Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus Spreads
In Greek mythology, the
Palace of Knossos
is said to be
where Theseus defeated the Minotaur.
To refresh your memory, the
Minotaur was part man, part bull, and all monster. The
Minotaur belonged to King Minos of Crete. In fact, the
Minotaur got its name from combining Minos with
Taurus, the Greek word for Bull.
One of the most famous aspects of
Knossos was its reputed Labyrinth. The Minotaur dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, an
elaborate maze-like construction built for King Minos of Crete down in
the basement at the Palace of Knossos. The Labyrinth was said
1300 maze-like compartments was designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the
Minotaur. The Labyrinth was a veritable chamber of horrors.
Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could
barely escape it himself after he built it. Young men and women would be placed in the Labyrinth. They
would wander around totally lost and scared out of their wits.
Escape was impossible because no one could find their way out.
Eventually the Minotaur would find them and devour them.
According to the legend, King
Aegeus of Athens was forced to pay tribute to King Minos of the
Minoans. Every year the tribute included seven young men and seven
young maidens. The fourteen young people from Greece would be let
loose into the maze, where they would become hopelessly lost and
eventually be eaten by the monster. King Aegeus' son, Prince Theseus
of Athens, was determined to put an end to these sacrifices.
Theseus decided to volunteer as one of the sacrificial victims so
that he could attempt to kill the Minotaur. Theseus was successful.
He slew the Minotaur, then used a trail of twine he'd started laying
down at the entrance of the labyrinth to find his way out of the
maze. Ironically, Theseus was aided by Ariadne, Minos' own
daughter no less, who provided him with the fateful thread to help
him find his way back out.
Besides the story of the Minotaur, the Palace of Knossos also gave rise to the
Legend of Icarus, the human birdman. Icarus was
the son of Daedalus. Daedalus
and Icarus wanted to escape this death house in the worst way, but
King Minos forbade them to leave. Searching for a way out,
Daedalus, the genius architect, invented
wax wings that would first allow his son to fly,
but then tragically lead to death of his son
Icarus. As you recall, Icarus flew too close the sun, the heat
melted the wax wings, and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea far
Queen, my English teacher, told us we
would be studying the Palace of Knossos for two weeks, we groaned.
The historical importance may be
interesting to some, but not enough to really excite
50 fourteen-year-old girls.
We didn’t understand why we
had to study an
archaeological site for two WHOLE weeks, let alone why we were studying it in
Well, the truth is that
we were studying the Palace because the Queen wanted us to. At my school, anything goes. If a
teacher is really interested in something and wants to teach it,
that's all that matters.
learned about film and music in U.S. History, the Jazz Age in American
Literature, Roman Mythology in British Literature, and Hinduism in
Algebra I. Hinduism in Algebra I? Doesn't
add up, does it? Go figure.
Now I was learning about the
Palace of Knossos in Freshman English. Oh boy.
Uh, maybe I should make that "Oh girl". I go to a girl's
school after all. Whatever.
Fortunately I love history so this
wasn’t quite the torture session for me as it was for my classmates.
But as we learned about the Cretan civilization and the formation of the
sub-Mediterranean cults, I could not help but notice I was sitting in
English class not reading a book. Not doing grammar exercises. Not
learning vocabulary. How can you teach English
I was starting to yawn a little myself. But
Now I began to pay closer attention.
But thanks to the Queen, a man
Wunderlich captured our imagination in a
The reason we study the
Palace of Knossos is easy to explain - The Queen
is fascinated with the subject. You see, every other year,
the Queen takes Duchesne students
on a summer trip to the Mediterranean.
they made a stop in Crete to take a look-see at the Palace of Knossos.
During the Queen's first visit to Crete,
she stumbled upon a strange book called the Secret of
Crete written by H.G.
Wunderlich. In his book, Wunderlich stated
that Crete was an island that worshipped death. His dark
conclusions read like something out of science fiction, like HG Wells'
The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Wunderlich first visited the Palace of Knossos
in 1970. He was appalled at what he discovered.
Wunderlich found himself completely disagreeing
with the more banal findings of Sir Evans.
Wunderlich had a much different
and much darker idea as to what the palace was
REALLY used for.
In his book The Secret of Crete,
Knossos had been used as a death shrine.
While visiting the palace, he observed several oddities about the place.
The land was arid. There was no water source near enough to make the
location a plausible place to build a palace. Why
build your home where there is no water?
2 - The frescoes of people
jumping over bulls were absolutely absurd; there was no way anyone would
be able to survive leaping over an animal with horns that large.
Was there a darker reason for the bull
3 - The
throne room didn’t look like anything fit for a king or a queen.
The rooms were cold, bare stone with a minimum of
furniture. This was not a place where people could live
comfortably. Wunderlich felt that the palace had been used for something very
opposite to living - he said it was a place to kill
Apparently for centuries there
legends among the other Mediterranean civilizations that
Crete conducted human sacrifices and was a very sinister place. The so-called Legend of the Minotaur - King Minos'
pet bull that devoured human sacrifices - wasn't just a legend, but
rather a reflection of their bizarre culture! Wunderlich found
himself agreeing there probably was something to those terrible legends.
came to the realization that the palace of King Minos was nothing
but a necropolis (a city of the dead).
This palace had never been intended for
the living but rather for the dead. This
was a place where a powerful cult of the dead
practiced elaborate human sacrifices,
burial rites, and games of death (such as bull
she thought Wunderlich’s death
shrine theory was plausible. The island of Crete is
located in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean. To the North is
Greece and to the South is Egypt. The
Egyptians more than any other culture of the
ancient world were obsessed with the dead.
The Egyptians, of course, were constructors of the Great Pyramids
and were constantly preoccupied with preparations for the Afterlife.
The most popular God in all of Egypt was Osiris, Lord
of the Underworld.
that the Minoans inherited the concept of worshipping the dead from
Egyptians who passed through
Crete on route to Greece for trade.
The Queen presented us with both sides of the
story. Although I believed she preferred
Wunderlich's ideas over Evans, she had done a very good job hiding her own opinion.
I was left up to make up my own
mind on the subject. I was very intrigued.
So there it was. The Palace of
Knossos was either another ancient ruin tied into Grecian mythology or
it was a shrine dedicated to the Minoan
dead. I was inclined to agree with Wunderlich.
His idea about the death shrine was well presented. Besides,
don't you agree the idea of an ancient death
palace is so much cooler than just another place to
dig up a bunch of rocks and relics?
My Visit to the Palace
When I learned that
our 2008 cruise trip was
visiting Crete, I gave a little whoop of
excitement. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when the boat docked in Herkalion
- visit the Palace of Knossos! This was the one thing I was most looking
forward to on the cruise. I wanted to see if
Wunderlich was right.
You can imagine my eagerness the morning we
were scheduled to dock in Crete; I woke up at six o’ clock in the
morning and promptly got dressed. I didn’t want to miss this!
Marla, Dad and I made our way
down to the cruise ship meeting area
in record time. I was
ready to make my move. We were handed stickers with number 12 on
them. Dad is not known for fast
starts, but he was doing well today. We were definitely
moving faster than usual.
Our group was called; we stood
up and followed the sign with our group number on it. We ambled down the steps
and hit the departure deck
near the bottom of the ship. The door was in sight.
I couldn't wait, so I
peeked out and got my first sight of the
island. Let's do it!
came an awkward surprise. Dad was
fumbling around with his pockets. Marla looked to
Dad and asked, “Rick,
did you forget your SeaPass?”
For those of you who haven’t
been on a cruise before, the SeaPass is an essential item when going on
shore. It is literally your ticket to get on and off the ship. If you
don’t have it with you, then you don't leave.
My Dad searched fervently for
his SeaPass. Finally he gave up. “Marla, I
guess I left my SeaPass in the
The look on
my face said it all
(except that I can't say it until high school is paid for). A man standing
next to Dad informed him
that he could have a copy made at the door. Our hearts lightened by the
man’s advice, we trudged on and made it to the front of the line.
That turned out to be a waste of five more minutes.
We were informed that
making a pass on the spot was not possible. Dad would either have to find
it or go to Guest Relations and have a new one made. This meant he
would either have to go up ten decks to his room and search for the
pass or go up five decks, wait in the line, and spend a minimum of five
minutes watching the personnel make a new card for him.
thought about it for a moment, then decided
to go back to his room.
Meanwhile Marla and I stood next to the
door, watching passenger after passenger make their way onto the gangway
and then to the island. We watched groups twelve, thirteen, fourteen,
etc. pass us and saw other SSQQ passengers leave the ship.
I was feeling very impatient. 15, 16, 17.... will Dad please
hurry up! 18, 19, 20...
Finally my father reappeared.
There was practically no one left. We exited
the ship right after groups twenty-seven and twenty-eight.
We had gone from first to worst. We
were sixteen groups and 30 minutes in the hole.
I was fit to be tied. I had waited
for this all summer and wasn't feeling very patient.
wandered around the parking lot looking for a bus. For a
moment my heart sank when we couldn't find one. Fortunately, after
Dad spoke with a few different
someone found us three seats on a German-speaking bus to Knossos.
We were fortunate again when the lady
offered to add an English translation. So during the bus ride
we would get to learn about the Palace of Knossos not only in English,
but also in Deutsch. Sad to say, due to her
heavy German accent, she was unintelligible in both languages.
This day wasn't going very well.
At least we were on the move.
After a 30 minute bus ride, we
arrived at the Palace of Knossos. The group unloaded and gathered in the plaza for a lecture
on the palace. We got a new guide,
someone from Crete. As I listened to the man tell the story of Theseus and Icarus, I
also began to look around the site.
Something didn't look right.
This place was very green. I had been told
that the Palace was surrounded by dry, unfertile land. Yet I saw tall
forests of several different types of trees for miles. I frowned. I suppose
climate can change over 3,000 years.
Then our guide started to tell
us about the rivers that were located less than a mile from the palace
back in the days when it was being used. They had since dried up.
I became even more confused. Wunderlich
had claimed the palace was 'unlivable' because it had no easy water
source. The Queen had said there was no easy water source around the palace
whatsoever. This was an important point. This wouldn't matter if all you were going to do
was to visit it for death rituals. But if there used to be
rivers nearby, this would not support the Wunderlich theory.
began to worry about this
As we walked to the next
location, I asked several questions. That is
when the tour guide asked me if I had studied the palace before. I
told him about the Queen’s avid interest in the place and how she had
passed it on to me. I decided this was the
right time to bring up my agenda.
“Have you ever read
Secret of Crete?”
“Yes. But it's not a very popular
theory around here… not exactly very academic.”
I rolled my eyes.
Death Shrine. I could
understand why he said that. What he meant to
say was "not a very good theory for
The Palace itself was a
recreation built by Sir Evans. The history nerd in me loved seeing
the palace with my own eyes, but I
couldn't shake my disappointed at the
guide's put-down. Three years of wonder,
had just been
crushed in seconds by a total stranger.
My interest in the Death Shrine theory
obviously wasn't "fashionable" in this neck of the woods.
I wasn't going to give up that easily. As we
continued through the palace, I asked questions relevant to the Death
Shrine theory. Then I listened as our tour guide dismantled every
strong point that Wunderlich really had to go on. "Not exactly very
academic" had been his first words to me. Those words kept
ringing in my brain. I frowned as I listened to his point of view on
each of Wunderlich's positions that I brought up.
He wasn't winning me over. I didn't trust the depth of his
knowledge. At the same time, however, I also got the feeling he
didn't appreciate being challenged by a teenage girl on his knowledge. That's
when I remembered my father was thrown out of graduate school for
arguing with his professors. I guess I inherited my natural
antagonism from Dad.
component to the so-called "Secret of Crete" was the bull-leaping
frescoes. Throughout the palace there were murals depicting Minoans jumping over bulls. Wunderlich had theorized
that because the concept of bull-leaping was so preposterous as a sport that these frescoes were painted to glorify
the death of human sacrifices forced to fight the bulls.
As my guide went on and on about the ancient "sport" of
bull-jumping, I found his explanations preposterous. The thought of anyone
WILLING to try to do somersaults
over these giant bulls was ridiculous, why couldn't anyone see that?
But our guide droned on and on. He seemed convinced that
people actually trained to become bull jumpers. Sounded like a
lot of bull to me...
As far I was concerned, a much
better explanation for the bull dancing in the art works would be
youths sacrificed to their death. To my mind, the Romans
made their captives face sure death as gladiators and the Minoans
made their captives face sure death by being thrown into an arena
with a massive bull. Anyone who has ever seen a "the running
of the bulls" in Spain knows that bulls often toss their victims
straight up in the air. That is a far better explanation for
But not so if you listen to the
explained to us that paintings of Minoans teaching Egyptians how to
bull-leap had been found in Egypt. While this discovery proved the link between
the Minoans and the Egyptians, it also killed one of my best hopes for Wunderlich. Unless the Minoans were trying to teach the Egyptians how to
die via being impaled by bull horns, then the bull fresco theory was out of
The Throne Room
there was the throne room. It was my
last hope. I clung to it for dear life. Maybe Wunderlich would be
vindicated at last. He had theorized
that the throne room was so eerie, so threadbare and uncomfortable, that there
was no way a living person would see this room as something fit for a king.
Because I had seen pictures, I had faith in this aspect of
Wunderlich's theory. Now I wanted pictures of my own to prove
room was obviously a popular place, because there was a line of people fifty deep. I looked around, staring at the "dry and arid" land
with a veritable forest around it. Something was missing. Uh, make that 'somebody' was
Dad? I needed the camera and he had it!
ago, Dad had asked me for the camera so he could take some pictures. I assumed he was
following the group, but now there was no sight of him.
I sighed heavily as the line slowly began to get close to the
Throne Room! My heart was set upon getting pictures of the
Throne Room to help prove Wunderlich's theory, but my father had disappeared
with the valuable camera. I was so frustrated!
this is not an uncommon occurrence. Traveling with Dad usually
results in some twisted form of the game "Where's Waldo?"
Dad likes to wander around separate from the group. But since he
usually finds his way back, I tend to not worry about him. However,
this time it was a problem since he had the camera.
I wanted to take pictures and he
wasn't here. I looked in the direction we had come from. No
I saw him walk past the entrance to the courtyard we stood in. Good,
he's back. But then I noticed he was walking in the wrong
direction. That meant the camera was going in the wrong direction as
well. I worried about losing my place in line, but what choice did
I have? I ran to get him.
I told Dad I needed the camera, but I may have raised my voice a
bit. More than a few heads turned to look at me as Dad and I returned.
That is when I realized I had become a spectacle for our group.
Oh well, at least I had the camera. I plucked the
camera from his hands and got back in line. Problem averted.
A few minutes
passed. It was time for the main event. I needed a drumroll.
A grand entrance. Something. The trouble with life is there's no
background music. I resorted to
playing the Jaws theme song over and over in my head.
bump bump bump bump.
As I got my first look, I felt a wash
of relief pass over me. This was the ugliest room I had ever seen! The
Throne itself was not only ugly, this chair was
definitely uncomfortable-looking. It went at a ninety-degree angle
along the wall. Had I been the queen, this would not have been something I
would've liked to sit in. The walls were adorned with frescoes of
griffins, mythological creatures known to protect the divine.
Yes! Wunderlich had been right about
this. This room was not designed with comfort in mind.
But the guide's negativity had gotten to me. Who in the world was I kidding? Wunderlich's
death shrine theory wasn't doing very well. I was beginning to
wonder if the man had been a downright
After we got on the bus and left,
I thought about the day. This place didn't strike me as evil. I found myself
growing skeptical at the whole concept of the Palace of Knossos
as a death shrine. Some of
the facts didn't match up. Wunderlich had some interesting points, but
they weren't anything he could prove.
whether Wunderlich man was a fake or not, I definitely owe my interest in the Palace to
the man. His outlandish theories captured my imagination. He generated enough interest in a then-fourteen-year-old to
last for three years. That's a much larger accomplishment than most
adults might realize. Inspiring a sense of academic inquiry into a 14 year old kid
is a good thing, albeit a rare and fleeting thing.
And even if I was disappointed by what my own
eyes told me today, I was at least pleased to have my chance to play
at being a
Thanks for reading, Samantha Archer