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Minotaur

Minotaur

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monstrous creature with the head of a bull on a man's body. Like many other mythological monsters, the Minotaur had a ravenous appetite for human flesh. He was eventually slain by a worthy hero with the help of a resourceful heroine.

The Minotaurwhich means "Minos's bull"was born in the palace of King Minos of Crete, a large island south of Greece. Some time earlier, the sea god Poseidon had sent Minos a pure-white bull to be sacrificed in his honor. When the king saw the magnificent creature, however, he refused to kill it. This angered Poseidon, who arranged for Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. The offspring of their unnatural mating was the Minotaur. The king imprisoned the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, a maze built by a craftsman at his court named Daedalus.

In later years, after the people of the Greek city of Athens killed one of Minos's sons, the Cretan king called down a plague on their city. Only by agreeing to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every year could the Athenians obtain relief. These youths and maidens were sent into the Cretan Labyrinth, where the Minotaur devoured them.

Theseus of Athens was determined to end the slaughter of young people. He volunteered to go to Crete as one of the sacrificial victims, vowing to slay the Minotaur. When the ship carrying the Athenians reached Crete, Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, fell in love with Theseus. She gave him a plan of the Labyrinth that she had obtained from Daedalus and a ball of string. He was to tie one end of the string to the exit as he went in and then to follow the string to find his way out. Deep in the Labyrinth, Theseus met the bellowing, bloodthirsty Minotaur and killed it with a blow of his fist. He and the other Athenians then fled Crete, taking Ariadne with them.

Some scholars suggest that the myth of the Minotaur arose out of ancient rituals in which a priest or king donned a bull mask before performing sacrifices. The Labyrinth may have represented the ancient palace at Knossos on Crete, which was a sprawling complex of chambers and hallways.

See also Ariadne; Daedalus; Greek Mythology; Minos; Monsters; Theseus.

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Minotaur

Min·o·taur / ˈminəˌtôr; ˈmī-/ Greek Mythol. a creature who was half man and half bull, the offspring of Pasiphaë and a bull with which she fell in love. Confined in Crete in a labyrinth made by Daedalus and fed on human flesh, it was eventually slain by Theseus.

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Minotaur

Minotaur in Greek mythology, a creature who was half-man and half-bull, the offspring of Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, and a bull with which she fell in love. Confined in Crete in a labyrinth made by Daedalus and fed on human flesh, it was eventually slain by Theseus.

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Minotaur

Minotaur fabulous monster confined in the Cretan labyrinth. XIV. — OF. Minotaur (now -taure) — L. Minotaurus — Gr. Minðtauros, f. Minōs Minos, king of Crete, whose wife Pasiphae was the mother of the Minotaur + taûros bull.

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Minotaur

Minotaur In Greek mythology, beast with the head of a bull and the body of a man, the issue of Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, and a bull. He was confined by Minos in the labyrinth built by Daedalus. Theseus killed the Minotaur.

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Minotaur

Minotaur: see Minos.

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Minotaur

Minotaur •cantor • lector • caveat emptor •centaur, mentor, stentor •Wichita • Choctaw • coldstore • Utah •drugstore • megastore • Minotaur •superstore

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Minotaur

Minotaur

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

MIN-uh-tawr

Alternate Names

Asterion

Appears In

Plutarch's Life of Theseus, Ovid's Heroides, Hygi-nus's Fabulae

Lineage

Son of the Cretan bull and Pasiphae

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , the Minotaur was a monstrous creature with the head of a bull on a man's body. Like many other mythological monsters, the Minotaur had a ravenous appetite for human flesh. He was eventually slain by a worthy hero with the help of a resourceful heroine.

The Minotaur—which means “Minos's bull”—was born in the palace of King Minos (pronounced MEYE-nuhs) of Crete (pronounced KREET), a large island south of Greece. Some time earlier, the sea god Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun) had sent Minos a pure-white bull to be sacrificed in his honor. When the king saw the magnificent creature, however, he refused to kill it. This angered Poseidon, who arranged for Minos's wife, Pasiphae (pronounced pa-SIF-ah-ee), to fall in love with the bull. The offspring of their unnatural mating was the Minotaur. The king imprisoned the Minotaur in the Labyrinth (pronounced LAB-uh-rinth), a maze built by a craftsman at his court named Daedalus (pronounced DED-uh-lus).

In later years, after the people of the Greek city of Athens killed one of Minos's sons, the Cretan king called down a plague on their city. Only by agreeing to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every year could the Athenians obtain relief. These youths and maidens were sent into the Cretan Labyrinth, where the Minotaur devoured them.

Theseus (pronounced THEE-see-uhs) of Athens was determined to end the slaughter of young people. He volunteered to go to Crete as one of the sacrificial victims, vowing to slay the Minotaur. When the ship carrying the Athenians reached Crete, Ariadne (pronounced ar-ee-AD-nee), daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, fell in love with Theseus. She gave him a plan of the Labyrinth that she had obtained from Daedalus, as well as a ball of string. He was to tie one end of the string to the exit as he went in and then follow the string to find his way out. Deep in the Labyrinth, Theseus met the bellowing, bloodthirsty Minotaur and killed it with a blow from his fist. He and the other Athenians then fled Crete, taking Ariadne with them.

The Minotaur in Context

Some scholars suggest that the myth of the Minotaur arose out of ancient rituals in which a priest or king donned a bull mask before performing sacrifices. The Labyrinth may have represented the ancient palace at Knossos on Crete, which was a sprawling complex of chambers and hallways. In addition, the tale reflects ancient Greek ideas about women and infidelity. Unlike many male characters in Greek mythology, Pasiphae does not seek to love the bull, but is forced to do so through the magic of the gods. This reflects the much lower incidence of female infidelity in ancient Greece. However, the child she bears is hideous and must be hidden from the outside world, which also reflects the enormous stigma—social disapproval—that was attached to wives who were unfaithful.

The Minotaur, World War II, and Art

The myth of the Minotaur captured the imagination of many artists during the period of the Second World War. Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, and Victor Brauner all created artistic versions of the myth. Among writers, Andre Gide, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound also found the myth central to their dark vision of humanity during and after the war. But it was Pablo Picasso who delved most deeply into the myth of the Minotaur in his paintings and sketches. Picasso used the beast to depict the loss of balance between the natural and human worlds. The Minotaur, once confined to a dark and secret labyrinth, has escaped in Picasso's paintings and appears lost and disoriented as he makes his way through the human world. Picasso thus expresses what many were feeling during the terrible years of the Second World War and its aftermath.

Key Themes and Symbols

As with many Greek myths, one of the central themes of the myth of the Minotaur is vengeance. Poseidon seeks vengeance upon Minos for his failure to offer an intended sacrifice (the white bull); this leads to the Minotaur's birth. King Minos later seeks vengeance upon the people of Athens for killing his beloved son. This leads to the offering of Athenian sacrifices as payment, and ultimately to the Minotaur's death at the hands of Theseus.

The Minotaur in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Minotaur is such a visually distinctive character that he has remained popular in art and culture throughout the centuries. He is nearly always depicted as having the head of a bull and the body of a man, though some sources describe him as having an ox's body and a man's head. The Minotaur has appeared in Dante's Inferno, as well as in works by Ted Hughes and C. S. Lewis. In the film version of the C. S. Lewis novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), General Otmin is a Minotaur who leads the White Witch's evil army. “The House of Asterion,” a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, tells the tale of the Minotaur from his own point of view rather than from the perspective of the hero Theseus. The artist most closely associated with the Minotaur, however, is Pablo Picasso, who created many works of art centered around the mythical creature.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The Minotaur is somewhat unique among mythical Greek characters because he has the head of an animal; most mythical Greek hybrids have animal body parts combined with human heads. What do you think this says about the “humanness” of the Minotaur in the eyes of the ancient Greeks? Why do you think other cultures, such as the Egyptians, have many gods and goddesses with animal heads, while the Greeks did not?

SEE ALSO Ariadne; Daedalus; Greek Mythology; Theseus

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