One National Geographic issue, from February 1981, was the beginning of an unusual friendship for two men – Greek American turned Australian author Christos Morris and archaeologist Yannis Sakellarakis, the author of the 26 page article Drama Of Death in a Minoan Temple.
Already in love with Crete and its people after one visit to the island, Christos Morris was on his way to the airport and Crete when he picked up the National Geographic from the mailbox. In its pages was Sakellarakis’ feature and that’s where things began.
“It was the beginning of some strange and serendipitous occurrences,” Morris says.
And there he was, flying to Crete, again. This time, he studied the Minoan civilization intensely, but that was only one per cent of his understanding of Crete. He only understood when he was able “to feel it, to touch it, to smell it,” he says in hindsight.
The day Morris read Sakellarakis’ article, he knew he had to meet him. After that, 13 more trips to Crete followed.
Storytellers from Chios
Christos Morris came to Australia in 1967 from the US. His father migrated to Minnesota from Vrontados, Chios, in the early 1930s, following in his family’s footsteps. When he arrived in Boston, a Jewish man advised him to change his name to avoid authorities, as he was an illegal immigrant.
From Isydoros Muzithras he became Isydor Morris.
“My dad became a Jew in one night,” Morris says with a chuckle.
Isydoros was a storyteller. His son Christos grew up listening to his stories, every night after dinner. About the perivoli, the well, and all that it consumed.
“I listened to these stories and they just seemed to be much more important than the dumb stories from America,” Christos Morris tells Neos Kosmos.
It was something about Greek mythology, the depth of time and space that captured the author’s imagination. Years later, Crete would make Christos Morris understand the past in a deep and even more meaningful way.
Face to face with ‘eternity’
In 1981, the world-renowned archaeologist for Mycenaean and Minoan studies, Yannis Sakellarakis, was also director of Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
After six attempts to schedule an appointment, Christos resorted to somewhat unusual methods. He introduced himself as a Greek priest from America.
“I knew he had to see a Greek priest,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“He looked like Omar Sharif. He asked how he could help me. I said: ‘I read your article in National Geographic, and you didn’t tell the truth’. He closed the book he was holding, and said ‘Well, I knew you were coming’. That’s how he talked, in a very philosophical way,” Morris remembers.
Not only was this the beginning of a very long friendship, but also the seed for Christos Morris’ book, Digging at the Crossroads of Time, published this year.
Digging at the Crossroads of Time
“We will never know all the details of what happened on that rocky hillside [Anemospilia, Crete] in the unimaginably distant past,” reads the first sentence of the article that influenced Morris so much, back in 1981.
When a respected Greek archaeologist Mimis Stefanakis, and the main character of Morris’ book, digs upon the mountain Oaxsa, Crete, he witnesses a moment in time – or what was left from it – when the greatest natural cataclysm in human history took place, in 1628 BC. Beneath a collapsed Minoan temple are the remains of ancient people, caught in a desperate act of human sacrifice. The bones of a young man still lay upon the altar.
For the first time, it was revealed that humans were offered as an ultimate sacrifice in Minoan civilization.
“This novel is set on Crete, the home of the Minoans and a place of many mysteries. Returning to mystical Crete every year for over a decade, digging deeper into ancient artefacts and modern Greek superstitions, I became entranced in one archaeological discovery that changed my life,” the author says.
When reading Morris’ book, as a reader you are always on the edge, balancing and judging – is this part of the history and discoveries or is it the writer’s imagination? In one of the reviews, by writer and editor Desney King, Morris’ novel was said to have all the intrigue of a Dan Brown novel.
Digging at the Crossroads of Time is a dance between reality and imagination, a 4,000 year leap between Ancient and Modern Greece, known and unknown, a conflict between tradition and reason, science and mysticism.
It’s a fictional story but the knowledge about Ancient Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations that Morris provides inevitably carries you on a realistic path.
“My ambition in writing is to become a man free of his vanities. On every journey of discovery I try to become smaller and smaller, dissolving into what I have been looking for,” Morris says.
Morris’ award winning novel tells of ancient and modern people banding together on the island of Crete, as he relates the tale by alternating between two parallel stories.
As the main character, archaeologist Steffanakis, digs deeper, the past begins to reveal itself in ways that challenge his scientific mind, while superstitious villagers cry out to bury the discovery and ‘Let the dead rest’.
“It was my friendship with Sakellarakis and the experiences I lived in Crete that provided me with content for the novel,” Morris explains.
He lets slip that his professor Mimis Steffanakis undoubtedly resembles Sakellarakis.
“I wrote this book. I watched ‘movies’ and my characters talked. I just wrote down what they said. It was a peculiar way of doing it. I knew where I was going with this thing.”
The real Minoan archaeological discovery, at Anemospilia, Crete, by Yannis Sakellarakis is mimicked in the book, but the rest is fiction. Travelling to Crete for many years, digging deeper into the Minoan past alongside its most famous archaeologist, Morris started to notice inexplicable events that seemed to be beyond logic. These were no different to occurrences the archaeologist Sakellarakis was confronting himself.
Referring to his discovery at Anemospilia, Crete, he once told the author: “This was the first time in my professional life that I came face to face with eternity.”
“Every archaeologist involved in the excavations had these strange intuitive thoughts and peculiar things happening. I wanted him to write the book. He couldn’t do it, he told me, he was a man of science. He said ‘you write a book’.”
“They all felt similar things, but they were all too scared to write about it. They were too afraid to ruin their reputations, to discuss any of these mysterious things. I was able to do it in another form, as a novel,” Morris says.
“Yiannis Sakellarakis was a man of metaphor. If you want people to dream and to think, you should never complete the circle. And things like this don’t have an end. My book is the end, but the journey hasn’t ended yet,” Morris says in Sakellarakis’ metaphorical way.
To purchase the book Digging at the Crossroads of Time, by Christos Morris, visit Readings bookstore in Malvern (185 Glenferrie Road) or any book internet site. For more information, visit the website www.christosmorris.com