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Land of Myths – ancient Crete

Before spending your vacation on our island, read the captivating mythology of this special place and get ready to immerse yourself in a unique world!

In addition to the numerous excavations, Crete also offers an impressive collection of divine or heroic characters, many of which seem to have their origins in the darkest depths of Minoan prehistory. Many of the Greek myths are linked to Crete and still capture the imagination today with wild nature goddesses, divine youth and serpent-wielding priestesses, legendary kings, bull-headed monsters, inspired inventors, fake cows, and a giant proto-robot. 

Several places and landscapes on Crete, are connected to events from Greek Mythology.

The Birth of Zeus

One of Crete’s greatest mythological stories is that of the birthplace of Zeus, arguably the most famous and powerful god in Greek mythology. Kronos, King of the Titans, fathered several children with Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, but devoured them all right after birth, having learned that he was destined to be overthrown by his own son.

But when Rhea was pregnant with Zeus, she sought the help of Gaia and Uranus, who advised her to give birth to her son in a cave on Crete in order to hide the birth from Kronos and thus save the life of infant Zeus. So Rhea gave birth to Zeus in the Diktaean Cave on Crete and handed Kronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he immediately swallowed. 

After he was moved to the Cave Ideon Antron on Mount Psiloritis, where the Kuretes guarded the entrance to the cave. When little Zeus cried, they drowned it out by loudly banging their swords on their shields, dancing wildly so that Kronus could not hear Zeus cry. This dance is said to be the ancestor of today’s Pentozalis, a traditional Cretan dance.

The nymph Melissa took over the education of Zeus. The mythical goat Amalthea suckled him with her milk. One day when Zeus was playing with this goat, he broke off one of its horns and gave it to Amalthea. He told her that the horn would sprout any fruit she could wish for, and so the cornucopia was born.

 

As Zeus grew up, he successfully defeated his father in a fight and overthrew him from his throne. Zeus freed his siblings from Kronos’ stomach and with his brothers Poseidon and Hades went to battle with the Titans. They overthrew the Titans and took control of the world. They divided the world up by drawing lots. Poseidon became lord of the sea, Zeus of the sky and Hades took over the dominion of the underworld.

The Abduction of Europa

According to legend, Europa, the daughter of Agenor, a Phoenician king was the epitome of female beauty on Earth. Zeus once saw her on the coast of Phenicia playing with her friends. He was so mesmerized by her beauty that he fell in love with her and developed a strong desire to possess her. 

He immediately assumed the form of a white bull and approached her. The bull looked wonderful with its snow-white body and jewel-like horns. Europa saw the extraordinary animal, climbed onto its back and was carried away by it, and taken to Crete. They ended up in Matala, where he regained his human form and she mated with her under an evergreen tree. Europa bore three sons of Zeus over the years: Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon. Minos became king of Crete and founded the Palace of Knossos and a new civilization on Crete, dubbed the “Minoan Civilization” by Arthur Evans during the excavation of the palace in the 19th century.

Talos – Ancient Greek robot

The myth describes Talos as a giant bronze man built by Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention and blacksmithing. Talos was crafted with a single inner vein that is said to flow with the divine blood of the gods. This blood, called wound discharge, connects his humanoid form with divinity and serves as the source of his power. The vein was closed with a bronze nail.

Talos was supposed to protect the island of Crete by marching around the island three times a day and throwing boulders at approaching enemy ships. Talos not only protected Crete from outside enemies, but also protected its citizens from all kinds of injustice that might befall them. He would tour Cretan villages three times a year, carrying on his back bronze tablets inscribed with divinely inspired laws. Their purpose was to ensure that these laws were observed in the province.

When Jason and the Argonauts arrived on the island of Crete, the explorers met Talos guarding the coast. The bronze creation threw a stream of boulders at Jason and the Argonauts, believing them to be dangerous invaders. According to the myth, Medea, Jason’s wife, was also on the ship and through her intervention Talos was defeated. Myth has it that by deceiving Talos, Medea tricked Talos into scratching his vulnerable nail on a jagged rock, breaking the seal of mystery. By doing so, Medea managed to remove the bronze nail that was holding the secretions in Talos’ body, causing the Olympian deity’s blood to spill onto the shore and eventually leading to his death.

In a modern, technology-obsessed world, it might come as a surprise that the first humanoid robot was found in ancient Greece.

The Minotaur and the Labyrinth

The mythical labyrinth of the Minotaur and its story is ultimately nothing less than the origin of the name of the Aegean Sea itself, and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is one of the most tragic and intriguing myths in Greek mythology.

Queen Pasiphae, wife of King Minos fell in love with a bull and was able to reconcile with the animal with the help of Daedalus, an inventor from Athens. The Minotaur was born, a creature half man, half bull. King Minos was embarrassed but didn’t want to kill the Minotaur, so he hid the monster in the labyrinth built by Daedalus in the Minoan palace of Knossos. According to the myth, Minos locked his enemies in the labyrinth for the Minotaur to eat.

The labyrinth was such a complicated construction that no one could find their way out alive. Androgeus, son of Minos, went to Athens to take part in the Panathenaic Games but was killed during the marathon by the bull that had impregnated his mother Pasiphae.

Minos was furious and demanded that Aegeus, king of Athens, send seven men and women to the Minotaur every year to fight the plague caused by the death of Androgeus. In the third year, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to be one of the seven young men who would go to Crete to slay the Minotaur and put an end to human sacrifices to the monster. Theseus promised his father that when he returned from Crete he would hoist white sails so that he would know in advance that he would come back alive. The boat would return with the black sails if Theseus was killed.

Theseus announced to King Minos that he would kill the monster, but Minos knew that even if  Theseus managed to kill the Minotaur, Theseus would never leave the labyrinth. Theseus met Princess Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, who fell madly in love with him and decided to help Theseus. She gave him a thread and told him to unravel it as he progressed deeper and deeper into the maze so that if he killed the monster he would know the way out.

Theseus followed her suggestion and entered the labyrinth with the thread. He managed to kill the Minotaur and save the Athenians, and using Ariadne’s thread, he managed to trace the way out. Thereupon Theseus took Princess Ariadne with him and happily left Crete back to Athens.

Theseus’ boat stopped at Naxos and the Athenians held a long celebration dedicated to Theseus and Ariadne. After long hours of feasting and drinking, Ariadne fell asleep on the shore and did not board the boat bound for Athens. He realized that Ariadne was not with them when it was too late and he was so upset that he forgot the promise made to his father and did not change the sails. King Aegeus waited on shore to see the boat’s sails. He saw the black sails from afar and assumed his son was dead. He fell into the water and committed suicide. Since then this sea has been called the Aegean Sea.

The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus is one of the most well-known and fascinating Greek myths, as it consists of both historical and mythical details.

While in Crete, Daedalus drew up the plan for the Minoan Palace of Knossos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete and Greece. It was a magnificent architectural design and 1,300-room building adorned with stunning frescoes and artifacts that survive to this day. He also created the sculpture of Ariadne at Knossos and many others at Elounda and Karia.

King Minos and Daedalus had long been on good terms, but eventually their relationship deteriorated. Minos suspected that Daedalus was the one who advised Princess Ariadne to give Theseus the thread that helped him get out of the infamous maze after killing the Minotaur.
Minos was furious when he learned of the betrayal and imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth.

Daedalus was far too clever and inventive, so he started thinking about how he and Icarus could escape the maze. Knowing that his architectural creation was too complicated, he concluded that they could not get there on foot. He also knew that the shores of Crete were perfectly guarded and therefore they could not escape by sea either. The only way left was air.

Daedalus managed to create huge wings by using willow branches and binding them with wax. He taught Icarus to fly but told him to stay away from the sun because the heat would melt the wax and destroy the wings.

Daedalus and Icarus escaped the maze and flew freely into the sky. The flight of Daedalus and Icarus was the first time man managed to defy the laws of nature and defeat gravity.

Despite being warned, Icarus was too young and too enthusiastic about flying. Excited by the thrill of flying and carried away by the amazing sense of freedom, he began flying high to cheer the sun, diving deep into the sea, and then flying high again. His father Daedalus tried in vain to convince young Icarus that his behavior was dangerous, and Icarus soon saw his wings melt.
Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. The Icarian Sea where he fell was named after him and there is also a nearby islet called Icaria.

These are just some of the myths that have played out in Crete. During a holiday here, you will always find traces of history.

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