Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

In October of that year Arthur took her to visit Boar’s Hill, near Oxford, in legend so named because a scholar attacked by a boar there choked it to death by stuffing a copy of Aristotle in its mouth. The view was famous, the air clear. He wanted to buy 60 acres to build a home for Margaret on the hill. She approved the location, so he convinced his father to put up the money. Then he had the tops of the pines cut, eight feet from the ground, on which he had built a platform and a log cabin to serve as a temporary quarters while the mansion was being built. His intent was to keep her from the cold, damp ground. Apparently she never lived there. They were away again for the winter, Margaret to winter with her sister in Bordighera, Arthur to Sicily to complete the last volume of the history he and Freeman had begun together.

In February he met John Myres, a student at the British School, in Athens. The two shopped the flea markets looking for antiquties. Arthur purchased some seal stones inscribed with a mysterious writing, said to have come from Crete. Then he met Margaret in Bordighera. The two started back to Athens, but en route, in Alassio, Italy she was overtaken by a severe attack. On 11 March 1893, after experiencing painful spasms for two hours, she died with Arthur holding her hand, of an unknown disease, perhaps tuberculosis, although the symptoms fit a heart attack also. He was 42; she, 45. He would outlive her by another lifetime according to his age then.

Margaret rests in the English cemetery at Alassio, where her grave marker may be seen to this day. Her epitaph says,. in part, "Her bright, energetic spirit, undaunted by suffering to the last, and ever working for the welfare of those around her, made a short life long." Arthur placed on the grave a wreath he wove himself of margarite and wild broom, expressive of their innermost feelings, commemorating the event with a private poem, To Margaret my beloved wife, not published until after his death decades later:

"Of Margarites and mountain heath
And scented broom so white –
Such as herself she plucked, – a wreath
I wreathe for her tonight.
For she was open as the air
Pure as the blue of heaven
And truer love – or pearl so rare
To man was never given."

To his father, who had a more practical view, having had motherless children to care for, he wrote: "I do not think anyone can ever know what Margaret has been to me." He never married again. For the rest of his life he wrote on black-bordered stationery.. He went ahead with the mansion on Boar’s Hill, against the advice of his father, who regarded it as wasteful and useless. He called it Youlbury, after the name of the locality.

Waiting for the future

After Margaret’s death Arthur wandered aimlessly around Liguria ostensibly looking at Terramare Culture sites and for Neolithic remains in Ligurian caves. Then he revisited the locations of his youthful explorations in Zagreb. Finally he returned to live a hermit-like existence in the cabin he had built for her. The Ashmolean no longer interested him. He complained petulently to Fortnam in a late, childish display of sibling rivalry, that his father had had another child, his half-sister Joan.. After a year of grief the mounting tension in Crete began to attract his interest. Knossos was now known to be a major site, thanks to Arthur’s old friend and fellow journalist in Bosnia, William James Stillman. Another old friend, Federico Halbherr, the Italian archaeologist and future excavator of Phaistos, was keeping him posted on developments at Knossos by mail.

Archaeologists from the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy were in attendance at the site watching the progress, so to speak, of "the sick man of Europe," a metaphor of the dying Ottoman Empire. The various pashas, eager not to offend the native Cretan parliament, were encouraging foreigners to apply for a firman to excavate, and then not granting any. The Cretans were afraid of the Ottomans’ removing any artifacts to Istanbul. The Ottoman method of stalling was to require any would-be excavators to buy the site from its native owners first. The owners in turn were coached to charge so much money that none would think it worthwhile to apply in such uncertain circumstances. Even the wealthy Schliemann had given up on the price in 1890 and had gone home to die in that year..