Posted: 10/21/2008

 

The Minotaur’s Island

(2002)

by Jef Burnham



Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.


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This British documentary reveals the trials of archeologists from the 1900s onward to uncover the origins of the people of Crete, who are mentioned throughout Greek mythology, and whose civilization still remains, in many respects, a mystery today. Bettany Hughes, The Minotaur’s Island’s charming host, as well as author and Oxford scholar, takes us on a tour of the diverse and beautiful landscapes and ruins of the island of Crete, outlining the rise and fall of Europe’s first civilization.

The first half of this two-part documentary series examines the original theories of archeologists such as Arthur Evans and Harriet Boyd, who uncovered the ruins of the once magnificent labyrinth palaces of the Minoan civilization. These theories proved to be a flawed, as later archeologists managed to decipher the language on half the ancient Minoan tablets. At some point, it seems the Minoans were conquered by the Mycenaean people of Greece, and the Mycenean-led Crete was run as a sort of corporate entity, keeping precise logs of shepherd’s herds, as well as what and how much was offered up to each god.

Hughes details the Minoans worship of female deities, primarily a snake goddess, whose unsettling icons depict the goddess as a bare-breasted woman clad almost exclusively in large serpents; and also a boy god, who came into prominence sometime near the collapse of the culture, when an ecological disaster shook the people’s faith in their serpent goddess. Hughes also illuminates the disturbing evidence of what seemed to archeologists as a definitively modern culture practicing human sacrifice and, after the aforementioned natural disaster, the cannibalistic consumption of their own children.

The music used in the series is at times a bit bizarre and out of place, and though the cinematography capturing the sweeping landscapes is exceptional for a television documentary, there are a couple shots that are a bit troublesome. One shot in particular, dominated by a large patch of black nothingness, left my wife and I puzzling over what precisely we were supposed to see in the image. We also found that in the dramatization of the myth of the labyrinth that the crouching, wide-eyed run of Theseus and the ridiculous flexing pose of the Minotaur provide a great deal of amusement. It does have its problems, which is to be expected of a television production of this scope. But overall, The Minotaur’s Island is an interesting, informative, and unobtrusive watch, especially if you are a fan of Greek mythology.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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