The Minotaur: Monster in a Maze
Chapter 7 tells of the conflict between King Minos of Crete and Poseidon over the sacrifice of a beautiful bull. Poseidon had sent the bull to Minos, expecting the king to sacrifice the animal in his honor. But Minos was so enthralled by the bull's beauty that he refused to go through with the sacrifice. The king's wife, Pasiphae, was also taken with the bull; in fact, she fell in love with it. (Some myths claim that Poseidon made Pasiphae fall in love with the bull to get back at Minos for denying the god his sacrifice.)
Pasiphae was consumed by physical desire for the bull; she ordered the craftsman Daedalus to build a hollowed-out cow form. She hid herself within this form and was mounted by the beautiful bull. Pasiphae conceived a child through this union; her son was called Minotaur.
The Minotaur was a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Pasiphae suckled the creature when it was a baby, but it grew into a ferocious, man-eating monster. Not quite sure what to do with this creature, Minos consulted the oracle at Delphi, and then ordered Daedalus to construct an extremely complicated maze, or labyrinth.
The labyrinth that Daedalus built was so intricate that no one who entered was able to find the way out. The labyrinth became the Minotaur's prison. Shut away in this maze, the Minotaur wandered its passageways, killing and eating any living creature it found.
Minos made a name for himself as a conqueror of many lands. He declared himself ruler of the seas and was in constant pursuit of new territory. He made war on Athens because his son Androgeus had died there. But Athens was too well defended, and Minos's army was unable to take the city. So Minos changed tactics. He prayed for a great plague to sweep over Athens. (Since Minos was the son of Zeus, his prayers were usually well received.)
The gods answered his prayers, and Athens was struck with a pestilence so fierce that King Aegeus was forced to bargain with Minos. Minos said that he would ask the gods to lift the plague if King Aegeus would send him a tribute of fourteen youths: seven men and seven maidens. (Some myths say the tribute was to be sent every year; some myths say every nine years.) Aegeus consulted the Delphic Oracle and learned that this was the only way to end the plague. He agreed to the tribute Minos demanded.
At the appointed time, Athens sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete. Their fate was to become food for the Minotaur; they were thrown into the labyrinth, where they were trapped until the Minotaur found and devoured them. Entering the labyrinth meant certain death at the hands of a terrifying, merciless monster.
Twice, Athens sent young people to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. When it was time for the third tribute, Theseus, King Aegeus's son, volunteered to go so that he could kill the Minotaur and end the slaughter of young Athenians. When he arrived in Crete, Theseus won the love of Ariadne, Minos's daughter, and she taught him how to escape the labyrinth: There was one path to the center, where the Minotaur dwelled. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread, so he could unwind it as he made his way through the labyrinth and then retrace his path to the entrance. Theseus killed the Minotaur with his father's sword and led the other Athenians out of the maze, following the thread.
When Theseus sailed for Crete, he told his father that he would unfurl a white sail on his journey home if he was successful in his quest to kill the Minotaur. If he was killed, however, the ship would use black sails. On his journey home, Theseus forgot to unfurl the white sail. King Aegeus, watching for a white sail, believed that Theseus had been killed and, in his grief, hurled himself into the sea.