In Greek mythology, the Minotaur (/ˈmaɪnəˌtɔːr,ˈmɪnəˌtɔːr/MY-nə-TOR, MIN-ə-TOR,US: /ˈmɪnəˌtɑːr,-oʊ-/MIN-ə-TAR, -oh-;Ancient Greek: Μινώταυρος[miːnɔ̌ːtau̯ros]; in Latin as Minotaurus[miːnoːˈtau̯rʊs]) is a mythical creature portrayed during classical antiquity 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.
The word minotaur derives from the Ancient GreekΜῑνώταυρος, a compound of the name Μίνως (Minos) and the noun ταῦρος "bull", translated as "(the) 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: /ˈmaɪ.nəˌtɔːr,-noʊ-/MY-nə-tawr, -noh-,/ˈmɪn.əˌtɑːr,ˈmɪn.oʊ-/MIN-ə-tar, MIN-oh-,/ˈmɪn.əˌtɔːr,ˈmɪn.oʊ-/MIN-ə-tawr, MIN-oh-.
After 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 antiquity 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 depiction is in keeping with Dryden's translation of Virgil's description of the Minotaur in Book VI of the Aeneid: "The lower part a beast, a man above / The monument of their polluted love." 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).
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, whom 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 Androgeon." 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) into the Labyrinth 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. According to various Classical sources and representations, Theseus killed the Minotaur with his bare hands, his club, or a sword. He then led the Athenians out of the labyrinth, and they sailed with Ariadne away from Crete. On the way home, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and continued to Athens. He neglected 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.
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 or Asterius ("star").
Pasiphaë gave birth to Asterius, who was called the Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth.
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, with over 1300 maze-like compartments, 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.
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 (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.
Karl Kerenyi viewed the Minotaur, or Asterios, as a god associated with stars, comparable to Dionysus. Coins minted at Cnossus from the fifth century showed labyrinth patterns encircling a goddess' head crowned with a wreath of grain, a bull's head, or a star. Kerenyi argued that the star in the Labyrinth was in fact Asterios, making the Minotaur a "luminous" deity in Crete, associated with a goddess known as the Mistress of the Labyrinth.
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.
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.
The Minotaur, tondo of an Attic bilingual kylix.
Theseus and the Minotaur, attic black-figure kylix tondo, ca. 450–440 BC.
Theseus and the Minotaur. Detail from an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 575 BC–550 BC.
Theseus and the Minotaur. Side A from an Attic red-figure stamnos, ca. 460 BC.
Theseus and the Minotaur. Side A from a black-figure Attic amphora, ca. 540 BC.
Tondo of the Aison Cup, showing the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur in the presence of Athena.
Theseus and the Minotaur. Attic black-figure lekythos, 500–475 BC. From Crimea.
Theseus and the Minotaur. Attic red-figured plate, 520–510 BC.
The Minotaur (infamia di Creti, Italian for "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. 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 (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.
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.
TV, literature and plays
Argentine author Julio Cortázar published the play Los reyes in 1949, which reinterprets the Minotaur's story. In the book, Ariadne is not in love with Theseus, but with her brother the Minotaur.
Mika Waltari's 1945 historical novel The Egyptian, set in the 12th century B.C., sees the main protagonist and his slave venture into the Cretan labyrinth in search of the protagonist's love interest, sacrificed to a Cretan god beforehand, The god is revealed to be a long dead huge horned sea carnivore that was capable of walking on land when it was alive (in one of the story's few supernatural twists, the creature does not bear even cursory resemblance to any attested animal). Minotaur, in turn, is the name of the chief Cretan priest who wears a bull mask most of the time, which makes people confuse him for an actual human/bull hybrid upon first encounter in a dim light.
The documentary Room 237 suggests that the film The Shining (1980) 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 ("And The Horns of a Dilemma"). Golden Axe Foods, an agribusiness firm founded by survivors of the Minoan civilization (the name refers to a symbol of the Minoan monarchy), 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.
In the Gargoyles episode "The New Olympians", a minotaur named Taurus (voiced by Michael Dorn) is a New Olympian security officer. After his father (the original Minotaur) was killed by the devious, shapeshifting New Olympian villain Proteus, the villain eventually takes the form of Goliath, intending to fool Elisa Maza into liberating him from the island to freedom, and is stopped by Taurus and Elisa - as co-operating police figures - to be re-imprisoned.
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 Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the characters relates a story about a pishtaco who lives in an underground labyrinth and is defeated by a man with a gigantic nose who first takes a powerful laxative in order to follow his scent trail back to the surface.
In Jake and the Never Land Pirates a minotaur named Monty appears in two episodes ("Minotaur Mix-Up") and ("Captain Buzzard to the Rescue!") as a guardian of the treasure of Argos Island. Unlike his Greek mythological counterpart, he is depicted as friendly.
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.
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.
The Minotaur appears as a character in the novel, Ariadne by Jennifer Saint.
In Hercules the Minotaur (voiced by Michael Dorn) appears along with king Minos (voiced by Charles Nelson Reilly) as antagonists in the episodes Hercules and the Minotaur and Hercules and the Grim Avenger. The Minotaur is depicted as a sophisticated yet easily agitated monster, while Minos is depicted as a comically rude and sadistic king.
The storyline of the 2017 virtual reality video game Theseus revolves around the titular hero's mission to defeat the Minotaur.
In Assassin's Creed: Odyssey (2018), there is a mission where the main character (Alexios or Kassandra) visits the ruins of the Palace of Knossos in order to kill the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of the Lost Souls. Completing the mission grants the player the achievement "A-maze-ing Victory" on the Steam and X-Box platforms and a PlayStation trophy of the same name.
In the video game Hades (2020) by Supergiant Games, the protagonist defeats the Minotaur (named Asterius) in Elysium, where he fights beside Theseus.
In the turn-based strategy series Heroes of Might & Magic, the Minotaur is a unit that is controllable by the player. Traditionally, they are sided with the Dungeon faction (Formerly the Warlock / Mountain faction).
In the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, the Minotaur is named Asterios, and summonable as a Berserker-class Servant; this particular version of the character is shown with a child-like mentality and loves Euryale, one of the Gorgons.
In the Total War Saga: Troy, In the campaign, the player can come across mythical units to recruit in their armies, one of which is the Minotaur. One of his recruiting locations can be found on the Crete. Minotaur is also available to play in the custom games.
^ ab"English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
^ abBechtel, John Hendricks (1908), Pronunciation: Designed for Use in Schools and Colleges and Adapted to the Wants of All Persons who Wish to Pronounce According to the Highest Standards, Penn Publishing Co.
^Garnett, Richard; Vallée, Léon; Brandl, Alois (1923), The Book of Literature: A Comprehensive Anthology of the Best Literature, Ancient, Mediæval and Modern, with Biographical and Explanatory Notes, 33, Grolier society.
^Kern, Hermann (2000). Through the Labyrinth. Munich, London, New York: Prestel. p. 34. ISBN 379132144-7.
^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. 332–33) p. 332.
^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.
^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."
^De Simone, C. "Zu einem Beitrag über etruskisch θevru mines". In: «Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung» 84, 1970, pp. 221–23.
^"American English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
^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.
^C. Michael Hogan. 2007. Knossos fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian, ed. Julian Cope.
^Sir Arthur Evans, the first of many archaeologists who have worked at Knossos, is often given credit for this idea, but he did not believe it; see David McCullough, The Unending Mystery, Pantheon, 2004, pp. 34–36. Modern scholarship generally discounts the idea; see Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, pp. 42–43, and Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell University Press, p. 1990, p. 25.
^Kerényi, Karl (1976). Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. pp. 104–105, 159.
^Callimachus first refers to the minotaur with the phrase "Having escaped the cruel bellowing and the wild son of Pasiphaë and the coiled habitation of the crooked labyrinth"; see "Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams." Translated by A. W. Mair & G. R. Mair. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921. Kaplan argues that the minotaur is the result of ancient people trying to explain earthquakes; see Kaplan, Matt, "Science of Monsters, New York, NY, Simon & Schuster, 2012
^see Scheffers, Anja, et al. "Late Holocene Tsunami Traces on the Western and Southern Coastlines of the Peloponnesus (Greece).” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 269 (2008): 271–79
^The traverse of this circle is a long one, filling Cantos 12 to 17.
^Inferno XII, Verse Translation by Dr. R. Hollander, p. 228 commentary
^Kern, Hermann (2000). Through the Labyrinth. Munich, London, New York: Prestel. pp. 116–117. ISBN 3791321447.
^The fallen angels, the Erinyes [Furies], and the unseen Medusa were located on the city's defensive ramparts in Canto IX.
^Boccaccio Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine commentary
^Boccaccio's Expositions on Dante's Comedy, University of Toronto Press, 30 November 2009
^"Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His Family-Letters with a Memoir (Volume Two)". www.rossettiarchive.org.
^Beck, Christopher, "Justice among the Centaurs," Forum Italcium 18 (1984): 217-29
^Tidworth, Simon Theseus in the Modern World essay in The Quest for Theseus London 1970 pp244-9 ISBN 0269026576
^O'Grady, Megan (12 December 2002). "Dreaming of Hoofbeats". The New York Times.
^Gurganus, Allan (2 October 2016). "A Minotaur's in Maintenance in a Tale of Rust Belt America". The New York Times.
^De Laurentiis, Antonella (2009). "Los reyes: El laberinto entre mito e historia" [Los reyes: The Labyrinth Between Myth and History]. Amaltea. Revista de mitocrítica (in Spanish). Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 1: 145–155. ISSN 1989-1709.
^A.Ryabinin. Theseus. The story of ancient gods, goddesses, kings and warriors. – СПб.: Антология, 2018. ISBN 978-5-6040037-6-3.
^O.Zdanov. Life and adventures of Theseus. // «KP», 14.02.2018.
^Kulczyński, W. (1903). "Aranearum et Opilionum species in insula Creta a comite Dre Carolo Attems collectae". Bulletin International de l'Académie des Sciences de Cracovie. 1903: 32–58.
^DeVarque, Aardy. "Literary Sources of D&D". Retrieved 12 December 2019.
^"Madness and the Minotaur (1982)". Dragon Data. 1982. p. 3. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
^"Theseus on the PlayStation Store". Retrieved 11 November 2018.
^Billcliffe, James (1 November 2018). "Assassin's Creed Odyssey A Place of Twists and Turns Quest Guide – How to find and defeat the Minotaur to get the artifact". vg247. Gamer Network. Retrieved 4 November 2018.