The Myth of the Minotaur

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One of the most intriguing myths of ancient Greece is the myth of the Minotaur on the island of Crete.

King Minos was one of the three sons born to Zeus and Europa. When their step-father, King Asterion, died, Minos declared himself king and appointed his brother Sarpedon as lawmaker of all the islands. Sarpedon questioned his brother’s authority, but Minos said that it was the will of the gods for him to become king. As proof, he sacrificed a bull to the god Poseidon and then asked the god to send a new bull for the same purpose. Poseidon listened to his request and sent a beautiful white bull from the sea. King Minos—as well as the citizens of Crete—was impressed, and because the bull was so beautiful, Minos set it free and sacrificed a different bull.

Minos was married to the goddess Pasiphae. Together they had many children, some of which were Ariadne, Phaedra, Glaucus and Androgeus. When Poseidon realized that Minos didn’t sacrifice the white bull, he caused Pasiphae to fall in love with the animal. Pasiphae—desperate from her love for the bull—asked for help from the sculptor and engineer Daedalus. Daedalus built her an empty wooden cow. It was so beautiful that the white bull was tricked and fell in love with it. Pasiphae then went inside the wooden cow and loved the white bull. The result of this union was the Minotaur, a powerful beast with a human body and the head of a bull.

When Minos saw the beast he was furious and asked Daedalus to build a labyrinth with unlimited corridors and cells where the Minotaur could be held captive. This is what Daedalus did—built a great labyrinth that the Minotaur, and people who entered it, could never get out of. The labyrinth is believed to be the one that has been found in Knossos, Crete.

Later on, when Minos’s son Androgeus was killed by the Athenians, Minos declared war against Athens and won. As a punishment, he obliged Athens to send 7 young men and 7 young women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every 9 years. It is worth mentioning that King Minos was in direct contact with Zeus, which means that all of this had the indirect approval of the god. The death of the Minotaur finally came from the Greek hero Theseus, son of Aegeus, king of Athens, with the help of Minos’s daughter, Ariadne, who fell in love with Theseus.

It is intriguing to again see the involvement of the gods in human affairs and the punishment they would inflict when men were not obedient to them. The birth of hybrids—half human, half animal beings—is also a common pattern in myths all over the world. Is it possible that those hybrids did exist, and if so, who where their creators? In most myths it appears that gods are directly related to their creation. If that’s true, how did they do it? On the other hand, we have conventional archaeology suggesting that these ‘primitive’ ancient peoples simply had a vivid imagination.  

By John Black

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