On behalf of those that were not physically present, let’s quickly recapitulate the story of Minos, king of Crete. He reigned during the height of Crete’s commercial success and during this time he hired the famed architect Daedalus to build for him a labyrinth in order to hide a dark family secret.
Minos’s Palace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The king’s family was hiding an indiscretion of tremendous proportions. It seems the queen Parsiphnae had a brief relationship of catastrophic consequences with a magnificent snow-white sea-born bull. This type of transgression seems to have run in the family because Mino’s mother Europa was seduced by a bull herself who was in fact the god Zeus. The fruit of this particular union was Minos, but it seems that there was love between his progenitors for Minos did grow up to be a just and respected ruler.
Unfortunately love was not the motive for Parsiphanae’s betrayal, as the fruit of her lustful union was monstrous. She bore a son with a human body but the head and tail of a bull! King Minos was not totally blameless in this story. He was gifted this spectacular white bull with a definitive purpose, in fact Minos had made a deal with the gods to use this bull only to impress his brothers with his divine connections. After Minos managed to ascend to the throne, he was supposed to return the bull by sacrificing it. But greed took over and Minos swapped the heavenly bull for an inferior earthly bull, as if the gods couldn’t tell the difference!
Minos had an impeccable reputation in his kingdom as a just and virtuous ruler. So obviously there was a great outcry when his wife betrayed him while he was on a business trip. She had asked the very architect Daedalus, who would later help her husband to confine the monster she conceived, to aid her in deceiving the object of her lust. He constructed a wooden cow she could enter in, masking her true form. This was definitely not the Trojan horse of yore, but a cow of inferior motives.
Her son the Minotaur, as the monster was called, was concealed in the labyrinth prison. As the Minotaur was the fruit of deceit and lust, he perpetuated these desires by consuming captured youth from conquered lands.
It would seem that this was a unique story but actually it’s really quite ordinary. Let’s say that Minos is the CEO of a company. The queen could be the Vice President of Investments. The Minotaur represents a very bad deal like the mortgage bundles created for hedge fund investments. The architect Daedalus is a brilliant and well connected lawyer.
King Minos could not, in good conscience, completely blame the queen for her indiscretion for he was the first to sin by not keeping his bargain with the gods and sacrificing the white bull. He was after all a superb bull, it was in essence a loan and not a gift therefore some repercussion was to be expected. Minos utilized a public asset for personal gain, and everything went downhill after that.
The king was part of a community; his role was to serve the needs of his people. It would have been through his selfless decision, his ability to uphold the integrity of his office that the entire community could have prospered. When things became transparent and the shady side deals came to light, he lost his credibility among his people. Still the evil had to be contained, and the architect constructed such an elaborate labyrinth the even he himself could not make his way out of it. Much like our modern investment firms that have constructed such elaborated packages that no one can figure out. But the monster had a terrific appetite and who quenched it were the conquered people whose assets, in this case the youth, were consumed. Ponzi schemes always need the fresh blood of investors to keep up the pretence of legitimacy.
The Minotaur represents the unabashed ego of our basest qualities bereft of any virtue. These desires lie in wait within all of us, always looking out for number one. His existence drives humanity to crave redemption and liberation from the worst that we can conceive. Through the Minotaur’s example we look in horror at this aberration of our collective values and hopefully are driven to revisit our suppressed virtues and once more hold them up as examples of our lives.
But going back in time to that place within us where we have romanticized virtue as some distant memory of a sanitized experience, is an illusionary endeavor. It’s only by reexamining our selves as we are now that we are able to become awakened to what was formally obscured. A caterpillar that changes into a butterfly is not a different being but rather a transformed one. We as a civilization have built our cocoon of self interest and are now shedding these constraints discovering that by being socially responsible we are able to collectively achieve so much more.
Illustration of Theseus slaying the Minotaur on a neck-amphora. Circa 460 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now Theseus’ time has come. He was a man with an inner mission. He was called into action by the deepest despair of all the sacrificed youth in the labyrinth of Minotaur.
Joseph Campbell artfully explained this woeful state, “It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight is so desperate, that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart.”
Mr. Campbell further refers to a particularly enlightened precept of Professor Toynbee who “uses the terms “detachment” and “transfiguration” to describe the crisis by which the higher spiritual dimension is attained that makes possible the resumption of the work of creation. The first step, detachment, or withdrawal, consists of a radical transfer of emphasis from the external to the internal world, macro to microcosm, a retreat from the desperation of the wasteland to the peace of the everlasting realm that is within.” Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
“A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first.”
This definition was made by John Ruskin, in 1869, in The Queen of the Air. Myth speaks about our common beliefs and they transcend time and cultures. What held true thousands of years ago stands up to our current challenges, it might be time for us to learn the lessons of yore.