Extract

The Summer of Love

With her discoveries at Cnidus she was the first female archaeologist to become a household name. But Aphrodite was the undoing of Iris Love. New York portrait by Jürgen Frank

  • Jürgen Frank's 2018 portrait of Iris Love in New York (left) and making a spalsh in the 1970s, by Harry Benson

At the very tip of the Reşadiye peninsula, almost at the line where the Aegean becomes the Mediterranean, lies the Ancient city of Cnidus (Knidos). It is now ruined and deserted but in ancient times it was at the centre of the world, on trade routes from Alexandria to Athens, and a shelter from the prevailing northwesterly winds. Bleached by the sun, scorched by the wind, surrounded by the turquoise sea, it is a harsh, sometimes bleak, but at the same time an intensely romantic, site. The moles and walls of the trireme harbour still stand. Fragments of column and cornice are scattered amongst the rocks and dark-green, wind-sculpted bushes of the maquis. In spring the ground is a carpet of wild flowers amongst shards of ancient earthenware.

High above the site, looking east to Kos, south to Nisyros, west to Rhodes and Symi, is the stepped base of a circular temple. Its discovery, made in July 1969, and announced to a stunned annual conference of the American Institute of Archaeologists in San Francisco in the last days of that year, briefly became world news. It propelled a young archaeologist, Iris Cornelia Love, to the kind of fame very few archaeologists achieve. She believed she had found the site of the temple that once housed Praxiteles’ statue of Venus Aphrodite, perhaps the most famous statue of the ancient world and one of Pliny’s Seven Wonders. If her thesis was correct, this was one the greatest archaeological coups of the century.

It is no exaggeration to say that for a short time, and while still in her thirties, Iris Love became the most famous archaeologist in the world and the first and only female household name in archaeology. The discovery appeared sensational, but it was the glamorous archaeologist herself – tall, blonde, handsome, self-confident and a close relation of the Guggenheims to boot – that really caught the imagination of the world. Iris Love seemed a shaft of sunlight in a fusty, male-dominated world. She found herself on the front page of The New York Times (bronzed and in the skimpiest of minidresses), on prime-time national television being interviewed by Barbara Walters, and the subject of profiles in scores of other magazines and newspapers around the world. Tabloids ran headlines such as “Love Finds Temple of Love” and referred to her as “the mini-skirted archaeologist”.

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Issue 57, May 2018 Black Sea Miracle
£12.00 / $15.37 / 82.90 TL
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