MINOTAUR (Gr. Μινώταυρος, from Μίνως, and ταῦρος, bull), in Greek mythology, a fabulous Cretan monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull. It was supposed to be the offspring of Pasiphaë, the wife of Minos, and a snow-white bull, sent to Minos by Poseidon for sacrifice. Minos, instead of sacrificing it, spared its life, and Poseidon, as a punishment, inspired Pasiphaë with an unnatural passion for it. The monster which was born was shut up in the Labyrinth (q.v.). Now it happened that Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival. To avenge the death of his son, Minos demanded that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens should be sent every ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. When the third sacrifice came round Theseus volunteered to go, and with the help of Ariadne (q.v.) slew the Minotaur (Plutarch, Theseus, 15-19; Diod. Sic. i. 16, iv. 61; Apollodorus iii. 1, 15). Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Greek adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the abolition of such sacrifice by the advance of Greek civilization.
According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god Zeus of the Cretans, who represented the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain Pasiphaë's monstrous union as a sacred ceremony (ἱερὸς γάμος), at which the queen of Cnossus was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of the ἄρχων βασιλεύς in Athens was wedded to Dionysus. Pottier, who does not dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of Phalaris (q.v.) considers it probable that in Crete (where a bull-cult may have existed by the side of that of the double axe) victims were tortured by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot brazen bull. The story of Talos, the Cretan man of brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is probably of similar origin. The contest between Theseus and the Minotaur was frequently represented in Greek art. A Cnossian didrachm exhibits on one side the labyrinth, on the other the Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of small balls, probably intended for stars; it is to be noted that one of the monster's name. was Asterius.
See A. Conze, Theseus und Minotauros (1878); L. Stephani, Der Kampf zwischen Theseus und Minotauros (1842), with plates and history of the legend; L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie; Helbig in Roscher's Lexicon der Mythologie; F. Durrbach in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquités; A. B. Cook in Classical Review, xvii. 410; J. G. Frazer, Early History of the Kingship (1905); E. Pottier in La Revue de Paris (Feb. 1902); the story is told in Kingsley's Heroes.