• The Arts Society Penang
  • The Arts Society Penang

Two Snakes and a Fancy Frock - Who is the Bare Breasted Woman with Snakes?

Saturday 16 March 2019. The Ming Fine Art Gallery, Straits Quay from 11:00am.

In 1900 the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans arrived on the island of Crete in search of the source of intricately inscribed seal stones and strange inscriptions on clay tablets he’d seen as Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He began excavating at Knossos, a site known to antiquity as the city of King Minos,  already investigated by a Cretan archaeologist, Minos Kalokeirinos.  Almost immediately Evans came across a room with gypsum benches, a throne of the same material and beautifully frescoed walls.  

Over the next four years he uncovered most of what eventually turned out to be a ten-acre site, a lavishly decorated and complex palace with public spaces, splendid living accommodation decorated with brightly coloured naturalistic frescoes, extensive storage areas and numerous workshops. In addition an enormous quantity of extraordinary Bronze Age artefacts came to light. It turned out to be the second palace on the site and remained in use from around 1700 BC to its eventual destruction, probably by military action in 1370 BC. Based on his findings Evans gave the name Minoan to this previously unknown culture.

One of the most interesting and enigmatic objects found was a small figurine of a woman. She wore a tight bodice which left her breasts bare and a long flounced skirt over which was a short embroidered apron. Her arms were raised and in each hand she held a snake. But who was she: a goddess or a priestess?

In this lecture we’ll look at the mythology surrounding the legendary Minos and his palace, look at Minoan culture at Knossos and other Minoan sites and attempt to place the ‘Snake Goddess’ in the context of this the first European civilization.


MIKE CLEGG'S RAF career involved twenty years flying duties worldwide as an anti-submarine warfare specialist followed by staff appointments, including nine years in a NATO post in Italy as a political adviser on Greek–Turkish issues. He was a founder member of the International Archaeological Society in Naples, lecturing, leading tours of Graeco–Roman sites and participating in excavations. He has lectured extensively on the Classical World and currently plans and leads cultural tours to Italy, Greece and Cyprus.