Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History

Book Reviews | Feb 23rd, 2008

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Author: Kenneth Lapatin
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Genre: History/Art
Pages: 274
Retail Price: 9.99
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Mysteries of the Snake Goddess takes a close look at the widely accepted Minoan art that has been excavated at Crete in the early 1900s, casting doubt on its authenticity. And since its authenticity is questioned, author Kenneth Lapatin argues, so should be our modern interpretations on Minoan culture that have been derived from this art.

The book is fascinating and in-depth, covering many of the famous finds at Knossos and their colorful archaeologists, and dissecting old records and letters to track down the provenance of these pieces. The focus of the book, though, is on the best known statuette, the oddly modern Snake Goddess. In surprisingly interesting detail, he weeds through the conflicting stories of its origins to conclude that it may, in fact, have been forged by artisans working at the excavation.

Lapatin, an art historian, archaeologist, and museum curator, writes persuasively and evenly, in a tone of thoughtfulness rather than overbearing opining. He offers no definitive answers, but asks the right questions, and his research is illuminating.

Why should anyone care? The book is written so well that even if you have no interest in the subject matter, it has a way of drawing you into the mystery of the story. And even if the origins of the Snake Goddess (and many other artifacts) are legitimate, this book makes you rethink the ways in which we have recreated history by juxtaposing our own modern values and ideas onto ancient civilizations. That is, even if the artifacts aren’t forgeries, our reconstruction of the past, in a sense, might be.

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