Mythology: From Ancient to Post-Modern

By Jürgen Kleist; Bruce A. Butterfield | Go to book overview

Renée Delgado


The Labyrinth and the Minotaur in Don Quixote and "The House of Asterion" by Jorge Luis Borges

The labyrinth and the Minotaur are Greek myths rooted in a much more ancient myth. According to Borges in his Manual de Zoología Fantάstica, the cult of the bull and the double axe (called "labrys," from which labyrinth could have been derived) was typical of pre-hellenic religions.1 The construction of labyrinthical edifices occurred not only in Greek myths. In antiquity there was a huge labyrinth constructed by King Amenemhet IV (XII dynasty) close to Lake Moeris in Egypt. The reason for the construction of this labyrinth is still a mystery today as it was in antiquity. The writings of Manethon and Pliny in the first century A.D. discuss the question: "Demoteles says that it was the palace of Moteris, Lyceas that it was the tomb of Moteris, many that it was erected as a temple of the sun, which is believed most of all."2

The key to the interpretation of labyrinths according to C.N. Deeds is in the ritual and myth associated with them, especially the myth of the Egyptian god Osiris and the rituals that commemorate his assassination and resurrection. It is highly probable that the Greek myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth of Crete stem from the older Egyptian myth. Yet it is the Grecian myth that was most widely known in Europe and from which scores of reproductions and interpretations have flowed.3 Virgil and Ovid, and later Dante, brought the myth into literature and moral thought.

In medieval literature in Spain, Juan de Mena wrote a labyrinthical work in both its own structure as well as its content, which contains characters from the Cretan myth and from Virgil Aeneid and Dante Divine Comedy. These last two works, of course, contain labyrinths of their own and allusions to the Daedalian creation.4 De Mena's was not the only medieval Spanish literary work to mention the labyrinth, nor was Spain the only European country to become obsessed with this structure in its

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