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Sorceress goddess
Pasiphaë sits on a throne, a Roman mosaic from Zeugma Mosaic Museum
Personal information
ParentsHelios and Perse or Crete
SiblingsCirce, Aeetes, Aloeus, Perses, Phaethon, the Heliades, the Heliadae and others
ConsortMinos, Cretan Bull
ChildrenAcacallis, Ariadne, Androgeus, Glaucus, Deucalion, Phaedra, Xenodice, Catreus and the Minotaur.

In Greek mythology, Pasiphaë (/pəˈsɪfi/;[1] Greek: Πασιφάη Pasipháē, "wide-shining" derived from πᾶς pas "all, for all, of all" and φάος/φῶς phaos/phos "light")[2] was a queen of Crete. The daughter of Helios and the Oceanid nymph Perse, Pasiphaë is notable for being the mother of the Minotaur, whom she conceived after mating with the Cretan Bull hidden within a hollow cow that the Athenian inventor Daedalus built for her, after the god Poseidon cursed her to fall in love with the beast. The curse was sent after her husband Minos failed to sacrifice to Poseidon the bull as he had promised.



Pasiphaë was the daughter of god of the Sun, Helios,[3][4][5][6] and the Oceanid nymph[7] Perse.[8][9][10] She was thus the sister of Aeëtes, Circe and Perses of Colchis. In some accounts, Pasiphaë's mother was identified as the island-nymph Crete herself.[11][12] Like her doublet Europa, the consort of Zeus, her origins were in the East, in her case at the earliest-known Kartvelian-speaking polity of Colchis (Egrisi (Georgian: ეგრისი, now in western Georgia[13][14][15][16]); she was the sister of Circe, Aeëtes and Perses of Colchis, and she was given in marriage to King Minos of Crete. With Minos, she was the mother of Acacallis, Ariadne, Androgeus, Glaucus, Deucalion, Phaedra, Xenodice, and Catreus. She was also the mother of "star-like" Asterion, called the Minotaur.

Daedalus presents the artificial cow to Pasiphaë: Roman fresco in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, 1st century CE.

The Minotaur[edit]

After her husband Minos neglected to sacrifice the Cretan Bull to Poseidon, the god cursed Pasiphaë to experience lust for the white, splendid bull. Pasiphaë went to Daedalus and asked him to help her mate with the bull. Daedalus then created a hollow cow he covered with real cowskin, so realistic it fooled the Cretan Bull, allowing her to mate with him. Pasiphaë fell pregnant and gave birth to a half-human half-bull creature that solely fed on human flesh. The child was named Asterius, after the previous king, but was commonly called the Minotaur ("the bull of Minos").[17][18][19] According to sixth century BC author Bacchylides, the curse was sent by Aphrodite[20] and Hyginus says this was because Pasiphaë had neglected Aphrodite's worship for years.[21] In yet another version, Aphrodite cursed Pasiphaë (as well as several of her sisters and father) with unnatural desires as a revenge against her father Helios,[22] for Helios had revealed to her husband Hephaestus her secret affair with Ares, the god of war, earning Aphrodite's eternal hatred for himself and his whole race.[23][24]

The myth of Pasiphaë's coupling with the bull and subsequent birth of the Minotaur was the subject of Euripides' lost play the Cretans, of which few fragments survive; a chorus of priests presenting themselves and addressing Minos, someone (perhaps a wetnurse) informing Minos of the newborn infant's nature (informing Minos and the audience, among others, that Pasiphaë breastfeeds the Minotaur like an infant), and a dialogue between Pasiphaë and Minos where they argue over which between them is responsible.[25] Pasiphaë's speech defending herself is preserved, an answer to Minos' accusations (not preserved) where she excuses herself on account of acting under the constraint of divine power, and insists that the one to blame is actually Minos, who angered the sea-god.[26]

Pasiphaë nursing the infant Minotaur, red-figure kylix found at Etruscan Vulci, 4th century BC.


If I had sold the gifts of Kypris,
given my body in secret to some man,
you would have every right to condemn me
as a whore. But this was no act of the will;
I am suffering from some madness brought on
by a god.
It’s not plausible!
What could I have seen in a bull
to assault my heart with this shameful passion?
Did he look too handsome in his robe?
Did a sea of fire smoulder in his eyes?
Was it the red tint of his hair, his dark beard?[27]

Mythological scholars and authors Ruck and Staples remarked that "the Bull was the old pre-Olympian Poseidon".[28]

In the Greek literalistic understanding of a Minoan myth,[29] in order to actually copulate with the bull, she had the Athenian artificer Daedalus[30] construct a portable wooden cow with a cowhide covering, within which she was able to satisfy her strong desire.[31] This interpretation reduced a near-divine figure (a daughter of the Sun) to a stereotyped emblem of grotesque bestiality and the shocking excesses of lust and deceit.[32] Pasiphaë appeared in Virgil's Eclogue VI (45–60), in Silenus' list of suitable mythological subjects, on which Virgil lingers in such detail that he gives the sixteen-line episode the weight of a brief inset myth.[33] In Ovid's Ars Amatoria Pasiphaë is framed in zoophilic terms: Pasiphae fieri gaudebat adultera tauri—"Pasiphaë took pleasure in becoming an adulteress with a bull."[34]

The Curse of Pasiphaë[edit]

In other aspects, Pasiphaë, like her niece Medea, was a mistress of magical herbal arts in the Greek imagination. The author of Bibliotheke records the fidelity charm she placed upon Minos, who would ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes killing any unlawful concubine; but Procris, with a protective circean herb, lay with Minos with impunity.[35] In another version, this unexplained disease that tormented Minos killed all his concubines and prevented him and Pasiphaë from having any children (the scorpions and serpents did not otherwise harm Pasiphaë, as she was an immortal child of the Sun). Procris then inserted a goat's bladder into a woman, told Minos to ejaculate the scorpions in there, and then sent him to Pasiphaë. The couple was thus able to conceive.[5]

Daedalus and Icarus[edit]

In one version of the story, Pasiphaë supplied Daedalus and his son Icarus with a ship in order to escape Minos and Crete.[36] In another, she helped him hide until he fashioned wings made of wax and bird feathers.[37]


While Pasiphaë is an immortal goddess in some texts, other authors treated her as a mortal woman, like Euripides who in his play Cretans has Minos sentence her to death (her eventual fate is unclear, as no relevant fragment survives) and Virgil, who has Aeneas see her when he visits the Underworld.[38]


On divination[edit]

In mainland Greece, Pasiphaë was worshipped as an oracular goddess at Thalamae, one of the original koine of Sparta. The geographer Pausanias describes the shrine as small, situated near a clear stream, and flanked by bronze statues of Helios and Pasiphaë. His account also equates Pasiphaë with Ino and the lunar goddess Selene.

Cicero writes in De Divinatione 1.96 that the Spartan ephors would sleep at the shrine of Pasiphaë, seeking prophetic dreams to aid them in governance. According to Plutarch,[39] Spartan society twice underwent major upheavals sparked by ephors' dreams at the shrine during the Hellenistic era. In one case, an ephor dreamed that some of his colleagues' chairs were removed from the agora, and that a voice called out "this is better for Sparta"; inspired by this, King Cleomenes acted to consolidate royal power. Again during the reign of King Agis, several ephors brought the people into revolt with oracles from Pasiphaë's shrine promising remission of debts and redistribution of land.

Possible celestial deity[edit]

In Description of Greece, Pausanias equates Pasiphaë with Selene, implying that the figure was worshipped as a lunar deity.[40] However, further studies on Minoan religion indicate that the sun was a female figure, suggesting instead that Pasiphaë was originally a solar goddess, an interpretation consistent with her depiction as Helios' daughter.[41] Poseidon's bull may in turn be vestigial of the lunar bull prevalent in Ancient Mesopotamian religion.[42]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Pasiphaë appears in the BBC One fantasy drama series Atlantis. Here she seems to be the main antagonist. As Ariadne's domineering stepmother, she disapproves of her attraction to Jason and tries to kill the hero several times. Her sister, Circe, seems to hold a grudge against her and asks Jason to help kill her. The last episode of season 1 (Touched by the Gods Part 2) revealed that she is the mother of Jason. She thought he died after she cursed her husband and they fled to our world. She is portrayed by Sarah Parish.[43]
  • Pasiphaë is a major antagonist in Rick Riordan's 2013 fantasy novel The House of Hades. In this novel, she is portrayed as an immortal sorceress and former wife of the late King Minos. Having grown bitter towards the gods after the events of the Minoan myth, Pasiphaë allies with the goddess Gaea and her giant army to overthrow the Olympian gods. She is confronted and defeated by Hazel Levesque, a demigod daughter of Pluto, who had been trained in sorcery by the goddess Hecate. In this novel, it is revealed that the Labyrinth is tied to her life force as much as Daedalus's, thereby rendering the infamous inventor's sacrifice in the previous series useless.[44]
  • Pasiphaë appears in Madeline Miller's 2018 novel Circe, the sister of the book's protagonist Circe, the daughter of Helios and Perse. A witch just like her, she and Circe have an antagonistic and sour relationship; Pasiphaë often mocks and belittles her older sister. After Pasiphaë has intercourse with the Cretan Bull, she calls in Circe to assist her in the Minotaur's birth, though the two sisters hardly reconcile their differences. It's also heavily implied she entered an incestuous affair with her her brother Perses, here presented as her twin.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2009). "Pasiphae, Pasiphaë". Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. London: Pearson Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  2. ^ An attribute of the Moon, as Pausanias remarked in passing (i.43.96): compare Euryphaessa; if Pasipháē is an ancient conventional Minoan epithet translated into Greek, it would be a "loan translation", or calque.
  3. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.999
  4. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.735
  5. ^ a b Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 41
  6. ^ Seneca, Phaedra 112
  7. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 355
  8. ^ Apollodorus, Library 1.9.1
  9. ^ Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae preface
  10. ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum 48.4
  11. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 4.60.4
  12. ^ John Tzetzes, Chiliades 4.361
  13. ^ David Marshall Lang. The Georgians. p. 59. Frederick A. Praeger. New York (1966).
  14. ^ Antiquity 1994. p. 359. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia: Значение слова "Колхи" в Большой Советской Энциклопедии
  15. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, John Anthony Crook, Elizabeth Rawson, p. 255
  16. ^ David Marshall Lang. The Georgians. p. 75, 76-88. Frederick A. Praeger. New York (1966).
  17. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 3.1.4
  18. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Historic Library 4.77.1
  19. ^ Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1.16.1
  20. ^ Bacchylides frag 26
  21. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 40
  22. ^ Libanius, Progymnasmata 2.21
  23. ^ Seneca, Phaedra 124
  24. ^ Scholia on Euripides' Hippolytus 47.
  25. ^ Johan Tralau, Cannibalism, Vegetarianism, and the Community of Sacrifice: Rediscovering Euripides’ Cretans and the Beginnings of Political Philosophy, the University of Chigago Press Journals [1].
  26. ^ Sansone, David. “Euripides, Cretans Frag. 472e.16—26 Kannicht.” Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphik, vol. 184, Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, 2013, pp. 58–65.
  27. ^ Euripides, Cretans Fr. 472e K, translation by P. T. Rourke.
  28. ^ Ruck and Staples 1994:213.
  29. ^ Specific astrological or calendrical interpretations of the mystic mating of the "wide-shining" daughter of the Sun with a mythological bull, transformed into an unnatural curse in Hellene myth, are prone to variability and debate.
  30. ^ Daedalus was of the line of the chthonic king at Athens Erechtheus.
  31. ^ Greek myth characteristically emphasizes the accursed unnaturalness of a mystical marriage conceived literally as merely carnal: a fragment of Bacchylides alludes to "her unspeakable sickness" and Hyginus (in Fabulae 40) to "an unnatural love for a bull".
  32. ^ This was the commonplace of brief notices of Pasiphaë among Latin poets, too, Rebecca Armstrong notes, in Cretan Women: Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin Poetry (Oxford University Press) 2006:169. Ruck and Staples (1994:9) argue that "the suspension of linear chronology" is a common feature in Greek myths.
  33. ^ Armstrong 2006:171.
  34. ^ Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.9.33
  35. ^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.15.1
  36. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Historic Library 4.77.5
  37. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Historic Library 4.77.7
  38. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 6.447
  39. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives Agis and Cleomenes.
  40. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.26.1
  41. ^ Goodison, L. “From Tholos Tomb to Throne Room: Perceptions of the Sun in Minoan Ritual”. In: R. LAFFINEUR and R. HÄGG (eds.). Potnia: Deities and Religion in the Aegean Bronze Age. 2001. pp. 77-88.
  42. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  43. ^ Pasiphae - Atlantis, Series 1, BBC.
  44. ^ Riordan, Rick (2013). The House of Hades. New York City: Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4231-4672-8.
  45. ^ Miller, Madeline (2018). Circe. New York City: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-55634-7.




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