The Mistresses of Minos: Misplaced Rage in Mythology

This week, I registered for a writing class at the Hugo House in Seattle. Because of Coronavirus, they’ve moved all their classes online, which is great because now they’re more accessible to people like me, who live further away and/or prefer not to leave the house.

The class is “Phantasmagoria: Writing Monsters & Myths.” I’m so excited! I’ve been working on a few poems inspired by Greek mythology, but I’ve been having a hard time pulling them together, so I hope this class will be a good motivator.

One myth I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is Theseus and the Minotaur.

Actually, let’s forget about Theseus: A garden-variety “hero,” who only escapes the labyrinth by lying to Ariadne–promising to marry her in return for her help, only to leave her stranded and brokenhearted on the next remote island as he continues his victorious voyage home. No thanks.

Instead, I want to talk about the Minotaur’s mother, Pasiphaë. She was daughter of Helios, the sun god, worshipped by some as a full-fledged lunar goddess herself. She was also the queen of Crete, married to King Minos. Now, the Minotaur was created because Minos offended Poseidon by keeping a special bull that he was instead suppose to sacrifice. As punishment, Poseidon made Pasiphaë fall in love with that very bull … and the result of that unholy union was the Minotaur.

First off, can we recognize how supremely unfair this curse was for Pasiphaë? How she was forced to bear the brunt of the humiliation, not to mention the considerable physical pain of birthing a bull, because of her husband’s greed?

An example of the larger male drama at stake in Greek mythology.

And greed wasn’t the only vice Minos had. Hence, the curse of Pasiphaë (who in addition to near-divinity was also a master herbalist): She placed a fidelity charm on Minos, which caused him to ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes whenever he was unfaithful. Unfortunately, the effect of that was to kill the mistress (another spectacular instance of misplaced aggression), but still it’s a pretty badass curse.

Mythology is full of stories like this: Misplaced rage and women who primarily act as receptacles to the larger male drama. Many times, they aren’t even named (e.g., the many stung and snake-bitten mistresses of King Minos). Clearly, these stories reflect a particular male-oriented (and often downright misogynistic) lens. But, luckily, they’re also ripe for refocusing, reinvention, and maybe even a little revenge.

Blessings and Curses

Sometimes the things we cling to don’t serve us. Or, perhaps, it is the act of clinging itself that hurts us. Either way, when we lose those things we cling to (as in when we relinquish them or even when we have no choice) we might reveal a hidden blessing. Of course, every blessing has a downside too. Just as there are two sides to a coin, there is duality in both our blessings and our curses. The true test is to find peace in both.

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen, — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives, — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

Kahlil Gibran, The Madman