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CRETAN MYTHOLOGY


What must primitive man have felt when, cocooned in the protection of his cave, he looked out and saw lightning flashing in the middle of a storm? Or just as he was unconcernedly hacking out his stone tools, the earth started to shake at its foundations and the uncanny rumbling of an earthquake covered everything?
Bull, the minoan symbol

At such moments his heart, like that of all animals, will certainly have been seized by fear. But it was in his brain only, of all the species in the animal kingdom, that perplexity and doubt were born. Already, in that far - off time, there was a big “Why?” in the human brain. When he saw the death or the birth of his neighbour, natural phenomena, the grandeur of the natural world, early man wondered. But he also realised with despair how weak and fragile he was within this wonderful world.


His need to interpret the world in which he lived and his desire to overcome his weaknesses activated his creative imagination. In an era when logic was still in its infancy, the creations of his imagination acquired, with the passage of time, the validity of the most important truth. Using as raw materials his daily experiences and the forms that were familiar to him, i.e. the forms of animals and of humans, he interpreted everything that was incomprehensible to him and he created creatures which embodied his yearning to explain the marvellous phenomena of nature, to seek solace, to find the strength and courage to fight against endless difficulties and, of course, to dominate this world. Thus, mythology was born and was chiselled ever slowly over the centuries.
Mythology as an attempt to explain the world comes into the same area as religion and for this reason it is formed around the nucleus of the religions beliefs of a people. The religious nucleus of Cretan mythology is the worship of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, which was brought from the East by the first colonisers of Crete. Indeed the names of many mythical Cretan heroes bear witness to this, for example Asterionas, the king of Crete, who took as his wife Europa (she with the big face). Europa’s mother Telephassa (she which shines from afar); Minos’ wife Pasiphae (she who shines on everyone), the daughters of Minos and Pasiphae Phaidra and Ariadne (the sparkling, the shining ones)

 


On the other hand, mythology as the expression of the human desire to dominate always has a historical
Knossos, the "parisienne"

nucleus of heroic deeds. The pride of the people who did them and the impression made on the neighbouring peoples who observed them were the reasons why these events were surrounded with the splendour of myth. With the passing of the centuries, the mythological “ivy” put out rich shoots and essentially concealed the historical “trunk”, around which it was entwined. The historical nucleus of Cretan mythology is the power which Crete gained during the era of the Minoan Kings, her sea-empire and her expansion (by means of colonies and trading stations) throughout the Mediterranean. The leading mythical hero was King Minos of whom all the other Cretan heroes were either descendants or relations.


Mythology of course is not an artistic creation - this would give it an aesthetic dimension. Greek mythology, however, (to which Cretan mythology belongs) happens to have a unique beauty, an aesthetic wealth which has made it well-loved throughout the world. The ancient Babylonians or the Amazon Indians had a god of thunder, but only the Zeus of the ancient Greeks is widely known. The ancient Mongols Celts must have had a young hero who could easily kill wild beasts and monsters, but everybody knows only the invincible Hercules of the ancient Greeks for this reason. Greek mythology is not only the subject of study by specialists but is also an exciting world which appeals to everyone.


Cretan mythology is a part of the place that you are now preparing to explore. It is the deepest roots of the archaeological treasures that you will have the chance to admire at many museums and at archaeological sites in every corner of the island. For this reason, we chose to present Cretan mythology to you in sections, in the description of the areas connected with it, and here simply to mention briefly the main heroes, and to give a chart showing the relationship between them.

Amalthia
The nymph of Idaion Andron who brought up Zeus. She fed him on the milk of a goat called Aix (=goat) and on wild honey. One day, when Zeus was playing with this goat, he broke off one of her horns and gave it to Amalthia, telling her that all the fruits she could ever want would spring from out of the horn (the famous Horn of Amalthia, or Horn of Plenty).

 

Androgeos
One of the sons of Minos and Pasiphae who was a champion athlete in all athletic events. One day he went to Athens and took part in some local games, where he walked off with all the prizes. The Athenian athletes, green with envy, ambushed him just outside the city and killed him. When his father heard, he organised a military campaign against Athens, captured it and punished the Athenians by making them send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every year to be thrown to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

 

Ariadne
Daughter of Minos and Pasiphae. She fell in love with the Athenian hero, Theseus, when he came to Knossos to kill the Minotaur. Although she helped him greatly to succeed in his quest, with the famous skein of thread that she gave him, the ungrateful Theseus left her in Naxos where his ship put in on the way back to Athens. The god Dionyssos found her there, married her and took her up to mount Olympus.

 

Daedalus (or Daedalos)

Deadelus and Icarus

An Athenian craftsman and the greatest inventor of ancient times. He was sent into exile for a crime he had committed in Athens. In this way, he found himself at the court of King Minos who employed him as an architect and sculptor at the Palace of Knossos. The king was very pleased with the variety of work done by Daedalus and most of all with the Labyrinth where the Minotaur was imprisoned. But when he found out that Daedalus had made the wooden cow in which his wife Pasiphae had had intercourse with a bull, and that Daedalos had advised his daughter Ariandne to give the skein of thread to Theseus, he became very angry with him and gave orders for him to be put to death. Daedalus, however, forestalled him and escaped by air, having made wings for himself and his son Ikaros. Ikaros was killed during the flight, but Daedalus landed and took refuge in the city of Camico in Sicily. After a long search, Minos found him there, but the inventive Daedalus managed to kill his pursuer by means of a trick.

 

Zeus
The son of Cronos and Rea, he belongs to the second generation of gods, i.e. to the gods of Olympus. Cronos had been told by an oracle that one of his children would usurp his power and so he did not allow any of them to live but swallowed them as soon as they were born. Rea became very angry, and when it was time for her to give birth to Zeus, she gave Cronos a rock to eat which was wrapped in swaddling-clothes and she went off and gave birth to Zeus in Diktaio Andro, a lonely cave on top of mount Dikti in Crete. Shortly after this, little Zeus was moved for reasons of safety to another Cretan cave, Idaion Andro on mount Idi, where a Nymph of the cave, Amalthia, undertook to bring him up (in another version of the story, she was a goat that brought Zeus up on her milk). When Zeus grew up, he put up a terrible fight and managed to topple the king from his throne and so he became king of the Gods. The other gods of Olympus were either his brothers and sisters or his children. His wife was Hera, although he had countless love affairs with other goddesses, but mainly with mortal women. One of these was Europa, whom he fell in love with in Tyre, Syria, and whom he brought to Crete to enjoy her love.

 

Europe

Europe and Minotaur

Daughter of the king of Tyre, Aginor and of Telephassa. One day, Zeus saw her playing with her friends on the beach and he fell in love with her. He appeared before her in the form of a likeable bull, the unsuspecting girl sat on his back and the Zeus-bull rushed into the water, carrying his darling on his back, and took her to Crete. They made their love-rest in an idyllic riverside place at the spot where Gortyna was later built. When he grew tired of her, he gave her to the king of Crete, Asterionas, who married her and adopted the three children she had had with Zeus (Minos, Sarpidonas and Radamanthys). When she died, the Cretans paid tribute to her with divine honours an gave her name to one of the earth’s continents.

Theseus
Son of the king of Athens, Aegeus, and the greatest mythical Athenian hero who did innumerable heroic good deeds. He became a volunteer for the team of fourteen young people who were sent as food for the Minotaur. Theseus managed to kill the Minotaur and got out of the Labyrinth by using a ball of thread (the famous skein of thread) which Ariadne had given him. When she left for Athens he took Ariadne with him as he had promised her, but after a few days he left her on Naxos and returned to Athens alone. He forgot however to change the black sails on his ship to white, which was the agreed signal to his father that the mission had been successful, and so his father, Aegeus, the king of Athens, threw himself into the sea and was drowned; the sea has since been called the Aegean.

 

Kourites
Seven good-tempered giant gods who came from Evoia. They roamed the Greek world, offering their good services where necessary. They happened to be in Crete when Zeus was born. Zeus’ mother, Rea, asked them to stay outside the Idaio Andro and to dance and beat loudly on their copper shields so that Zeus’ father, Cronos, would not hear his son crying. So Zeus managed to grow to manhood and later to become king of the Gods. Many years later, Zeus wife, Hera, asked them to get rid of Epaphos, a child that Zeus had had with a mortal woman. The Kourites carried out the goddess’s wish but Zeus became very angry with them, forgot about the protection they had once given him, and killed them with a thunderbolt.

 

Minos
The most powerful and famous king of Crete, he was the son of Zeus and Europa and the heir of his stepfather Asterionas to the Cretan throne. He had the favour and protection of Zeus throughout his reign. Every nine years he went up to Idaio Andro and received directly from Zeus the laws with which he was to govern the Cretans. Under his rule, Crete enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity and expanded its power throughout the Aegean. His wife was Pasiphae with whom he had four daughters and four sons, but he also had many children by his many mistresses. He was killed in the city of Camico in Sicily in a campaign which he organised to hunt down Daedalus. After his death he became the judge of Souls in the Underworld with his brother Radamanthys and Aeakos, another son of Zeus!

 

The Minotaur

Theseus and Minotaur

A monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull which was born from the Union of Pasiphae and the sacred bull of Poseidon. Minos closed him up inside the Labyrinth, a dark underground maze of passages which was designed and built under the Palace of Knossos by the Athenian craftsman Daedalus especially for this purpose. It was fed on human flesh and especially on the seven young men and seven young women which the Athenians had to send every year after their defeat in the war with Minos. It was killed by Theseus.

Pasiphae
A nobleman’s daughter from an infamous generation. Her sister was the sorceress, Circe, who turned Odysseus’s companions into pigs, and her brother was the blood-thirsty king of Kolchis, Aeitis, the father of the sorceress Medea who killed her children. Pasiphae was the wife of Minos and the mother of his eight legitimate children. She too had magic powers which she used to stop her husband from being unfaithful, but without satisfactory results. She was troubled not only by Minos’ unfaithfulness but also by his perjury to Poseidon. The vexed god, in order to take revenge on Minos who had not sacrificed to him the bull he had promised him, instilled in Pasiphae an uncontrollable sexual desire for the animal. With the help of Daedalus, Pasiphae had sexual intercourse with the bull and that is how the Minotaur was born.

 

Radamanthys
Son of Zeus and Europa and the younger brother of Minos. He had such fair judgement that he was known as the fairest man on earth. When Minos succeeded Asterionas to the Cretan throne, he sent his brother into exile, afraid that he would over-shadow him.

Pasiphae and Minotaur

Radamanthys roamed around the Aegean islands and the coast of Asia Minor, where all the peoples respected his fair judgement and entrusted him with resolving their disputes. When he died, Zeus appointed him judge of human souls in the underworld, with his brother Minos

 

Sarpidonas
Son of Zeus and of Europa, brother of Minos. He also(together with his brother Radamanthys) took the road into exile when Minos ascended the throne of Crete. He ended up in Militos in Asia Minor, where he ruled until his death.

 

Talos
The first robot to be born of the human imagination! Talos was a copper giant, the work of Hephaistus and the gods’ gift to Minos. His job was to go round the whole of Crete (he could circle the island three times a day) and to protect it from invasion. His favourite weapons were enormous rocks which he catapulted on the enemy ships approaching the coast. If by any chance anyone managed to disembark, he had a warm welcome in store for them: he jumped in fire, made himself red-hot and then picked up the unfortunate invaders and crushed them in his arms, turning them into grilled steaks.

The Argonauts Castor and Pollux capture Talos, the bronze giant who guarded the island of Crete

However, he too had his “Achilles heel”: a small vein in the back of his leg which he plugged with a metal stopper. When the Argonauts came to Crete, the sorceress Medea managed to pull out the stopper and the copper giant fell to pieces.

 

Phaedra
The daughter of Minos and Pasiphae and sister of Ariadne. Phaedra married Theseus when he became king of Athens despite his disgraceful behaviour some years earlier to her sister (he had left her high and dry on Naxos while she was asleep), and had two children by him -Demophon and Adamas. Phaedra was not only bolder but also more lively than her sister. She eventually became bored with Theseus and fell in love with Hippolytus, a son of Theseus by a previous wife (the Amazon, Antiopi). Hippolytus however did not reciprocate, and so Phaedra, afraid of being found out, lied about Hippolytus to Theseus saying that he had tried to rape her. Theseus believed her and soon after Hippolytus was dead. After this, Phaedra fell into deep despair and hanged herself in remorse.

 

Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

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