Mythology and the Ancient Minoans

Crete is the setting for more than a few stories in Greek mythology. Perhaps the existence of these myths is evidence that the Greeks knew quite a bit about their predecessors. Some believe these myths were begun by the Minoans themselves, and the myths then became a part of Greek culture when the Mycenaeans migrated to Crete after the Minoan's decline.


As mentioned previously, the Minoans were named after King Minos. Historically, Minos was probably a title and/or the name of a dynasty of Minoan rulers. In mythology, King Minos was a son of Zeus. A product of many of Zeus's extra-marital affairs, King Minos was born to a human mother, the beautiful Europa. Minos then married Pasiphae, the daughter of the Greek sun god, Helios.


At King Minos's request, the Greek god of the sea Posiedon sent a white bull as proof of Minos's divine authority as king of Crete. King Minos, never one to bow to another's authority, ignored Poseidon's orders to sacrifice the bull. Poseidon exacted revenge on Minos by causing Pasiphae, the first lady of Crete, to fall in love with the bull. The result was a half-man, half-bull referred to in Greek mythology as the Minotaur. King Minos promptly had a maze built to conceal the Minotaur. In reality, this labyrinth was probably the huge palace of Knossos.

Later, King Minos went to war with the city-state of Athens in retaliation for his son's murder there. The Athenians, in exchange for peace, agreed to send seven young men and maidens to Crete every nine years to be fed to the Minotaur.

Theseus, son of the king of Athens, went to Crete to slay the Minotaur and put and end to the tribute of sacrifice. Naturally, King Minos's daughter fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread to unroll so he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. Theseus killed the Minotaur and triumphantly returned to Athens to be king.


King Minos never forgave his wife for having an affair with Poseidon's white bull. At some point he learned the details of this encounter. He learned that a man named Daedalus had built a wooden cow so that his wife, Pasiphae, could near the white bull safely. Upon this realization, King Minos had Daedalus and his son Icarus imprisoned on Crete.

With the help of Pasiphae, Daedalus and Icarus escaped from prison. Daedalus made them each a pair of waxen wings so that they could fly away from Crete without being captured by King Minos's navy. Icarus, not heeding his father's advice, flew too high and too close to the sun and was killed, but Daedalus escaped to Sicily.

King Minos went to Sicily and demanded that Daedalus be turned over to him. King Cocalus of Sicily agreed but then had Minos murdered.

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