Reconstructed Fresco of Cretan Bull Dancers
I have visited Crete three times: as a U.S. Marine in 1958, with my wife in 1973, and with my wife and four children in 1988. I have many fond memories of the Mediterranean littoral and its islands, but none of the other beautiful Mediterranean islands I have visited (such as Santorini, Rhodes, Patmos, and Mykonos) have captivated me with as intense an emotional grip on my heart as Crete.
In 1958, a decade into the Cold War, U.S. President Eisenhower dispatched U.S. Airborne and Marines to Beirut, Lebanon, to calm down sectarian violence in what was then a lovely city. I was sent with the 6th Marines as reinforcements and replacements, sailing out of Morehead City, North Carolina, across the North Atlantic and the full length of the Mediterranean. A couple days short of Beirut, we stopped at Souda Bay, Crete. Being an 18-year-old PFC in G2, I was appointed driver for three officers who wanted to visit the rural countryside. I have a vivid visual memory of driving the Jeep up to a flock of sheep that blocked the way on a narrow stone bridge across a ravine. The shepherds carried staffs and cleared a way through the flock as I inched the Jeep across. It was my first experience ashore in a Mediterranean environment, and I was enchanted by the scents, and bleating. Still a kid, the shepherds’ amiability surprised me. As I drove into a small village with piled stone walls about waist high (high enough to keep out sheep) and whitewashed stone homes, the people flooded out of the houses and surrounded us with smiling faces. A villager brought a bottle of wine and we passed it around. We didn’t have time to stay as long as they encouraged us to do. But, that remains a soul-moment I frequently recall, my first encounter with gentle people in a far country. At the time, I had not an inkling that civilization had existed on that island for well over 5000 years.
In 1966, as I finished my master’s degree at Yale, I and a classmate prepared to go camping and fishing for a week in Maine along the St. Croix River, near Princeton. Thinking I’d like some reading material, I browsed through the Yale Co-op and bought the first two novels in a series by an author I didn’t know: Mary Renault. The books were The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea. That week, Mary Renault seized my attention with an enchanting adventure in Early Bronze Age Greece and Crete. This is where I first encountered the story of Theseus and Ariadne, and became an over-the-top Hellenophile. The King Must Die is out of print. But the good news is you’ll find the two books at Amazon in a used hardback of both in one volume. Checking it out for you, I snapped one up in “very good” condition for $6.90 delivered, and look forward to rereading them and doing a Goodreads review. I highly recommend these two, but Mary Renault’s later novels turned dark, and became unacceptable to me–even before Christ called me. As a Christian, I won’t recommend degenerate literature. But I recommend these first two.
In 1973, I returned to Crete by ship with my wife to visit the palace of Knossos. 15 years later, we returned the same way to the same palace, but with our four children. That trip in 1988 (30 years after my first) so impressed my eldest son with the romance of archaeology that he resolved to make a career of it.
I cannot transmit my love for Crete to you, which I would like to do. Providentially, I found a video that will teach you – nay, will enchant you – with the beauty and grandeur of both ancient Minoan Crete and its gorgeous land and seascapes. This video runs one hour and 41 minutes, and its narrator and guide, Bettany Hughes, is an enchanting polymath: erudite, humorous, articulate, and vivacious. This is the highest quality video I have found for you up until now. I hope you appreciate and learn as much from it as I did. This is learning at its best!
Thanks for visiting.
R. E. J. Burke