Do you remember the story of the Minotaur from the Greek myths? The Minotaur was a terrible beast, half man and half bull, that was hidden away in a labyrinth by Minos, the leader of the ancient Cretan city of Knossos. Every few years, several young men and women from Athens (which had been conquered by Minos’ troops) were sent into the maze to be eaten by the monster, which craved human flesh.
Finally Theseus, the founder and king of Athens, decided it was time someone killed the Minotaur and released the best of Athens’ youth from this ordeal. Apparently, the most difficult part of Theseus’ task wasn’t slaying the beast, it was escaping the labyrinth. Luckily Ariadne, one of Minos’ daughters, had given him a thread that helped him find his way out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur.
The Greek myths are really one big soap opera, so after Theseus performed this heroic act he went on to sneak Ariadne away from her father, leave her behind on a beach, make a stupid mistake that caused his own father’s suicide, etc. etc. But what’s important is the key elements of the story of the Minotaur: bull, maze, death of promising youths.
Here’s what we did today (May 21) in Heraklion.
We began the day at the beautiful and peaceful Heraklion Archeological Museum, which seemed worlds away from the raucous street scene we’d been a part of the night before.
The Minoan (our word for them, not theirs) culture thrived at their city, Knossos, from at least 2000 BCE to about 1200 BCE. Their art was spectacular, and unlike on Santorini, we were able to see a great deal of it at the museum. This is for two reasons: first, graves have been found at Knossos which contained burial objects; and second, the end of Knossos was chaotic enough that some items were left behind to be found by archeologists in the present day.
And now, a line-up of Minoan art:
At the Museum, we also learned about how the Minoans lived, worked and played. In doing so, we realized a probable interpretation of the myth of the Minotaur — one that I will tell you about in my next post, which will show you the actual ruins of Knossos. And I’ll tell you about my quite excellent lunch! But for now, I’ll leave you with one more piece of lovely Minoan art. Enjoy: