In ancient Crete, mythology has it that King Minos built a labyrinth to house the Minotaur, a half-man, half bull, to whom the youth of Athens were sacrificed every seven years. The Minotaur was the direct result of Minos’s greed and defiance of the god Poseidon; Minos had prayed for a white bull, whose appearance was to be a sign of approval. Poseidon granted the bull, with the agreement that Minos was to sacrifice the bull in order to return it to the god. But upon seeing the animal, Minos found it beautiful and defied the agreement by keeping it for himself. Poseidon exacted revenge by making Minos’s wife fall in love with the bull. The result of their union was the Minotaur.
The hero who slayed the Minotaur, Theseus, did so by volunteering to take the place of one of the youth who was to be sacrificed. He was aided by Ariadne, daughter of Minos, who gave him a ball of string so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth and shared with him the knowledge that Daedalus, architect of the labyrinth, had given her: go forward, never down, right or left. Once inside, he found the Minotaur and beat it to death, then escaped with all the young Athenians.
Our culture is dealing with multiple Minotaurs at the moment, in multiple labyrinths constructed to house the consequences of our old mistakes – greed, poverty of imagination, hunger for power. The war in Iraq is a maze that devours young men and women on a daily basis. The financial crisis sacrifices the elders and robs the young ones of a future.
The myth of the Minotaur gives us some clues about what is needed to defeat the monster: love, cooperation, humility, stealth, a willingness to listen those who know. How wonderful would it be if instead of assaulting us with sound bites, our presidential candidates told us of swords they have hidden to carry into the labyrinth, what they have learned from battles with other devouring monsters, and the Ariadnes and Daedaluses who will provide them guidance and knowledge.