The Labyrinth of Crete: The Myth of Minotaur
The myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth has preserved the memory of the unique Minoan civilization until today - a civilization where the bull was worshipped and majestic structures like the Knossos palace existed in all its splendor.
The bull-man Minotaur was depicted in religious ceremonies where
the priests wore masks in the shape of a bull's head.
In the ancient Greek language, the word Labyrinth means "the
house of lavrys." The lavrys is the double-edged axe - one
of the basic sacred symbols of the Minoan religion. Usually interpreted
as an astro-solar symbol, the lavrys is etched on many sculptured
stones in Minoan palaces and other buildings, as well as on vases,
pots, and various other works.
Following are several variations of the myth of
the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The first one is also the best known.
These variations, with three separate rationalized interpretations
of the myth, were made during the years of the later ancient civilization.
You may find it useful to know that Minotaur in Greek is Minotavros
= Minos + Tavros = Minos + Bull (the bull of Minos):
- The first Tavros was a prince from Knossos
who marched against Phoenicia, abducted the princess Europe
and brought her, together with other captives, to Crete. He took
her to the Gortys, united with her, and together had three sons:
Minos, Radamanthis and Sarpidon. That particular Tavros is
considered the founder of the city of Gortys.
- The second Tavros, or Minotaur, was
Minos' general, a hard and cruel man who is associated with
the horrible blood tribute of the Athenians. In Knossos, the
Athenian youths were not killed by Minos or eaten by the Minotaur.
Instead, they were given as a prize to the winner of the games
which were established in the memory of Prince Androgeos, who
was murdered in Athens. The general Tavros was the first winner
of those games, and was awarded the prizes. Cruel as he was,
he abused those youths and sacrificed them on the altar to honor
Androgious. This Tavros was considered dangerous to Minos' royal
authority. Not only was he mean and calculating, but also he
carried on a love affair with Queen Pasiphae while, at the same
time, she avoided being intimate with Minos. Theseus came to
Crete to punish the cruel general with the approval of the King
Minos, who wanted to rid himself of the annoying and hurtful
Tavros. Minos helped Theseus kill the Tavros, and, in gratitude,
the King gave Theseus his daughter, Ariadne, as his wife.
- The third Tavros was a young man of incredible
beauty from the King's escort with whom Pasiphae fell in love.
She had sexual relations with him during a time when King Minos
suffered from a venereal disease and, consequently, could not
couple with Pasiphae. The child born from this relationship had
Tavros as its father. When Minoas found out
about the child, he refused to have it killed. They named it
Minotaur (Minotavros, a combination of names from his natural
and adopted fathers), and the King sent the newborn to the mountain
to be raised by the shepherds. He grew to become a wild man,
and wouldn't obey the shepherds. Minoas ordered his arrest, but
he escaped and hid in a cave, where he could sleep at bay and
annihilate all those who were sent to capture him. The Minotaur
never ventured outside the cave, and animals were sent in to
him for food. Also, Minos would send in convicted criminals to
be killed as punishment. It was for this reason that Theseus
was sent into the cave. However, at the last minute Ariadne provided
Theseus with a sword, which he used to finally kill the Minotaur.
In all these myths the common denominator is that
the Minotaur, man or beast, lives or hides in the Labyrinth. Initially,
the Labyrinth was associated with Knossos. However, as time passed,
some writers and foreign travelers identified the true Labyrinth
as being a maze-like cave in Messara, in the Gortys area south
NOTE. In Greek the labyrinth is "o lavirinthos"
(male) but this specific cave in Messara is known as "i lavirinthos"
Paul Faure mentions that all governors of Crete,
during the Venetian occupation from the 14th to the 17th century,
saw it as their obligation to visit a large quarry located in Ambelouzos,
between Gortys and Kasteli, because they believed that's where the
Labyrinth existed. During different periods of the last century,
this cave was used by people who lived in the surrounding area as
a refuge during war-time persecution.
During World War 2, a section
of it was used as a warehouse for German munitions. The German army
forced the locals to build storage areas inside the cave to house
the guns and ammunition. Also, the people were made to maintain the
arsenal. The munitions being housed there were on their way to Egypt,
via the Tympaki airport, to strengthen the army of Field Marshall
Tympaki also had its own tragic story during the Second World War.
In the middle of the night, as Tympaki was being bombed and destroyed
by the German Air Force, its residents abandoned their homes, loaded
all they could carry onto animals and sought refuge in neighboring
villages. Then, the local villagers were forced to build a German
airport with stones from their own ravaged homes.
When the Germans were preparing to depart from Crete, the Labyrinth
was blown up so its contents would not fall into the hands of the
Greek army. Due to this horrendous explosion, the Labyrinth entrance
was destroyed and altered, with entire chambers wiped out. The stone
structure was weakened to such an extent that its total collapse
is a constant and very real threat.
NOTE. This story comes from the book "The
Labyrinth of Messara" by Kaloust Paragamian and Antonis Vasilakis.
English translation by Lou Duro for ExploreCrete.com - ALL RIGHTS
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