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About Crete - Mythology

Some time after the decline of the Minoan civilization, Homer refers to Crete in his poems on several occasions. He calls Crete "hospitable, handsome, and fertile", and a land with many cities where Minos ruled. Homer refers to Cretans of many races: Eteocretans, Pelasgians, Ahaeans, Dorians, and Kydonians. While the Eteocretans (True Cretans) were of Minoan descent, all the others were Greek tribes that inhabited various parts of the island at the time of Homer. Kydonians lived on the west side of the island and even today the name of the province around Chania is Kydonia. Kydon was the son of MinosĒs wife Pasiphae, and Hermes. The name means "glorious"," proud".

The Cretan fleet also took part in the expedition against Troy. When the Greek fleet was at Aulis, envoys were sent from King Idomeneas of Crete to Agamemnon, the supreme commander of the Greeks, announcing that if Agamemnon agreed to share the command with Idomeneas, one hundred Cretan ships would join the Greek expedition to Troy. Agamemnon agreed to this proposal and thus the expedition against Troy became a Creto-Hellenic enterprise.

Several parts of the Odyssey contain possible references to Crete. The cave of the Cyclops, where Odysseus and his companions were trapped by Poliphimos, may have been in the present-day area of Sougia, on the south coast. In southwest Crete high mountains drop to the sea and strong wild goats (the Cretan "kri-kri") roamed these mountains which contain many caves. One such cave in the mountains above Sougia still bears the name the cave of the Cyclops. During his adventures Odysseus also reached the island of Aeolus, the god who governed all the winds. Homer says that an unbroken wall of bronze encircles this island, and below it sheer cliffs rise from the sea. Aeolus trapped the boisterous energies of all the winds in a leather bag which was given to Odysseus. The Imeri Gramvousa, fits the description of the island of Aeolus with its cliffs bronzed from the setting sun and rising high from the often turbulent sea. In addition, the ancient name of Gramvousa was Korykos, which means "leather bag".

Minotaur lived of human blood and King Minos had ordered the city of Athens, that blaimed for his son's Androgeos death, to offer young boys and girls as food for the supernatural creature. Among them was Theseus, the son of King Aegeas, whose mission was to kill Minotaur and releaved his country from this "blood tax". To his aid came Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, who was in love with him and offered her help; in return, Theseus would have to marry her and take her home to Athens.

Thus, Theseus succeeded in his mission by killing the Minotaur and coming out of the labyrinth wrapping the "Mitos of Ariadne", a ball of thread he had unwrapped when entering the maze. According to myth, Theseus after being united with Ariadne at the islet of Zeus and having two children with her, deserted her. According to mythology, he left her because he was in love with Egli. Another theory is that goddess Athena asked him todo so and yet another one is that god Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne. It is said that Ariadne is the impersonation of the goddess of vegetation, dying and being born again, every year. Theseus' return had an unfortunate ending, as the young hero forgot to take the black sail off the boat as he had promised his father, Aegea. The latter, thinking that the Minotaur had won and killed Theseus, committed suicide by drawing in the Aegean Sea.

According to mythology, Zeus, the God of gods, was born in Crete. Cronus, his father, trying to avoid his parents' curse that one of his children would take away from him the ruling of the sky, murdered his children one-by-one, by eating them. His wife, Rhea, terrified and chased by her husband, sought refuge in a cave in the ancient "Aegean Mountain", and, with the help of Uranus and Gaia, gave birth to her last child. Cronus was fooled with a rock in dipers and the loud singing and dancing of demons "Kourites", covering the noise of the newborn's cry. Zeus was rased by the Nymphs, drinking milk from goat Amalthia, the later became a star and her skin was Zeus' shield. When Zeus grew up, he defeated Cronus and became the ruler of the sky. The rock that had fooled his father was put in Delfphi, to remind mortals and gods of his glorious power.

Many ancient myths are associated with Crete. According to one, Gaia (Mother Earth) emerged from Chaos and bore Uranus as she slept. Uranus (the sky) fathered several children, among them the seven Titans. The last of them, Kronos, married his sister Rhea. It was prophesied by Mother Earth and Uranus that one of KronosĒ sons would dethrone him. Kronos swallowed the children whole that Rhea bore each year, among them were Estia, Dimitra, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. When Rhea bore Zeus, Mother Earth hid him in the Spileo Dicteon Andron on Lassithi Plateau of Crete. Kronos believed that he had swallowed Zeus, but, in fact, he had swallowed a stone given to him by Rhea to trick him and spare this son.

Zeus was raised by the nymph Adrasteia, her sister Io, and the goat-nymph Amalthia. The Kuretes clashed their spears against their shields to conceal the noise of the wailing baby. Zeus was nursed by the shepherds of the Nida Plateau in the Psiloritis (Idi) Mountains and lived in a cave, Spileo Ideon Andron on the Nida Plateau. He then approached Rhea and with her help made Kronos drink an emetic poison mixed with a honeyed drink. Kronos vomited up the brothers and sisters of Zeus. Zeus led them in a war against the Titans, which they eventually won.

The above myths were widely accepted by the ancient world. A truly Cretan variation presents Zeus as dying and being reborn every year. The head of the dead Zeus is seen in the shape of a hill (Youktas) behind Iraklion and it is visible from a long distance as one approaches the city. This myth about ZeusĒ death is a continuation and reflection of the beliefs of the ancient Minoans concerning the fertility goddess, who died and was reborn every year.

In the prime of the minoan civilization, Crete was visited by Daedalus, one of the period's greatest inventors and constructors. He is said to have built the labyrinth with the numerous corridors and rooms, from where no-one could come out. He is also said to have constructed the wooden cow in which Pasiphae, Minos' wife, was united with the legendary white bull and gave birth to the Minotaur. To avoid King Minos' rage, Daedalus and his son Icarus dared to fly like birds, adjusting to their arms wax wings. Unfortunately, Icarus, impressed by the height and speed, went too high, close to the sun, thus burning his wings and drowned into the Icarian Sea.

According to another aspect, Pasiphae gave a boat to Daedalus to help him escape from Crete. The boat was so fast that the sails looked like wings, so it was believed that Daedalus and Icarus had flown, but Icarus fell in the sea and drowned and the island, where he was burried, was name Icaria. According to another myth, Minos irritated by Daedalus' flee, started to look for him asking people wrap a snail in a thread, something he knew only Daedalus could do. Travelling around, he went to Cicely, at the palace of King Kokalus where Daedalus had sought refuge.

The King accepted to pass the thread through the snail and gave it to Daedalus who made a small hole in the snail and put in an ant tied to the thread. The ant came out the other side of the snail, thus proving to Minos that Daedalus was there. The Cretan King demanded from Daedalus to surrender, but the daughters of King Kokalus killed him by putting very hot water in his bath, thus ending the adventures of Daedalus.

To present his case for occupying the throne of Crete, Minos had claimed that the gods would answer whatever prayer he offered them. When he prayed that a bull should emerge from the sea, which he would then sacrifice, Poseidon sent a dazzling white bull ashore. Minos, struck by its beauty, decided to sacrifice another bull in its place. Poseidon was offended and to avenge this slight made MinosĒ wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the white bull. She asked Daedalus, a famous Athenian craftsman living in exile in Crete, to help her. Daedalus built a hollow wooden cow in which Pasiphae could hide and approach the white bull. The white bull mounted the cow and consequently Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur, a monster with a bullĒs head and a human body. Minos asked Daedalus to build a maze, called the Labyrinth, where he concealed the Minotaur.

Some say that the Labryinth was the actual palace of Knossos. Its amazing size and complexity created the illusion of a maze. The bull and the double axe, called labrys, were the symbols of the Minoan civilization and appeared everywhere in the palace.

Crete is probably a form of the Greek word "crateia", meaning "strong" or "ruling goddess". After AsteriusĒs death, Minos claimed the Cretan throne. and ruled as King for many years from his palace in Knossos. Crete was powerful and prosperous under his rule and its commercial fleet dominated the Mediterranean, bringing wealth to the island. Minos had the reputation of being a fair man. His brother, Radamanthis, who remained in Crete and lived in peace with him, also had the reputation of a just lawmaker who legislated for Cretans as well as for the islands of Asia Minor, which voluntarily adopted his judicial code. Every ninth year Radamanthis and Minos would visit the cave of Zeus and return with a new set of laws.

Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated Knossos, gave the early Cretan culture the name "Minoan Civilization". Minos may have been the royal title of a ruling dynasty, not a single person. The peaceful acceptance of the law of Crete by the other island dwellers of Asia Minor seems to suggest the expansion of the Cretan civilization all over the Aegean and into Asia Minor. The Cretans built the city of Milatos in Asia Minor. Legend says that another city called Milatos was built by Minoans in Ireland.


Theseus was the son of Aegeus, King of Athens. Theseus pitied the youths and maidens being sent for sacrifice to Crete and decided to go himself. If he could slay the Minotaur with his bare hands, the tribute would be remitted.

MinosĒ daughter Ariadne immediately fell in love with Theseus. She gave him a thread, which he would tie to the door of the Labyrinth and unravel until he reached the place where the Minotaur was sleeping. Theseus killed the Minotaur, although it is disputed whether he killed it with his bare hands or with a sword given to him by Ariadne. He then used the thread to find his way back to the entrance to the Labyrinth.

Theseus and Ariadne escaped from Crete; but on the way to Athens, Theseus deserted Ariadne on the island of Naxos and the god Dionysos married her immediately.

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