Apollon and the Minotaur

I have often wondered at the image on Apollon’s throne in which Theseus leads of the Minotaur bound in chains. Pausanias apparently was also curious about this since he remarked specifically on it being a curious matter since myth usually has Theseus slaying the Minotaur. That it is something specifically depicted on the throne, and I find that the decoration of the thrones of the gods—like that of Zeus at Olympia as well as that of Apollon at Amyclae—are very specific towards the domain of the gods and their influence in the cosmos that plays out in myth. So I thought it would be appropriate to share some of my thoughts on the relationship between Apollon and the Minotaur.

First we know that Apollon is connected to bulls, though perhaps not as strongly as other animals that are a part of his cult. In fact his relationship with the bull seems to come from a very specific role he plays in his interaction with the earth. There are many examples of him being honored with bulls or oxen, being depicted with ox skulls, as a herding god etc. We also know Apollon as the son of Zeus, the great bull of the heavens. That Zeus provided a bull for the sacrifice to Poseidon we see a connection between the divine bull connected to the welfare of the people. Pasiphae, who herself cultically is connected to lunar oracles and a daughter of Helios, became enamored with this bull, however, and was able to achieve union with the bull. Thus moisture and light mingled to create the Minotaur, the bull of Minos, also named Asterios (starry one).

Now Asterios/the Minotaur was, according to theoi.com associated specifically with the constellation of Taurus, which is aligned to Aphrodite. This is hardly any surprise to see this coming into play as Aphrodite did play a rather large part in the tale of the Minotaur and of the trial of Theseus in the labyrinth. However the bull here, in relation her domain, represents the harmonic order that is achieved. The hero, through the love of Ariadne, wins the freedom of his people and the restoration of balance from the human tithing to Crete in myth. As a spiritual journey of Theseus he comes to bull at the center of the labyrinth, defeats it, and emerges again from the depths remade. The harmonic alignment between Ariadne and Theseus made this possible, for it was her aide that aided him through her dancing floor. Aphrodite led the way to the Minotaur, she was his guide. He passed through and achieved the state of harmony. Thus the bull is an important symbol of Aphrodite here in this sense because she is what allowed him to overcome the bull. Or in the case of the throne of Apollon, to yoke the bull and master it.

Now I have spoken of the labyrinth before, and its connections to Zeus and Apollon in different coinage. The labyrinth being called the dancing floor of Ariadne is something specific in the mysteries when it comes to Apollon, because he is the leader of the mystic chorus, just as his sister is specifically referred to in title. Pausanias, when speaking of the beautiful dancing floors of Panopolis in Phocis, says that while there was little of Panopolis to literally warrant this description, states that it comes from the Thyiades who performed their dances all throughout the countryside. Now the Thyiades are called after Thyia, the first worshiper of Dionysos on Parnassos, but also a lover of Apollon. As Apollon instructs and leads the chorus, particularly in the mysteries as pertaining to Dionysos, it is reasonable that Delphic versions that made her the mother of Delphus are particular in indicating that she likely performed the mystic dance on the instruction of Apollon. Likewise the dance, the so-called Crane dance, was performed in Delos by Theseus and taught to their people was an imitation of the inward and outward movements of the labyrinth, and was performed specifically for Apollon and Aphrodite, who in the myth, led the way through via Ariadne. The connection between the domains of Aphrodite and Apollon on Delos was enough that they say that Theseus left the statue of Aphrodite that Daedalus had made for Ariadne, as a votive gift to Apollon. Apollon there receives Aphrodite on his sacred island.

So when we take a look at the Minotaur. We see that the bull is achieved by Aphrodite. But the Minotaur itself becomes a symbol associated with the domain of Apollon. I guess here now I can see why perhaps the bull was aligned to Apollon as his sacred beast previously. The Minotaur is the guardian of the labyrinth, he is acting as Apollon acts as the god of the boundaries. Theseus must overcome the Minotaur in order to pass through this immortal gate and ascend as a greater soul. Just as Marsyas won against Apollon in the musical contest. He wasn’t slain by Apollon for the daring, but was rather transformed, though rather brutally in the myth, for matching against Apollon. Theseus matches against the Minotaur and because of the harmonic guidance of Aphrodite, he is able to yoke the Minotaur. Of course on Apollon’s throne, as the Minotaur is a symbol of Apollon’s domain, a”monster” of his domain as much as Medusa is linked to Athena, the Minotaur would not be depicted as slain, but rather indicates to divinity of Theseus by mastering the primal nature of Apollon in contest against his soul. Apollon, after all, is quite serious about the boundary which is guards as we know from a number of myths!

Thus we establish the Minotaur is the sacred monster of Apollon, bright just Apollon is bright, the son of the sacred bull, whom is the creature of his domain as represented mythically as this spiritual barrier the soul must cross. If Pasiphae was indeed an early Cretan representation of Selene, it seems to me that it makes a stronger connection between the death and renewal associated with the moon in symbolism with the labyrinth and the story of the labyrinth, and that which plays in the cult of Apollon wherein Apollon is a destroyer and also connected to the Noumenia, as god of the new month reborn. In a sense Theseus’ emergence from the labyrinth is much akin to the nature of the Noumenia in this fashion. In a sense we can see the Minotaur either identified with Apollon to a degree, or as a servant of Apollon on earth.


13 thoughts on “Apollon and the Minotaur

      • I’m going to process it in terms of my own dealings of late with Ariadne. I’ve been coming from it from a Dionysian perspective. This adds an important layer, and I agree with you that “transition” is really critical here.

      • There is something important here with Dionysos of course, but Dionysos is the end result after the labyrinth. He is essential but is not really *there* with the labyrinth. Apollon (and Artemis too but she really doesn’t have anything literally going on here other than the fact that seven youths and seven maidens would form the perfect chorus, as in fact were sent to Delos every year as emisssaries of Athens to perform for Thargelia) is an important part in this transitional stage, the movement forward and out again. We then have Ariadne’s marriage to Dionysos (the beautiful soul as the bride of the god) and her slaying by Artemis (the culmination). thogh Apollon is the destroyer Artemis does a great deal of slaying in her relationship with Apollon too, and Apollon is often referred as the god who receives her victims. So what we end up with is two very different parts of the same story. The heroic deification and then joining of the soul in love with the divine son of Zeus. Both Apollon and Dionysos play their important parts 🙂

    • I will likely expand this more when I eventually get around to my booklet on Apollon, Aphrodite and the Erotes 🙂 So as I wind down the other booklets I have started I will start focusing my research here more.

  1. Incredibly interesting. I have been researching Ariadne and Her labirinth in connection on the Minotaur but I was not expecting tracing back a connection to Apollon. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Apollon, the labyrinth, and transition | The Divine Twins

  3. Pingback: The Minotaur, Ariadne and Divine Bride | Beloved in Light

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