Monday, May 18, 2015

TFBT: The Bull

“(The) Bull…mingled with the bullocks in the groves, his color white as virgin snow, untrod, unmelted by the watery Southern Wind. His neck was thick with muscles, dewlaps hung between his shoulders; and his polished horns, so small and beautifully set, appeared the artifice of man; fashioned as fair and more transparent than a lucent gem. His forehead was not lowered for attack, nor was there fury in his open eyes; the love of peace was in his countenance.”  Ovid, Metamorphoses, 846[i]


Minos, the son of a bull,[ii] wished to be king, to prove his lineage to Cretans, he swore that whatever he prayed for the gods would do. He prayed that the Bull might appear from the depths, promising to sacrifice it to Poseidon. The gods did send him up the fine Bull,  it roared forth from the sea.  Minos failed to sacrifice it.   Minos’ queen Pasiphae took a fancy to the Bull too and birthed his son; a monster called Asterius the Minotaur.[iii]


Heracles took the “Cretan” Bull to Greece as one of his labors.[iv] The Bull grew wild in Minos’ herds and became, “the crushing terror of a hundred towns.”[v] Heracles took the Bull back to Eurystheus. .  He intended to sacrifice the Bull to  Hera his namesake and divine nemesis, but she wanted not to do with it.  He set the Bull  loose. The Bull wandered to Sparta and then crossed the Isthmus and went as far as Marathon near Athens where it molested the locals.[vi] 

Androgeos, son of Minos, came to Athens to celebrated the Panathenaian Games, in which vanquished all comers.  The prince was sent against the Bull of Marathon, by which he was destroyed.[vii]

Afterwards Theseus, son of Poseidon went out against the Marathonian bull, which was doing no small mischief to the inhabitants of the Tetrapolis[viii] and drove  the Bull  to the Acropolis and sacrificed  him.[ix] 


In summary, the demi-god Minos did not sacrifice the Bull.  The demi-god Heracles captured the bull, but did not sacrifice it.  The hero Androgeus did neither and the demigod Theseus did both. So the story of the Bull should be finished,[x] except for the wrath of King Minos.


Asterius, the Minotaur and Minos stilled reigned in Crete. The Minotaur; half bull, half man, son of the Bull  seemed to be the talisman that insured Minos rule, similar to the Golden Fleece of Colchis[xi], the Palladion at Troy[xii], the Gold Lamb of Atreus[xiii] or maybe even the Sphinx at Thebes who insured the rule of Creon and Jocasta.  In compensation for the death of Prince Androgeus, the Atheneans sent 14 youths as tribute each year to the Minotaur.  Theseus went with them.


Adriane, the Minotaur’s half sister like her Aunt Medea aided this wandering prince to betray her father and slay the monster.  And like her aunt she was abandoned by the prince on Naxos Island.


Once home, Theseus’ wife Phaedra, another daughter of Minos, took a fancy to her step-son.  The son fled in a chariot. Theseus called upon hi father Poseidon to avenge him.  “A huge wave, which overtopped even the Molurian Rock, rolled roaring shoreward; and from its crest sprang a great white bull, bellowing and spouting water.” Hippolytus’ four horses swerved and he, caught in the reins,  the maddened horses dragged him, until he was crushed to death. [xiv]


In summary, the Minotaur, the son of the Bull, talisman and guardian spirit of Crete is slain by Theseus, son of Poseidon. His sister the Princess Adriane assits in the over thwo of the Minoian hegemony and then is abandon.  Her sister Phaedra like their Pasiphae suffer a taboo longing and Hippolytus son of Theseus is slain directly by a bull sent by Poseidon.  So ends the story of the Bull.[xv]



[i] trans. By Brookes More  According to Akousilaos [historian C6th B.C.]  the Cretan Bull carried Europa for Zeus rather than the more common belief that Zeus was in disguise as a bull.  (per Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 94)
[ii] Apollodorus, The Library, [3.1.1] trans. JG Frazer
[iii] [3.1.3-4]
[iv] Along with the a golden-horned deer sacred to Artemis, the Erymanthian boar (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 8183 & trans. Aldrich), Geryon’s  shambling, broad-faced cattle (Hesiod) and the three-headed hound of Hades (Homer, Odyssey 11. 623 ff (trans. Shewring) 
[v] Seneca, Hercules Furens 230 ff (trans. Miller)
[vi] Bibliotheca 2. 94 - 95 (trans. Aldrich)
[vii] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 15. 7 (trans. Frazer) :
[viii] Plutarch, Life of Theseus 14. 1 (trans. Perrin)
[ix] Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 27. 9 (trans. Jones
[x] Ring Theory and 5 Ages of Man
[xi] Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 47. 1 - 6 (trans. Oldfather)
[xii] Apollodorus, The Library E5.12-13
[xiv] Robert Graves The Greek Myths, pages 95 &210 electronic
[xv] But not the end of Hippolytus (Virbius) see The Golden Bough by Frazer



  1. Interesting! I didn't know that in one version Androgeus was killed by the bull.
    Gilgamesh and Enkidu also confront a bull, with unfortunate consequences:

  2. Maya,
    What struck me interesting about Androgeus' case was that I could not think of another hero killed by a "monster". Okay, now that I write that we know some of the victims of the Calydonian BoAr. But whom did the Hydra eat, or the Nemean Lion or the Chimera or who were the unnamed member of Odysseus crew eAten by Charbys. Who DI drhe Sirens ever destroy? I will get the heroes who dies at Calydonian and see in the hand anything in common with Androgeus.

  3. It is indeed rare for a named hero to be killed by a monster. However, we know that Heracles' friend Abderos was killed by the mares of Diomedes (foundation myth of Abdera), and in Odyssey II, Antiphus is mentioned as the last victim of the Cyclops.

  4. Maya,
    Wow! Thanks. How did you know that?

  5. Thank you!
    I tried to educate myself about Heracles, because he has a crucial role in my plot. Otherwise, I admit he is not exactly my sort of hero. He fights beasts and monsters on equal terms, sometimes bare-handed. Among his early feats is killing his teacher. (My Heracles is illiterate, partly for that reason.) He is likely to be the prototype of Pratchett's "barbarian heroes" who are considered scholars by their standards if they can think without moving their lips. He kills people, including children, for most trivial reasons and regards women as things. Some commentators justify Zeus' treatment of Io by the necessity to produce Heracles, that noble being. I guess, those who write such things wouldn't wish to be around anyone like Heracles, not to mention the other flaws in this "argument".

    In the Hour25, Kimie once wrote about Antiphus. Later, I read more about him in other sources that I cannot remember: that his father appealed to the Ithacans to listen to Telemachus in the hope that Telemachus has some information to tell about those who went "missing in action" like Antiphus (but Telemachus has called the assembly just to whine about his own situation); and that the detail of Antiphus being the last to be eaten i.e. almost made it) would draw sympathy in the reader.
    Of course, when we later hear Odysseus' adventures in detail, we realize that Antiphus would die anyway. Apparently, something in Odysseus dooms his companions - though I cannot say what exactly.

  6. Maya,
    You just gave me an idea. There is an idea that witches attain power by breaking taboos. Medea kills her brother, killing Talus, killing Lelia's and for the ultimate power boost sacrificing her own children on Hera's altar. What if Odysseus, made of his crew surrogate/sacral victims to The surrogates of Posedon he just keeps running into? What if Nestor lived so long because his myriad son kept unknowingly dying for him?


  7. I think you are quite right!
    In Aeschylus' version of the Prometheus myth, although Prometheus is immortal to begin with, he cannot have a nostos until another immortal is sacrificed for him. In this case, winner-to-victim ratio is 1:1.
    I've mentioned before that the story of Asclepios and the Cyclopes makes no sense, because Zeus could be hardly expected to immortalize him after the Cyclops are killed, and if he has been already immortalized, Apollo would have no serious motivation for the triple murder. I made resuscitated Asclepios "wheelchair-bound" to give Apollo a decent motive. When you have to introduce such major new invention into the plot, this indicates that the original myth makes no sense - at least, not in the conventional logic. However, if we regard the Cyclopes as sacrificial victims to immortalize Asclepios, things fall to their places. In this case, the numerical ration is 1:3. It is also curious that here we have another case (besides Chiron) if dying immortal victim. Maybe using someone as a sacrificial victim can overcome his intrinsic immortality, at least for second-rate immortals.
    Then comes Nestor. He is named "the returner", but he cannot have his nostos unless it is taken away from his myriad sons. BTW, the main storyline of the Iliad has the opposite logic: Achilles is doomed after Patroclus dies in his place.
    Odysseus has the most famous nostos in Greek myth, but it is paid first by his companions and then by the Phaeacian sailors. Maybe also by the suitors, but their killing has alternative explanations. (It seems that ih the typical bailout, the winner does not kill the victim(s) himself. But there are exceptions - Medea, as you pointed out, and maybe Heracles killing his family.)

  8. Maya,
    OMG! This line of logic is like the television show "Charmed", where demons keep killing magically beings in hopes of acquiring their abilities. That would explain the viciousness of artistic contest like Apollo vs Marysas & Muses vs Sirens. Of course we have no citation from an ancient source supporting use.