You need flash player to see this. Please download from here.

Any Questions?

Can't find what you are looking for?

Contact us on info@visitmalia.gr or call us on +30 28970 31600 and we will try to help!

Home / About Malia / History & Heritage / Mythology of Crete
Mythology of Crete

Zeus, ruler of Gods

According to Mythology Zeus was the youngest son of Krónos and Rhea and belonged to the third generation of gods, the Olympians. Krónos was ruler of the world and the youngest of the second generation of gods the Titans. Now, Krónos was afraid that one of his children would dethrone him, as he had been warned by a prophecy, and to prevent this from happening he swallowed his own children one by one. Rhea, upset to see she was losing all of her children and determined to keep the baby she was pregnant with, fled to Crete and hid there in a cave of Psyhró in the Dhíkti Mountains, where she gave birth to Zeus.

She formed a plan together with her mother Gaía, an expert in conspiracies, to safeguard her new baby: she presented Krónos with a rock wrapped in blankets, which he duly devoured. As for Zeus, he grew up in the cave, raised by goat-nymph Amálthia and the bees of Ίdhi that fed him on milk and honey. Later, Zeus would make one of Amálthia’s horns into a miraculous gift: the horn of plenty, which could be filled with whatever you desired, just by wishing it.

Zeus was a clever boy; he grew up to be an eager young man, determined to take over his father’s realm, but of course he could not do this on his own. So he turned to Mítida for advice, who gave him a drug that he had to give to Krónos so that he would vomit his swallowed children; as they were immortal, they all still lived on in Krónos’ belly. No sooner said than done, Zeus, together with his siblings the Olympians, declared war on Krónos who had his own siblings, the Titans, on his side. From this struggle, that lasted 10 years, Zeus eventually emerged a winner and became supreme ruler of the gods. Zeus married his sister Héra and divided the world among the Olympians. Hereby the Greek god empire gained its eternal structure, with Olympus becoming the gods’ residence.

Europe

God of gods Zeus liked a steamy love affair every now and then, and of course it came in handy that he could take any shape he liked to get what he wanted. So one fine day the beautiful princess Europe, daughter of Phoenix, caught his eye on the shore of Phoenicia (Syria). Europe was just picking flowers when she suddenly saw a white bull, burning with passion, standing in front of her. Afraid at first, but also intrigued by this beast that lay down at her feet, Europe reached out to caress him and even sat on his back, when suddenly the bull jumped up and started running, faster and faster towards the sea. Europe could do nothing but hold on to him, and sitting on his back the bull jumped into the waves and swam off to Crete.

Upon reaching Crete the bull went ashore near a spring at Ghórtys where he let Europe slide off his back. He shook off the salty sea and there the man Zeus suddenly stood in front of a shivering Europe. They spent a passionate first night together – after some resistance on Europe’s side of course; after all she had been kidnapped! As a memory of that passionate night, Zeus saw to it that the plane tree under which they had made love would never lose its leaves again (up to today it has always rich green foliage). The bull whose shape Zeus had taken went up in stardust and became a zodiac symbol.

Europe gave Zeus three sons: Sárpidhon, Radhamántis and Mínos and, apart from 3 sons, Zeus gave Europe three presents. He gave her Tálos, a giant copper robot that guarded Crete’s coasts from invaders; a dog named Lélapos that never missed its prey and, lastly, a hunter’s tool that never missed its target. Zeus however quickly grew tired of Europe and off he went, in search of new love affairs. But before he left he saw to it that Europe married Astérion, king of Crete, who had no children of his own and who adopted Europe’s three sons by Zeus. After Astérion died, Mínos would take over control of his kingdom and after Europe died, she was honoured godly and her name was given to the continent we all know as Europe.

Pasiphae and the Bull

When Mínos showed his eagerness to take control of Astérion’s kingdom, his brothers were displeased and protested. Mínos, however, answered that it was destined by the gods, who, he said, would give him anything he’d ask for. To enforce his words, Mínos asked of his uncle Poseidon to have a bull emerge from the sea, which he would sacrifice to him afterwards as a token of gratitude.

No sooner said than done, Poseidon did indeed send Mínos the bull, but when Mínos saw the animal, he was so taken by its beauty, that he was determined to keep it in order to preserve its race. So he hid it in a herd and ‘forgot’ about the sacrifice. Poseidon, of course, was not stupid and noticed this, so he decided to take revenge on his nephew in his own way: he’d let Pasiphae, Mínos’ sensual and lustful wife, fall passionately in love with the bull.

Now Daidalos, the da Vinci of his time, comes into the picture. Daidalos, a brilliant inventor and architect whose origins are from Athens, came to Crete in exile and was staying at Mínos’ court at the time. Not knowing how to satisfy her passion, Pasiphae turned to him for help. And indeed, she need not have worried, for Daidalos figured something out for her: he built a frame so perfect and clever, with a cow skin tightened around it, that the bull could not but be fooled! He let the queen step inside the construction and pushed it to the meadow, where the bull immediately jumped the voluptuous but phoney cow and got Pasiphae pregnant.

Mínos, in the meantime, had so many lovers that Pasiphae, who was of the jealous kind, saw herself forced to put a spell on him; all the women he slept with from now on would die, for he would ejaculate scorpions and snakes instead of sperm. The woman who broke this spell was Prókris, who agreed to sleep with Mínos only if he used an herb first, that she knew had healing properties and would release him from the spell.

The Minotaur

After nine months Pasiphae gave birth to a healthy baby boy with a human body and the head of a bull. Mínos was so ashamed that he ordered Daidalos to build a palace, which was so entangled and twisted with a maze of chambers and corridors, that it would be impossible for anybody to find his way out: the labyrinth. In this labyrinth the boy, called Minotaur (Minos + taurus) was to be locked up. Daidalos did a fabulous job, but Mínos, who was also outraged at Daidalos’ disloyalty towards him, had forbidden him to leave the island.

The story then relocates to the Greek mainland, where Andróyeos, Mínos’ son, is visiting Aegeas, king of Athens. Andróyeos, a very skilled athlete, won the Pan Athenian games that were held here, which displeased Aegeas a little. Aegeas then sent him off hunting a raging bull that, very conveniently, killed Andróyeos. When Mínos learned this, he sent a military fleet to Athens at once to avenge his son’s death and after a long and hard struggle Athens had to submit. This made Mínos the undisputed ruler in the eastern Mediterranean and in Greece.

After his victory, Mínos demanded of Aegeas an annual sacrifice of seven boys and seven girls to be fed to the Minotaur.

Theseus and Ariadne

Now on the third of these sad missions Theseus, Aegeas’ son volunteered, determined to kill the Minotaur and so undo this terrible curse that tortured Athens. When the ship sailed out, his father had provided him with 2 kinds of sails: black sails, in case the journey was a mourning one, and white sails, should Theseus have killed the beast. In that case, the journey home would be a joyful one. Theseus, with his positive pep-talk had made everyone believe that he could really pull this of.

When Theseus arrived in Crete Ariadne, Minos’ daughter, fell head over heels in love with him. She decided to help Theseus to find his way in the labyrinth, but only after she had made him promise to take her with him and marry her. On Daidalos’ advice, she then gave Theseus a ball of thread of which she fastened one end at the entrance to the labyrinth and that Theseus could unwind, the only way to ensure his way out again. For a while, nothing was heard or seen of him when suddenly there Theseus was, emerging from the labyrinth with the scalp of a dead Minotaur in his hand.

Theseus then sped with Ariadne to the port where he destroyed all Minoan ships so they couldn’t follow him and set sail home to Athens. Ariadne went with him, not in the last place to avoid her father’s rage. On a stop at the Cycladic island Naxos however, the lovers separated: Theseus left Ariadne there while she was sleeping on the beach. Was it just infatuation for him after all? Or did he obey the gods who would not let him marry her?

Anyhow, Theseus was so confused that he forgot to set the white sails for his father as a sign of victory. Upon seeing the ship approaching with black sails, which made him believe his son was dead, Aegeas was so devastated that he threw himself into the sea and was drowned. That sea has been called the Aegean Sea ever since.

Daedalos and Ikaros

As for Daidalos? He and his son Ikaros were thrown into the labyrinth by Mínos when the latter discovered the betrayal. But Daidalos was not a great inventor without reason: In time he collected wax and feathers from the birds that nested there. So, one fine day two strange birds, Daidalos and Ikaros, flew off over the sea.

At first everything went smoothly, but then the reckless Ikaros, despite his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun. The wax melted, his feathers fell off and Ikaros fell into the sea, which ever since has been called the Ikarian Sea. His body was washed ashore on the island Ikaria, where it was buried by Hercules.

The Snail Shell

Mínos chased Daidalos everywhere, even to Sicily where he was hiding at king Kókkalos’ palace. When Mínos made his appearance and asked for Daidalos, Kókkalos refused him. Mínos, however, used a trick: wherever he went he would show a snail shell and a thread and promised a big reward for whoever could pull the thread through the snail shell.

Nobody so far had found the solution to this problem. Kókkalos was very tempted to ask Daidalos for his opinion. Daidalos simply tied the thread on an ant’s leg and made it enter this new mini-labyrinth. When Kókkalos triumphantly returned the snail shell with the pulled-through thread to Mínos, the latter knew instantly that Daidalos was nearby. And it wasn’t hard for him to make Kókkalos confess, who then was forced to surrender Daidalos. However, he still wanted to save his guest so he ordered his daughters to treat Mínos well while he was having his bath.

Somehow they managed to replace the water in the tub with hot tar, maybe with the interference of Daidalos in the plumbing system, and this way Minos met his tragic death.