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In Greek mythology, Minos (Greek: Μίνως) was a King of Crete and son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus's creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld. The Minoan civilization of Crete was named after him by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.


The Minotaur (Greek: Μινώταυρος) is a mythical creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. He dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth (Greek: Λαβύρινθος), which was an elaborate maze-like construction designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete to hold the minotaur. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.


paul reid minotaur.jpeg

Theseus and the Minotaur, 2012
oil on canvas by Paul Reid


When the third sacrifice approached, a hero from Athens named Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He promised his father Aegeus, King of Athens, that he would put up a white sail on his journey back home if he was successful, but would have the crew put up black sails if he was killed.

In Crete, Minos' daughter Ariadne fell madly in love with Theseus and helped him navigate the labyrinth. In most accounts she gave him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. According to various Classical sources and representations, Theseus killed the Minotaur with his bare hands, his club, or a sword. He then led the Athenians out of the labyrinth, and they sailed with Ariadne away from Crete.


On the way home, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and continued to Athens. He neglected, however, to put up the white sail. King Aegeus, from his lookout on Cape Sounion, saw the black-sailed ship approach and, presuming his son dead, committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea that is since named after him. This act secured the throne for Theseus.


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Ariadne on Naxos,
Joseph Edward Southall (1861–1944)


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