Legendary king

According to Greek legend, Minos ruled the Mediterranean island kingdom of Crete before the time of the Trojan War. The Bronze Age culture that developed at Knossos, Crete’s capital city, around 1600-1400 B.C. is called Minoan after King Minos. Some scholars think the name Minos is the title of a dynasty* rather than the name of an individual king. Minos was believed to be the son of Zeus and Europa, a Phoenician princess.

While competing for the chance to be king of Crete, Minos prayed to Poseidon, the god of the sea, to send him a bull to sacrifice. The god sent the bull, but the animal was so beautiful Minos could not kill it. This refusal angered Poseidon, who retaliated by causing Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, to fall in love with the bull. The Minotaur, half-human, half-bull, was born from their union. Minos hired the famous inventor Daedalus to build a labyrinth—a maze—in which to keep the Minotaur. The labyrinth may have been part of Minos’s palace at Knossos.

The legends about Minos suggest that he was the favorite son of Zeus, who made his kingship possible. According to Plato, Minos retired from his position every nine years to visit with Zeus for the purpose of renewing their friendship and his kingship. Minos allegedly gave the first laws to human beings and served as judge for both the living and the dead. Some myths about Minos emphasize his cruelty. According to one, he forced Athens to send a yearly gift of seven young men and women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. The sacrifices ended when the hero Theseus killed the Minotaur. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur was a popular theme in early Greek art.

Minos died a violent death. He had imprisoned Daedalus, who escaped to Sicily and the protection of King Cocalus. Minos followed Daedalus to Sicily, where he was scalded to death by the king’s daughters. (See also Bronze Age, Greek; Crete; Myths, Greek.)

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

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