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Summary Article: Minotaur
from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

A mythical monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man, born of Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, and the white bull that Poseidon sent to Minos. Minos broke his promise to sacrifice the bull, and the furious god avenged the insult by making Pasiphae fall in love with the animal. Minos imprisoned the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. It fed on human flesh until it was killed by Theseus, who with the help of Ariadne, Minos' daughter, freed the youths and maidens whom the Athenians sent every year as tribute to feed the Minotaur. Another version of the myth records that the Minotaur, whose name was Asterios, was the son of Taurus, the general who helped Minos rise to power. The myth of the Minotaur may also be the result of the Athenian attempt to attribute barbarous customs to the Cretans, as the legend has come down to us in its Athenian version.

The figure of the Minotaur combines many features of Minoan theology. Firstly, it is the offspring of the sacred marriage between the Sky Bull and the Earth or Moon Cow, Pasiphae. The Minotaur is therefore a Prehellenic deity who later evolved into the Cretan Zeus. The name Asterios ("the starry one") is attributed to precisely this link to Asterios Zeus. The Minotaur's dual nature is explained by some scholars as being the remnant of ceremonies in which people wore bull masks. The fact that it ate human flesh is probably a memory of official human sacrifices.


Human sacrifice, ancient Near East; Human sacrifice, Greece and Rome.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Willetts, R. F. (1962) Cretan cults and festivals. London.
  • Kostis S. Christakis
    Wiley ©2012

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