The most famous myths of Crete

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Brimming with wonders, Crete’s epic land has been inspiring storytellers since the dawn of history. Colourful narratives about mighty kings and potent heroes, ferocious beasts and even the planet’s first robot were passed down by word of mouth across the generations – and through the skill of their orators became deep-seated legends that attempt to account for the origins of mankind and the workings of the world.

Crete’s oral traditions – a dramatic collection of age-old, richly-narrated tales of lust, betrayal, passion and treason – continue to fascinate young and old alike. So how about imbuing your upcoming holiday on our island with an extra sprinkling of magic? Read on for the most intriguing myths of Crete and get ready to delve into a bewitching realm of fantasy where everything seems possible.

The most famous myths of Crete

Zeus’ first home

The seminal work of Hesiod, one of the most influential Bronze Age mythographers, has given birth to one of the most prevailing myths of Crete. According to this account, Zeus was born and/or secretly cared for in a cave either on Mount Ida or Mount Dikti (respectively, SW and SE of Herakleion). As the story goes, mother Rhea hid her child from his Titan father Cronus, who, in fear of being usurped by his offspring, had already swallowed all of Zeus’ siblings. Tucked away in his lofty cave, Zeus was watched over by Amaltheia – a nymph often depicted as a wild she-goat who feeds the divine infant milk from a boundless horn – not unlike the symbolic Cornucopia (horn of plenty). Zeus was also raised on honey, which was given to him by Melissa – another nymph who is credited with introducing bee-keeping and honey production on the island of Crete. And because Cronus had spies everywhere, to further protect her charge, Amaltheia enlisted the help of the Kourites, the legendary first inhabitants of Crete, who would dance and bang on their shields to cover up the baby’s cries so that his father’s scouts would not find him. It seems that they all did a great job in raising Zeus, who, on reaching manhood, made his father regurgitate his brothers and sisters – Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon – and then installed himself as ruler of the Heavens on Mount Olympus.

Cretan Ironman – or the first robot in the world

From Homer to Plato, Greek mythology is brimming with references to robot-like characters with stunning superpowers. One of them is Crete’s gigantic bronze guardian, Talos. According to one of the most fascinating myths of Crete, he was given by Zeus to the Phoenician Princess Europa – one of his paramours, who following their union under the famous plane tree in Gortyn,  gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon, the future kings of the three Minoan Palaces. Charged with the duty of protecting Europa from prospective kidnappers, Talos circled the island’s shores three times per day looking for pirates and invaders. This 30-meter-high mighty creature was either a descendant of the bold and brash race that sprang from the ash trees or the creation of the god Hephaestus. He had just one vein, which went from his neck to his ankle, bound shut by a sole bronze nail – like Achilles, this was his only weak point. When Jason sailed toward Crete with the Golden Fleece, Talos, as guardian of the island, kept the Argo at bay by hurling great boulders at it. However, via magic or deceit, he was killed by the sorceress Medea who caused the nail to be pulled out, thereby stripping off Talos from his essential “ichor” (immortal blood).

Minos, Daedalus, Theseus Ariadne and the Minotaur

According to one of the most classic myths of Crete, Minos, the son of Zeus and the aforementioned princess Europa, married Pasiphae ( i.e. all-shining), daughter of the Sun God, Helios, and their progeny included a daughter, Ariadne

Every year Minos had to sacrifice “the fairest bull born in its herd” to Poseidon. One year, however, a particularly beautiful white bull was born and Minos decided to keep it. Enraged, Poseidon cursed Pasiphae to fall in love with this splendid creature – and out of their union came the notorious Minotaur.

To attract her bovine object of affection, Paisphae enlisted the help of Daedalus – an ingenious Athenian craftsman who had fled to Crete to avoid a murder charge. He cunningly disguised her inside a superbly realistic, faux-cow allowing the bull to mate with her.

Their monstrous child – a man with a bull’s head who fed solely on human flesh – was caged within King Minos’ labyrinth palace. This was where Daedalus – sometimes identified as the designer of Minos’ maze-like palace – along with his son Icarus, was also kept prisoner as a punishment for aiding and abetting the queen’s infidelity. To escape, Daedalus invented feather-and-wax wings with which he and Icarus managed to fly away. Alas, the son recklessly ignored his father’s warnings and come too close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to his death in what would be henceforth named the Icarian Sea.

Meanwhile, to appease the man-gobbling Minotaur, Minos systematically fed him the flesh of Athenian youth – who were sent to Crete as a compensatory tribute to his son’s Androgeos brutal murder in Athens. One year, Theseus, son of Athenian King Aegeus, joined the expedition and journeyed to Crete with the aim of killing the Minotaur. Once in Knossos, he enlisted the help of Minos’ daughter, Princess Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him. She showed him how to retrace his steps through the labyrinth palace by using a ball of thread. And as if this wasn’t enough, after successfully slaying the monster, Theseus rubbed salt into the wound by escaping from Knossos and stealing Ariadne away, only to later abandon her on a beach on the island of Naxos, where Dionysus found and wedded her.

Did you like our tribute to the myths of Crete? Stay tuned to the Oscar Suites & Village blog for more local insights as well as tips on what to see and do on the amazing island of Crete!

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