I visited Knossos whilst I was in Crete recently. Knossos is said to be the ancient capital of Crete, home to legendary King Minos.


The walls of Knossos are tumbled now, long derelict and bleached by the sun like old bones. Roofed only by the sky, these once elegant rooms and cool graceful passages are still thronged with people, strangers who have come to admire what once was, a bygone era of which they have no comprehension. It is a world within a world, a fleeting glimpse into knowledge, power, artistry, skill, grandeur and mystery the like of which will never be seen again.

“I still wander there, but they pass right by me, their eyes pinned on stone, their senses unaware of that they can’t touch. Poor blind fools. I pity them. We were never like that. We knew how to live, really live.

“I am Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, Princess of Knossos, and my guilt and shame will not let me rest, even in death. For I did a terrible thing; I abandoned my family, betrayed my father and king, and slew my own brother, all for love of a man who used me and didn’t want me.

“We all did terrible things, believing ourselves omnipotent, like the Immortals. Now we have eternity in which to regret.”


According to Greek myths, Minos was a fair and just ruler who received his learning from Zeus. He was the son of Zeus and a nymph named Europa. Zeus shape-shifted into the guise of a bull and abducted her, taking her to Crete, where three sons were born to them; Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. Later, Europa married the King of Crete, Asterios. He adopted her sons, and when he died, the oldest, Minos, inherited the throne.

Minos married Pasiphae, daughter of Helios and the nymph, Crete. They had four sons: Androgeus, Catreus, Deucalion and Glaucus, and four daughters: Ariadne, Phaedra, Xenodice, and Acalle.

One day, Minos decided to give thanks to the God Posiedon for his good fortune with an extravagant sacrifice. Posiedon sent him a magnificent white bull from the sea for this purpose, but it was so beautiful and noble, that Minos decided to keep it for himself. Furious, the God punished him by afflicting his wife, Parsiphae, with a mindless uncontrollable passion for the bull. Hmmm… sounds more like she was being unfairly punished for his misdemeanours to me.

She instructed Daedalus, a skilled craftsman, to build a wooden likeness of a cow, which she climbed inside. The bull mated with the wooden cow, and thus Parsiphae was impregnated. The resulting offspring was the Minotaur, a man with the head of a bull. Minus ordered Daedalus to build the Labyrinth and locked the monster inside.

In order to protect the identity of the Minotaur, and prevent anyone finding out the secret of the way out of the Labyrinth, Minos locked both Daedalus and his son, Icarus, inside the Labyrinth too. Later, they both escaped on wings made of wax and feathers, but Icarus flew too close to the sun. His wings melted and he fell into the sea and was drowned.

Meanwhile, Minos’s oldest son, Androgeus, went to Athens to take part in a sporting event. He won every game, much to the jealousy of the other competitors, who conspired together and murdered him. In revenge, Minos attacked and defeated Athens, and demanded tribute every nine years of seven young men and seven young women, which he sacrificed to the Minotaur by locking them in the Labyrinth to be eaten.

It was Theseus, Prince of Athens, aided by Ariadne, Minos’s own daughter, who later killed the Monotaur, thus ending the tribute. Furious beyond reason, Minos sought retribution by chasing Daedalus, who had taken refuge with the King of Sicily. Minos was killed by the King’s daughters, who poured boiling water on him as he was taking a bath. What a way to go!

The legends of Minos and his family are many, and I can’t tell them all here. Whether he really existed, or is just a figment of some ancient poet’s imagination cannot be known, but certainly the Minoan civilisation flourished during the Bronze Age, between 3300BC and 1000BC.

What amazes me is that people could emerge from the Neolithic (stone) Age, building such masterful and magnificent, sophisticated complex dwellings as the palace at Knossos. It had plumbing and flushing toilets, for goodness sake! Neolithic man was still building simple mud huts on stone foundations with clay floors, or living in caves, and only acquired the skill of metal working between 3800 and 3300BC. It kind of beggars belief, really.

Nowadays, the remains of the palace and city lie in the foothills, surrounded by shady scented pines which dance in the breeze. The site is vast, covering 6 acres, and the palace complex contained a theatre, 1300 rooms including royal apartments, extensive store rooms, and a plethora of workrooms for craftsmen.

It had three separate water management systems, one for supply, one for run-off (torrential rains) and one for removing waste water. It also had a ventilation system of porticoes and air vents. The walls were covered with colourful paintings called frescoes.

Interestingly, it has been suggested that the stone throne in the throne room was carved to fit the buttocks of a female, rather than a man! Also, there were many figurines of women found among the ruins, some holding snakes, suggesting priestesses of a snake cult.

According to Wikipedia, ‘Minos’ is the Cretan word for ‘king’, and therefore it may just have been a title, rather than a name. It also suggests that royal succession in Crete passed from mother to daughter, her husband becoming the ‘minos’, or warrior-chieftain.

I would have to look into this; certainly the Greek versions of the stories bear no references to female power. As with the Romans, women were considered chattels and possessions, the keeper of domesticity and child-rearing. But it all reminds me of legends closer to home; the Irish tarb-fheis, or ‘bull feast’; the famous milk-white cattle of the Danann; the cattle raid of Cooley, the many women of power in Irish myths, and the snakes that St Patrick was so keen to ban from Ireland.

There are also connections with the Sanskrit, which caught my attention. For example, the name of the main god listed on tablets found at the site, Asirai, is said to be the equivalent of Sanskrit Azura. The name mwi-nu (Minos) is thought to come from the Sanskrit muni,  meaning ‘ascetic’, with reference to the legend of Minos sometimes living in caves. It’s all speculation, but intriguing nonetheless.


 

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I hope you have enjoyed my little foray into Cretan mythology. Next week, we return to more familiar territory back home on Irish soil. ☺

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36 Comments on “Knossos, Capital of Ancient Crete and the Legend of the Minotaur

    • Haha! All that archaeology is wasted on me really, but you’d love it! It is an incredible place. And so are the stories associated with it, and that’s what draws me. I appreciate the archaeology, but I have no knowledge of it. Its wonderful that we can visit such places and admire, and imagine, and make a connection with the past, and the people who lived there and built it. We are so lucky! 😁

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  1. Hi Ali. Like you I won’t be blogging as much this summer. Hope to get my manuscrpt ready for self publishing by the autumn so something has to give. Good luck and keep in touch. Have a lovely fun and productive summer Ali. Marje x

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  2. Somewhere on my list of places to visit, Ali – I love all the legends, and I agree, very intriguing stuff. I think Knossos might be another example of the ancient world being a lot more advanced and complex than historians would have us believe. Santorini also has buildings with a similar level of sophistication, with speculation they were part of the same trading empire that may have travelled as far as Canada. It fascinates me endlessly.
    And good luck with your projects – I hope they go really well for you. Look forward to seeing you back in blogland soonish, and stay in touch if you can xx

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  3. Glad you’re taking a step back, I think we can all learn from that. Me included.

    As for Greece – love it. Agree on the whole – scratching arses and making mud huts and then BAM – sewerage and crazy advancements…. Umm, what?!

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  4. You and me both, Ali! I finally was able to post something yesterday, more than a month after my last one. It doesn’t look like I’ll be doing much in the way of catching up these next few weeks either also with too many other projects.

    I love your speculations! 🙂 And the King Minos legends have always been some of my favorite Greek myths, despite the brutality in them. I mean, probably a completely peaceful myth would get me worrying…

    Did you write the quoted bit? It’s poignant and achingly sad. If I were Ariadne I’d consider myself truly witnessed and acknowledged.

    Is the labyrinth still walkable? Whatever the truth behind the stories it wouldn’t surprise me if more than one spirit were lost there, still unknowing that they could move on if they chose that. At the very least I can imagine the place is full of memories.

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    • Hi Éilis! I did write the quoted bit. Don’t know why I picked Ariadne. I could just really imagine her drifting through those lofty halls, stifled and searching for some meaning in her life, and totally being captivated and led astray by the handsome charming brave Theseus coming into her life. And that she may have regretted her actions in later life. The Minotaur was her brother, after all. And I felt sad for him. He may not have had the head of a bull. He may simply have been born deformed and disabled. Locking him in a labyrinth alone and in the dark without love and kindness would be enough to turn anyone into a monster. If the labyrinth really existed, I don’t think it’s been found yet. It’s not at Knossos. I think it was built on an island somewhere, away from offending everyone. Once, no one believed that Troy or Knossos really existed… Maybe one day the site of the Labyrinth will be found. In a way, I hope not… Although it would confirm the existence of Knossos, it’s awful to think that someone could lock ones child away in there and abandon him to madness and suffering. Hmmm… that’s a bit of a different view of the stories, isn’t it? On a different note, I hope your business is a sign of good things going on in your life! I really must email you. Lots of love to you Éilis! Xxx

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  5. You must have been like a child in a sweet shop on this visit, Ali. It’s so you. Beautiful photography and so much to see on this trip. I could have spent the whole day wondering around taking in the sights and history.
    I saw this on the news this morning and thought it might interest you.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-36778820

    Good to see you taking a break from blogging so you can concentrate on other writing and reading. It’s doing me so much good and I’m getting so much done. Should have done it a while back.

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    • Wow Hugh, thank you for that! What an incredible discovery! I wonder if they take visitors to the site? Yes, I am getting lots done, and really enjoying the freedom from the pressure of blogging and it’s associated tasks. Thanks to you. I never would have done it of it wasn’t for you. 😊

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      • Well, that’s lovely to hear, Ali. I’d certainly recommend what we are doing to anyone else wanting to get on with projects and writing. It’s certainly changed the way I will now look at Blogging. I’ll certainly be coming back to it, but my days of letting it be King are well and truly over.

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  6. Lovely and interesting post, Ali. Interesting how civilization evolved at different rates and in different directions in various places around the world. Have a lovely summer!

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  7. Fabulous photos, Ali. Wishing a lovely summer to you and the family. Let’s hope the weather is dry for the school holidays this year. 🙂

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    • Thanks Graeme! Well, it was reading someone else’s announcement, Hugh in fact, that made me decide to be brave enough to take the plunge and ‘be less present’ so I can get more writing done. I’ve done so little this year, writing my blog and following blogs has taken up all my reading and writing time. Thats not good. I’m not going away completely, just putting my books and reading first.

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  8. Fabulous post for a fabulous place, Ali. Truly gobsmacking to see it. Wishing you the very best of productive brilliance this summer! I find it so hard to keep up with my favourite blogs it’s sometimes almost a relief to know I won’t be missing anything when my favourites wind down a little 😉

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  9. Nice post, Ali. Enjoyed the narrative and especially the pictures of Knossos. I lived on the island of Crete for two years and toured the Knossos Palace several times. Sounds like you had a great time there.

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  10. Excellent post…. there is so much wiliness all throughout this myth…. I particularly liked how Daedalus managed to scape from the labyrinth following Ariadne´s thread, after having killed the minotaur.
    There is still an ironic twist at the end when Teseus became king as a result of an error… Apparently the king, had asked him and his ship’s company to hoist white flags in their ship if all had gone well… and black flags if the the opposite happened… But in his trip back home, Theseus forgot to put up the white sails instead of the black ones, so the king assumed Theseus had failed and committed suicide.In some versions throwing himself off a cliff and into the sea, thus causing this body of water to be named the Aegean.
    The story goes on with Dedalus´son Icarus and his failed attempt to escape from the labyrinth with waxed wings…
    I love your post here and the `personal´ side of the story… thanks so much for sharing, dear Ali… Best wishes. Aquileana 🌟

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know! I love the tragedy of the black sails! And you know, there is a similar story regarding the Irish princess Isolde and her lover Tristan. He suffers a poisoned wound and sends a ship to her, knowing she is the only one who can heal him. He doesn’t know if she will come because he married someone else. He asks the captain to hoist a white sail for yes and a black one for no. Of course I Isolde rushes to his aid, and the captain duly hoists the white sail. But Tristan is too weak to look out the window himself, so he asks his wife to look and tell him if there is a white or black sail. She sees the white sail and is filled with jealousy for their past love affair, so she tells him the sail is black. Tristan dies of despair and when Isolde arrives and finds him dead, she dies of grief. This story has been lost from Irish myth, although it appears as a chapter of the Arthurian story. Isolde was brought home to Ireland and buried in a place which is still named after her to this day, Chapelizod. Its one of my all time favourite stories, although so sad. Thanks for stopping by, Aquileana! Xxx

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      • That is a powerful mythical convergence. I knew the myth of Tristan and Isolde but not in detail… Also I am now remembering Richard Wagner´opera with the same name.. Its prelude is wonderful.. I´ll send it to you via Twitter… Have a great week, dear Ali. Aquileana 😉

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  11. It would be fascinating to know if there was a reason why women are so sidelined in the myths; were they really powerless, or was it all just propaganda? Great post though!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I agree. I don’t know. A lot of it has to do with Religions which replaced the old pagan ways. Greek myths show Goddesses as having lots of power, but being concerned with minor petty things, such as love and who is the most beautiful, etc. Celtic and Irish myths show Goddesses being warriors, healers, Druids and involved in politics. Its all very intriguing, and begs far more questions than are answered!

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    • I suspect the reason women are secondary (if visible at all) in the myths is due primarily to the stories being propagated by males. Just a suspicion on my part. 🙂

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  12. I was fascinated by Mary Renault’s fictional treatment of the Theseus legends, including bull-leaping and the Minotaur, in her books The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea. Your pictures reminded me of them. Thanks!

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  13. Fascinating post, Ali. My mother used to read mythology to me when I was a kid and I’ve loved it ever since. Your rendition is a little more graphic, though, with all the murdering and sex! Amazing civilization and gone now. Makes me wonder about the cycles of man.

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  14. That’s very sad that you won’t be around so much for a while. I’ll miss your Irish myths and legends, but I hope your projects go well. All the best, Ali.

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    • Of course I’m still going to be around, Colin! Just there’ll be less of me… you’ll be glad for the peace and quiet, lol!

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