The story is told of the great king Minos, king of the island empire of Crete in the period of its commercial supremacy: how he hired the celebrated artist-craftsman Daedalus to invent and construct for him a labyrinth, in which to hide something of which the palace was at once ashamed and afraid. For there was a monster on the premises – which had been born to Pasiphae, the queen.
Minos the king, had been busy, it is said, with important wars to protect the trade routes; and meanwhile Pasiphae had been seduced by a magnificent, snow-white, seaborne bull. It had been nothing worse, really, than what Minos’ own mother had allowed to happen: Minos’ mother was Europa, and it is well known that she was carried by a bull to Crete. The bull had been the god Zeus, and the honoured son of that sacred union was Minos himself – now everywhere respected and gladly served. How the could Pasiphae have known that the fruit of her own indiscretion would be a monster: this little son with human body but the head and tail of a bull?
Society has blamed the queen greatly; but the king was not unconscious of his own share of guilt. The bull in question had been sent by the god Poseidon, long ago, when Minos was contending with his brothers for the throne. Minos had asserted that the throne was his, by divine right, and had prayed the god to sent up a bull out of the sea, as a sign; and he had sealed the prayer with a vow to sacrifice the animal immediately, as an offering and symbol of service. The bull had appeared and Minos took the throne; but when he beheld the majesty of the beast that had been sent and thought what an advantage it would be to possess such a specimen, he determined to risk a merchant’s substitution – of which he supposed the god would not take no great account.
Offering on Poseidon’s altar the finest white bull that he owned, he added the other to his herd.
The Cretan empire had greatly prospered under the sensible jurisdiction of this celebrated lawgiver and model of public virtue.
Knossos, the capital city, became the luxurious, elegant centre of the leading commericial power of the civilised world. The Cretan fleets went out to every isle and harbour of the Mediterranean; Cretan ware was prized in Babylonia and Egypt. The bold little ships even broke through the Gates of Hercules to the open ocean, coasting then northward to take the gold of Ireland and the tin of Cornwall, as well as southward, around the bulge of Senegal, to remote Yorubaland and the distant marts of ivory, gold and slaves.
But at home, the queen had been inspired by Poseidon with an ungovernable passion for the bull. And she had prevailed upon her husband’s artist-craftsman Daedalus, to frame for her a wooden cow that would deceive the bull – into which she eagerly entered; and the bull was deceived. She bore her monster, which in due time, began to become a danger.
And so, Daedalus again was summoned, this time by the king, to construct a tremendous labyrinthine enclosure, with blind passages, in which to hide the thing away. So deceptive was the invention, that Daedalus himself, when he had finished it, was scarcely able to find his way back to the entrance. Therein the Minotaur was settled; and he was fed thereafter with groups of youths and maidens, carried as a tribute from conquered nations within the Cretan domain.
Thus, according to the ancient legend, the primary fault was not the queen’s but the king’s; and he could not really blame her for he knew what he had done.
He had converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as a king had been that he was no longer a mere private person.
The return of the bull should have symbolised his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role.
The retaining of it represented, on the other hand, an impulse to egocentric self-aggrandisement. And so the king by ‘the grace of God’ had become the dangerous tyrant Holdfast – out for himself.
Just like the traditional rites of passage used to teach the individual to die to the past and be reborn to the future, so the great ceremonials of investiture divested him of his private character and clothed him in the mantle of his vocation.
Such was the ideal whether the man was a craftsman or a king.
By the sacrilege of the refusal of the rite, however, the individual cut himself as a unit off of the larger unit of the whole community: and so the One was broken into the many, and these battled each other – each out for himself – and could be governed only by force.
The figure of the tyrant monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, and even nightmares of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same.
He is the hoarder of general benefit.
He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of “my and mine”.
The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy-tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his tortured psyche or the lives that he blights with his touch of friendship and assistance.
The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world – no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper. Self-terrorised, fear-hunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflection of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself; the giant of self achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions.