Sunday, May 27, 2012

Behind the Myth: The Minotaur of Crete

If one spends enought time reading, one notices patterns. Mythology is a branch of literature that loves to follow patterns. These patterns speak to basic human interests, desires or disgusts. There are hero figures, villain figures, good + bad women, and many ancillary characters. The anti-hero is a modern concept, and one that seems to fit our Industrial society grey world better. Many myths have a root in some truth. It's always good fun to discuss what could be the basis for a myth. Let's discuss one today.

One mythological figure or idea that was fantastic yet seemed to have a true basis was the Minotaur of Crete. The Minotaur was the child of the queen and a bull. The bastard is terribly behaved, and they feed boys + girls from Athens to the beast in the labyrinth. He savagely kilsl them. Theseus is sent to Crete as a sacrifice, gets the beasts sister to fall for him, and then slays the beast. Reading the wikipedia page, one can see the theories of the Minotaur's origin. It is the severing of the Mycanean tributes. It is symbolic of the human sacrifice with the priest wearing a bull head as they were a bull or sun worshipping culture. Wonderful snippets of PhD theories there. The priest wearing the bull head or mask theory seems fair, but the severing of the tribute theory seems to symbolic for old school civilizations. After all, the Illiad was just fictional myth until they started to uncover archaeological proof of a giant city set to blaze around the proper time. Considering that fact, what if the Minotaur tale was a bit more literal? What if it was closer to human nature? What if it was a warning against basic human desires? Let's roll on with my theory.

On the island of Crete, Knossos was a giant palace of the king. Excavation has revealed nearly 1300 rooms. The palace itself is the labyrinth. Minos, which actually means king in their language, could have been the stock figure of king. The myth is a retelling of his wife the queen having an adulterous affair with some physically imposing but dangerous man... possibly a criminal. I say criminal as Minos did not sacrifice a bull tot eh gods but kept it. The gods sent the white bull which then the queen weirdly created a fake cow to go into the have sex with the bull. In this theory, Minos did not kill a criminal. He took the power of pardon to forgive a criminal. This would be against the gods' wishes. The gods lay down laws, and how dare Minos not kill a criminal. A magnificent looking criminal is later caught, but also catches the queen's heart. She disguises herself just to have sexual liasons with him. The child of that union would be unacceptable to the king, but out of his love for his wife, he would still 'take care' of the child. As time goes on, it is evident the horrible genetic nature of the criminal is once again in the child. The 'Minotaur' is a violent, bloodthirsty teen. He has the physical gifts and mental curses of his father. The king can't kill him as his wife still has a bond to the child. How can the king control this sick young man?

The king uses children sacrificed at a festival to feed the bastard's impulses. The palace itself was giant, but does not seem conducive to a multitude of people to watch multiple events. Minos had the festival be at another site on Crete. The rituals are performed, and the young men and women rushed out of the festival site. They are brought to the empty palace. Waiting there to stalk them, the 'Minotaur' psycho bastard cuts them down one by one. With no knowledge of the palace's floor plan, theya re at the crazy bastard's mercy. He slays them all with his bare hands. Their bodies are returned to teh festival to show the dead youth given up for the gods. This is where the Ariadne part makes sense to me. Ariadne is the woman who falls for Theseus and helps him kill the Minotaur and escape. Fitting into my theory, Ariadne would know of the secret behind the Minotaur. She only needs to give Theseus a string to find his way around and one sword. Theseus defeats a mythical beast with one sword? Come on. That would be how one skilled young man could kill an unarmed yet physically stronger + mentally uninhibited man.

Not as symbolic or poetic as the theories on Athens and Mycenaean society overtaking Minoan society, but it feels more rooted in reality. The Greeks made fantastic stories for founding figures, villains, and other situations, but often there's a kernel of truth to them. Rather than looking big picture for societal changes, I'm looking at the familial and personal. Minos not killing the bull (rough, powerful, tough to tame) sent by the gods is a disruption of the Greek religious order. King Minos' wife sleeping with a bull is zoophilia is a crime against nature. She also slept with something other than her husband, who was also the most powerful king in the known Greek world at the time. They kept the child of that illicit union in their home (also against custom). There is no punishment for the queen. Core message: do not defy the gods, do not sleep around, do not accept that which is not your blood as if it were your blood. The average Greek would look for these core truths in the story, not some giant tale of socioeconomic change.

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