The Red Thread
To you ruling over all I bring a mixed offering, whether you are
pleased to be called Zeus or Hades; accept from me a sacrifice
without fire, poured forth, full of all sorts of fruit. (Euripides, The Cretans fr. 912)
On the Pasiphae sarcophagus Robert found additional evidence for the practice of abstinence from meat and from blood sacrifice in the cult of Cretan Zeus. One of its panels depicts a bloodless sacrifice, and Robert suggested that a version of the Pasiphae story existed in which Zeus’ son Minos, following the lead of his father, avoided the promised sacrifice of the bull by substituting not another bull but a bloodless sacrifice, thus bringing down the wrath of Poseidon upon his wife Pasiphae. Robert believed that this is the version of the story presented in The Cretans, and that the play centred not upon the passion of Pasiphae but upon the mysticism of Minos. (Nancy Demand, Pindar’s Olympian 2, Theron’s Faith, and Empedocles’ Katharmoi)
Think about what that means for a moment.
Minos is the son of Europa, who was abducted from Phoenicia by the Cretan Zeus in the form of a bull. Kadmos came in pursuit of her but ended up marrying Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, on the island of Samothrace before founding the city of Thebes, where he begot Semele the mother of bull-horned Dionysos.
Minos was a wise and gentle king who sought to worship the gods in a pure manner, spending his time coming up with laws while sleeping in a mantic cave, practicing asceticism and eschewing bloodshed. To reward his piety and confirm him in his role as king, Poseidon sends a magnificent white bull for Minos to sacrifice but instead the king substitutes honey-cakes. In retaliation, Poseidon has two of Minos’ children killed (Glaukos in a jar of honey and the heroic Androgeos by the Marathonian bull in a quest on behalf of king Aigeus) and then gets Aphrodite to bind Pasiphae (sister of Circe) with an insatiable lust for the white bull, whereupon she conceives the monstrous Asterion, named after the indigenous king whom Zeus gave Europa to in a marriage that bore no fruit.
Minos begins to go mad. He has his architect Daidalos construct the labyrinth to conceal the shameful seed of his wife’s adultery and declares war on Athens to avenge his bull-slain son, fighting brutally, like a mad and savage bull. When they finally submit to his overlordship he demands seven sons and seven daughters of Athens be sent to him in sacrifice, which he places in the labyrinth so that his wife’s illegitimate son can hunt and maim them.
In the darkness and solitude the half-man, half-bull Asterion has gone entirely mad and dreams of all that life has denied him in between his murderous rampages. However, he is not the only – nor the scariest – thing in the labyrinth. There is also his sister, the princess Ariadne. This strange, spidery girl is his only companion and contact with the upper world. She holds him and strokes him and soothes his frenzies with stories of the world above. He loves her with all his heart, fiercely and unbrotherly – and she lets him.
She knows nothing of love, and has no heart. Then the son of the Athenian king comes to Crete like a wolf claiming he wants to end the cycle of violence – instead Theseus unleashes carnage, burning Knossos to the ground.
And Ariadne helps him.
She gives him the ball of thread so he can find his way out and then leads him to the heart of the labyrinth, and her brother. All she asks in return is to be taken away from there. She yearns for freedom and adventure; Theseus believes she yearns for him. When he discovers otherwise, he abandons her on Naxos to die. While she waits for death to come for her, she falls asleep and dreams.
Dreams that she is Persephone.
Dreams that she is Melinoë.
Dreams that she is Arachne.
Dreams that she is Erigone.
Dreams that she is Eurydike.
Dreams that she is Columbina.
Dreams that she never left the labyrinth and is there still, telling her love-sick brother stories.
The cacophony of the Furious Host rouses and wakes her. A pandemonium of nature-spirits and ghosts – with Dionysos calm and still at their center. He extends his hand and says, “Be my queen – I’ll give you the world and the stars in heaven.” As she looks into his mad eyes she knows he intends to destroy her, to crack open her stony heart. And she wonders how she ever thought he was a man. Her god is a bull, and she lusts insatiably for him.
Minos blames the contriver; Daidalos and his son flee Crete with counterfeit wings held together by honey; the boy flies too high, the honey melts and he plummets to his death.
Eventually Daidalos arrives in Sicily and becomes guest-friend of Kokalos, king of Akragas. Minos is in hot pursuit until he is blown off course by Poseidon; there is a mutiny and some of his men decide to remain behind, settling portions of Southern Italy. Among them are Minos’ children, Iapyx and Satyria. Satyria catches the eye of Poseidon and is soon pregnant. There are complications during birth; even her brother’s mastery of drugs does not help; she is dead before Taras draws his first breath. Poseidon takes pity on her, however, and transforms her into a nymph so that she can care for their son who is destined to become a glorious hero and have a mighty city named after him.
Minos eventually comes to Akragas – after completing a trek through Italy that anticipates Herakles’ own – and deduces through the puzzle of the conch that Kokalos is giving shelter to Daidalos. Before he can put into plan the architect’s extraction, Kokalos throws a lavish feast in the king’s honor and invites him to take his pleasure from the man’s daughters. The daughters first insist that Minos bathe before having his way with them and while he’s in the tub they dump pitchers of scalding hot water on him, boiling the wretched purity-obsessed king alive. And then he becomes a judge in the underworld.
Circles. It’s all circles, man.