Friday, July 5, 2013

The Civilization of the Goddess

1991, first edition, from Harper San Francisco
Marija Gimbutas
The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe
Bought new for $60.00
Good condition hardcover

This has some stunning Neolithic artwork, often in the form of pottery, although there are also statues and tools.  Even in just two or three colors, the spiral, checked, etc. designs are almost hypnotic.  Now, am I reacting to them because I find geometric and other repeated patterns visually and perhaps emotionally pleasing, or is this some atavistic instinct that's been handed down a few millennia?

I ask because Gimbutas, with terms like "definitely," "undoubtedly," "without question," etc., sees her interpretations as the only sensible ones.  But I kept wondering, How do you know that's how they thought 6000ish years ago?  Yes, there's lots of "evidence," but where does the meaning come from?  At best, she can argue backwards from legends that have lasted into modern times.

This is not to say that what I'll call the cavemacho-ites are right.  But just because someone's wrong, doesn't make you right.  I'm sympathetic to her view, and the lack of skeletons with violent deaths until the "Kurgan era" is compelling.  But how do we know what "owl eyes" meant to the people who decorated with them?

I still would've given this book a B- --the descriptions of what they ate, wore, and lived in at different points in different regions are fascinating-- but there are over 100 pages of boring notes etc.  As I pointed out in the review of Great Cosmic Mother, nonfiction writers can make their background materials interesting, too.  (Backlash is a recent example, with some nice tidbits tucked away there.)  I also want to punish the book for being such an unwieldy coffee-table tome, but I suppose that's necessary for all the material it contains.  Pity she didn't do more with that material.

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