16

Is there a specific reason the Minotaur was kept in a labyrinth instead of a normal jail?

If not mentioned in the original writings, are there any speculations as to why go through the trouble of making a labyrinth?

  • 1
    My guess would be that you are looking at it backwards. There was this neat story about a labyrinth with a Minotaur in it, and the rest is an attempt at a backstory justifying it. – T.E.D. May 26 '15 at 11:48
  • @T.E.D. Considering how little the primary sources say about the labyrinth's planning or construction, that probably is a large part of it. – Ixrec May 26 '15 at 20:07
  • Similar: What was the purpose of the Labyrinth built by Daedalus? which was closed. – kenorb Jun 1 '15 at 17:17
6

The Minotaur was certainly the son of the Queen of Knossos, and possibly the grandson of Poseidon, the patron of Crete. You cannot just sling such a being in a cell; building a separate wing of the palace for him (specially designed for him by the leading architect Daedalus and visited at regular intervals by the best and brightest young people of Greece) sounds much better.

Royalty, by definition, is not treated like the rest of the population when it comes to crime or disease; there was a twentieth-century story of the 'Monster of Glamis', allegedly a member of the British Royal Family born with terrible mental and physical defects who was confined to Glamis Castle for life. The story had almost nothing behind it: what credibility it had came from the undoubted fact that if such a child had been born, it would certainly not have been been put in a normal asylum or seen in public.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    May I encourage you to cite reputable sources (e.g. not wikipedia)? Doing so makes it easy to know if your answer is right, and also provides starting points to users who would like to learn more about the topic. – user62 Jun 1 '15 at 16:17
  • 5
    @Christofian: No, you may not. That the Minotaur was the offspring of Pasiphae and the Bull from the Sea is known to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the myth, and I do not think this site should provide notes for those who have none. If you refer to the 'Monster of Glamis', my point is that there was no reputable source. I don't object to downvotes: I do object to people not reading my posts before downvoting. – Tim Lymington Jun 1 '15 at 16:31
  • 1
    I did not mean to offend, and I did read your post and I thought it was good. The problem with my comment is that I've been using a default template, which doesn't work in situations like this. I agree with you that you do not need to cite a source for the first paragraph, but for the second, I would appreciate it if you cited a source talking about the story behind the Monster of Glamis (not the history), since I (along with many others) am not familiar with the story and it is not common fact that the story exists. I am not looking for a source proving that story is true. – user62 Jun 1 '15 at 20:12
  • @Christofian: Apology accepted (though you might want to use more specific comments in future). The reason why I didn't provide a reference for a story I wished to debunk is the difficulty some readers have distinguishing "It's true there's a rumour" from "The rumour's true": But a simple search for 'Monster of Glamis' turns up, for example, The Smithsonian magazine. – Tim Lymington Jun 1 '15 at 21:03
  • 2
    We seem to disagree about what should be cited and what should not on this site; no doubt a consensus will emerge in time. But it is EXTREMELY impolite to edit my post to add in something I have twice said I do not want. – Tim Lymington Jun 1 '15 at 21:33
12

I can't find any version of the myth that directly addresses this question, but the description of the labyrinth in Ovid's Metamorphoses leads me to suggest at least two educated guesses.

1) It's meant to prevent anyone from ever seeing the Minotaur, because Minos is that ashamed of it.

Mean-while the monster of a human-beast,
His family's reproach, and stain, increas'd.
His double kind the rumour swiftly spread,
And evidenc'd the mother's beastly deed.
When Minos, willing to conceal the shame
That sprung from the reports of tatling Fame,
Resolves a dark inclosure to provide,
And, far from sight, the two-form'd creature hide.

A regular prison would presumably still involve guards checking that the Minotaur is in his cell, while the labyrinth doesn't seem to require any guards.

2) The Labyrinth is designed to be so baffling and misleading that anyone in it would never find the way out.

Great Daedalus of Athens was the man
That made the draught, and form'd the wondrous plan;
Where rooms within themselves encircled lye,
With various windings, to deceive the eye.
As soft Maeander's wanton current plays,
When thro' the Phrygian fields it loosely strays;
Backward and forward rouls the dimpl'd tide,
Seeming, at once, two different ways to glide:
While circling streams their former banks survey,
And waters past succeeding waters see:
Now floating to the sea with downward course,
Now pointing upward to its ancient source,
Such was the work, so intricate the place,
That scarce the workman all its turns cou'd trace;
And Daedalus was puzzled how to find
The secret ways of what himself design'd.

Presumably the Minotaur can break through the walls of a regular prison cell, and possibly the labyrinth too (it's never described as having super-strong walls as far as I can tell). Ovid's description implies that even Daedalus would have trouble finding the way out, and Theseus obviously needed magic string to to do it, so it's likely that even if the Minotaur could tear down several walls that wouldn't be enough to stop him from getting lost.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.