1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Minos
MINOS, a semi-legendary king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. By his wife, Pasiphaë, he was the father of Ariadne, Deucalion, Phaedra and others. He reigned over Crete and the islands of the Aegean three generations before the Trojan War. He lived at Cnossus for periods of nine years, at the end of which he retired into a sacred cave, where he received instruction from Zeus in the legislation which he gave to the island. He was the author of the Cretan constitution and the founder of its naval supremacy (Herodotus iii. 122; Thucydides i. 4). In Attic tradition and on the Athenian stage Minos is a cruel tyrant, the heartless exactor of the tribute of Athenian youths to feed the Minotaur (q.v.). It seems possible that tribute children were actually exacted to take part in the gruesome shows of the Minoan bull-rings, of which we now have more than one illustration (see Crete: Archaeology). To reconcile the contradictory aspects of his character, two kings of the name of Minos were assumed by later poets and mythologists. Since Phoenician intercourse was in later times supposed to have played an important part in the development of Crete, Minos is sometimes called a Phoenician. There is no doubt that there is a considerable historical element in the legend; recent discoveries in Crete (q.v.) prove the existence of a civilization such as the legends imply, and render it probable that not only Athens, but Mycenae itself, was once subject to the kings of Cnossus, of whom Minos was greatest. In view of the splendour and wide influence of Minoan Crete, the age generally known as “Mycenaean” has been given the name of “Minoan” by Dr Arthur Evans as more properly descriptive (see Crete). Minos himself is said to have died at Camicus in Sicily, whither he had gone in pursuit of Daedalus, who had given Ariadne the clue by which she guided Theseus through the labyrinth. He was killed by the daughter of Cocalus, king of Agrigentum, who poured boiling water over him in the bath (Diod. Sic. iv. 79). Subsequently his remains were sent back to the Cretans, who placed them in a sarcophagus, on which was inscribed: “The tomb of Minos, the son of Zeus.” The earlier legend knows Minos as a beneficent ruler, legislator, and suppressor of piracy (Thucydides i. 4). His constitution was said to have formed the basis of that of Lycurgus (Pausanias iii. 2, 4). In accordance with this, after his death he became judge of the shades in the under-world (Odyssey, ix. 568); later he was associated with Aeacus and Rhadamanthus.
The solar explanation of Minos as the sun-god has been thrown into the background by the recent discoveries. In any case a divine origin would naturally be claimed for him as a priest-king, and a divine atmosphere hangs about him. The name of his wife, Pasiphaë (“the all-shining”), is an epithet of the moon-goddess. The name Minos seems to be philologically the equivalent of Minyas, the royal ancestor of the Minyans of Orchomenus, and his daughter Ariadne (“the exceeding holy”) is a double of the native nature-goddess. (See Crete: Archaeology.)
On Cretan coins Minos is represented as bearded, wearing a diadem, curly-haired, haughty and dignified, like the traditional portraits of his reputed father, Zeus. On painted vases and sarcophagus bas-reliefs he frequently occurs with Aeacus and Rhadamanthus as judges of the under-world and in connexion with the Minotaur and Theseus.