In Greek mythology, the Minotaur is a mythical creature portrayed in Classical times with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being "part man and part bull". He dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction 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.
EtymologyThe word Minotaur derives from the Ancient Greek Μῑνώταυρος, a compound of the name Μίνως and the noun ταύρος "bull", translated as " Bull of Minos". In Crete, the Minotaur was known by the name Asterion, a name shared with Minos' foster-father. In Etruscan, the Minotaur had the name Θevrumineś.
"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.
English pronunciation of the word "Minotaur" is varied. The following can be found in dictionaries: , , .
Creation and appearanceAfter ascending the throne of the island of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers as ruler. Minos prayed to the sea god Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull as a sign of the god's favour. Minos was to sacrifice the bull to honor Poseidon, but owing to the bull's beauty he decided instead to keep him. Minos believed that the god would accept a substitute sacrifice. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Minos' wife Pasiphaë fall in love with the bull. Pasiphaë had the craftsman Daedalus fashion a hollow wooden cow, which she climbed into in order to mate with the bull. The monstrous Minotaur was the result.
Pasiphaë nursed the Minotaur but he grew in size and became ferocious. As the unnatural offspring of a woman and a beast, the Minotaur had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured humans for sustenance. Minos, following 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. According to Sophocles' Trachiniai, when the river spirit Achelous seduced Deianira, one of the guises he assumed was a man with the head of a bull.
From Classical times through the Renaissance, the Minotaur appears at the center of many depictions of the Labyrinth. Ovid's Latin account of the Minotaur, which did not describe which half was bull and which half man, was the most widely available during the Middle Ages, and several later versions show a man's head and torso on a bull's body – the reverse of the Classical configuration, reminiscent of a centaur. 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.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, who Aegeus, king of Athens, had commanded him to slay. The common tradition holds that Minos waged and won a war to avenge the death of his son. Catullus, in his account of the Minotaur's birth, 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 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. This act secured the throne for Theseus.
Etruscan viewThe view of the Minotaur as the antagonist of Theseus reflects the literary sources, which are biased in favour of the Athenian perspectives. The Etruscans, who paired Ariadne with Dionysus, never with Theseus, offered an alternative view, 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.
InterpretationsThe 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.
While the ruins of Minos' palace at Knossos were discovered, the labyrinth never was. The multiplicity 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 that is now generally discredited. Homer, describing the shield of Achilles, remarked that Daedalus had constructed a ceremonial dancing ground for Ariadne, but does not associate this with the term labyrinth.
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.
, engraving of a 16th-century AD gem in the Medici Collection in the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur were 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 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 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.
A scientific interpretation also exists. Citing early descriptions of the minotaur by Callimachus as being entirely focused on the "cruel bellowing" it made from its underground labyrinth and the extensive tectonic activity in the region, science journalist Matt Kaplan has theorised that the myth may well stem from geology. He points out that carbon dating of marine fossils attached to boulders that were ejected from the ocean by ancient tsunamis indicates the region was tectonically very active during the years when the minotaur myth first appeared. Given this, he argues that the Minoans used the monster to help explain the terrifying earthquakes that were "bellowing" beneath their feet.
Dante's ''Inferno''The Minotaur, appears briefly in Dante's Inferno, in Canto 12, 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.
Dante and Virgil encounter the beast first among the "men of blood": those damned for their violent natures. Some commentators believe that Dante, in a reversal of classical tradition, bestowed the beast with a man's head upon a bull's body, though this representation had already appeared in the Middle Ages.
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. 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.
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". Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in his own commentary, 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 and was conceived in the 'false cow'."
Virgil and Dante then pass quickly by to the centaurs who guard the Flegetonte, to continue through the seventh Circle.
- From 1933 to 1939, Albert Skira published an avant-garde literary magazine Minotaure, with covers featuring a Minotaur theme. The first issue had cover art by Pablo Picasso. Later covers included work by Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, and Diego Rivera.
- Pablo Picasso made a series of etchings in the Vollard Suite showing the Minotaur being tormented, possibly inspired also by Spanish bullfighting. He also depicted a Minotaur in his 1933 etching Minotaur Kneeling over Sleeping Girl and in his 1935 etching Minotauromachy.
- The Minotaur appears as the protagonist of Steven Sherill's The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. The character returns in The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time.
Other derivative works and cultural references
- The short story The House of Asterion by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges gives the Minotaur's story from the monster's perspective.
- The documentary Room 237 suggests that the film The Shining is a re-telling of the myth of the Minotaur.
- A minotaur, descended from the original mythological figure, appears in the third episode of the 2014 television series The Librarians. Golden Axe Foods, an agribusiness firm founded by survivors of the Minoan civilization, have imprisoned the minotaur to recreate the Labyrinth in order to maintain their wealth and prosperity. The minotaur is presented as a large, bull-headed man in leather garb, who can shapeshift into the form of a muscular biker. It is freed when the labyrinth is destroyed, and proceeds to exact revenge upon its captors.
- A minotaur named Iron Will is a supporting character in My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.
- In the Gargoyles, a minotaur named Taurus is a New Olympian after the father was killed by Proteus and serves as a false antagonist.
- In the animated TV series Aladdin, a huge minotaur named Dominus Tusk was killed by the Sultan and had his horns mounted as a trophy.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Time Monster", set in Bronze Age Thera, the Minotaur appears played by Dave Prowse.
- In the Legend of the Three Caballeros, the Minotaur chases Donald Duck, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles in the hidden labyrinth but dies crushed under a pile of rocks.
- In Jake and the Never Land Pirates a minotaur named Monty appears in two episodes and as a guardian of the treasure of Argos Island. Unlike his Greek mythological counterpart, he is depicted as friendly.
- The Minotaur appears in the first book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, The Lightning Thief, where he battles and is killed by Percy Jackson. He is reborn and reappears in the fifth book, The Last Olympian.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The God Complex", the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in a mysterious hotel with rooms and corridors that constantly change to form an endless labyrinth, allowing the minotaur trapped inside to hunt people down one by one with their secret fears until they give in and are consumed.
- Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves features both the labyrinth and the Minotaur as prominent themes.
- In the Brazilian telenovela , a man is transformed into the Minotaur and placed on an island with several other mutants.
- The titular kaiju of Pulgasari has the appearance of a minotaur, and is based on the metal-eating folk monster Bulgasari.
- Aleksey Ryabinin's book Theseus. provides a retelling of the myths of Theseus, Minotaur, Ariadne and other personages of Greek mythology.
- The Minotaur, an opera by Harrison Birtwistle.
- Minotauria is a genus of Balkan woodlouse hunting spiders named in its honor.
- The Netflix TV series Dark alludes to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in a number of episodes, and part of the series' story involves navigating labyrinthian underground tunnels.
Board and video games
- The popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons features Minotaurs.
- Madness and the Minotaur is a 1981 text adventure game for the TRS-80 Color Computer
- The storyline of the 2017 virtual reality video game Theseus revolves around the titular hero's mission to defeat the Minotaur.
- In the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, the Minotaur, named Asterios in the game, is one of the Servants that can be summoned by the player. Asterios is a Berserker-class Servant, and pretty close with Euryale, one of the Gorgon sisters.
- In , there is a mission where the main character visits the ruins of the Palace of Knossos in order to kill the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of the Lost Souls.
- In the video game Hades by Supergiant Games, the protagonist defeats the Minotaur in Elysium, where he fights beside Theseus.
- Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete is a 1960 Italian film. The film was directed by Silvio Amadio and starred Bob Mathias.
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was directed by Sam Wanamaker. Peter Mayhew played the Minotaur is his first role in 1976.
- Minotaur, a horror adaption of the legend, was released on DVD by Lions Gate on June 20, 2006. Maple Pictures would also release the film in Canada that same day. It was later released by Brightspark on September 3, 2007.
- Sinbad and the Minotaur is a film released in 2011, directed by Karl Zwicky.
- Wrath of the Titans, a sequel to the 2010 film Clash of the Titans directed by Jonathan Liebsman.