The Myths of Crete

Cretan Minotaur
By Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Early in the myths of Argos the priestess Io came to Egypt, had a son Epaphos by Zeus, and married the king of Egypt. Libya, the daughter of Epaphos and Memphis, was loved by Poseidon and had twin sons Agenor and Belos (Baal). As was the rule in Argive myth, one twin stayed while the other left; Belos stayed in Egypt and Agenor moved to Phoenicia. Here he married Telephassa and they had three sons Kadmos, Phoinix, and Kilix and a daughter named Europa.

Zeus and Europa

Abduction of Europa
Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1714-1789)-'the rape of Europa'-oil on canvas-1750 Dallas-Museum of Art  

Zeus was in love with Europa, and, one day when she was playing in a flowery meadow (the standard occupation of ravished maidens in Greek myth), Zeus took the form of a snow-white bull and came to the meadow. Beguiled by the beautiful bull (which breathed a crocus from its mouth), Europa came to pet it; according to Callimachus, she felt an overwhelming desire to kiss it, so she used her handkerchief to wipe off the foam from the recumbent bull's mouth, then kissed it and climbed on its back. The bull ran into the water and, once safe at sea, announced its true identity, then swam west to the island of Crete.

Upon reaching Crete, Zeus changed back into his own shape and he and Europa became the parents of twins (Minos and Rhadamanthys) or triplets (with the addition of Sarpedon). Europa married Asterios, the king of Crete, and he raised her children. When they grew up, they fought over the affection of a boy named Miletos, a son of Apollo and Areia. Miletos favored Sarpedon, but Minos started a war against his brothers and eventually expelled them from Crete.

Miletos ended up founding the city named for him in Asia Minor. Sarpedon joined his uncle Kilix in a war against the Lykians, and eventually became king of Lykia. As for Rhadamanthys, he was a lawgiver in Crete and then for the people of the Aegean islands, who invited him to be their ruler because of his reputation for justness. Some say that he then killed his brother (like Bellerophon) and went to Okalea in Boiotia, where he married Alkmena, mother of Herakles.

Minos also was a famous lawgiver, both in Crete and in the underworld, where he judged the dead along with Rhadamanthys and Aiakos. According to Plato, the three judges, as well as those being judged, had to be completely naked; Rhadamanthys judged the Asiatic dead, Minos judged the Europeans, and Aiakos presided over appeals.

Return to Dick Caldwell's Greek Myths Index