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This article is about the figure in Greek mythology. For other uses, see Asterion (disambiguation). For the theologian, see Asterius the Sophist.

In Greek mythology, Asterion (/əˈstɪriən/; Greek: Ἀστερίων, gen.: Ἀστερίωνος, literally "starry") or Asterius (/əˈstɪriəs/; Ἀστέριος)[1] denotes two sacred kings of Crete, as well as a river and its god in Argos.

Asterion I[edit]

The first Asterion, the son of Tectamus, son of Dorus, king of Crete, was the consort of Europa and stepfather of her sons by Zeus,[2] who assumed the form of the Cretan bull to accomplish his role. The sons were Minos, the just king in Crete who judged the Underworld; Rhadamanthus, presiding over the Garden of the Hesperides or in the Underworld; and Sarpedon, likewise a judge in the Afterlife. When he died, Asterion gave his kingdom to Minos, who promptly "banished" his brothers after quarrelling with them. Crete, daughter of Asterion, was a possible wife of Minos.

Asterion II[edit]

According to Karl Kerenyi[3] and other scholars, the second Asterion, the star at the center of the labyrinth on Cretan coins, was in fact the Minotaur, as the compiler of Bibliotheca (III.1.4) asserts:

Pasiphaë gave birth to Asterius, who was called the Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth.

"Minotaur" is simply a name of Hellene coining to describe his Cretan iconic bull-man image: see Minotaur. Coins minted at Cnossus from the fifth century showed the kneeling bull or the head of a goddess crowned with a wreath of grain[4] and on the reverse—the "underside"—a scheme of four meander patterns joined at the centre windmill fashion, sometimes with sickle moons or with a star-rosette at the center: "it is a small view of the nocturnal world on the face of the coin that lay downward in the printing process, and is, as it were, oriented downward".

Other Asterions[edit]

A Greek myth[5] introduced Asterion as one of three river gods who judged between Poseidon and Hera, who should rule Argos. The River Asterion in Argos[6] is mentioned in the Dionysiaca (47.493) of Nonnus, who couples the reference with a rite in which young men dedicate locks of their hair.

Asterion in the herbal of Dioscurides, is Silene linifolia.[7] Of this herb, found near the Heraion of the Argolid, Pausanias noted "On its banks grows a plant, which also is called asterion. They offer the plant itself to Hera, and from its leaves weave her garlands."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca III.1.2–4, and Diodorus Siculus, IV.60.3, give Asterius; Pausanias, Description of Greece II.31.1, gives Asterion.
  2. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca III.1.2; Asterius "having died childless" III.1.3; scholiast on Iliad XII.292.
  3. ^ Kerenyi (1951), p. 111; Kerenyi (1976), p. 105.
  4. ^ Compare Carme.
  5. ^ Mentioned by Pausanias, 2.17.1–2. (on-line English text).
  6. ^ Theoi Project: Asterion, river-god of Argos
  7. ^ Charles Singer, "The Herbal in Antiquity and Its Transmission to Later Ages", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 47.1 (1927):1–52), illus. p. 16, fig. 12, naturalistic drawing of the first or second century CE, redrawn for the Vienna Dioscurides made for Julia Anicia.
  8. ^ Pausanias, 2.17.2.


  • A.B. Cook, Zeus, i.543ff.
  • Karl Kerenyi. The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames & Hudson, 1951.
  • Karl Kerenyi. Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, 1976.
  • Sara Douglass, 2002–6. The Troy Game Series. (Asterion referred to as the name of the Minotaur)