The Minotaur - The Labyrinth on Crete
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Theseus and the Minotaur

seated woman holds baby with bull head
Pasiphae holds the baby Minotaur

Once upon a time on the island of Crete, maybe about 1325 BC, Europa's son Minos became the king of Crete, and his wife was Queen Pasiphae (in the story; this is only a story). The gods were angry at Minos and Pasiphae (PAH-si-fay), and they made them have a monster for a baby, that was half man and half bull, and so it was called the Minotaur (tauros means bull in Greek).

Theseus kills the Minotaur
Athenian black-figure vase, ca. 550 BC

The Minotaur, when it grew up, was wild and dangerous. It ate people, so Minos and Pasiphae kept it in a special part of their palace at Knossos, which was called the Labyrinth. The story says that the Labyrinth was designed by a very clever architect and inventor named Daedalus.

Knossos, built about 1700 BC (partly reconstructed)

Although Knossos was a real palace, which archaeologists have found and dug up, there wasn't really a labyrinth in it, and probably the Minotaur was a story more than something that really happened.

Learn by doing: go see a real bull (at the State Fair, maybe?)
Theseus and the Minotaur

Bibliography and further reading about Theseus and the Minotaur:

Monster in the Maze: The Story of the Minotaur (All Aboard Reading), by Stephanie Spinner and Susan Swan. A beginning reader book.

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire (Look under Theseus).

At the Palaces of Knossos: A Novel, by Nikos Kazantzakis (1988). The story of Theseus retold.

The King Must Die : A Novel, by Mary Renault (1958). Not specifically for kids. There are some romantic scenes in the book, but not very explicit ones.

More about Daedalus and Icarus
The story of Theseus and the Minotaur
Ancient Greece home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 27 April, 2017