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To understand the adventures of Theseus in Crete, it will be necessary to touch briefly upon Mines and the Cretan heroics genealogy.

Minos and Rhadamanthus, according to Homer, are sons of Zeus, by Europe, daughter of the widely-celebrated Phoenix, born in Crete. Minos is the father of Deucalion, whose son Idomeneus, in conjunction with of Zeus, conducts the Cretan troops to the host of Agamemnon before Troy. Minos is ruler of Knossos, and familiar companion of the great Zeus. He is spoken of as holding guardianship in Crete not necessarily meaning the whole of the island : he is farther decorated with a golden scepter, and constituted judge over the dead in the under-world to settle their disputes, in which function Odysseus finds him —this however by a passage of comparatively late interpolation into the Odyssey. He also had a daughter named Ariadne, for whom the artist Daedalus fabricated in the town of Knossos the representation of a complicated dance, and who was ultimately carried off by Theseus: she died in the island of Dia, deserted by Theseus and betrayed by Dionysos to the fatal wrath of Artemis. Rhadamanthus seems to approach to Minos both in judicial functions and posthumous dignity. He is conveyed expressly to Euboea, by the semi-divine sea-carriers the Phaeacians, to inspect the gigantic corpse of the earth-born Tityus the longest voyage they ever undertook. He is moreover after death promoted to an abode of undisturbed bliss in the Elysian plain at the extremity of the earth.

According to poets later than Homer, Europe is brought over by Zeus from Phoenicia to Crete, where she bears to him three sons, Mines, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. The latter leaves Crete and settles in Lycia, the population of which, as well as that of many other portions of Asia Minor, is connected by various mythical genealogies with Crete, though the Sarpedon of the Iliad has no connection with Crete, and is not the son of Europe. Sarpedon having become king of Lycia, was favored by his father, Zeus, with permission to live for three generations. At the same time the youthful Miletus, a favorite of Sarpedon, quitted Crete, and established the city which bore his name on the coast of Asia Minor. Rhadamanthus became sovereign of and lawgiver among the islands in the Aegean: he subsequently went to Boeotia, where he married the widowed Alcmene, mother of Heracles.

Europe finds in Crete a king Asterius, who marries her and adopts her children by Zeus: this Asterius is the son of Kres, the eponym of the island, or (according to another genealogy by which it was attempted to be made out that Mines was of Arian race) he was a son of the daughter of Kres by Tektamus, the son of Dorus, who had migrated into the island from Greece.

Minos married Pasiphae, daughter of the god Helios and Perseis, by whom he had Katreus, Deucalion, Glaukus, Androgeos,—names marked in the legendary narrative,— together with several daughters, among whom were Ariadne and Phaedra. He offended Poseidon by neglecting to fulfill a solemnly-made vow, and the displeased god afflicted his wife Pasiphae with a monstrous passion for a bull. The great artist Daedalus, son of Eupalamus, a fugitive from Athens, became the confidant of this amour, from which sprang the Minotaur, a creature half man and half bull. This Minotaur was imprisoned by Minos in the labyrinth, an inextricable enclosure constructed by Dedalus for that express purpose, by order of Minos.

Minos acquired great nautical power, and expelled the Carian inhabitants from many of the islands of the Aegean, which he placed under the government of his sons on the footing of tributaries. He undertook several expeditions against various places on the coast—one against Nisus, the son of Pandion, king of Megara, who had amongst the hair of his head one peculiar lock of a purple color: an oracle had pronounced that his life and reign would never be in danger so long as he preserved this precious lock. The city would have remained inexpugnable, if Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, had not conceived a violent passion for Minos. While her father was asleep, she cut off the lock on which his safety hung, so that the Cretan king soon became victorious. Instead of performing his promise to carry Scylla away with him to Crete, he cast her from the stern of his vessel into the sea: both Scylla and Nisus were changed into birds.

Androgeos, son of Minos having displayed such rare qualities as to vanquish all his competitors at the Panathenaic festival in Athens, was sent by Egeus the Athenian king to contend against the bull of Marathon,—an enterprise in which he perished, and Minos made war upon Athens to avenge his death. He was for a long time unable to take the city: at length he prayed to his father Zeus to aid him in obtaining redress from the Athenians, and Zeus sent upon them pestilence and famine. In vain did they endeavor to avert these calamities by offering up as propitiatory sacrifices the four daughters of Hyacinthus. Their sufferings still continued, and the oracle directed them to submit to any terms which Minos might exact. He required that they should send to Crete a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens, periodically, to be devoured by the Minotaur,—offered to him in a labyrinth constructed by Dadalus, including countless different passages, out of which no person could escape.

Every ninth year this offering was to be dispatched. The more common story was, that the youths and maidens thus destined to destruction were selected by lot—but the logographer Hellanikus said that Minos came to Athens and chose them himself. The third period for dispatching the victims had arrived, and Athens was plunged in the deepest affliction, when Theseus determined to devote himself as one of them, and either to terminate the sanguinary tribute or to perish. He prayed to Poseidon for help, and the Delphian god assured him that Aphrodite would sustain and extricate him. On arriving at Knossos he was fortunate enough to captivate the affections of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, who supplied him with a sword and a duo of thread. With the former he contrived to kill the Minotaur, the latter served to guide his footsteps in escaping from the labyrinth. Having accomplished this triumph, he left Crete with his ship and companions unhurt, carrying off Ariadne, whom however he soon abandoned on the island of Naxos. On his way borne to Athens, he stopped at Delos, where he offered a grateful sacrifice to Apollo for his escape, and danced along with the young men and maidens whom he had rescued from the Minotaur, a dance called the Geranus, imitated from the twists and convolutions of the Cretan labyrinth. It had been concerted with his father Egeus, that if he succeeded in his enterprise against the Minotaur, he should on his return hoist white sails in his ship in place of the black canvas which she habitually carried when employed on this mournful embassy. But Theseus forgot to make the change of sails; so that Egeus, seeing the ship return with her equipment of mourning unaltered, was impressed with the sorrowful conviction that his son had perished, and cast himself into the sea. The ship which made this voyage was preserved by the Athenians with careful solicitude, being constantly repaired with new timbers, down to the time of the Phalerian Demetrius: every year she was sent from Athens to Delos with a solemn sacrifice and specially-nominated envoys. The priest of Apollo decked her stern with garlands before she quitted the port, and during the time which elapsed until her return, the city was understood to abstain from all acts carrying with them public impurity, so that it was unlawful to put to death any person even under formal sentence by the dikastery. This accidental circumstance becomes especially memorable, from its having postponed for thirty days the death of the lamented Socrates.

The legend respecting Theseus, and his heroic rescue of the seven noble youths and maidens from the jaws of the Minotaur, was thus both commemorated and certified to the Athenian public, by the annual holy ceremony and by the unquestioned identity of the vessel employed in it. There were indeed many varieties in the mode of narrating the incident; and some of the Attic logographers tried to rationalize the fable by transforming the Minotaur into a general or a powerful athlete, named Taurus, whom Theseus vanquished in Crete. But this altered version never overbore the old fanciful character of the tale as maintained by the poets. A great number of other religious ceremonies and customs, as well as several chapels or sacred enclosures in honor of different heroes, were connected with different acts and special ordinances of Theseus. To every Athenian who took part in the festivals of the Oschophoria, the Pyanepsia, or the Kybernesia, the name of this great hero was familiar, and the motives for offering to him solemn worship at his own special festival of the Theseia, became evident and impressive.

The same Athenian legends which ennobled and decorated the character of Theseus, painted in repulsive colors the attributes of Minos; and the traits of the old Homeric comrade of Zeus were buried under those of the conqueror and oppressor of Athens. His history like that of the other legendary personages of Greece, consists almost entirely of a string of family romances and tragedies. His son Katreus, father of Aerope, wife of Atreus, was apprized by an oracle that he would perish by the hand of one of his own children: he accordingly sent them out of the island, and Althemenes, his son, established himself in Rhodes. Katreus having become old, and fancying that he had outlived the warning of the oracle, went over to Rhodes to see Althemenes. In an accidental dispute which arose between his attendants and the islanders, Althemenes inadvertently took part and slew his father without knowing him. Glaukus, the youngest son of Minos, pursuing a mouse, fell into a reservoir of honey and was drowned. No one knew what had become of him, and his father was inconsolable; at length the Argeian Polyeidus, a prophet wonderfully endowed by the gods, both discovered the boy and restored him to life, to the exceeding joy of Minos.

The latter at last found his death in an eager attempt to overtake and punish Thedalus. This great artist, the eponymous hero of the Attic gens or deme called the Dedalids, and the descendant of Erechtheus through Metion, had been tried at the tribunal of Areiopagus and banished for killing his nephew Talos, whose rapidly improving skill excited his envy. He took refuge in Crete, where he acquired the confidence of Minos, and was employed (as has been already mentioned) in constructing the labyrinth; subsequently however he fell under the displeasure of Minos, and was confined as a close prisoner in the inextricable windings of his own edifice. His unrivalled skill and resource however did not forsake him. He manufactured wings both for himself and for his son Ikarus, with which they flew over the sea: the father arrived safely in Sicily at Kamikus, the residence of the Sikulian king Kokalus, but the son, disdaining paternal example and admonition, flew so high that his wings were melted by the sun and he fell into the sea, which from him was called the Ikarian sea.

Dedalus remained for some time in Sicily, leaving in various parts of the island many prodigious evidences of mechanical and architectural skill. At length Minos bent upon regaining possession of his person, undertook an expedition against Kokalus with a numerous fleet and army. Kokalus affecting readiness to deliver up the fugitive, and receiving Minos with apparent friendship, ordered a bath to be prepared for him by his three daughters, who, eager to protect Dedalus at any price, drowned the Cretan king in the bath with hot water. Many of the Cretans who had accompanied him remained in Sicily and founded the town of Minoa, which they denominated after him. But not long afterwards Zeus roused all the inhabitants of Crete (except the towns of Polichna and Presus) to undertake with one accord an expedition against Kamikus for the purpose of avenging the death of Minos. They besieged Kamikus in vain for five years, until at last famine compelled them to return. On their way along the coast of Italy, in the Gulf of Tarentum, a terrible storm destroyed their fleet and obliged them to settle permanently in the country: they founded Hyria with other cities, and became Messapian Iapygians. Other settlers, for the most part Greeks, immigrated into Crete to the spots which this movement had left vacant, and in the second generation after Minos occurred the Trojan war. The departed Minos was exceedingly offended with the Cretans for cooperating in avenging the injury to Menelaus, since the Greeks generally had lent no aid to the Cretans in their expedition against the town of Kamikus. He sent upon Crete, after the return of Idomeneus from Troy, such terrible visitations of famine and pestilence, that the population again died out or expatriated, and was again renovated by fresh immigrations. The intolerable suffering thus brought upon the Cretans by the anger of Minos, for having cooperated in the general Grecian aid to Menelaus, was urged by them to the Greeks as the reason why they could take no part in resisting the invasion of Xerxes; and it is even pretended that they were advised and encouraged to adopt this ground of excuse by the Delphian oracle.

Such is the Minos of the poets and logographers, with his legendary and romantic attributes: the familiar comrade of the great Zeus,—the judge among the dead in Hades,—the husband of Pasiphae, daughter of the god Helios,—the father of the goddess Ariadne, as well as of Androgeos, who perishes and is worshipped at Athens, and of the boy Glaukus, who is miraculously restored to life by a prophet,—the person beloved by Scylla, and the amorous pursuer of the nymph or goddess Britomartis,—the proprietor of the Labyrinth and of the Minotaur, and the exacter of a periodical tribute of youths and maidens from Athens as food for this monster,—lastly, the follower of the fugitive artist Dedalus to Kamikus, and the victim of the three ill-disposed daughters of Kokalus in a bath. With this strongly-marked portrait, the Minos of Thucydides and Aristotle has scarcely anything in common except the name. He is the first to acquire Thalassocracy, or command of the Aegean sea: he expels the Carian inhabitants from the Cyclades islands, and sends thither fresh colonists under his own sons; he puts down piracy, in order that he may receive his tribute regularly; lastly, he attempts to conquer Sicily, but fails in the enterprise and perishes. Here we have conjectures, derived from the analogy of the Athenian maritime empire in the historical times, substituted in place of the fabulous incidents, and attached to the name of Minos.

In the fable, a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens is paid to him periodically by the Athenians; in the historicized narrative this character of a tribute-collector is preserved, but the tribute is money collected from dependent islands; and Aristotle points out to us how conveniently Crete is situated to exercise empire over the Aegean. The expedition against Kamikus, instead of being directed to the recovery of the fugitive Dedalus, is an attempt on the part of the great thalassocrat to conquer Sicily. Herodotus gives us generally the same view of the character of Minos as a great maritime king, but his notice of the expedition against Kamicus includes the mention of Dedalus as the intended object of it. Ephorus, while he described Minos as a commanding and comprehensive lawgiver imposing his commands under the sanction of Zeus, represented him as the imitator of an earlier lawgiver named Rhadamanthus, and also as an immigrant into Crete from the Eolic-Mount Ida, along with the priests or sacred companions of Zeus called the Ideai Dactyli. Aristotle too points him out as the author of the Syssitia, or public meals common in Crete as well as at Sparta,—other divergences in a new direction from the spirit of the old fables.

The contradictory attributes ascribed to Minos, together with the perplexities experienced by those who wished to introduce a regular chronological arrangement into these legendary events, has led both in ancient and in modern times to the supposition of two kings named Minos, one the grandson of the other,—Minos I, the son of Zeus, lawgiver and judge,—Minos II, the thalassocrat,—a gratuitous conjecture, which, without solving the problem required, only adds one to the numerous artifices employed for imparting the semblance of history to the disparate matter of legend. The Cretans were at all times, from Homer downward, expert and practiced seamen. But that they were ever united under one government, or ever exercised maritime dominion in the Aegean is a fact which we are neither able to affirm nor to deny. The Odyssey, in so far as it justifies any inference at all, points against such a supposition, since it recognizes a great diversity both of inhabitants and of languages in the island, and designates Minos as king specially of Knossos: it refutes still more positively the idea that Minos put down piracy, which the Homeric Cretans as well as others continue to practice without scruple.

Herodotus, though he in some places speaks of Minos as a person historically cognizable, yet in one passage severs him pointedly from the generation of man. The Samian despot “Polycrates (he tells us) was the first person who aspired to nautical dominion, excepting Mineos of Knossos, and others before him (if any such there ever were) who may have ruled the sea; but Polycrates is the first of that which is called the generation of man who aspired with much chance of success to govern Ionia and the islands of the Aegean”. Here we find it manifestly intimated that Minos did not belong to the generation of man, and the tale given by the historian respecting the tremendous calamities which the wrath of the departed Mineos inflicted on Crete confirms the impression. The king of Knossos is a god or a hero, but not a man; he belongs to legend, not to history. He is the son as well as the familiar companion of Zeus; he marries the daughter of Helios, and Ariadne is numbered among his offspring. To this superhuman person are ascribed the oldest and most revered institutions of the island, religious and political, together with a period of supposed ante-historical dominion. That there is much of Cretan religious ideas and practice embodied in the fables concerning Minos can hardly be doubted: nor is it improbable that the tale of the youths and maidens sent from Athens may be based in some expiatory offerings ordered to a Cretan divinity. The orgiastic worship of Zeus, solemnized by the armed priests with impassioned motions and violent excitement, was of ancient date in that island, as well as the connection with the worship of Apollo both at Delphi and at Delos. To analyze the fables and to elicit from them any trustworthy particular facts, appears to me a fruitless attempt. The religious recollections, the romantic invention, and the items of matter of fact, if any such there be, must forever remain indissolubly amalgamated as the poet originally blended them, for the amusement or edification of his auditors. Hoeck, in his instructive and learned collection of facts respecting ancient Crete, construes the mythical genealogy of Minos to denote a combination of the orgiastic worship of Zeus, indigenous among the Eteokretes, with the worship of the moon imported from Phoenicia, and signified by the names Europe, Pasiphae, and Ariadne. This is specious as a conjecture, but I do not venture to speak of it in terms of greater confidence.

From the connection of religious worship and legendary tales between Crete and various parts of Asia Minor,—the Troad, the coast of Miletus and Lycia, especially between Mount Ida in Crete and Mount Ida in Elis—it seems reasonable to infer an ethnographical kindred or relationship between the inhabitants anterior to the period of Hellenic occupation. The tales of Cretan settlement at Minoa and Engyon on the south-western coast of Sicily, and in Iapygia on the Gulf of Tarentum, conduct us to a similar presumption, though the want of evidence forbids our tracing it farther. In the time of Herodotus, the Eteokretes, or aboriginal inhabitants of the island, were confined to Polichna and Presus; but in earlier times, prior to the encroachments of the Hellenes, they had occupied the larger portion, if not the whole of the island. Mines was originally their hero, subsequently adopted by the immigrant Hellenes,—at least Herodotus considers him as barbarian, not Hellenic.