Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


15 September 2012

Two Knights and a Goddess: Sir Arthur Evans, Sir James George Frazer, and the Invention of Minoan Religion

Cynthia Eller Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 25:1 (2012): 75-98.


Recent biographies of Sir Arthur Evans and histories of his excavations at Knossos have made it clear that Evans’s description of Minoan religion was not solidly based on the material evidence at Knossos. By the time Evans wrote The Palace of Minos he was fully committed to the belief that the Minoans worshipped a single Great Mother Goddess in many guises, along with a subordinate male deity, her son. There are two key questions about Evans’s vision of Minoan religion: first, when did Evans arrive at the conclusion that the Minoans’ principal deity was a goddess? And second, why did he prefer this goddess-centered explanation of the material facts when so many other stories could be told about the religious meaning of the same objects? The most common answers to these questions are that Evans thought Minoan religion was goddess-centered from the time he first began to explore Bronze Age Crete, and that he was drawn to the figure of a Mother Goddess because he lost his own mother when he was only six years old. Both of these suppositions are almost certainly mistaken. Evans did not bring the goddess thesis with him to Crete, and whatever his lingering feelings about his mother’s death, they were not responsible for his conversion to the goddess thesis for Minoan culture. This paper argues that by far the most significant factor in Evans’s creation of the Minoan Goddess was his exposure to the work of Sir James George Frazer, both directly and through the auspices of classicist Jane Ellen Harrison.


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