The Myths of Knossos

Knossos and the Minoan Myths

The central character in Cretan Mythology is Minos, king of Knossos, son of Zeus and the Phoenician nymph Europa.

Minos had two brothers, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys.

After Zeus left her, Europa married Asterius, the king of Crete, who was succeeded by Minos.

The latter married Pasiphae, daughter of Helios, the sun God, and Crete, and she bore him eight children, Ariadne among them.

Minos aroused the wrath of Poseidon, who took his revenge by making Pasiphae fall in love with a white bull that the god had asked to be sacrified in his honor.

Pasiphae confessed her desire to the great craftsman Daedalus, who made her a wooden cow covered in real cowhide. Pasiphae hid in the wooden cow and mated with the bull; later, she gave birth to the Minotaur.

The Abduction Of Europa

Minos had the monster, half-man, half-bull, imprisoned in the Labyrinth, a maze-like structure constructed by Daedalus.

Pasiphae, Daedalus & Cow

In the meantime, because of the murder of Minos’ son Androgeus in Athens, the city was obliged Theseus Killing The Minotaurto send every year seven young men and seven young women to Crete, where they were devoured by the Minotaur.

Theseus, son of Poseidon, according to one version of the legend, ended this blood tribute by killing the Minotaur with the help of Deadalus and Ariadne who gave her thread so Theseus could penetrate the labyrinth.

He escaped from Crete taking Ariadne with him, but abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

Daedalus & Icaros

As for Daedalus, he fled Crete with his son Icarus who, however, was drowned in what has since been called the Icarian Sea.

Deadalus took refuge in Sicily. Minos was murdered and after his death was made a judge of souls in Hades together with his brother Rhadamanthys and Aeacus, the grandfather of Achilles.

Minos’ grandson Idemeneus distinguished himself in the Trojan War and was the third most powerful leader in the Greek camp.

Ariadne Fresco

The myths relating to Knossos reflect or refer to historical facts. The figure of Idomeneus, for instance, reflects the power of Crete in the Mycenaean period.

Ariadne is the Minoan goddess of vegetation, reborn every year. The Labyrinth is the palace of Knossos itself, and Daedalus personifies the technological advances of the Minoans.

The legend of the Minotaur is also connected to bull-leaping, human sacrifices and the influence of the Minoans over mainland Greece. Minos himself personified just and powerful governance.

It is possible that Minos was a royal title (like Pharaoh), or that many kings of the same name ruled in Knossos. The myths of Knossos and Phaistos may not give us the solution, but they help us begin to unravel the thread of the mystery of Minoan civilization.

from Explorer Guide Crete