Cretan Mythology

Theseus &
Minotaur

The Minotaur and Theseus
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One of the most famous legends of Cretan mythology is that of the Minotaur and his fight with Theseus in the dark maze. This myth is presented in this article. According to the legend, the king of Knossos, Minos, once asked Poseidon to send him a sign to indicate that he was the only one that should be the king of Knossos (against his brother Radamanthys). Indeed, Poseidon sent him a very beautiful white bull and asked him to sacrifice in honor of himself. Minos, amazed by the beauty of the animal, decided to mislead Poseidon and sacrifice another bull in his position. However, Poseidon realized what happened and in retaliation provoked the love of Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, with the bull.

The desperate Pasiphae asked the help of Daedalus, who built a wooden cow, damalis, and covered it with real cowhide. Pasiphae entered into the cow-model and the “fooled” bull mated with her. From this unnatural intercourse the famous Minotaur was born, a monster with a human body and a bull's head that was fed on human blood.

When he saw the monster, Minos asked from Deadalus to construct a dark maze with endless corridors where the Minotaur would be closed. Thus, Daedalus built the Labyrinth, a complex network of galleries. Everybody that would enter there could not find the exit. Indeed many believe that this was the cave of the Labyrinth in Messara Plain.

Once the son of Minos, Androgeos, took part in the Panathenean Games, where he won some races. Some envious Athenian athletes killed Androgeos so as not to win the rest games. After learning the new, Minos declared war against Athens and defeated them. In retaliation for his son’s death, he forced them to send to Crete, every nine years, seven young men and seven young women to be devoured by the Minotaur. The young people were thrown into the dark labyrinth, where they wandered aimlessly until Minotaur would find them.

The son of the king of Athens Aegeas, Theseus, could not bear this humiliation and asked to be one of the people (on the third time) that would try to kill the Minotaur in the dark maze. So, he arrived in Crete, where he met the daughter of Minos, Ariadne, with who he fell in love. Ariadne gave him a ball of thread (known as Ariadne's thread) and advised him to tie its edge of the entrance of the labyrinth, so that then, after killing the Minotaur, he could find the exit.

Theseus walked into the dark tunnels holding the thread and managed to kill the Minotaur, by cutting off his head, and thus giving a definitive end to blood tax of Minos. Then he managed to finds the exit by following the thread.

Theseus took Ariadne and the other Athenians with him and set sail for Athens. On the journey they made a stop at Naxos island, where they mated (and later Ariadne born two sons). During the night, Theseus saw a dream in which the god Dionysus appeared and told him that he had to leave the island without Ariadne, as she was meant to become his wife. Indeed, Ariadne stayed on Naxos and was married with Dionysus. Dionysus later brought him to Olympus, so the mortal Ariadne became immortal.

After leaving Crete, Athenians forgot to change the black sails on their ships to white (the black symbolized mourning for lost youth). When approaching Athens, Aegeas saw the black sails and thought that his son, Theseus, was killed. So he fell from Cape Sounion and drowned. After this event, the sea of Greece was named Aegean Sea.

Various options have been given to the interpretation of the myth of Theseus, one of which is discussed in the article on the cave Labyrinth in Messara. The most probable says that the myth symbolizes the end of human sacrifice in the Minoan Civilization (sacrifices have been confirmed by archaeological evidence). Another explanation is that it symbolizes the liberation of the Greeks from the domination of Minoan Crete.

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