Minotaur

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This article is about the mythological monster. For other uses, see Minotaur (disambiguation).
Minotaur
Minotauros Myron NAMA 1664 n1.jpg
Grouping Mythological creature
Parents Cretan Bull and Pasiphaë
Mythology Greek
Region Crete

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur (/ˈmnətɔː/,[1] /ˈmɪnəˌtɔːr/;[2] Ancient Greek: Μῑνώταυρος [miːnɔ̌ːtau̯ros], Latin: Minotaurus, Etruscan: Θevrumineś) was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man[3] or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being "part man and part bull".[4] The Minotaur dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction[5] designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.

The term Minotaur derives from the Ancient Greek Μῑνώταυρος, a compound of the name Μίνως (Minos) and the noun ταύρος "bull", translated as "(the) Bull of Minos". In Crete, the Minotaur was known by its proper name, Asterion,[6] a name shared with Minos' foster-father.[7]

"Minotaur" was originally a proper noun in reference to this mythical figure. The use of "minotaur" as a common noun to refer to members of a generic species of bull-headed creatures developed much later, in 20th-century fantasy genre fiction.

Birth and appearance[edit]

The bronze "Horned God" from Enkomi, Cyprus

After he ascended the throne of the island of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support (the Cretan Bull). He was to kill the bull to show honor to the deity, but decided to keep it instead because of its beauty. He thought Poseidon would not care if he kept the white bull and sacrificed one of his own. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos's wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. Pasiphaë had craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. Pasiphaë nursed him, but he grew and became ferocious, being the unnatural offspring of a woman and a beast; he had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured humans for sustenance. Minos, after getting advice from the oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. Its location was near Minos' palace in Knossos.

The Minotaur is commonly represented in Classical art with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. One of the figurations assumed by the river spirit Achelous in wooing Deianira is as a man with the head of a bull, according to Sophocles' Trachiniai.

From Classical times through the Renaissance, the Minotaur appears at the center of many depictions of the Labyrinth.[8] Ovid's Latin account of the Minotaur, which did not elaborate on which half was bull and which half man, was the most widely available during the Middle Ages, and several later versions show the reverse of the Classical configuration, a man's head and torso on a bull's body, reminiscent of a centaur.[9] This alternative tradition survived into the Renaissance, and still figures in some modern depictions, such as Steele Savage's illustrations for Edith Hamilton's Mythology (1942).

Theseus and the Minotaur[edit]

Rhyton in the shape of a bull's head, Heraklion Archaeological Museum; shown here at the Greek pavilion at Expo '88

Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival. Others say he was killed at Marathon by the Cretan bull, his mother's former taurine lover, which Aegeus, king of Athens, had commanded him to slay. The common tradition is that Minos waged war to avenge the death of his son and won. Catullus, in his account of the Minotaur's birth,[10] refers to another version in which Athens was "compelled by the cruel plague to pay penalties for the killing of Androgeos." Aegeus had to avert the plague caused by his crime by sending "young men at the same time as the best of unwed girls as a feast" to the Minotaur. Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, be sent every seventh or ninth year (some accounts say every year[11]) to be devoured by the Minotaur.

When the third sacrifice approached, Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He promised his father, Aegeus, that he would put up a white sail on his journey back home if he was successful, but would have the crew put up black sails if he was killed. In Crete, Minos' daughter Ariadne fell madly in love with Theseus and helped him navigate the labyrinth. In most accounts she gave him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur with the sword of Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth. On the way home, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and continued. He neglected, however, to put up the white sail. King Aegeus, from his lookout on Cape Sounion, saw the black-sailed ship approach and, presuming his son dead, committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea that is since named after him.[12] This act secured the throne for Theseus.

Etruscan view[edit]

Pasiphaë and the Minotaur, Attic red-figure kylix found at Etruscan Vulci (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)

This essentially Athenian view of the Minotaur as the antagonist of Theseus reflects the literary sources, which are biased in favour of Athenian perspectives. The Etruscans, who paired Ariadne with Dionysus, never with Theseus, offered an alternative Etruscan view of the Minotaur, never seen in Greek arts: on an Etruscan red-figure wine-cup of the early-to-mid fourth century Pasiphaë tenderly cradles an infant Minotaur on her knee.[13]

Interpretations[edit]

Theseus fighting the Minotaur by Jean-Etienne Ramey, marble, 1826, Tuileries Gardens, Paris

The contest between Theseus and the Minotaur was frequently represented in Greek art. A Knossian didrachm exhibits on one side the labyrinth, on the other the Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of small balls, probably intended for stars; one of the monster's names was Asterion ("star").

While the ruins of Minos' palace at Knossos were discovered, the labyrinth never was. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace has led some archaeologists to suggest that the palace itself was the source of the labyrinth myth, an idea generally discredited today.[14] Homer, describing the shield of Achilles, remarked that the labyrinth was Ariadne's ceremonial dancing ground.

Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Minoan adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the breaking of Athenian tributary relations with Minoan Crete.

The Minotaur in the Labyrinth, engraving of a 16th-century AD gem in the Medici Collection in the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence[15]

According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god of the Cretans, who depicted the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain Pasiphaë's union with the bull as a sacred ceremony, at which the queen of Knossos was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of the Tyrant in Athens was wedded to Dionysus. E. Pottier, who does not dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of Phalaris, considers it probable that in Crete (where a bull cult may have existed by the side of that of the labrys) victims were tortured by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot brazen bull. The story of Talos, the Cretan man of brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is probably of similar origin.

A historical explanation of the myth refers to the time when Crete was the main political and cultural potency in the Aegean Sea. As the fledgling Athens (and probably other continental Greek cities) was under tribute to Crete, it can be assumed that such tribute included young men and women for sacrifice. This ceremony was performed by a priest disguised with a bull head or mask, thus explaining the imagery of the Minotaur.

Once continental Greece was free from Crete's dominance, the myth of the Minotaur worked to distance the forming religious consciousness of the Hellene poleis from Minoan beliefs.

Cultural references[edit]

Dante's Inferno[edit]

Dante and Virgil meet the Minotaur, illustration by Gustave Doré
William Blake's image of the Minotaur to illustrate Inferno XII

The Minotaur (infamia di Creti, "infamy of Crete"), appears briefly in Dante's Inferno, in Canto 12 (l. 12–13, 16–21), where Dante and his guide Virgil find themselves picking their way among boulders dislodged on the slope and preparing to enter into the Seventh Circle of Hell.[16]

Dante and Virgil encounter the beast first among the "men of blood": those damned for their violent natures. Many commentators believe that Dante, in a reversal of classical tradition, bestowed the beast with a man's head upon a bull's body.[17]

In these lines Virgil taunts the Minotaur in order to distract him, and reminds the Minotaur that he was killed by Theseus the Duke of Athens with the help of the monster's half-sister Ariadne. The Minotaur is the first infernal guardian whom Virgil and Dante encounter within the walls of Dis.[18] The Minotaur seems to represent the entire zone of Violence, much as Geryon represents Fraud in Canto XVI, and serves a similar role as gatekeeper for the entire seventh Circle.[19]

Giovanni Boccaccio writes of the Minotaur in his literary commentary of the Commedia: "When he had grown up and become a most ferocious animal, and of incredible strength, they tell that Minos had him shut up in a prison called the labyrinth, and that he had sent to him there all those whom he wanted to die a cruel death".[20] Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in his own commentary,[21][22] compares the Minotaur with all three sins of violence within the seventh circle: "The Minotaur, who is situated at the rim of the tripartite circle, fed, according to the poem was biting himself (violence against oneself) and was conceived in the 'false cow' (violence against nature, daughter of God)."

Virgil and Dante then pass quickly by to the centaurs (Nessus, Chiron, Pholus, and Nessus) who guard the Flegetonte ("river of blood"), to continue through the seventh Circle.[23]

This unusual association of the Minotaur with Centaurs, not made in any Classical source, is shown visually in William Blake's rendering of the Minotaur (illustration) as a kind of taurine centaur himself.

Surrealist art[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

  • The World Wrestling Federation featured the bull-like Mantaur, billed from Crete, in 1994 and 1995.
  • In the Showtime television series Dexter, season 7, episodes 3 ("Buck the System") and 4 ("Run"), Dexter Morgan and the Miami Metro Police Department track down serial killer Ray Speltzer, a steroid pumped psychotic who stalks his victims within a handmade maze, while wearing a bull-horned helmet, resembling a Minotaur. When he catches them, he brutally beats them to death.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?", the Riddler re-creates the Minotaur's labyrinth as one of his riddles to be solved by Batman and Robin. The maze has a robotic Minotaur in its center, which provides the final riddle for solving the maze.
  • The Minotaur appears in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians books The Lightning Thief and The Last Olympian, and in the first book's film adaption Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. In the film version, the Minotaur has the head of a cape buffalo.
  • A minotaur, or minotaur-like creature, appeared in the Doctor Who stories The Mind Robber (1968), The Time Monster (1972), The Horns of Nimon (1979), and The God Complex (2011). Additionally, the Fourth Doctor claims to have given Theseus the ball of string to navigate the labyrinth.
  • The Minotaur appeared as the monster-of-the-week in episode 3 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and in episodes 3-4 of its Japanese counterpart Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. In Zyuranger, the monster is called Dora Minotaur. In Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the monster is called Mighty Minotaur.
  • In American Horror Story: Coven, Delphine LaLaurie tortures her houseboy, Bastien, for having sex with one of her daughters. The sadistic slave owner attaches the severed head of a bull to Bastien's body, explaining that ever since she was a little girl she has had a fascination with the Minotaur of Greek myth and is thrilled at the opportunity to finally have one of her own.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis includes a race of Minotaurs who are followers of the White Witch.
  • Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The House of Asterion" (collected in The Aleph) tells the Minotaur's story.
  • Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves features both the labyrinth and the Minotaur as prominent themes.
  • The Minotaur appears in "The Scorpion King" prequel, "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" (2008).
  • "Sinbad and The Minotaur" features a version of the Minotaur as one of the antagonists.
  • Director Shin Sang-ok's monster film Pulgasari features a gigantic minotaur.
  • The film Time Bandits (1981) features a battle between Agamemnon (portrayed by Sean Connery) and a Minotaur. Agamemnon is victorious, with some help from the film's young protagonist.
  • In the Inspector Gadget episode "Did you Myth Me?", a mechanic Minotaur and stone labyrinth appear as part of a new Greek museum's exhibit that Inspector Gadget must protect from MAD.
  • In 2002 video game Age of Mythology, Minotaur is Greek myth unit available through Athena, the worship of Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare.
  • In the TV-movie Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur (November 1994), the bull-headed monster Gryphus is revealed to be Herc's half-brother, who was cursed by Zeus as punishment for a literally unspeakable crime. This fifth and last of the two-hour TV movies, preceding the weekly series of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, combines the Theseus myth with the Greek myths of Tantalus, Lycaon, and Epaphus.
  • The novel Death's Shadow, in Darren Shan's series The Demonata, mentions the Minotaur, saying that it raised Beranabus, who wept over its dead body after it was slain by Theseus.
  • In the film Fellini Satyricon, a man with a bull's head mask pursues Encolpio through a labyrinth. He is watched by a crowd that chants/laughs in a heavily stylized manner that echoes the Roman 'Laughing festival'. When the Minotaur/man spares Encolpio because of Encolpio's pleas that he is a student, the idea that religious ritual can help Man's soul triumph over the brute force of the Earth, is supported.
  • Manny Taur, son of the Minotaur, is a character in Mattel's Monster High cartoons, and has been released in doll form and sold exclusively at San Diego Comic-Con.
  • Batou (バトー Batō?) is a main male character in Shirow's Ghost in the Shell manga series. Stand Alone Complex character designer Hajime Shimomura said that Batou's image was based on the Minotaur.
  • The main character of the game "Shifters" can shapeshift into a minotaur as one of the basic forms. The minotaur is white, wears barbaric clothing, and wields a mace.
  • Minotaurs appear as enemies (and sometimes bosses) in some Shin Megami Tensei video games, including Persona 3 and Persona 4.
  • The Minotaur appears in the Winx Club Season 6 episode "Queen for a Day".
  • The Minotaur is featured in The Librarians episode "The Librarians and The Horns Of A Dilemma", played by Tyler Mane in human form. The Librarians, on their first solo mission, are stuck in a magical, three dimensional labyrinth and are being hunted by the Minotaur while trying to escape the labyrinth.
  • Thomas Burnett Swann's Minotaur Trilogy of fantasy novels features Silver Bells and Eunostos, the last two of their race, who possess more humanoid heads and faces than classical depictions of minotaurs, and are more like bovine versions of satyrs.
  • The Tauren, a playable race of World of Warcraft, are modeled after the Minotaur. They also had subspecies called the Taunka (which are bison-type Minotaurs) and the Yaungol (which are water buffalo-type Minotaurs)
  • Several episodes of the One Piece anime introduced Minotaurus, a human prison guard who had eaten a Devil Fruit and gained characteristics of a Holstein-type Minotaur where he was classified as an "Awakened Zoan."
  • The protagonist of Danmachi has a series of fateful encounters with minotaurs in a labyrinth-like dungeon, where he also gains an ability named for Theseus' depiction as an Argonaut.
  • In the 2011 film Immortals, the Minotaur (portrayed by Robert Maillet) is depicted as a man wearing a metal bull mask and is a servant of King Hyperion. He fights Theseus in the labyrinth and is killed by him.
  • The Minotaur appears in the film Wrath of the Titans (2012), portrayed by Spencer Wilding. This version is shown to have a humanoid appearance and has cattle-like horns. It was shown to have the ability to induce hallucinations in its victims in the labyrinth. The Minotaur was slain by Perseus.
  • The documentary Room 237 asserts that the Minotaur is an underlying theme in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of The Shining.
  • In Mika Waltari's The Egyptian, the Minotaur appears as Crete's main deity and is rumored to have recently died. When one of the god's initiates, Minea, enters the labyrinth and finds the Minotaur dead, she is quickly slaughtered by the god's priest, Minotaurus.
  • In Monster Musume, one of the minor characters is a female Minotaur named Cathyl. She is shown wearing clothes with cow print designs and is able to pump out lots of milk from her breasts.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "American English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Minotaur" at dictionary.reference.com
  4. ^ semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem, according to Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.24, one of the three lines that his friends would have deleted from his work, and one of the three that he, selecting independently, would preserve at all cost, in the apocryphal anecdote told by Albinovanus Pedo. (noted by J. S. Rusten, "Ovid, Empedocles and the Minotaur" The American Journal of Philology 103.3 (Autumn 1982, pp. 332-333) p. 332.
  5. ^ In a counter-intuitive cultural development going back at least to Cretan coins of the 4th century BC, many visual patterns representing the Labyrinth do not have dead ends like a maze; instead, a single path winds to the center. See Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, Chapter 1, and Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell University Press, 1990, Chapter 2.
  6. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 31. 1
  7. ^ The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women fr. 140, says of Zeus' establishment of Europa in Crete: "...he made her live with Asterion the king of the Cretans. There she conceived and bore three sons, Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys."
  8. ^ Several examples are shown in Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000.
  9. ^ Examples include illustrations 204, 237, 238, and 371 in Kern. op. cit.
  10. ^ Carmen 64.
  11. ^ Servius on Aeneid, 6. 14: singulis quibusque annis "every one year". The annual period is given by J. E. Zimmerman, Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Harper & Row, 1964, article "Androgeus"; and H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology, Dutton, 1959, p. 265. Zimmerman cites Virgil, Apollodorus, and Pausanias. The nine-year period appears in Plutarch and Ovid.
  12. ^ Plutarch, Theseus, 15—19; Diodorus Siculus i. I6, iv. 61; Bibliotheke iii. 1,15
  13. ^ The wine cup is illustrated in Larissa Bonfante and Judith Swaddling, Etruscan Mythology (Series The Legendary Past, British Museum / University of Texas at Austin) 2006, fig.29 p. 44 ("early fourth century") (on-line illustration).
  14. ^ Sir Arthur Evans, the first of many archaeologists who have worked at Knossos, is often given credit for this idea, but he did not himself believe it; see David McCullough, The Unending Mystery, Pantheon, 2004, p. 34-36. Modern scholarship generally discounts the idea; see Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, p. 42-43, and Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell University Press, p. 1990, p. 25.
  15. ^ Paolo Alessandro Maffei, Gemmae Antiche, 1709, Pt. IV, pl. 31; Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, fig. 371, p. 202): Maffei "erroneously deemed the piece to be from Classical antiquity".
  16. ^ The traverse of this circle is a long one, filling Cantos 12 to 17.
  17. ^ Inferno XII, Verse Translation by Dr. R. Hollander, p. 228 commentary
  18. ^ The fallen angels, the Erinyes [Furies], and the unseen Medusa were located on the city's defensive ramparts in Canto IX.
  19. ^ Boccaccio Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine commentary
  20. ^ Boccaccio's Expositions on Dante's Comedy, University of Toronto Press, 30 Nov 2009
  21. ^ Bennett, Pre-Raphaelite Circle, 177-180.
  22. ^ Dante Family letters Rossetti Archive http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/pr5246.a43.vol2.rad.html
  23. ^ Beck, Christopher, "Justice among the Centaurs," Forum Italcium 18 (1984): 217-29
  24. ^ Tidworth, Simon Theseus in the Modern World essay in The Quest for Theseus London 1970 pp244-9 ISBN 0269026576

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of Minotaur at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Minotaur at Wikimedia Commons
  • Works related to Minotaur at Wikisource