Minotaur

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In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a creature that was half man and half bull. It dwelt in the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze constructed by King Minos of Crete and designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus. It is one of the earliest examples of an anthropomorphic character in history.

[edit] The legend of the Minotaur

Minotaur.jpg

Before Minos of Knossos became king of Crete he asked the Greek god Poseidon for a sign to assure him that he, and not his brother, was to receive the throne. Poseidon agreed to send a white bull on condition Minos would sacrifice the bull back to the god. Indeed, a bull of unmatched beauty came out of the sea. King Minos, after seeing it, found it so beautiful that he instead sacrificed another bull, hoping that Poseidon would not notice.

Poseidon was very angry when he realized what had been done, so he caused Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to be overcome with a fit of madness in which she fell in love with the bull. Pasiphae went to Daedalus for assistance, and Daedalus devised a way for her to satisfy her passions. He constructed a hollow wooden cow covered with cowhide for Pasiphae to hide in and allow the bull to mount her. The result of this union was the Minotaur. In some accounts, the white bull went on to become the Cretan Bull captured by Hercules for one of his labours.

The Minotaur had the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. It was a fierce creature, and Minos, after getting advice from the Oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. It was located under Minos' palace in Knossos.

Theseus slays the Minotaur

Minos had just won a great victory over the Athenians, so demanded that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens be sent every ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. When the third sacrifice came round, the Greek hero Theseus volunteered to go to slay the monster. Ariadne, Minos' daughter, fell in love with Theseus and helped him get out of the maze by giving him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur (with a magical sword Ariadne had given him) and led the other Athenians back out the labyrinth.

Minos, angry that Theseus was able to escape, imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth. They were able to escape by building wings for themselves, but Icarus famously died during the escape.

Sometimes the Minotaur is represented as a bull with a human torso instead of a head, like a bull version of the Centaur.

[edit] Truth behind the legend

The story of the Minotaur may have come from the Minoan worship of the bull. Shrines throughout Crete have been uncovered dedicated to the bull, which was to represent strength. Crete was a military nation, the very first maritime military empire in the world.

Bulljumping, a popular sport and important sacred ritual in Minoan culture

The concept of the sacrificing of youths to bulls may have come from the ancient sport of bulljumping. The sport was extremely popular in Minoan culture and much art exists of it that archaeologists at first believed to be some sort of ritualistic sacrifice. In bulljumping, the naked youth (male or female) would run at a charging bull and in a display of athletic prowess and courage, grab the bull by the horns and vault over the bull. The mortality rate of this sport was very high, again lending to the legend.

The Minoan Bull Head, a famous religious artifact. Photo by Ken Redtail

Massive ruins that are believed to be the ruins of Minos' palace have been found at Knossos, but the labyrinth has not. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace led romantic Victorian archaeologists to believe that the palace itself was the source of the myth, but the absence of creature comforts like bathroom facilities tend to disprove this theory in modern day. It is now often believed to be some sort of temple, similar to King Solomon's temple.

Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Greek adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the abolition of such sacrifice by the advance of Greek civilization.

A political interpretation has that the Greeks freed themselves from the tributes and the power of Crete.

[edit] Minotaurs in furry and popular culture

Minotaurs as a whole are quite uncommon in the furry fandom. The concept though of a half-man, half-bull, is one of the earliest examples of anthropomorphic characters.

Minotaurs feature in some fantasy role-playing games as a race of monsters rather than a unique creature:

  • In Dungeons & Dragons minotaurs worship the demon lord Baphomet, and whilst they mainly function as mere monsters, in the Dragonlance campaign setting, they are a reasonably civilised and cultured race.
  • In World of Warcraft, the Tauren are essentially a race of minotaurs.
  • The card game Magic: the Gathering features minotaurs as being both savage (the Hurloon minotaurs) and tribal yet somewhat cultured (the Talruum).
  • In the online game Shadowbane, players are able to assume the role of a minotaur, and minotaurs in general form a key role in the backstory and lore and are depicted as a full range, from the savage to the civilized.
  • In the online game Dark Age of Camelot, the minotaur was introduced as a playable race as well as a monster in an expansion.
  • In the Warhammer setting, minotaurs are a breed of beastmen chosen by the Chaos Gods to guard their temples. Minotaur champions, known as 'Doom Bulls' also lead armies of beastmen, mortals, and daemons.
  • A SciFi Channel original movie depicted the minotaur as a large undead bull monster, a departure of the usual image of the minotaur.
  • Ox, the on-stage persona of one of the members of the Finnish band Lordi, is described as being an undead 'man-bull', a reference to the mythical minotaur.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Plutarch, Theseus, 15—19; Diod. Sic. i. I6, iv. 61; Apollodorus iii. 1,15
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