05Minotaur Louvre CA3837By now, you may be sick of the all the genetic testing ads promising to let you know your family history in return for paying them for the right to sell your genetic code to some third party. Like Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage, go ahead and sell your genetic history to a corporation. Watching these ads got me to thinking about what a delight it would have been if the Minotaur had sent in his genes to be sorted out by a gene company.

Take a ride back to ancient Greece, where men were men and Minotaurs were something else. To refresh your Greek mythology, the Minotaur had the head of a bull, the body of a man, lived in a labyrinth and liked to eat people. His genetic background was fairly wild. Since you obviously have nothing better to do than to waste a bit of your time reading this column, let us look at how the Minotaur came to be.

Back in the golden days of yesteryear, on the island of Crete, there was a king named Minos. Minos and his brothers all wanted to be king of Crete. There was more than the usual sibling rivalry going on. Minos figured if he could get Poseidon, the god of the sea, to send him a snow-white bull, it would show his brothers that Minos ought to be the king. Minos told Poseidon that if Poseidon sent him the white bull, Minos would kill the bull in Poseidon’s honor. Not much of an honor for the bull, but this was before PETA had arrived on the scene.

Poseidon sent the white bull to Minos. Turned out Minos thought the bull was so pretty that he didn’t want to kill it; he sacrificed one of his regular bulls instead. This treachery did not sit well with Poseidon. In fact, Poseidon was cranky about it. You would not like Poseidon when he is angry.

Being a god, Poseidon can do about anything. He decided to get even with Minos by making Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with the white bull. The story gets a little R-rated here. If you are sensitive, stop reading now. Pasiphae had her master builder, Daedalus, make a hollow wooden cow into which she climbed. She made sweet, sweet love to the white bull and became pregnant. Pasiphae then gave birth to the Minotaur.

The Minotaur was ugly, even by Greek standards, and only ate humans. His eating habits would soon wipe out the population of Crete, leaving no one for Minos to be king over. After consulting the Oracle, Minos had Daedalus build the labyrinth to keep the Minotaur from eating everyone. For reasons too complicated to go into today, Minos kept the Minotaur in his labyrinth by sending seven boys and seven girls into the labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur every seven years.

Along comes a hero, Theseus, who promises to kill the Minotaur to stop the eating of the boys and girls. This seems certain death for Theseus because even if he killed the Minotaur, he would be lost in the labyrinth forever. Naturally, Minos’ beautiful daughter Ariadne falls in love with Theseus. She comes up with a plan to help him get out of the maze by giving him a ball of string to unroll as he goes into the labyrinth. Pretty clever lady.

Theseus goes into the maze and kills the Minotaur despite not having a Minotaur hunting license. He finds his way back out by following the string Ariadne gave him. Theseus shows his gratitude to Ariadne by taking her away on a cruise on the Love Boat where everything is exciting and new. For a while, anyway, as the great Meatloaf once sang: “Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night/ I can see paradise by the dashboard light.”

Ariadne tells Theseus, “Stop right there!/ I gotta know right now/ Before we go any further/ Will you love me forever?/ Will you never leave me?/ Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?/ Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?”

Theseus, being worked up, promises to love Ariadne until the end of time. Then in the afterglow of the moment, Theseus starts praying for the end of time. When the end of time doesn’t appear, Theseus dumps Ariadne on the island of Naxos and goes his merry way back home without her. Men are no damn good.

So, what have we learned today? If you promise a sea god something, keep your promise or your spouse may take up animal husbandry and not in a good way. Promises made in the heat of passion sometimes cool off in the first cold blue light of morning. Beware of Greeks bearing string. Minotaurs should always floss after every meal. Stay out of labyrinths unless you have a ball of string.

 

PHOTO: Theseus and the Minotaur. Detail from an Orientalizing polychrome stamnos made in Mégara Hyblæa, 660–650 BC. From Selinunte, Sicily.

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