Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Mythical king of Crete, who lived three generations before the Trojan War. The island's bronze age civilization has been named ‘Minoan’ after him (see preceding entry). He was a son of Zeus and Europa, whom Zeus in bull‐form had carried to Crete from Tyre or Sidon. In a contest for the kingship Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a bull from the sea for sacrifice. The god complied, but the bull was so handsome that Minos kept it for himself. Poseidon therefore caused Minos' wife Pāsiphaē to fall in love with the bull, and from their unnatural union the Minotaur was born and kept in the labyrinth built by Daedalus. ‘Labyrinth’ occurs in Linear B (see mycenaean language) and has been connected with the double axe (labrys), a Minoan religious symbol, and with the palace of Cnossus. The myth probably conceals bronze age cult involving Zeus, the bull, and Minos, although the king was not divine.

Minos was the most royal of mortal kings, the favourite of Zeus, who granted him kingship and renewed it every nine years. With his brother Rhadamanthys he gave the first laws to mankind, and acted as judge of the living and the dead. Minos' reputation as first thalassocrat see sea power) recalls Minoan influence in the bronze age. Attic legend called him cruel. He made war on Megara and Athens to avenge his son Androgeos, and he forced the Athenians to send an annual tribute of seven young men and women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur until Theseus slew the monster: Minos died violently in Sicily. He had followed the fugitive Daedalus to the court of King Cocalus, whose daughters scalded him to death in his bath.

Subjects: Classical Studies — Religion.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.