A long time ago – almost before history began – King Minos ruled the lovely island of Crete. The father of Minos was none other than Zeus, lord of all the gods, and he made sure that his son’s wealth and power only grew and grew.
Minos built a navy, and his ships sailed far and wide, bringing back goods, taxes, and something even more important than those – knowledge. For instance, when Minos wanted to build a palace that would strike awe and wonder into all who laid eyes on it, he asked his sea captain, ”Of all the palaces you have seen, on all your travels over the seas, which was the most magnificent?”
And the sea captain replied, “Your Majesty, the palace of Aegeus, King of Athens, surpasses all others for its beauty and grace. It was designed by Deadalus and the Athenians boast that he is the most brilliant architect who has ever lived.”
When he heard this, King Minos ordered the sea captain to fetch Deadalus to Crete. The sea captain sailed to Athens and told King Aegeus that Minos had need of his chief architect and as Minos was the most powerful leader of those times, King Aegeus could not deny him his wish.
And so Daedalus brought his knowledge and great skill to Crete and there he designed a wonderful palace for Minos. It was built on three floors, which was very high for buildings of those days, and the bathrooms and kitchens had plumbing that was far ahead of their times. Everywhere you went inside, you saw the double headed axe of King Minos which was his symbol of power. Upstairs, the walls were covered with bright pictures of dances and festivities. On them, you could see the young men and women of Crete leaping over the horns of bulls. It a dangerous sport indeed, but the Cretans loved to show off their skill and bravery.
The happiness of Minos was almost complete – there was but one sadness in his life. His wife gave birth to a child that was strange and unnatural. Although its face was human, it walked on four feet with hooves. Horns came out of his head, and in time it grew into a terrible monster – half man, half bull. When it bellowed the whole land of Crete shook, the walls of the palace trembled, and there were storms at sea. The people gossiped about this strange child of the King, whom they called the Minotaur. Minos wanted to have it killed, but he thought the gods would be angry with him if he killed his own son. Instead he ordered Daedalus to build a maze, known as a labyrinth, where the Minotaur could live out of sight and out of mind.
Daedalus built a Labyrinth underground that was so intricate and cunning in its design, that even he himself had trouble finding the way out.
The Minotaur agreed to live in the labyrinth, but he demanded that human beings be sent into his maze at regular intervals, otherwise he would rage with hunger even until the walls of the palace fell down. And so Minos ordered the kings of the nearby lands to send ships full of their young people to sacrifice to the Minotaur. Every ninth year it was the turn of Athens to send its human tribute to Crete. Twice, King Aegeus agreed to this – for he was still afraid of Minos and the power of his navy – but on the third occasion, his son, Prince Theseus said to him, ”Father, this time, let me sail to Crete, and I shall kill the Minotaur and end this misery for our people. ”
Aegeus was very reluctant to send his beloved son to chance his life against the Minotaur but as he could see no other way out of the terrible situation for his people, he agreed.
It was decided that the ship of Theseus would carry two sets of sails. If the mission was successful, it would return to Athens under white sails, but if Theseus was killed by the Minotaur, it would sail back under black sails. That way, the people of Athens would receive the news of the outcome all the sooner.
Prince Theseus sailed to Crete and stayed with King Minos in his magnificent palace. There, on occasion, he caught sight of…