In Greek mythology, the
/ˈmɪnəˌtɔːr/; Ancient Greek: Μῑνώταυρος
[miːnɔ̌ːtau̯ros], Latin: Minotaurus, Etruscan: Θevrumineś) is a
mythical creature portrayed in Classical times with the head of a bull
and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being
"part man and part bull". The
Minotaur dwelt at the center of the
Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction designed
by the architect
Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King
Minos of Crete. The
Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian
Minotaur derives from the Ancient Greek
Μῑνώταυρος, a compound of the name Μίνως (Minos) and
the noun ταύρος "bull", translated as "(the) Bull of Minos". In
Minotaur was known by the name Asterion, a name shared
with Minos' foster-father.
"Minotaur" was originally a proper noun in reference to this mythical
figure. The use of "minotaur" as a common noun to refer to members of
a generic species of bull-headed creatures developed much later, in
20th-century fantasy genre fiction.
1 Birth and appearance
Theseus and the Minotaur
3 Etruscan view
5 Cultural references
5.1 Dante's Inferno
5.2 Surrealist art and other references
6 See also
9 External links
Birth and appearance
The bronze "Horned God" from Enkomi, Cyprus
After he ascended the throne of the island of Crete,
with his brothers to rule.
Minos prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, to
send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support (the Cretan Bull). He
was to kill the bull to show honor to the deity, but decided to keep
it instead because of its beauty. He thought
Poseidon would not care
if he kept the white bull and sacrificed one of his own. To punish
Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos's wife, fall deeply in love with
Pasiphaë had craftsman
Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow,
and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The
offspring was the monstrous Minotaur.
Pasiphaë nursed him, but he
grew and became ferocious, being the unnatural offspring of a woman
and a beast; he had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured
humans for sustenance. Minos, after getting advice from the oracle at
Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the
Minotaur. Its location was near Minos' palace in Knossos.
Minotaur is commonly represented in Classical art with the body of
a man and the head and tail of a bull. One of the figurations assumed
by the river spirit
Achelous in seducing
Deianira is as a man with the
head of a bull, according to Sophocles' Trachiniai.
From Classical times through the Renaissance, the
Minotaur appears at
the center of many depictions of the Labyrinth. Ovid's Latin
account of the Minotaur, which did not elaborate on which half was
bull and which half man, was the most widely available during the
Middle Ages, and several later versions show the reverse of the
Classical configuration, a man's head and torso on a bull's body,
reminiscent of a centaur. This alternative tradition survived into
the Renaissance, and still figures in some modern depictions, such as
Steele Savage's illustrations for Edith Hamilton's Mythology (1942).
Theseus and the Minotaur
Rhyton in the shape of a bull's head, Heraklion Archaeological Museum;
shown here at the Greek pavilion at Expo '88
Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were
jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival.
Others say he was killed at Marathon by the Cretan Bull, his mother's
former taurine lover, which Aegeus, king of Athens, had commanded him
to slay. The common tradition is that
Minos waged war to avenge the
death of his son and won. Catullus, in his account of the Minotaur's
birth, refers to another version in which
Athens was "compelled by
the cruel plague to pay penalties for the killing of Androgeos."
Aegeus had to avert the plague caused by his crime by sending "young
men at the same time as the best of unwed girls as a feast" to the
Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens,
drawn by lots, be sent every seventh or ninth year (some accounts say
every year) to be devoured by the Minotaur.
When the third sacrifice approached,
Theseus volunteered to slay the
monster. He promised his father, Aegeus, 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.
Theseus killed the
Minotaur with the sword of
Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth. On the
Ariadne on the island of Naxos and
continued. 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.
Pasiphaë and the Minotaur, Attic red-figure kylix found at Etruscan
Vulci (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)
This essentially Athenian view of the
Minotaur as the antagonist of
Theseus reflects the literary sources, which are biased in favour of
Athenian perspectives. The Etruscans, who paired
Dionysus, never with Theseus, offered an alternative Etruscan view of
the Minotaur, never seen in Greek arts: on an Etruscan red-figure
wine-cup of the early-to-mid fourth century
Pasiphaë tenderly cradles
Minotaur on her knee.
Theseus fighting the
Minotaur by Jean-Etienne Ramey, marble, 1826,
Tuileries Gardens, Paris
The contest between
Theseus and the
Minotaur was frequently
represented in Greek art. A Knossian didrachm exhibits on one side the
labyrinth, on the other the
Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of
small balls, probably intended for stars; one of the monster's names
While the ruins of Minos' palace at
Knossos were discovered, the
labyrinth never was. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and
corridors in the palace has led some archaeologists to suggest that
the palace itself was the source of the labyrinth myth, an idea
generally discredited today. Homer, describing the shield of
Achilles, remarked that the labyrinth was Ariadne's ceremonial dancing
Some modern mythologists regard the
Minotaur as a solar
personification and a Minoan adaptation of the Baal-
Moloch of the
Phoenicians. The slaying of the
Theseus in that case
indicates the breaking of Athenian tributary relations with Minoan
Minotaur in the Labyrinth, engraving of a 16th-century AD gem in
the Medici Collection in the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
According to A. B. Cook,
Minotaur are only different forms
of the same personage, representing the sun-god of the Cretans, who
depicted the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain
Pasiphaë's union with the bull as a sacred ceremony, at which the
Knossos was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of
Athens was wedded to Dionysus. E. Pottier, who does not
dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of
Phalaris, considers it probable that in
Crete (where a bull cult may
have existed by the side of that of the labrys) victims were tortured
by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot brazen bull. The story of
Talos, the Cretan man of brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped
strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is
probably of similar origin.
A historical explanation of the myth refers to the time when
the main political and cultural potency in the Aegean Sea. As the
Athens (and probably other continental Greek cities) was
under tribute to Crete, it can be assumed that such tribute included
young men and women for sacrifice. This ceremony was performed by a
priest disguised with a bull head or mask, thus explaining the imagery
of the Minotaur.
Once continental Greece was free from Crete's dominance, the myth of
Minotaur worked to distance the forming religious consciousness of
the Hellene poleis from Minoan beliefs.
Virgil meet the Minotaur, illustration by Gustave Doré
William Blake's image of the
Minotaur to illustrate Inferno XII
Minotaur (infamia di Creti, Italian for "infamy of Crete"),
appears briefly in Dante's Inferno, in Canto 12 (l. 12–13, 16–21),
Dante and his guide
Virgil find themselves picking their way
among boulders dislodged on the slope and preparing to enter into the
Seventh Circle of Hell.
Virgil encounter the beast first among the "men of blood":
those damned for their violent natures. Some commentators believe that
Dante, in a reversal of classical tradition, bestowed the beast with a
man's head upon a bull's body, though this representation had
already appeared in the Middle Ages.
Inferno, Canto XII, lines 16–20
Lo savio mio inver' lui grido: "Forse
tu credi che qui sia 'l duca d'Atene,
che sú nel mondo la morte ti porse?
Pártiti, bestia, ché questi non vene
ammaestrato da la tua sorella,
ma vassi per veder la vostre pene."
My sage cried out to him: "You think,
perhaps, this is the Duke of Athens,
who in the world put you to death.
Get away, you beast, for this man
does not come tutored by your sister;
he comes to view your punishments."
In these lines
Virgil taunts the
Minotaur in order to distract him,
and reminds the
Minotaur that he was killed by
Theseus the Duke of
Athens with the help of the monster's half-sister Ariadne. The
Minotaur is the first infernal guardian whom
Virgil and Dante
encounter within the walls of Dis. The
Minotaur seems to represent
the entire zone of Violence, much as
Geryon represents Fraud in Canto
XVI, and serves a similar role as gatekeeper for the entire seventh
Giovanni Boccaccio writes of the
Minotaur in his literary commentary
of the Commedia: "When he had grown up and become a most ferocious
animal, and of incredible strength, they tell that
Minos had him shut
up in a prison called the labyrinth, and that he had sent to him there
all those whom he wanted to die a cruel death".
Rossetti, in his own commentary, compares the
all three sins of violence within the seventh circle: "The Minotaur,
who is situated at the rim of the tripartite circle, fed, according to
the poem was biting himself (violence against oneself) and was
conceived in the 'false cow' (violence against nature, daughter of
Dante then pass quickly by to the centaurs (Nessus, Chiron,
Pholus, and Nessus) who guard the Flegetonte ("river of blood"), to
continue through the seventh Circle.
Surrealist art and other references
From 1933 to 1939,
Albert Skira published an avant-garde literary
magazine Minotaure, with covers featuring a
Minotaur theme. The first
issue had cover art by Pablo Picasso. Later covers included work by
Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, and Diego Rivera.
Picasso made a series of etchings in the
Vollard Suite showing the
Minotaur being tormented, possibly inspired also by Spanish
Minotaur appears as the protagonist of Steven Sherill's The
Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break The character returns in The
Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time
Room 237 suggests that The Shining is a re-telling of
the myth of the Minotaur.
A minotaur, descended from the original mythological figure, appears
in the third episode of The Librarians ("And The Horns of a Dilemma").
Golden Axe Foods, an agribusiness firm founded by survivors of the
Minoan civilization (the name refers to a symbol of the Minoan
monarchy) have imprisoned the minotaur to recreate the
order to maintain their wealth and prosperity. The minotaur itself is
presented as a large, bull-headed man in leather garb, who can
shapeshift into the form of a muscular biker (Tyler Mane). It is freed
when the labyrinth is destroyed, and proceeds to exact revenge upon
In a 2011 episode of Doctor Who ("The God Complex") The Doctor, Amy
and Rory find themselves in a mysterious hotel with rooms and
corridors that constantly change to form an endless labyrinth,
allowing the minotaur trapped inside to hunt people down one by one
with their secret fears...until they give in and are consumed. The
minotaur itself is not revealed until the end of the episode
Minotaurs are common enemies in the God of War series.
The 2017 verse novel Bull by David Elliot retells the story of the
Minotaur in a modern light, paying special attention to Asterion's
childhood, relationships between the characters, and other such
details never touched on by the original myths.
Apis – the Egyptian god is often depicted as a bull, or bull-headed
Madness and the Minotaur
Madness and the Minotaur - a 1981 a text adventure game for the TRS-80
Mahishasura – Buffalo headed Asura
Minotaur – a novel by Benjamin Tammuz first published in 1981
Minotaur – a 2006 horror film
Ba'al – worshipped in the Middle East and depicted as a
Nandi – a bull that serves Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology
Ox-Head – guardian of the Underworld in Chinese mythology, had a
bull head and a human body
Sarangay – a creature resembling a bull with a huge muscular body
and a jewel attached to its ears
Tauren – a fictional bovine species from the Warcraft franchise
modeled after the Minotaur
Shedu – in Mesopotamian mythology, had a bull body and a human head
Ushi-oni – a bull-headed monster from Japanese folklore
^ "English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins. Retrieved 20
^ "American English Dictionary: Definition of Minotaur". Collins.
Retrieved 20 July 2013.
^ Kern, Hermann (2000). Through the Labyrinth. Munich, London, New
York: Prestel. p. 34. ISBN 3791321447.
^ semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem, according to Ovid, Ars
Amatoria 2.24, one of the three lines that his friends would have
deleted from his work, and one of the three that he, selecting
independently, would preserve at all cost, in the apocryphal anecdote
told by Albinovanus Pedo. (noted by J. S. Rusten, "Ovid, Empedocles
and the Minotaur" The American Journal of Philology 103.3 (Autumn
1982, pp. 332-333) p. 332.
^ In a counter-intuitive cultural development going back at least to
Cretan coins of the 4th century BC, many visual patterns representing
Labyrinth do not have dead ends like a maze; instead, a single
path winds to the center. See Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel,
2000, Chapter 1, and Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell
University Press, 1990, Chapter 2.
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 31. 1
^ The Hesiodic
Catalogue of Women
Catalogue of Women fr. 140, says of Zeus' establishment
of Europa in Crete: "...he made her live with
Asterion the king of the
Cretans. There she conceived and bore three sons, Minos, Sarpedon and
^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Minotaur". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Several examples are shown in Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel,
^ Examples include illustrations 204, 237, 238, and 371 in Kern. op.
^ Carmen 64.
Servius on Aeneid, 6. 14: singulis quibusque annis "every one year".
The annual period is given by J. E. Zimmerman, Dictionary of Classical
Mythology, Harper & Row, 1964, article "Androgeus"; and H. J.
Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology, Dutton, 1959, p. 265. Zimmerman
cites Virgil, Apollodorus, and Pausanias. The nine-year period appears
in Plutarch and Ovid.
^ Plutarch, Theseus, 15—19;
Diodorus Siculus i. I6, iv. 61;
Bibliotheke iii. 1,15
^ The wine cup is illustrated in Larissa Bonfante and Judith
Swaddling, Etruscan Mythology (Series The Legendary Past, British
Museum / University of Texas at Austin) 2006, fig.29 p. 44 ("early
fourth century") (on-line illustration).
^ Sir Arthur Evans, the first of many archaeologists who have worked
at Knossos, is often given credit for this idea, but he did not
himself believe it; see David McCullough, The Unending Mystery,
Pantheon, 2004, p. 34-36. Modern scholarship generally discounts the
idea; see Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, p. 42-43, and
Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell University Press, p. 1990, p.
^ The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences,
Literature and General Information. Encyclopaedia Britannica Company.
^ Paolo Alessandro Maffei, Gemmae Antiche, 1709, Pt. IV, pl. 31;
Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, fig. 371, p. 202):
Maffei "erroneously deemed the piece to be from Classical antiquity".
^ The traverse of this circle is a long one, filling Cantos 12 to 17.
^ Inferno XII, Verse Translation by Dr. R. Hollander, p. 228
^ Kern, Hermann (2000). Through the Labyrinth. Munich, London, New
York: Prestel. p. 116–117. ISBN 3791321447.
^ The fallen angels, the Erinyes [Furies], and the unseen Medusa were
located on the city's defensive ramparts in Canto IX.
^ Boccaccio Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine commentary
^ Boccaccio's Expositions on Dante's Comedy, University of Toronto
Press, 30 Nov 2009
^ Bennett, Pre-Raphaelite Circle, 177-180.
Dante Family letters Rossetti Archive". Rossettiarchive.org.
^ Beck, Christopher, "Justice among the Centaurs," Forum Italcium 18
^ Tidworth, Simon
Theseus in the Modern World essay in The Quest for
Theseus London 1970 pp244-9 ISBN 0269026576
^ O'Grady, Megan (12 December 2002). "Dreaming of Hoofbeats". The New
^ Gurganus, Allan (October 2, 2016). "A Minotaur's in Maintenance in a
Tale of Rust Belt America". The New York Times.
Minotaur in Greek Myth source Greek texts and art.
Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes, Rick Riordan, 2015
The dictionary definition of
Minotaur at Wiktionary
Media related to
Minotaur at Wikimedia Commons
Works related to
Minotaur at Wikisource