CRETE: THE CLEARING-HOUSE OF EGYPTIAN CULTURE

BEFORE the Greeks settled in the land which bears their name, there had lived in Crete a people of high civilisation, of whom later Greeks knew little, except that their king, Minos, had possessed a large fleet with which he had put down piracy and had ruled the Aegean Islands. The Athenians also had a vague tradition that Minos used to exact a tribute from them of maidens and boys to be sacrificed to the Minotaur (the sacred bull of Minos), until Theseus, their great hero, went to Crete, and, after finding his way through a winding maze called the Labyrinth, killed the Minotaur and rescued the captives. In our own day, excavations at Cnossos, on the north coast, have disclosed a palace whose bewildering mass of buildings could easily have been the source of the story of the Labyrinth. Here were found beautiful fresco paintings, and ornaments and pottery of the highest artistic and technical merit. The national sport was acrobatics, with a bull as vaulting-horse. In one scene, a youth appears grasping by the horns a charging bull and somersaulting on to its backa most dangerous feat, which, if imposed on unpractised captives, might easily give rise to the legend of the Minotaur. Crete, lying on the way from Egypt to Greece, was a clearinghouse for Egyptian culture, which it developed in original and charming ways, and handed on to the mainland. The Cretan power, which was at its height between 600 and 1400 B.C., was succeeded by the leadership of Mycenae, " rich in gold," on the Grecian mainland. The Mycenaeans belonged to the original Mediterranean race. The tribes had not yet developed any common name, but were often called " Achaeans," after the largest section of them. Later on they called themselves " Hellenes," after Hellen, who was supposed to have led them into the land. The name " Greek " (Latin, Graeci was given to them by the Romans because the first Hellenes they met were a tribe called Grai. In the twelfth century B.C. the tribes were led by Agamemnon, king of Argos.