years. At but a very slight depth below the surface of the ground, the spade has uncovered great courts and corridors, propylaea, a long succession of magazines, containing gigantic store jars might have hidden the Forty Thieves, and a multiplicity of chambers, pre-eminent among which is the actual throne room and council chamber of Homeric kings. The throne itself, on which (if so much faith be permitted to us) Minos may have declared the law, is carved out of alabaster, once brilliant with coloured designs, and relieved with curious tracery and crocketed arcading, which is wholly unique in ancient art, and exhibits a strange anticipation of thirteenthcentury Gothic.

In the throne room, the western entrance gallery, and elsewhere, partly still adhering to the walls, partly in detached pieces on the floors, was a series of fresco paintings, excelling any known examples of the art in Mycenaean Greece. A beautiful life-size painting of a youth, with an European and almost classically Greek profile, gives us the first real knowledge of the race who produced this mysterious early civilisation. Other frescoes introduce us to a lively and hitherto unknown miniature style, representing, among other subjects, groups of women engaged in animated conversation in the courts and on the balconies of the palace. The monuments of the sculptor's art are equally striking. It may be sufficient to mention here a marble foun. tain in the shape of a lioness's head, with enamelled eyes, fragments of a frieze, with beautifully-cut rosettes, superior in its kind to anything known from Mycenae ; an alabaster vase naturalistically copied from a triton shell; a porphyry lamp, with graceful foliation, supported on an Egyptianising lotus column. The head and parts of the body of a magnificently-painted relief of a bull, in gesso duro, are unsurpassed for vitality and strength.

It is impossible here to refer more than incidentally to the new evidence of intercourse between Crete and Egypt at a very remote period supplied by the palace finds of Knossos. It may be mentioned, however, as showing the extreme antiquity of the earlier elements of the building, that in the great Eastern Court was found an Egytian seated figure of diorite, broken above, which can be approximately dated about 2000 B.C. Below this, again, extends a vast Stone Age settlement, which forms a deposit in some places 24 ft. in thickness. Neither is it possible here to dwell on the new indications supplied by some of the discoveries in the “House of Minos” as to the cult and religious beliefs of its occupants. It must be sufficient to observe that one of the miniature frescoes found represents the façade of a Mycenaean shrine, and that the palace itself seems to have been a sanctury of the Cretan God of the Double Axe, as well as a dwellingplace of prehistoric kings.

There can be little remaining doubt that this huge building, with its maze of corridors and tortuous passages, its medley of small chambers, its long succession of magazines with their blind endings, was in fact the Labyrinth of later tradition, which supplied a local habitation for the Minotaur of grisly fame. The great figures of bulls in fresco and relief that adorned the walls, the harem scenes of some of the frescoes, the corner stones and pillars marked with the "

“ labrys,” or double axe—the emblem of the Cretan Zeus, explaining the derivation of the name “ Labyrinth” itself—are so many details which all conspire to bear out this identification. In the Palace-Shrine of Knossos there stands at last revealed to us the spacious structure which the skill of Daedalus is said to have imitated from the great Egyptian building on the shore of Lake Moeris, and with it some part at least of his fabled masterpieces still clinging to the walls.

But brilliant as are the illustrations thus recovered of the high early civilisation of the city of Minos, and of the substantial truth of early tradition, they are almost thrown into the shade by a discovery which carries back the existence of written documents in the Hellenic lands some seven centuries beyond the first-known monuments of the historic Greek writing. In the chambers and magazines of the palace there came to light a series of deposits of clay tablets, in form somewhat analogous to the Babylonian, but inscribed with characters in two distinct types of indigenous prehistoric script : one hieroglyphic or quasi-pictorial, the other linear. The existence of a hieroglyphic script in the island had already been the theme of some earlier researches by the explorer of the palace, based on the more limited material supplied by groups of signs on a class of Cretan seal-stones, and the ample corroboration of the conclusions arrived at was, therefore, the more satisfactory. These Cretan hieroglyphs will be found to have a special importance in their bearing on the origin of the Phænician alphabet.

But the great bulk of the tablets belonged to the linear class, exhibiting an elegant and much more highly-developed form of script, with letters of an upright and singularly European aspect. The inscriptions, over a thousand of which were collected, were originally contained in coffers of clay, wood, and gypsum, which had been in turn secured by clay seals impressed with finely-engraved signets, and countermarked and countersigned in the same script, while the clay was still wet, by controlling officials. The clay documents themselves are, beyond doubt, the palace archives. Many relate to accounts concerning the royal arsenal, stores, and treasures. Others, perhaps, like the contemporary cuneiform tablets, refer to contracts or correspondence. The problems attaching to the decipherment of these clay records are of enthralling interest; and we have here locked up for us materials which may some day enlarge the bounds of history.

The work of excavation in the palace of Knossos is barely half completed, and yet whichever way we turn the relics already obtained from within its walls supply new and unhoped-for data for the reconstruction of early Ægean civilisation. Nor is this all. Exploratory digging to the south and west of the palace revealed a veritable Pompeii of houses of the same early period, which yielded, among other things, by far the finest series yet found of vases of the singular primitive Cretan polychrome style, unrepresented in European museums. One remarkably well-preserved block of buildings appears to be a group of shrines deroted to a Pillar worship, such as is known on the Phænician and Palestinian coasts, and of which the palace itself supplies an example connected with the cult of the Cretan Zeus.

Finally, in the early heats, the clearing of the Cave of Psychro, notorious some years since for its rich votive deposits, was carried out. This cave is no other than the Holy Dictæan Cavern, in which Hesiod and Virgil state that the Supreme God was cradled. There took place the legendary union of Zeus with Europa, and therefrom, as from another Sinai, Minos brought down the Law after communion with God. The blasting away of the fallen rocks in the upper half of the Grotto revealed a rude altar of burnt sacrifice, and a sacred enclosure or Temenos, cumbered with votive deposits from 5 ft. to 7 ft. deep, full of vases, libation tables, weapons and implements in bronze, bone and ivory statuettes in terra cotta, and models of every other object dedicated to the God. In the lower part opens a profound abyss, where a gloomy subterranean pool, out of which rises a forest of stalactitic pillars, continues into the heart of the mountain. Here a great surprise was in store. For not only was the bottom mud full of bronze statuettes, gems, and articles of male and female use, but the vertical slits in the pillars were found to have been used as niches, and to contain an immense number of votive double axes, weapons, and trinkets. This vast cavern was undoubtedly the mysterious Holy of Holies into which Minos descended alone, and on emerging, as Dionysius says, showed the Law to the people as a gift from Zeus himself. The discoveries made in this cave cover the whole primitive period of Cretan history back to the pre-Mycenaean epoch.

The clouds of war are at last lifting, and it is with confidence that we now appeal for help to carry on the work already set in hand. The Palace of Knossos is still but half uncovered, and the large expenditure entailed by excavation of this vast building, which its explorer hopes to take up again in February next, is a severe strain on individual resources. Among the other sites included in the British Concession are two Votive Caves, the citadels of more than one Mycenaan city of Eastern Crete, and Præsos, the ancient capital of that region, within whose walls the language of the old indigenous stock--the Eteokretes of the Odyssey-survived to historic times. Here, if anywhere, should be found the key to the undeciphered hieroglyphic script of Crete; and it is to be hoped that sufficient funds may be forthcoming to begin excavations at this spot during the coming season, under the auspices of the British School at Athens.

The exploration that we have taken in hand is not one confined to the back-waters of antiquarian research. It lies about the fountainhead of our own civilisation. Inadequately supported as it has been,

« הקודםהמשך »