Villa Ariadne

Dilys Powell's An Affair of the Heart has long been one of my favourite books. And when I discovered that she'd written a book with connections to Ill Met By Moonlight, an extraordinary tale of daring in wartime Crete, I had to read it.

The Villa Ariadne is the story of a house - but not just any house. This was the property that Sir Arthur Evans had built at Knossos, from where he supervised excavations and reconstruction of King Minos's Palace (the site of the labyrinth of the minotaur). The first section of the book deals with pre-war life at Knossos - the in-fighting among the archaeologists, the wonderful discoveries, the fabulous countryside and people of Crete. During the Second World War, Ariadne took on a different face. Many of the archaeologists who'd worked there pre-war, came back to Greece to fight. Some, including the former curator, John Pendlebury, gave their lives. Later Ariadne became German military headquarters, and was the starting point for Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss's outrageous kidnapping of the German General Kreipe.

Post-war Ariadne returned back to its archaeological roots. All of this is followed in loving detail by Dilys Powell. She was often on the outskirts of the happenings in the archaeological world (her husband had been an archaeologist with the British school in Athens, and had excavated on the mainland and in Crete), so to a certain extent she is an insider, but she is still sufficient of an outsider to make us feel lucky to be admitted to this inner circle. It's a fascinating read, by turns funny and moving, and written in that wonderful style that made An affair of the heart such a great book.


Popular Posts