Greek mythology contains many legends featuring heroes, cities, and mythological creatures. One of the most famous, is of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The myth was thought to have been just a story… but then Knossos in Crete was discovered. Could there have been more truth behind the story than we first thought?
The Minoan city of Knossos was discovered in Crete after having been buried for thousands of years. Excavations of the complex began in 1900, and people soon realized its significance. It appeared that an entire civilization had been rediscovered - one that was thought only to have existed in myths and legends. Frescoes were uncovered that featured ‘bull-leaping’, and the ruins themselves were very labyrinthine. Although no definitive proof could be made, it appeared that Knossos might well have been one of the origins of the legend of the Minotaur. Perhaps there was more truth to the myth after all!
Visit Knossos on a Greek Mythology Tour
Knossos Palace - credits: Scorpp/Shutterstock.com
Knossos is the most famous archaeological site in Crete and is included on our 7-day Mythology Tour of Greece. During the tour, you will find out all about the history and legends associated with the site in a fun and informative way. Before leaving on the tour, you might like to discover more about one of the myths connected with Knossos.
The Myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth
There are many myths concerning King Minos, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth. Even today, people use and expand upon them, as is the case with the Percy Jackson books written by Rick Riordan. Perhaps the most famous though is the one which concerns Theseus, son of the King of Athens and King Minos, ruler of Crete.
Legend says that King Minos commissioned Daedalus to design a maze beneath his palace so cunning that no one could ever possibly escape. In the maze, he then put the Minotaur, a frightening beast that had been born out of the union of his wife and a bull. This beast became known as the Minotaur, who survived by eating the enemies of King Minos who were also imprisoned below.
Connection with the Panathenaic Games
Another son of King Minos traveled to Athens to compete in the Panathenaic games but was killed in a competition. King Minos was enraged, and he demanded that Aegeus the King of Athens should send seven young men and seven young women to Crete so that they could be sacrificed to the Minotaur. (Different versions state that the sacrifices should be sent every one, five or seven years).
Theseus and the Minotaur Statue - credits: Etienne Jules Ramey meunierd/Shutterstock.com
On the third year of tributes being sent to Crete, Theseus, the son of Aegeus volunteered with the intention of killing the Minotaur and ending the practice once and for all. Although his father did not want him to go, Theseus insisted and so boarded the ship unarmed like the other tributes. Setting sail with a black sail on his ship, he promised his father that if he was successful, he would return with a white sail.
Theseus arrives in Crete
As Theseus and the other tributes arrived in Crete and went ashore, Ariadne, who was the daughter of King Minos, immediately noticed him and fell in love on the spot. She knew that no one ever made it out of the Labyrinth alive, but wanted to help Theseus, and so consulted with Daedalus who was the designer of the maze. He suggested that she give Theseus a ball of thread that he could use to find his way back out of the labyrinth. Thanking Ariadne, Theseus promised he would take her with him if he successfully escaped from the maze.
Inside the Labyrinth
The Minotaur - credits: MatiasDelCarmine/Shutterstock.com
Tying one end of the string to the doorway that led into the Labyrinth, Theseus took out a sword he had kept hidden inside his tunic, and headed into the heart of the complex which was pitch black. The Minotaur, who had been asleep up until now, suddenly woke up, and the two started fighting. Theseus eventually managed to overpower his fearsome opponent and then decapitated the Minotaur. Although he had lost the one end of the string in the fight and it was dark, he managed to find it again, and then led the other Athenians who were sent as tribute with him out of the maze. Collecting Ariadne, the group escaped the island on their ship.
During the journey home to Athens, the ship stopped at the island of Naxos for fresh water and more supplies. Here, Theseus abandoned Ariadne is a rush. Some say that he had a dream where the Goddess Athena told him to leave Ariadne behind so that she could marry the god Dionysus. Others say that he just decided to leave her there. Whatever the reason, Theseus left in such a hurry, that he forgot to swap the sail from a black one to a white one. His father, King Aegeus of Athens, was so distraught when he saw the sail that he thought his son was dead, and then committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea at Cape Sounion. This is how the Aegean gets its name.
Visit Cape Sounion on a Greek Mythology Tour
In addition to visiting Knossos on our Greek mythology tours, you can also visit the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, and see for yourself where the King threw himself into the sea which now bears his name. Available as an individual tour, an excursion to Cape Sounion is also available on our 2, 3, 5, and 7-day Greek Mythology tours.