Minotaur in Greek Mythology

Minotaur in Greek Mythology

The Minotaur in Greek tales refers to a half-human and a half-bull monster. Image Credits: Greek Myths & Greek Mythology

Minotaur is a bizarre creature in Greek myths. It bears a bull’s head and a bull’s tail, with its body being that of a man. The Minotaur’s dwelling place was the Labyrinth’s center – a magical maze-like structure that made escape nearly impossible for entrants.

Origination of Minotaur

Minotaur has Greek origins. The name traces its source to an Ancient Greek word Μῑνώταυρος; it’s a compounded word. Μίνως means “Minos” while ταύρος stands for “bull”. When put together, Minotaur then means ” Minos’ Bull”. In Crete, the alternative name for Minotaur is Asterion. At first, Minotaur mainly stood as a proper noun since it was the name of a popular creature. But in the 20th century, Minotaur took a common noun representation with a slight redefinition. As a common noun, it refers to mythical creatures which are bull-headed.

The Story of the Minotaur’s Birth

According to Greek myths, Minos, the legendary Cretan king, rose to the throne after rubbing shoulders with his brothers in order to rule. To garner support, he consulted Poseidon (god of the sea) in prayers for a bull. When he had the bull, courtesy demanded that he sacrificed it to Poseidon. But Minos chose to keep hold of the bull because of its beauty. He assumed that Poseidon wouldn’t care much about the bull. It turned out that this was a wrongful assumption; Poseidon got mad and sought vengeance.

The Greek god of the sea went ahead to place a charm on Minos’ wife, Queen Pasiphae, which made her fall head over heels for the Cretan bull. Filled with unnatural urges, Pasiphae wanted to sleep with the bull so bad that she enlisted the help of a craftsman named Daedalus, the father of Icarus. Pasiphae ordered Deadalus to carve a wooden cow so she could climb inside and then trick the Cretan bull into making love with her.  Minotaur was the fruit of the bestial act between the bull and Minos’ wife. Minos was absolutely livid at the craftsman’s contribution to his wife’s ordeal and punished him.

The Minotaur and the Labyrinth

Pasiphae took care of the newly born baby who became a fearsome monster and ate humans for survival.  Minotaur was placed in a Labyrinth, close to Knossos. The Labyrinth was a maze-type building which was structured to prevent the escape of any creature after entry. While the Minotaur was stuck down in the heart of the maze, Minos acting to avenge the death of his human son Androgeos occasionally fed the Minotaur with the flesh of 14 noblemen of Athenian origins. These carefully selected Athenians were sent to the Labyrinth as a sacrifice every 1 or 9 years.

The Minotaur’s Death

The longer the Minotaur stayed in the Labyrinth, the more it devoured flesh. One hero named Theseus offered to fight the beast. Theseus kept his life on the line by volunteering as one of the 14 Athenians doomed to meet their end in the Labyrinth. Therefore, Theseus journeyed to Crete to face the Minotaur.

Theseus and the Minotaur

At Crete, a daughter of Minos (Ariadne) fell for Theseus. She offered to assist her lover to discover some secrets of the Labyrinth. Ariadne successfully convinced the designer of the Labyrinth, Daedalus, to reveal the escape route out of the Labyrinth.

Their collaboration enabled Theseus to gain access to a thread ball and enter the labyrinth. The thread would assist Theseus to find the exit out of the maze. He made way for the Labyrinth’s center and faced the monstrous beast. After a long grueling fight, the Minotaur was overpowered by Theseus. Whether he used a club or free hands to fight the monster, one thing is true, Theseus defeated (killed) the Minotaur and escaped with Ariadne, Minos’ daughter. This saved the lives of 14 noblemen who were on a sacrificial death row.

Significance of Hermes in Greek mythology

Events that happened after the Minotaur’s death

After Theseus made a name for himself by killing the Minotaur, with assistance from Ariadne, he journeyed home. On reaching Naxos island, he abandoned Ariadne who was so much convinced that the Athenian hero Theseus would marry her. Theseus went away with Phaedra (Ariadne’s sister) as his wife. This broke the heart of Ariadne and she wept bitterly at her own stupidity.

The Minotaur was kind of a relative to Ariadne. Now, she lost both the Minotaur and a potential husband. Amidst all that grief, the Greek  god of wine Dionysus discovered Ariadne on the island and got married to her. Some myths rather state that, it was Dionysus who instructed Theseus to leave Ariadne in order to pave the way for him to marry her.

When Theseus neared home, he forgot to change his black-colored sails to white. Prior to leaving for Crete, Theseus told his father that a white sail on his ship would symbolize his victory over the Minotaur. However, a black sail would mean that he did not make it out alive from the Labyrinth.

Sighting the black sails, Theseus’ father, King Aegeus, got stricken by grief and jumped to his death. This paved the way for Theseus to establish himself as the Athenian king. Aegean Sea takes its name from the very sea that King Aegeus committed suicide in.

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Influences and Symbolism of the Minotaur Myth

Theseus and the Minotaur’s fight typically featured in many ancient Greek literature and artworks; the Minotaur is usually depicted as the weaker of the two. The myth illustrates the battle between the normal and the abnormal.

From another angle, the Minotaur symbolizes humanity’s arrogance to the gods. Had King Minos not reneged on his promise to Poseidon, he would not have suffered the punishment of the gods. Hence, the gods decide to punish man. These sorts of themes are quite common in Greek mythology. A very honorable mention can be seen in Prometheus gifting mankind fire, which ultimately incurs the wrath of Zeus, who sends a box (i.e. Pandora’s box) that contained all manner of evil to mankind.

Some Cretan coins had depictions of the Labyrinth. This suggests some degree of truth may exist around the myth.  The architectural complexities of Cretan palaces also trace their inspiration to the Minotaur myths in Greek mythology.

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