Enjoyable overview...great for students
Duane R. Wirdel | 12/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent dvd and Hughes is easy to listen to. My only qualms are that I wish she had done more to link Minoan religion with the Neolithic Near East and I also have a problem with people being so full of angst about the idea that the Minoans might have had a dark side. We've become so enamored with Evans' "Happy Hippies" that we seem to have trouble looking at the real picture. The Minoans didn't get where they were by being pushovers...so they must have had some sort of military...God knows they were well known for making weapons and armor. Also, why is the idea that they might have practiced human sacrifice so startling? Who didn't at some time in the Bronze Age? Child sacrifice and ritualistic cannibalism weren't uncommon and its not like there is evidence that either were widespread on Crete. When one considers the Death Pits of Ur there is more startling evidence of human sacrifice in Sumer, yet no one bats an eyelash about it. Hey, the Minoans were people of their time."
The Glory That Was Ancient Greece
Stephanie DePue | Carolina Beach, NC USA | 10/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Minotaur's Island" is a British television documentary, made by and for the British Broadcasting 4 station. As presented by Bettany Hughes, a highly attractive, educated young Englishwoman who wears her accomplishments lightly, it is a stimulating look at the ancient history of Crete, an island at the crossroads of the Aegean Sea. The program gives us the sum of current knowledge of the Minoan civilization and its legendary monster, the Minotaur. This was a creature half-man, half-bull, hidden/imprisoned, according to ancient myth,in a labyrinth devised by ancient wise man Daedalus, whom Hughes calls "The Mr. Fix-It of the Bronze Age." This bloodthirsty monster was supposedly a menace to all travelers, until it was killed by the adventurer Theseus, with the aid of Ariadne, King Minos's daughter.
The Minoan, believed to be Europe's first civilization, began 5,000 years ago, according to Hughes: 1500 years before Greece's Parthenon was built, 1,000 years before Greece's great poet Homer was born. Then the Minoan civilization disappeared in fire and violence; all trace of it was lost. It receded into myth, until, in 1871, famed German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began excavating in Crete. He would be followed in 1900 by Englishman Arthur Evans, and American Harriet Boyd.
Hughes travels the island, from Knossos to Mochlos, tracing archaeological finds from 1900 through today, seeking hints about the Minoans' social and political lives. (Mind you, as befits a well-brought up young woman, she speaks softly, and she's talking ancient history: subtitles would be welcome.) At any rate, Hughes takes us down a Minoan road, the first road built by Europeans, still standing; and summarizes the evidence that the Minoans indulged in human sacrifice. She wonders: why and how did this ancient people build such huge,magnificent palaces, equipped even with hinged doors, and flush toilets? Who sat on the elaborately-carved throne that Evans discovered? What role did the daring, acrobatic bull-leapers, whose exploits survive in the civilization's excavated art, play in the people's life? What doomed this aggregation of accomplished artisans and architects? Was it fire, flood, foreign invader, religious war?
The London-born Hughes, the child of actors, discovered an interest in classical history at the age of four, after watching a documentary on the ancient King Tutankhamen of Egypt. As a teenager, she learned Latin and Greek. She won a scholarship to St. Hilda's College, Oxford. Upon graduation, she was offered a fellowship at Britain's highly esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum, but instead chose a research grant that allowed her to travel through the Balkans and Asia Minor, examining ancient public spectacles and amusements. She's written articles, and published a book, Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore, in 2005. She wrote and presented a radio series on medieval history. And, of course, she has written and presented numerous popular TV documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and the Discovery Channel. Among the best known: The Spartans; Helen of Troy; When the Moors Ruled in Europe; and Athens: Dawn of Democracy. This vital young woman, who seems always to have been bound for glory herself, is also the mother of two young daughters, Sorrel and May.
Entertaining and informative.
Ted Byrd | 04/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Minotaur's Island offers an enjoyable way to acquire an overview of Minoan civilization and its fall. The very articulate and photogenic Bettany Hughes obviously has a passion for ancient civilizations, and her dramatic narration makes her enthusiasm contagious. Visually, the documentary focuses on archeological finds, from pottery and statuettes all the way up to the colossal palace which was unearthed at Knossos. These artifacts, along with surviving paintings, suggested to early 20th century explorers and scholars that this had been a surprisingly free and modern-seeming society compared to the rigid hierarchies of the eastern Mediterranean, such as Egypt. But it turned out that these scholars had been lured by the grace and refinement of the Minoans' artistic abilities into projecting too much of modern European culture onto them. Later we are shown that subsequent discoveries revealed a darker side to Minoan civilization more in keeping with what is known of other early cultures, in that human sacrifice was evidently a part of their religious practice. Ms. Hughes explores the evidence for the cult of the Mother Goddess playing a central role in this culture, and shares some of her thoughts on the possibly darker, pagan aspects of Minoan belief. There is discussion of the influence of other regions upon the Minoans, particularly the Egyptians and Greeks. The latter part of the program is devoted to an examination of the fall of this culture, presenting evidence that it was caused by a combination of natural disasters and a destructive religious civil war which was prompted by the failure of the deities to prevent those disasters. I thought it was a plus for the documentary that that there were very few reenactments by modern actors, a device that often winds up lending an air of hokiness to the presentation. When the camera isn't focused on artifacts or archeological digs, we are given some magnificent views of the island scenery, with Ms. Hughes rambling about by motor scooter, boat, or foot. Though there is overall a very pleasant atmosphere, it is also a solid and professionally delivered presentation. In my experience, this is probably about as good as it gets for documentaries about ancient civilizations."
An amazing documentary on DVD about Europe's first civilizat
Midwest Book Review | Oregon, WI USA | 11/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hosted by historian Bettany Hughes, The Minotaur's Island is an amazing documentary on DVD about Europe's first civilization, Crete. The Minoans had a thriving culture nearly five thousand years ago, more than two millennia before Homer created "The Iliad". Then their civilization died, leaving behind little record. Archaeologists continue to discover new wonders that bring insight into Minoan culture - magnificent palaces, hinged doors, flush toilets, painted designs of acrobatic individuals leaping over bulls, and much more. Did Minoan society meet its doom from natural disasters, foreign invaders, religious strife, or a perfect storm combination of factors? The Minotaur's Island explore the many clues to the daily life and final end of this amazing ancient civilization. Highly recommended. 98 minutes, color, full screen.