Crete fortifications debunk myth of peaceful Minoan society

By Owen Jarus

A team of archaeologists have discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia, a discovery which rebukes the popular myth that the Minoans were a peaceful society with no need for defensive structures.

The team’s efforts were led by Professor Vance Watrous and Matt Buell of the University at Buffalo. Located on the north coast, Gournia was in use during the neo-palatial period (ca. 1700-1450 BC), when Minoan civilization was at its height. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage, and it is here that the fortification system was discovered.

The team weren’t able to excavate the area, and so relied on photography, drawing and surveying to identify the fortifications. The eastern-most promontory had a heavy wall that was about 27 meters long. Beside it the team found a semi-circular platform of stone, almost nine meters in diameter, which they believe is the remains of a tower or bastion. The other fortified promontory had a two meter thick wall, running east-west, “as if to close off access from the sea,” said Buell.

The other two promontories slope gently down to the shore, and would have provided easy access to the town. “It was on these two promontories”, said Professor Watrous, “that the Minoans built structures.”

The town consists of around 60 tightly-packed houses, a ship shed, and a small palace in the centre, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of wine making, bronze-working and stone-working at the site. “Gournia gives you, the visitor, a real feeling of what an Aegean town was actually like. Walking up the streets, past the houses, you feel like you’ve been transported into the past,” said Buell.

In addition to the beach fortifications, it also appears that the Minoans built a second line of defence further inland. Heading back from the beach, there were two walls, together running about 180 meters east to west. Backed by a tower, or bastion, the walls would have posed a formidable challenge to any invader trying to march into the town.

Defenders manning this system of fortification would have rained projectiles down on attackers, by using bows and slings. The walls had stone foundations and were made of mud brick, making them sturdy enough to stand on.

It’s an open question as to whether the people guarding the fortifications were part of a militia or something more organized. There was “definitely a body of men who would have had that duty but we don’t know exactly what they were like,” said Professor Watrous.

Tombs uncovered by Hawes and other excavators have shown people buried with swords. Watrous said that there was one particular tomb that produced an entire collection of daggers, swords and other items.

However, Gournia’s fortifications did not prevent the town’s demise. The town fell around 1450 BC, along with other Minoan settlements. A new group called the Mycenaean appeared on Crete at this time, taking over the island.

Watrous said that Mycenaeans probably avoided attacking the town by sea. “Many other settlements were destroyed at the same time. My guess is that they just came along the land; they didn’t have to come up from the sea”.

He cannot say for sure if the town defences were ever actually put to their intended use. Any evidence of a battle near these fortifications, such as weapons or bodies, would be underground, and excavation would have to be carried out to see if they exist.

One thing that excavators can say is that the people of Gournia had something worth fighting for. Many of the goods they made – such as the wine and the bronze implements – were for export, suggesting that the people had some level of wealth.


Ralph Stockbridge

Ralph Stockbridge, who has died aged 92, was awarded two MCs for the notable part that he played in the Cretan Resistance to the German occupation; he spent the remainder of his career working for MI6.

When Crete fell to an airborne invasion in May 1941, Stockbridge, then a signals sergeant in the Field Security Corps, was evacuated to Egypt with the remnants of the Allied forces on the island. He promptly asked to return, and was put in touch with the Inter Services Liaison Department (a cover name at GHQ for MI6).

Stockbridge and Captain Jack Smith-Hughes, an SOE officer, were infiltrated into Crete in October 1941 aboard the submarine Thunderbolt. They later learned that this vessel was originally Thetis, which had sunk on its trials in Liverpool Bay in 1939 with the loss of many lives. The boat sank for the second and final time, with the loss of all hands, in 1943.

They were the first British mission to return to Crete, and were charged with developing its resistance movement. Stockbridge had never discovered what the duties of Field Security were, but he had become fluent in Cretan Greek while stationed there, and had made many contacts in the Heraklion area. This knowledge was now put to good use.

Despite being constantly on the run, he managed to keep transmitting valuable information to Cairo. Sometimes he operated from a cave high in the mountains. Drinking water was collected from stalactites. Meals in “safe houses” consisting of seed potatoes washed down with mugs of orange peel tea were recalled with nostalgia when their food later ran out and he and his comrades had to subsist on grass soup, wild herbs and snails.

When Stockbridge organised a parachute drop, little fell within the dropping zone. Sacks of flour could be seen bursting on distant rocks, while other supplies slid down steep precipices and could not be retrieved.

Clean-shaven, wearing shoes rather than boots, an overcoat and horn-rimmed spectacles, his appearance and stumbling gait matched his “cover” story: that he was a village schoolmaster. He used the name Michalaki, and later, Siphi.

Stockbridge, centre, wearing glasses.

Sometimes he had to go into towns and pass checkpoints manned by German security police. “They must have been blind not to see me trembling,” he said afterwards.

If the Cretans were caught helping the British, they could expect savage reprisals. Despite the hazards, as Stockbridge said afterwards: “Everything depended throughout on their magnificent loyalty. Without their help with guides, informants and suppliers of food, not a single one of us would have lasted 24 hours.”

On one occasion, he and a comrade were being pursued by a large patrol of Germans and Italians. Forced to hide their equipment and make a stand, they killed six of their pursuers.

On another, he was going through a checkpoint with Levtheri Kalitsounakis, who acted as his assistant. Stockbridge passed the inspection, but Kalitsounakis – who had reddish hair and green eyes – was suspected of not looking like a Cretan and was stopped and closely questioned.

Stockbridge was so distracted that he bumped into a German soldier. “Gosh! Sorry!” he said in English.

Then, realising what he had done, he had to fight the temptation to take to his heels, and instead stroll casually away.

In April 1942, three months after being commissioned, he found himself in even greater danger, after being betrayed. Evacuated to Egypt in May and awarded an MC, he volunteered to go back again.

In early 1943 he and his wireless operator, John Stanley, were re-infiltrated aboard a Greek submarine. They rowed ashore in a rubber dinghy and landed on the north coast of the island. As they came in, they gave the password to some Cretans who arrived in a small boat. These men, who had been fishing illegally, feared that they had been discovered by the Germans; they panicked and disappeared.

On going ashore, Stockbridge and his companion found themselves in a minefield. They extricated themselves and moved further down the coast, where their first contact was Paddy Leigh Fermor. While Stockbridge, the senior MI6 officer on the island, based himself at Rethymno and gathered intelligence in the central and eastern parts of the island, Leigh Fermor concentrated on his work for SOE.

After the German surrender, Stockbridge’s service of three years in Crete, two and a half of them during enemy occupation, was recognised by a Bar to his MC. He was also made an honorary citizen of Rethymno.

Ralph Hedley Stockbridge was born at Bournemouth on April 18 1917 and educated at the Perse School, Cambridge. It had been decided that he should have a classical education, a decision with which he complied without enthusiasm.

He set a precedent by resigning from the Officers Training Corps because he disliked the excessively militaristic member of the staff who ran it and he considered the wearing of puttees a tiresome relic of the Boer War. On the sports field, he captained the 1st XV and the athletics team and, in the one year he boxed, he won the Under Nine Stone title.

In 1935 he broke his leg playing rugby. The enforced absence from school and the encouragement of the senior classics master resulted in Ralph taking the Cambridge examination on crutches and winning a scholarship to Peterhouse. He spent the next three years in pleasant indolence and took an upper second.

After the war he joined MI6 – where he was known as Mike – on a permanent basis. As vice-consul in the Salonika consulate-general from 1946 to 1950 he reported on the intelligence aspects of the Greek civil war.

He was vice-consul in Alexandria from 1952 to 1954, and over the next few years spent time in Beirut, Tehran, Baghdad and Syria. He was at the British embassy in Athens from 1959 to 1966.

In 1961 Henry Leach (later Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach) paid an official visit to Heraklion. The British ambassador asked Stockbridge, then the First Secretary, to accompany him. At the reception on board, many of the guests were Stockbridge’s former wartime comrades.

Leach wrote in his memoirs: “They were marvellous people with walnut-like faces from constant exposure to the elements. Few wore collars or ties. Such was their personality that their complete inability to speak a word of English seemed not to detract at all from the conviviality of the occasion.

“They were drawn to Ralph Stockbridge as to a magnet and treated him as if he were a much loved God… It was one of the most remarkable and moving reunions I have ever been privileged to attend.”

Stockbridge returned to England in 1966 and served with MI6 in London until 1972. On his retirement he spent six happy years as bursar of St Faith’s preparatory school in Cambridge. Settled in a village in Cambridgeshire, he had more time to enjoy his books, his large stamp collection and corresponding with his many friends, most of them Greek or French.

Ralph Stockbridge died on March 10. He married first (dissolved), in 1948, Margaret Elizabeth Garrett. He married secondly, in 1963, Katharine Price. They survive him with a son and a daughter from his first marriage and two daughters from his second.


Hand axes excavated on Crete suggest hominids made sea crossings to go ‘out of Africa’

By Bruce Bower

Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. H. erectus had spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe by at least that time.

Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.

“We’re just going to have to accept that, as soon as hominids left Africa, they were long-distance seafarers and rapidly spread all over the place,” Strasser says. The traditional view has been that hominids (specifically, H. erectus) left Africa via land routes that ran from the Middle East to Europe and Asia. Other researchers have controversially suggested that H. erectus navigated rafts across short stretches of sea in Indonesia around 800,000 years ago and that Neandertals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar perhaps 60,000 years ago.

Questions remain about whether African hominids used Crete as a stepping stone to reach Europe or, in a Stone Age Gilligan’s Island scenario, accidentally ended up on Crete from time to time when close-to-shore rafts were blown out to sea, remarks archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Only in the past decade have researchers established that people reached Crete before 6,000 years ago, Tykot says.

Strasser’s team cannot yet say precisely when or for what reason hominids traveled to Crete. Large sets of hand axes found on the island suggest a fairly substantial population size, downplaying the possibility of a Gilligan Island’s scenario, in Strasser’s view.

In excavations conducted near Crete’s southwestern coast during 2008 and 2009, Strasser’s team unearthed hand axes at caves and rock shelters. Most of these sites were situated in an area called Preveli Gorge, where a river has gouged through many layers of rocky sediment.

At Preveli Gorge, Stone Age artifacts were excavated from four terraces along a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Tectonic activity has pushed older sediment above younger sediment on Crete, so 130,000-year-old artifacts emerged from the uppermost terrace. Other terraces received age estimates of 110,000 years, 80,000 years and 45,000 years.

These minimum age estimates relied on comparisons of artifact-bearing sediment to sediment from sea cores with known ages. Geologists are now assessing whether absolute dating techniques can be applied to Crete’s Stone Age sites, Strasser says.

Intriguingly, he notes, hand axes found on Crete were made from local quartz but display a style typical of ancient African artifacts.

“Hominids adapted to whatever material was available on the island for tool making,” Strasser proposes. “There could be tools made from different types of stone in other parts of Crete.”

Strasser has conducted excavations on Crete for the past 20 years. He had been searching for relatively small implements that would have been made from chunks of chert no more than 11,000 years ago. But a current team member, archaeologist Curtis Runnels of Boston University, pointed out that Stone Age folk would likely have favored quartz for their larger implements. “Once we started looking for quartz tools, everything changed,” Strasser says.


Trip to Ag. Georgios, Selinari, Ag. Nicholaos & Lassiti in 1961.

What I have to show you here is a rare film posted by John Sooklaris on Youtube. Now John has posted several films on the web that you can see here on this site. This film, from 1961 is special. It shows a trip calling in at St George, Selinari; a celebration at Agios Nicholaos – including a diver – and loads of people. Then the bus trip goes on to the Lassiti Plateau and actually shows all the spinning windmills that were so famous there and that I mentioned here on this site a while ago.

So here is the video, I hope that you enjoy it.

Then extraordinarily, someone posted a tribute to John Sooklaris by videoing St Georges in the year 2009. Here it is:


The Right Reverend Stephen Verney

The Right Reverend Stephen Verney, who died on November 9 aged 90, was an unconventional Bishop of Repton, in the diocese of Derby, from 1977 to 1985, and during the 1960s played an important part in the development of the vibrant church life that sprang from the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.

A deeply spiritual man and a courageous thinker, Verney was essentially a romantic for whom a life of high ideals was also one of high adventure. And he found ample scope for the expression of this during the Second World War, the final years of which he spent as a member of the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), a sister organisation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), working underground with Greek guerrillas on German-occupied Crete.

When the war started Verney had not long left Harrow and was reading Greats at Balliol College, Oxford. At that time he was an ardent pacifist and, having been registered as a conscientious objector, had enlisted in a Friends’ Ambulance Unit. But as the war intensified and the Nazi campaign became demonstrably more evil, he changed his mind and joined the Army, beginning as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps.

This took him to Egypt, and it was while attending a party in Cairo that he happened to meet his former Harrow headmaster, Paul Vellacott, who was by then director of political warfare Middle East. Aware that Verney was a classicist who could easily master modern Greek, and that – despite his aristocratic family background – his shortness of stature and often scruffy appearance might enable him to pass for a Greek peasant, Vellacott persuaded him to join the PWE.

After initial involvement in black propaganda from Cairo, he was commissioned, and in August 1944 – disguised and accompanied by a German Jewish interpreter – he was dispatched by night to Crete in a small boat.

His primary task was to sow seeds of disaffection in the German occupying army. On landing he was met by a Cretan “guardian angel”, who recruited a few others to form a cell under Verney’s leadership. They targeted German soldiers who rejected the Nazi regime, others who had fallen in love with Cretan girls, as well as Austrians, Poles and other nationals who had been unwillingly dragooned into the German army.

Verney and his team operated from an informal base outside Canea – home to the headquarters of the German commander in Crete. A printing press was set up in a cave and run by a Cretan journalist who published a propaganda news-sheet in German and Greek. This conveyed the false impression that the resistance movement was very large and that the occupation forces were cracking under the strain. Verney wrote frequently to the German commander, General Benthag, to point out that his situation was now hopeless and that “Kapitulation” was the only sensible choice.

A graffiti campaign using the letter K was launched, with the aid of local boys who painted it on walls, bridges and sentry boxes. Acid was used to etch it on the windows of military vehicles.

On his own initiative Verney was responsible for the mass desertion of Italians who had been fighting with the German army. Having made a number of indirect contacts with their colonel, he crept, disguised, into the camp hospital. The meeting was conducted with Verney stretched out on an operating table, the colonel hunched by him as if hearing his confession, while another officer played the part of a surgeon.

On May 8 1945 General Benthag formally, but secretly, surrendered to one of Verney’s fellow-officers; and that evening the small group of British officers in the area invited the German officers who had been hunting them to a party in a café. A jazz band from the German garrison was pressed into service, and during the festivities Verney and the others disclosed their code names and true identities to their astonished guests, among whom were some of the most detested men in the occupying army. All were immediately taken prisoner. Verney’s exploits in Crete were recognised with a military MBE.

He returned to Oxford in 1946 to complete his degree, and, having been drawn by his wartime experience to seek Holy Orders, went for training to Westcott House, Cambridge. He was ordained in Southwell Minster in 1950 and after a two-year curacy at Gedling, near Nottingham, embarked on a ministry that was rarely conventional and ended with his becoming a bishop of an unusual sort.

Stephen Edmund Verney was born in Anglesey on April 17 1919. His father, Sir Harry Verney, 4th Bt, held a number of junior ministerial posts in the Edwardian era and won a DSO in the First World War.

On completion of his Gedling curacy, where he had found traditional church life deeply frustrating, Stephen Verney was appointed priest-in-charge of the new housing area of Clifton, outside Nottingham. When he arrived in 1952 it was inhabited by 2,000 people, mainly living in council estates. By the time he left, six years later, their number had risen to 20,000.

It was a soulless place, poorly planned, with no playgrounds for children or community buildings. Verney described it as “a social desert” and gathered a small congregation together for Sunday worship in a builders’ canteen, where rats ate the heart out of a harmonium. Meetings were also held for lonely mothers; there were clubs for young people and those over 60; and he convened a regular meeting of professional social workers to deal with some of the problems.

In his own planning of a new church building, the strong romantic side of Verney’s nature took over. Greatly inspired by the example of St Francis of Assisi, who had built a church with his own hands, he felt moved to have the church in Clifton erected by the labour of himself, members of the congregation and anyone else, including undergraduates on vacation, who would lend a hand.

A willing, if somewhat sceptical, architect produced a simple design and, amid some excitement and much publicity, work began. The digging of foundations proved to be no problem, but as the building progressed the absence of essential skills became more apparent. Drains and other elements in the building had to be corrected and the project began to absorb an inordinate amount of Verney’s time.

The final stage of the building was completed by professionals, and the church was dedicated in 1952 in honour of St Francis, with Verney as its first vicar. The experience of the next six years had a formative influence on him, but it took a toll on his health, and in 1958 he moved to Coventry to become diocesan missioner and vicar of the small country parish of Leamington Hastings.

This was no rest cure. Basil Spence’s new cathedral was rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the old, which had been almost completely destroyed by wartime bombing.

An enthusiastic new bishop, Cuthbert Bardsley, was assembling a team of gifted clergy to develop a vibrant Christian life both within and without the soon-to-be completed building.

The slogan: “A consecrated building requires a consecrated people” was adopted to describe a three-year period of preparation for the great day of the cathedral’s reopening, and Verney was entrusted with the project in the diocese. He was ideally suited to this assignment, combining an organising vision with deep spirituality to enthuse his flock.

Throughout Warwickshire there were meetings and missions in every parish, prayer cells were formed, a clergy conference was held at Balliol, and 10 days of mission services addressed by the bishop in Leamington parish church. A cross, formed of nails taken from timber rescued from the ruined cathedral, was passed from parish to parish and made the focus of prayer vigils.

By the time the new cathedral was ready for consecration on May 26 1962, the diocese was in a state of high expectancy and, although the preparatory campaign had been a team effort, Verney’s leadership was a vital factor.

In 1964 one of the residentiary canonries of the cathedral fell vacant, and Verney was appointed to it, with another project in sight. The 50th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese was due for celebration in 1968, and it was decided that, instead of repeating the kind of festivities that had surrounded the consecration of the cathedral, there would be an international conference on “People and Cities”.

This would celebrate the benefits of urban life, but also confront the huge problems of depersonalisation caused by the scale of modern cities. The Coventry conference was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh, attended by 150 specially-invited participants from all parts of the world, and addressed by planners, philosophers and theologians. Then-current assumptions were challenged, and some of the conference’s proposals eventually led to new approaches to urban planning.

In his book on the event, People and Cities (1969), which was partly descriptive and partly made up of the papers given by the speakers, Verney argued that the future of the Church’s work in cities lay in the formation of small groups, what he called “companies of forgiveness”.

Having spent 12 years in Coventry, mainly on two major projects, it was felt that Verney should be given the opportunity to share what he had learned with the rest of the Church. He was therefore appointed to a canonry of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 1970.

Since the duties of this office were less than arduous, Verney was free to pursue his many other interests, but he had overlooked the degree and extent to which St George’s Chapel is controlled by tradition and protocol – to both of which he was decidedly opposed. He argued instead for the introduction of contemporary worship with modern music.

But the Dean, Bishop Launcelot Fleming, himself a moderate reformer, found himself trapped between Verney and another recently-recruited canon on the one hand, and, on the other, two dyed-in-the-wool colleagues who had been at Windsor for many years and were resolutely opposed to any suggestion of change. This, together with a sharp clash of personalities, did not make for a happy capitular body.

Relief came in 1977 with Verney’s appointment to the suffragan bishopric of Repton in Derby diocese. As anticipated, he proved to be an unusual bishop – never short of a new idea and seizing every opportunity to encourage the formation of small, informal church groups.

His strong pastoral gifts were used to the full and, as director of post-ordination training, he enjoyed a close, supportive relationship with younger generations of clergy, often surprising them by his impatience with the institutional life of the Church and his radical proposals for its reform.

His ideas found expression in three more small books – Into the New Age (1976), Water into Wine (1985) and The Dance of Love (1989) – all of them a combination of romanticism, vision and insight.

His retirement was spent at Blewbury in Oxfordshire, and he was an honorary assistant bishop in Oxford diocese. His first wife, Priscilla, died in 1974, and in 1987 he married Sandra Bailey, who survives him with a son and three daughters of his first marriage. A son of his second marriage predeceased him.



Why communism was all Greek to me


By Péter Zilahy

My mother couldn’t forgive the Soviet army for burning down the house she was born in, frying up the swans on the lake and driving off the three French nannies who had educated her as a child. She took it personally. If you have lived on the wrong side of the Iron ­Curtain, you tend to have an unorthodox take on Russian cultural icons. Swan Lake, for Mum, would never be inhabited by fluffy, flying ballerinas, but by bellowing, hammer-headed troops auditioning for a surrealist version of The Last Supper. My mother could never get over her loss and was secretly plotting to bring down the system from within. Being a clever woman, she disguised it as classical education.

Growing up in a communist dictatorship, I was constantly fed Soviet propaganda tales like “The Dog and The Wolf”, where the dog was the good comrade, trustworthy, hardworking and obedient, while the wolf was a decadent, unreliable, lazy drop-out, even opportunistic at times, which is remarkably versatile for a beast. My mother told me not to bother with the school curriculum. Instead, she encouraged me to read Greek mythology – tales of fights, orgies, rape, revenge and sacrifice. Stimulating stuff for a seven-year-old.

I started seeing parallels with everything that was happening around me and slowly gathered that mythology provides not only a great escape, but also offers solutions to my everyday struggle. In the myths, whenever there’s a problem or some scheme goes wrong, they always try to solve it with human sacrifice. If that doesn’t work, they actually do something about it, but first they always go for sacrifice. The subway doesn’t come on time, let’s sacrifice the daughter of the king. The polls are running low, let’s attack some obscure little country on the other side of the sea. The Greek heroes seemed to have all the fun while we just kept building ­friendship between nations.

One of the myths I came across in my reading was the story of Europa. A beautiful princess, she went down to the beach one sunny day and was kidnapped by Zeus. Countless artworks elaborate on how Zeus appeared as a bull and carried her off to the island of Crete, where he turned into an eagle and made love to her. She must have been confused. The highlight of all guided tours on Crete is a tree revealed to tourists as the very one under which Zeus “landed” on Europe. The Soviet tales transformed humans into animals, while the Greek tales turned animals into gods. My beautiful mother was on to something.

Living in a communist dictatorship is a drag. You’re locked up in time like a beetle in amber. Which is delicate terminology. You are a stinking, yawning, underinformed sloth stuck in a giant block of radioactive glue. Nothing ever happens, but you don’t even notice because there’s only one channel on tele­vision, where the same stuff gets repeated again and again. You either start drinking or you pick yourself a myth – or you do both if you’re creative enough.

As I was coming of age, puberty and mythology created an explosive mix. The Greek stories were a thousand times sexier than Soviet lip service. Naturally, I rooted for the wolf not the dog.

When it dawned on me that there wasn’t enough alcohol to keep me in the country, I got myself kicked out of school and headed for the Greek islands. I had been captain of the school soccer team, a model student and an expert on Greek gods. I was going to combine all my talents and see what they were worth. For a moment it seemed that there was even a reason why I had had to wait so long behind the Iron Curtain. The sloth stepped out of the glue, blinking. An alluring new world was on the horizon, I was going to leave animal farm and be like the gods.

The melancholic Hungarians, thanks to their revolutionary history and a passion for Molotov cocktails, were kept on a long leash and could travel to the west every three years. When my time came, I took my red passport, then the train, then the boat, and there I was on the island where the story began. All the other kids went to Amsterdam to smoke pot or hitched a ride to Rostock to check out the nudist beach. I went to Crete to meet the gods. Guess who got higher.

On Crete, the infant Zeus had been hidden because his father wanted to eat him alive. I could picture their hide-and-seek. “Where’s little Zeeeeeus? Come out, my boy, daddy’s not gonna hurt you!”

It’s not easy to be a god. Or at least that’s how I felt when I arrived in Crete on a searing summer day. I got myself a Honda 500, not one of those tiny scooters tourists go sightseeing with. Having read the Greeks, you know it’s all about wind. Odysseus could not get home for 10 years because of stormy weather. When you live in mythology, it comes as no surprise that the logos of Honda are a wing and an H, which can also stand for Hermes, the herald of the gods whose ­symbol is a winged sandal.

I cruise around the island, checking out the beaches before I turn my bike towards the mountain where Zeus was raised. It’s a beautiful day. I am doing a hundred, a hundred and twenty, which is clearly not what the road was made for. If it ever was made rather than created. Coming out of a curve I face a hole the size of a swimming pool. Time flies, they say, and so do I, a spread eagle looking for Zeus on the mountain of Ida. As happens with accidents, your memory rewinds and your life passes in front of you, which in my case didn’t take very long. But you also see everything in slow motion – so you actually have time. I’m flying in the air and taking a good look around. As I said, it’s a beautiful day, I see far. The sea, the mountains, the clouds – right above me a particularly gorgeous little cloud in the shape of a bull’s head. I see the hole below gently closing in on me with millions of little cracks opening into canyons, and billions of even smaller cracks growing sideways. I land, I skid, I burn, filling all the little cracks with my skin.

I’m alive – I know because I see the bike half in the air on the edge of the abyss, the wheels spinning in opposite directions, and I couldn’t make that up. I’m black from the asphalt that has burned into my skin and there’s a substantial amount of blood to give it some colour. No one wore helmets in those days. It is, of course, Zeus who has saved me. I get my bike, it’s broken here and there, but the wheels look okay, so I begin walking it along. I’m kind of limping, but doing all right and soon the road starts to go downhill. The bike gains momentum and it’s getting hard to keep up with it. Anyway, it’s kind of humiliating limping next to a Honda 500, so I think to myself “what the heck” and I mount the bike again. I start the engine, and it works! Zeus, who else?

I’m driving along, not going fast, max 80, boring. I’m taking the curves real easy, it’s mid-afternoon when I arrive at the foot of the mountain, and start my ascent. The trail is steep, it’s scorching hot, I’m bleeding, I’m badly burned, but I can’t help putting on a little smile that I survived and will be seeing Zeus in a moment. With every step I’m getting faster, I’m climbing rocks, jumping creeks, going through bushes and cacti, leaving drops of blood all along the way. It’s going to be easy to find my way back. All I have to do is follow the blood. I’m looking into every cave, every hole, trying to find tracks and traces, but not a soul, no one there, neither human, nor divine. Not a vulture circling above my head.

I’m getting sour. I came all the way for nothing. Blood ­pudding peeling off my skin. Feels like being part of this wasteland. I’m naturally eroding with the hillside. Just then, from the distance, I hear the faint but clear sound of a bell ringing.

Thank God! I’m saved again! I see a bunch of wild goats sliding down a hillside – very professionally, as if they have been doing it all their lives, which in fact they have. They are semi-wild goats, occasionally milked by the locals and otherwise left to wander. Their leader has a little bell and nicely trimmed whiskers – a touch of class. Needless to say, it all comes down to me as a message from high above and finally everything falls into place. I understand why I had to come all the way to Crete – I have a revelation. In this crystallised and perfect moment, which can never be repeated, I finally grasp that I’m here to sacrifice a goat to Zeus.

The true nature of my mission in view, I regain control over my failing limbs. I feel fresh blood oozing down my neck, but I can’t stop. I’m chasing the goat. I’m driven like a maniac, trying to fulfil my duty to Zeus. But these goats are very good, they can climb trees. They even jump from tree to tree. And they have the home-team advantage. At one point, I nearly catch the goat with the bell, but I fall short, and a clump of hair remains in my hand. Holding the clump, ­breathing heavily on the edge of a boulder overlooking the Libyan Sea, I realise the absurdity of my situation. I have ­neither a weapon, nor the instinct to kill. I’m not the ­murderous type. What am I going to do if I catch it? Tickle it to death?

At that moment, a second revelation hits. As I wipe the blood off my neck, I realise that my moneybag is missing. The moneybag that was hanging around my neck, under my T-shirt. The moneybag that has all my money in Swiss francs and Greek drachmas and my ID. Apparently, Zeus did not want a sacrifice in blood, but in cash.

I’m bleeding, burned, broken and broke. I smell of goat, but it’s the smell of mortality more than anything else that I sense in the air. I am about to faint from blood loss, but I can’t help noticing a group of Greek gods bursting into eternal laughter from behind a cloud. I join in, and wind up laughing all the way home, laughing for the next three years, during which I pull myself together. I turned my attention from myth­ology to more earthly matters. I found my Europa and she found me, too.

I had nearly forgotten all about Zeus, when, three years later, I received a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although we had just passed from dictatorship to democracy and had held our first free election, Hungary was still a dodgy place.

I received a magnetic card at the door and had to wait in a glass room until they called my name. When I entered the room, an official threw my moneybag on the table. The moneybag I lost on Crete trying to sacrifice a goat to Zeus.

The complete staff have gathered to watch my agonising flashback. Is this yours? I keep staring. Check out what’s in it, says the civil servant, so I take a look and there is all my stuff, my money in Swiss francs and Greek drachmas and my ID, all intact. Apparently a Greek shepherd found it on the mountain and handed it over to the local authorities. But how it had travelled all the way – first to Heraklion, then to Athens, then to the Hungarian embassy and on to Budapest, all in the course of three years in the midst of major political change, is a mystery. I am sorry, but this could be explained only in mythological terms. Somehow my sacrifice had been accepted.

Even if I had delivered it in a clumsy way, all I was trying to say was that I wasn’t going to be part of a system where only a dog can have a career. I wanted to reach out to a higher value. Holding my moneybag, I suddenly felt at home. I figured it doesn’t matter which side of the Iron Curtain you’re standing on, if the gods are with you. I took some of the Swiss francs and changed them for forints. Then I went to a bookshop and bought a gigantic, heavily illustrated, rare volume of Greek mythology as a present for my mum.

Péter Zilahy is author of ‘The Last Window Giraffe’. He performed a version of this story for ‘The Moth on Broadway’ at Symphony Space in New York. He is presently an Albert Einstein Fellow in Berlin

Minoan and Aegean style frescoes discovered in Israel

Archaeologists from the University of Haifa, who are conducting excavations in the city of Tel Kabri, found Minoan style frescoes, similar to those discovered in the Aegean islands of Crete and Santorini dating back to the 17th century BC. These are the first such frescoes to be discovered in Israel.

According to scientists’ estimations, the wall paintings in the Canaanite palace in Kabri are a conscious decision by the city’s rulers who wanted to adopt the Mediterrenean culture rather than the Syrian and Mesopotamian art styles adopted by other cities in Canaan.

In an earlier excavation, another fresco similar to those of Santorini was unearthed, but the new discoveries established the fact that the first fresco was not a coincidence but that the ancient city of Tel Kabri not only had developed commercial relations with the Aegean and Minoan world but wanted to come close to and be associated culturally with these civilisations.