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Minotaur n : (Greek mythology) a mythical monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man; slain by Theseus

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Etymology

From Gk. minotauros < Μίνως (Minos), king of Crete + ταύρος (tauros) "bull".

Noun

  1. A monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man.
  2. The Minotaur, a minotaur who dwelled in the labyrinth in Crete and who was killed by Theseus.

Translations

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Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur (Greek: , Mīnṓtauros) was a creature that was part man and part bull. It dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction built for King Minos of Crete and designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus who were ordered to build it to hold the Minotaur. The historical site of Knossos is usually identified as the site of the labyrinth. The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus.
"Minotaur" is Greek for "Bull of Minos." The bull was known in Crete as Asterion, a name shared with Minos's foster father.

Birth and appearance

After he ascended the throne of Crete, Minos struggled with his brothers for the right to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of approval. He was to sacrifice the bull in honor of Poseidon but decided to keep it instead because of its beauty. To punish Minos, Poseidon caused Pasiphaë, Minos' wife, to fall madly in love with the bull from the sea, the Cretan Bull. She had Daedalus, the famous architect, make a wooden cow for her. Pasiphaë climbed into the decoy in order to have sex with the white bull. The offspring of their unnatural lovemaking was a monster called the Minotaur.
Nowhere has the essence of the myth been expressed more succinctly than in the Heroides attributed to Ovid, where Pasiphaë's daughter complains of the curse of her unrequited love: "the bull's form disguised the god, Pasiphaë, my mother, a victim of the deluded bull, brought forth in travail her reproach and burden." Literalist and prurient readings that emphasize the machinery of literal copulation may intentionally obscure the mystic marriage of the god in bull form, a Minoan mythos alien to the Greeks.
The Minotaur, as the Greeks imagined him, had the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. Pasiphaë nursed him in his infancy, but he grew and became ferocious. Minos, after getting advice from the Oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. Its location was near Minos' palace in Knossos.

Tribute price that brought Theseus

Now it happened that Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival. Others say he was killed at Marathon by the Cretan bull, his mother's former taurine lover, which Aegeus, king of Athens, had commanded him to slay. The common tradition is that Minos waged war to avenge the death of his son, and won. However, Catullus, in his account of the Minotaur's birth, refers to another version in which Athens was "compelled by the cruel plague to pay penalties for the killing of Androgeos." In this version, the Athenians are made to ask Minos what they can do to stop a terrible plague that has come upon them, and he was thus given power to make demands of them. In either case, Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, be sent every ninth year (some accounts say every year) to be devoured by the Minotaur.
When the third sacrifice came round, Theseus volunteered to go to slay the monster. He promised to his father, Aegeus, that he would put up a white sail on his journey back home if he was successful and would have the crew put up black sails if he was killed. In Crete, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and helped him navigate the labyrinth, which had a single path to the center. In most accounts she gave him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur with the sword of Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth.
Theseus took Ariadne with him from Crete, but abandoned her enroute to Athens (Generally this is said to happen on the island of Naxos). According to Homer, she was killed by Artemis upon the testimony of Dionysus. However, later sources report that Theseus abandoned her as she slept on the island of Naxos, and there she became the bride of Dionysus. The epiphany of Dionysus to the sleeping Ariadne became a common theme in Greek and Roman art, and in some of these images Theseus is shown running away. This story is also recounted in Catullus.
On his return trip, Theseus was caught in a tremendous storm that resulted in the white sails being lost and put up the spare, black sails for the remainder of the voyage. His father, seeing the black sails and believing his son to be dead, was overcome with grief and leapt off the clifftop from which he had kept watch for his son's return every day since Theseus had departed into the sea. on Athenian texts, the name of the "Aegean Sea" is derived from this event.
Minos, angry that Theseus was able to escape, imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in a tall tower. They were able to escape by building wings for themselves with the feathers of birds that flew by, but Icarus died during the escape as he flew too high (in hope of seeing Apollo in his sun chariot) and the wax that held the feathers in the wing melted in the heat of the sun.

Interpretations

The contest between Theseus and the Minotaur was frequently represented in Greek art. A Knossian didrachm exhibits on one side the labyrinth, on the other the Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of small balls, probably intended for stars; it is to be noted that one of the monster's names was Asterion ("star").
The ruins of Minos' palace at Knossos have been found, but the labyrinth has not. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace has led archaeologists to believe that the palace itself was the source of the labyrinth myth. Homer, describing the shield of Achilles, remarked that the labyrinth was Ariadne's ceremonial dancing ground.
Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Minoan adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the breaking of Athenian tributary relations with Minoan Crete.
According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god of the Cretans, who depicted the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain Pasiphae's union with the bull as a sacred ceremony, at which the queen of Knossos was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of the Tyrant in Athens was wedded to Dionysus. E. Pottier, who does not dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of Phalaris, considers it probable that in Crete (where a bull-cult may have existed by the side of that of the labrys ) victims were tortured by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot brazen bull. The story of Talos, the Cretan man of brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is probably of similar origin.
A historical explanation of the myth refers to the time when Crete was the main political and cultural potency in the Aegean Sea. As the fledgling Athens (and probably other continental Greek cities) was under tribute to Crete, it can be assumed that such tribute included young men and women for sacrifice. This ceremony was performed by a priest disguised with a bull head or mask, thus explaining the imagery of the Minotaur. It may also be that this priest was son to Minos.
Once continental Greece was free from Crete's dominance, the myth of the Minotaur worked to distance the forming religious consciousness of the Hellene poleis from Minoan beliefs.

Literary and artistic references to the Minotaur

Poetry

  • Ted Hughes wrote a poem titled "The Minotaur," the title alluding to the destruction his ex-wife Sylvia Plath's father caused in her life.

Fiction

  • Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of the Minotaur in the short story La casa de Asterión (The House of Asterion), published in the collection El Aleph.
  • In The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri and Virgil confront "the infamy of Crete" at the entrance to the seventh circle of Hell. Dante knew the mythological monster from Ovid's Ars Amatoria, where it is simply described as half-man, half-bull, but he apparently did not know the Minotaur's images from ancient Greek iconography. Although the monster is never explicitly described by Dante, the use of verbs seems to imply the poet imagined it with the body of a human and a bull's head, as Gustave Doré pictured it (illustration, right).
  • In Mary Renault's The King Must Die the "Minotauros" is the style of the heir to the throne of Crete (much as the style of the king is "Minos") and is depicted wearing a golden bull's head mask.
  • The second part of David Gemmell's The Lion of Macedon historic fantasy, The Dark Prince, features a sympathetic minotaur.
  • Thomas Burnett Swann's Minotaur Trilogy depicts the last two survivors of an ancient race of intelligent minotaurs dwelling in the forests of ancient Crete alongside other mythological creatures.
  • The minotaur plays a pivotal role in Mark Z. Danielewski's book House of Leaves.
  • A Minotaur is the commanding general of the White Witch's army in the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's fantasy epic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Minotaurs are also featured in the sequel, Prince Caspian, this time as allies to the protagonists.
  • The Minotaur is mentioned in Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex as the play that sparked the simultaneous fertilization of two main characters.
  • The Minotaur is one of the main (though for the most part, unseen) antagonists in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. He is introduced as being a Hannibal Lecter-esque serial killer, imprisoned in an unpublished fantasy novel rather than a Labyrinth.
  • Michael Ende uses both the Minotaur and its labyrinth as starting and closing points in his book The Mirror in the Mirror.
  • Victor Pelevin has retold the myth of Minotaur in his 2006 short novel The Helmet of Horror.
  • The Minotaur (named as Asterion) is a major character in the epic fantasy series The Troy Game, by Australian author Sara Douglass where he initially plays the main antagonist of the story. This Minotaur is based closely on the one featured in the popular mythical tale of Ariadne and Theseus.
  • A Minotaur (also named Asterion) is one of the primary characters in Karen Russell's short story "from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration" found in her 2006 debut short-story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
  • In 'The Minotaur in Pamplona', Rhys Hughes enters the Minotaur as a contestant in the encierro (Running of the Bulls) of San Fermín with subsequent confusion as to what side he is on.
  • In Steven Sherill's surreal realist novel The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break we see the Minotaur, five thousand years on, working as a line chef at a fictional restaurant known as Grub's Rib in North Carolina.
  • Hellboy: Blood and Iron begins with Hellboy and Abe Sapien fighting the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. The minotaur is depicted as a machine powered by the spirit of the skull within it. Abe theorizes the skull belonged to Daedalus.
  • In the Dragonlance Saga the Minotaurs live in a seafaring empire and have conquered the oldest of the elven kingdoms.
  • The fantasy books set in the land of Tortall (by Tamora Pierce) feature a minotaur based monster called a Taurus
  • Minotaur is the Shadow of Jiro in the show Blue Dragon.

Visual Art

Picasso and the Minotaur

No artist has returned so often to the theme of the Minotaur as Pablo Picasso. The Minotaur appears in many of his works, particularly in the 1930s. Some of these show him raping and killing, but in other pictures he is depicted as a lover rather than a monster, appearing to be in a consensual relationship with a woman. Some critics suggest that Picasso used the Minotaur to represent himself or his sexual urges.

Music

  • Psych act Enemy Earth release The Bull from the Sea, a musical companion to the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in 2008.
  • The Incredible String Band has a song called The Minotaur Song.
  • Radiohead produced an album called 'Amnesiac' whose artwork depicts a crying minotaur.
  • Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur had its premiere at the Royal Opera House on . This Minotaur, called Asterios rather than Asterion, is not merely a monster, but manifests his half-human nature. Unable to speak except in dreams, and at the point of death, he is a more sympathetic figure than Theseus.

Games

  • In the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, the Tauren are a race of half-bull/half-men who cultivate the earth and bear a great resemblance to the Minotaur.
  • In the Warhammer universe, Minotaurs are massive creatures of low intelligence but extreme ferocity, the favoured followers of dark gods. In the game itself they are portrayed as ogre-like troops with greater skill and dedication, and a thirst for blood.
  • In the game God of War, the main character fights a massive Minotaur as a boss.
  • In a roguelike role-playing game NetHack, minotaurs are hard-hitting monsters that only lurk in Gehennom and are never randomly generated.
  • In Legendary Minotaurs (as well as other mythological creatures) are unleashed from Pandora's Box and wreak havoc on the world.
  • In the MMORPG Runescape, Minotaurs are enemies that charge you at full speed. They can also be summoned as familiars in various metal forms ( Bronze, Iron, Mithril,Steel,Adamant,etc)
  • In Might and Magic VIII, Minotaurs are a playable class. They cannot use helms, shields, or footwear.
  • In Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Minotaurs can be found roaming wild when the player reaches a certain level. They have high HP and deal a great amount of damage.

See also

  • in Mesopotamian mythology Shedu had a bull body and a human head.
  • The Egyptian god Apis is often depicted as a bull, or bull-headed man.
  • Ushi-oni Another bull-headed monster; from Japanese folklore.

References

Notes

Minotaur in Arabic: مينوتور
Minotaur in Bosnian: Minotaur
Minotaur in Breton: Minotaoros
Minotaur in Bulgarian: Минотавър
Minotaur in Catalan: Minotaure
Minotaur in Czech: Mínotaurus
Minotaur in Danish: Minotauros
Minotaur in German: Minotauros
Minotaur in Modern Greek (1453-): Μινώταυρος
Minotaur in Spanish: Minotauro
Minotaur in Esperanto: Minotaŭro
Minotaur in Basque: Minotauro
Minotaur in Persian: مینوتور
Minotaur in French: Minotaure
Minotaur in Galician: Minotauro
Minotaur in Croatian: Minotaur
Minotaur in Indonesian: Minotaurus
Minotaur in Italian: Minotauro
Minotaur in Hebrew: מינוטאורוס
Minotaur in Georgian: მინოტავრი
Minotaur in Latin: Minotaurus
Minotaur in Luxembourgish: Minotauros
Minotaur in Lithuanian: Minotauras
Minotaur in Hungarian: Minótaurosz
Minotaur in Dutch: Minotaurus
Minotaur in Japanese: ミーノータウロス
Minotaur in Norwegian: Minotauros
Minotaur in Polish: Minotaur (mitologia)
Minotaur in Portuguese: Minotauro
Minotaur in Romanian: Minotaur
Minotaur in Russian: Минотавр
Minotaur in Slovenian: Minotaver
Minotaur in Serbian: Минотаур
Minotaur in Serbo-Croatian: Minotaur
Minotaur in Finnish: Minotauros
Minotaur in Swedish: Minotauros
Minotaur in Thai: มิโนทอร์
Minotaur in Vietnamese: Minotaur
Minotaur in Turkish: Minotor
Minotaur in Ukrainian: Мінотавр
Minotaur in Chinese: 弥诺陶洛斯
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