* It is important to understand the relationship between that of the Greek gods and their worshipers was less unknowable maker and subject, and more coked up frat boy and passed out fraternity pledge. If you wronged them you they might not strike you down, but you’d waken to the divine equivalent of dicks drawn on your face and carrots shoved up your ass. I say this not to damn them, but to assure you that the more depraved bits of this myths are taken straight from the text and not the product of exaggeration on my part.*
It was the olden days in Crete and there was a succession crisis brewing. As was the custom at the time, the tentative king, Minos, prayed to the gods to send some omen blessing the rightness of his claim. Poseidon, in a rare generous mood, sent a majestic white bull bursting forth from the sea foam, with the understanding that Minos would sacrifice it to commemorate his ascension to the throne.
Minos, ungrateful dick that he was, decided to unilaterally alter the terms of the contract, figuring he could keep the White Bull and sacrifice a scrub one from his herd in its place. I should mention that Crete was an Island kingdom and Poseidon was the god of the sea. Or, at least, someone should have mentioned it, as Minos seemed bizarrely confident that double crossing a vengeful deity with sway over two thirds of the Earth was an ace move that couldn’t possibly backfire.
As anyone but Minos could have predicted, Poseidon was entirely pissed at the betrayal and pulled the old grade school “If you like that Bull so much why don’t you marry it”. Specifically, he made the kings wife fall in love with the White Bull. And by love I mean lust. So much so that the queen bid her craftsman, Daedalus, to build her a wooden cow suit that she could climb inside of and properly consummate her one-sided bovine romance.
I don’t know if I am more dismayed by the callous complicity of the Queen’s inventor, or amazed by the robustness of the Queen’s…accommodation. Somehow she both survived the act and bore the fruit of the wrongfully procured beast’s seed: the subject of this study, the half man/half bull, Minotaur.
There were a few problems. The child was cannibalistic and could only be sustained by human flesh. Its existence was a constant reminder of Minos’ wife’s unnatural act. And Poseidon, feeling that he had to really drive to point home, forbade the king to abandon or murder the child.
Feeling trapped by circumstance the king commanded his gifted, if recently traumatized, craftsman, Daedalus, to build an inescapable maze where the cursed offspring would be left to wander…the flesh of the kings enemies his only sustenance, murder his only friend. The minotaur did this for a long while and then a naked guy killed him.
Country of origin: Greece
Is it scary
As a child I was somehow soft-pedaled this myth to the extent that the main take away was “Bring string if you are going into a maze”. A horrifying tale of being locked in a deathtrap with an abandoned, cannibalistic, genetically defective, love child was reduced to a cub scout lesson on orienteering. In retrospect this was the bronze age “Texas Chainsaw massacre.
As an adult with a terrible sense of direction, and a family history of cattle farming, this feels a nightmare crafted with me in mind. I can almost hear the clop-thump of approaching hoof steps, drawing closer with each wrong turn, panic driving me deeper and deeper in to the maze, until I am gored by a unseen charging Minotaur. So conquered my flesh would be torn from my bones by his dull blocky teeth, chewed and then swallowed into one of his many stomachs, only to be puked up and re-chewed like gore flavored Hubba-bubba as the Minotaur stalked his next victim.
And yet I am haunted by visions of the starving, loveless, Minotaur pacing lost in his maze in the downtime between heroes, filled with a rage and betrayal his cow brain can only express through lowing bellows. Jesus, every level of this story is traumatizing.
I am glad Theseus finally put the Minotaur out his misery, but I feel it necessary to distinguish between a monster and a villain. As a monster the Minotaur is genuinely terrifying, but as a creature it is as much the victim as the protagonists pitted against it. The true horror of this myth is the damage bad parenting, capricious gods, and ill thought couplings can bring upon the world. RIP, Minotaur. You never had a chance. You didn’t steal a bull or fuck a cow, yet your price was the dearest.
What does this say about Greece
The whole of Greek myth is filled with bad love facilitated or imposed by the gods: Narcissus and his reflection, Pygmalion and his statue, Newton and his Hercules. Poseidon playing cross species cupid, while unsavory, seems almost quaint when compared to the transmogrify fueled sex crime rampage of his older brother Zeus. Poseidon was at least settling a debt; Zeus spent his days peering through gaps in the cloud cover, tumescent thunderbolt in hand, looking for his next romantic opportunity. And it wasn’t enough to just manifest and force himself on a unsuspecting mortal; he took a bizarre pleasure in never raping the same way twice. A brief sampling of his greatest hits:
- Transformed himself into the female god Artemis to seduce a virgin priestess. Somehow impregnated her.
- Transformed himself into the form of a woman’s war lost husband so he could fill the gap, disproving imitation as the sincerest form of sexual battery
- Transformed himself into a shower of golden “rain”, moistened and impregnated Dannae
- Transformed himself into a swan fleeing from an eagle to gain Leda’s trust, that he might lay down the irresistible game swans are known for.
- Transformed Io into a White Cow so he could seduce her away from prying eyes. I assume he at least wore a fake mustache or the whole ruse seems a tad pointless.
- Transformed himself into a different White Bull than the one Minos was fixated on and then seduced Europa. I’m being to suspect that Minotaurs were more common than officially reported.
I should mention that he was the most venerated of the Gods of ancient Greece. Hide your kids. Hide your wife.
What is the lesson
As much as this is a tale of hubris, it is a paean to the importance of surrounding yourself with steady advisors that you trust enough to correctly frame choices you are making in the heat of the moment. Much of Minos’ hardship could have been avoided with a less proscriptive leadership style that would have allowed for respectful dissent at key junctures. For example:
King: Man, I thought I enjoyed bulls before but that White one is something else…I’m thinking of keeping it and just sacrificing a regular one. Do think Poseidon would notice?”
Adviser: Of course he’d notice, that’s the whole point of sacrificing something. Do you know how crazy he is? Look, we have plenty of white cows around here, why not just have that bull breed with them over the next few days and then sacrifice the White Bull as promised. That way you get a long term supply of white bulls and we don’t incur the vengeance of the deity who is doing you a solid.
alternately, should the first questionable decision slip through
Queen: That White Bull has been giving me the eye and I am picking up what he is putting down. Build me a cow suit so I can give him a six second rodeo that he’ll never forget.
Advisor: Are you serious? That thing will split you down the middle.
Queen: Our love will hold me together. I don’t pay you to talk, get busy with the bovine fuck armor or I’ll toss your son Icarus off the roof.
Advisor: Right away ma’am.
ten minutes later
Advisor: Uh, your wife is planning to fuck that White Bull, like…today. You might want to lock her up until she settles down.
King: I’m on it.
When there is truth to power things run smoothly. When there is not, well, everybody gets fucked and only the gods win.