The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN

LEGENDS OF CRETE AND ATHENS

MINOS, THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR

Of the three main branches of the Inachid family, only the smallest remains to beconsidered, the branch that was established by Europa on Crete after she was abducted to that island by Zeus. As was explained in Chapter 7, the early Argive, Theban and Cretan royal lines were all descended from Io, an Argive princess who settled in Egypt, through one or other of her two great-grandsons, Belos, king of Egypt, or Agenor, king of Phoenicia (see pp. 231ff). Europa and her brother Kadmos, the founder of the Theban royal line, were children of the latter. As we saw at the beginning of the previous chapter, the abduction of Europa led to the scattering of Agenor’s family since he sent his sons in search of her and they remained abroad after failing to find her. Unbeknown to them all, Zeus had taken her across the sea to Crete, where he had fathered a family of sons by her. Her line in Crete is much shorter than those of Kadmos in Thebes or Danaos in Argos (even if some mythographers tried to remove the chronological inconsistency, see below), and it is also of lesser significance overall, although it includes a few figures of high note, above all the great Minos.

As anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the myth of the Minotaur will be aware, the mythical history of Crete in the age of Minos was closely intertwined with that of Athens. Daidalos, an exile from Athens, helped Pasiphae to conceive the Minotaur and built the labyrinth as a home for it; by sailing against Athens during the reign of Aigeus, Minos forced the Athenians to send a regular tribute of young people as food for the Minotaur; and Theseus, the son and heir of Aigeus, eventually killed the Minotaur with the aid of advice from Daidalos, so setting in course the train of events that would lead to the death of Minos himself. In view of the important connections between Athens and Crete during the only period of mythical history in which either place is truly prominent, it will be convenient to consider the mythology of Athens along with that of Crete in the present chapter, interweaving the story of Theseus with that of Minos and his family in the first part of the chapter. We will return to the Athenian royal family in the second part, to trace the rest of its history from the beginning to its conclusion after the Trojan War.

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