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Myths of Crete: The Minotaur


More of this Feature

• Part 2: The Rest of the Story

On This Site

The History of Crete
The Myth of Icarus
• Ancient Civilizations

Elsewhere on the Web

• Palace of Knossos
• Pictures of Palace of Knossos
• Plutarch and Herodotus on Crete
• How Theseus Slew the Minotaur

Part 1: The Foundation of the Story

The island of Crete is shrouded in mystery. It is also full of legends.

Tradition tells us that the Minoan Civilization, one of the earliest known civilizations, flourished on Crete before ancient Greece really got going and then maintained its strength through much of Greece's early history.

The story of Crete brings with it two enduring legends: the minotaur and the wings of wax. The latter will be examined in another column. The former is examined below.

King Minos was master of all he surveyed, on his island of Crete and beyond, to the Greek mainland. He was a strong ruler of a strong people. He was also jealous of other men's intentions toward his daughter, Ariadne. Our story begins with Ariadne in love with Theseus, an early hero of Greece. The two of them, it seemed, couldn't be without each other. So, Minos invited the young hero to the Palace of Knossos as the king's guest. Minos then threw Theseus into the labyrinth, which housed the fearsome beast known as the Minotaur.

The Minotaur was said to be the offspring of a goddess and a bull. As such, it had the body of a man and the head of a bull. It also wielded a double-bladed axe. The Minotaur waited at the center of the labyrinth. Anyone thrown into the labyrinth would have a difficult time finding his way out because the passages all looked the same and sometimes went on for a very long time before turning.

Also, those unlucky enough to be thrown into the labyrinth were stripped of their weapons and other possessions. They would have to use their bare hands against the Minotaur, which was wielding that axe.

Next page > The Rest of the Story > Page 1, 2

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