The Philosophical Meaning of the Minotaur Myth

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur is a mythical creature portrayed in Classical times with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being "part man and part bull".

By Balthazar Malevolent

The Philosophical Meaning of the Minotaur Myth

Among the many subjects of Greek mythology, the story of the Minotaur is one of the most dramatic and repeatedly interpreted. This myth generates various cultural, psychological and philosophical associations and ideas. Its meaning can be understood in different ways.

King Minos' wife fell in love with a bull and gave birth to a part man and part bull the Minotaur. Minos placed the monster in a labyrinth and had young men and women sacrificed to him. Theseus managed to defeat the Minotaur and escape from the labyrinth thanks to a thread given to him by the Minos' daughter Ariadne.

The image of the bull-man is closely linked to totemism, in which many people saw the bull as their ancestor. The cult of the bull existed in Sumerian, Egyptian, Assyrian and Indian cultures. It was also present in the Minoan culture, becoming the spiritual core of the civilisation.

Various researchers have given different interpretations, linking the Minotaur with the labyrinth in which he lived. The labyrinth for the ancient people was a symbol of chaos and dread, a vivid example of the unknown bringing doom. All unintelligible things frighten one. The labyrinth is a precise image of the unknown and mysterious.

In Freud's psychoanalysis, the labyrinth is a symbol of the unconscious and the Minotaur is an image of repressed desires and fears. Minotaur fights with Theseus, a symbol of the rationality of man and his desire to understand himself and conquer his fears. Ariadne's thread may reveal to man part of his unconscious.

Freudianism had a huge impact on the understanding of man and culture in the twentieth century, the image of the Minotaur has acquired many psychoanalytic meanings in our time. It is understood as the fears of a man wandering in his own inner world.

Another approach to the image of the Minotaur is as an outcast, a creature unable to find its place in the world, an unsettled wanderer plagued by contradiction. Everyone is supposed to have their own Minotaur lurking in their subconscious, which they need to be able to see and defeat, thus confirming their purely human essence. The labyrinth is an image of the outside world from which it is impossible to escape.

The victory over the Minotaur is the victory of civilisation over savagery. However, it was not conclusive because, as is well known, Ariadne ultimately went not to Theseus (the embodiment of rationality), but to Dionysus, who is the embodiment of the natural element and the image of the irrational.

George Frederic Watts
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