Theseus and the Minotaur: The monster in the Labyrinth of Crete

The half-bull, half-human monster fighting against Theseus, the Greek hero | Courtesy of Warriors of Myth
The half-bull, half-human monster fighting against Theseus, the Greek hero | Courtesy of Warriors of Myth

Theseus was a Greek hero and was the son of Aethra, princess of Troezen, and daughter of king Troezen. His father was Aegeus, the king of Athens, though there are stories that say that Poseidon, the god of the sea, was Theseus’s father. Theseus was brought up by his grandfather and lived in Troezen, but at the age of only sixteen, he went to Athens and claimed his father, who he believed was Aegeus. Throughout the journey, Theseus killed many others; however, his greatest victory was still yet to come. He eventually encountered the Minotaur, who was a monster that was half human and half bull.1

Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth fighting | 1896 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Minotaur was son of Pasiphae, queen of Crete and wife of King Minos of Crete. Queen Pasiphae slept with a bull, which is how the Minotaur came to be. A snow-white bull had been sent to King Minos; however, when King Minos did not sacrifice the bull to Poseidon, Poseidon caused Pasiphae to fall in love with the beautiful bull.2 The product of her love was the monstrous Minotaur. This obviously made Minos upset; however, he did not want to kill the monster. He set the architect Daedalus to create and build a labyrinth that made it impossible for anyone to get out without the help of someone else.3

In the labyrinth, the Minotaur was fed young humans, along with several of Minos’ enemies. These humans were victims of Minos, who were forcibly sent by Athens as tribute. Every year, Minos would have seven boys and seven girls sent to the labyrinth, and each year none of the several tributes would return. Once in Crete, they were devoured by the monster-like, blood-thirsty Minotaur. One day, Theseus decided that he would be the one to finally come back out of the labyrinth and end this practice. He, unlike others, volunteered himself as one of the victims. Theseus and the other several hostages sailed for Crete. When Theseus arrived in Crete, he was greeted as the doomed by several locals, and among the crowd was Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, who immediately fell in love with Theseus and came up with a plan to help him defeat the Minotaur. She gave Theseus a ball of thread that he would fastened to the door of the maze in the labyrinth and unwind the ball until he reached the Minotaur.4

Theseus kills the Minotaur Athenian black-figure vase, ca. 550 BCE | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Theseus and the other victims entered the labyrinth, the Minotaur was sleeping. He immediately took action and wasted no time in trying to defeat the creature. Theseus had absolutely no weapons, not even a sword. He fought the Minotaur hand-to-hand and succeeded, with his very own bare hands, beating the repulsive creature to death with just one blow from the fist. He then helped the other hostages who were in the labyrinth to safety, using the thread to find his way out. After defeating the Minotaur, Theseus and several other Athenians sailed back to Athens, taking along Ariadne. Though Theseus took Ariadne along with him to Athens, he eventually abandoned her on an island.5

On the way back to Athens, Theseus made a promise to his father that he would change the color of his sails if victory was his. Black meant that he had not made it back and white meant that he had; however, Theseus forgot to do so, causing his father to kill himself out of grief. When Theseus’ father died, he became the king of the city-states of Athens. He was honored for his victories and for his win over the Minotaur. He was also honored for making the kingdom larger.6

 

  1. Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students, 1998, s.v. “Theseus and the Minotaur,” Carroll Moulton.
  2. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016, s.v. “Minotaur.”
  3. UXL Encyclopedia of World Mythology, 2009, s.v. “Theseus.”
  4. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology, 2002, s.v. “Theseus in the Labyrinth,” by Don Nardo.
  5. Ancient Greece and Rome : An Encyclopedia for Students, 1998, s.v. “Theseus and The Minotaur,” Carroll Moulton.
  6. UXL Encyclopedia of World Mythology, 2009, s.v. “Theseus.”

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This Post Has 41 Comments

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    Madelynn Vasquez

    Being a nerd for Greek mythology and having read this was amazing! I felt like I was discovering Greek mythology all over again as this wasn’t a story I was too familiar with! Understanding that a lot of Greek mythology stems from wanting to give some life lesson or have some symbolism to them is prominent in this story of Theseus and the Minotaur!

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