The Minotaur – George Frederic Watts

Don't you get it when your delivery of 7 virgins and 7 youths is late because UPS won't deliver to your island. All you can do is stand in your tower looking out to sea, hopeful that what ever secondary delivery company they have farmed it out to will turn up soon.

Watt's captures the power of the Minotaur along with the magnitude of loneliness that is felt by an outcast in this tremendously unassuming painting.

What you see is the Minotaur eagerly awaiting the tribute of virgins and children that he would receive yearly for him to devour. His muscular body highlighted by the yellow hues of the sunlight on his back. The great hoof like hands crushing an allegory of innocence and purity – a white bird, in his anticipation of the sacrifice.

The story of the Minotaur is a twisted one. Minos had fought vehemently against his brother for the throne of Crete. Praying to Poseidon, Minos requested that he send a snowy white bull as a symbol of support. His prayers where answered and he won the throne. Poseidon had deemed that the bull be sacrificed on his successful defeat of Minos' brother to show honour to the deity, but Minos was so taken with the bull because it was so beautiful he didn't think Poseidon would mind if he killed a regular bull in its place….now I hope we all know it's a bad idea to go against a gods wishes….it only ends in tears. When Poseidon realised what had happened, his was not happy. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Pasiphaë fall deeply in love with the bull.

Pasiphaë, had Daedalus make her a hollow wooden cow that she could get in to in order to mate with the bull (what ever floats your boat), thus she fell pregnant with the monstrous offspring, the Minotaur.

Despite Pasiphaë nursing bull boy and trying to bring him up in a normal way, he grew up ferocious, and with no natural nourishment began to devour humans to gain the required sustenance. Minos sought the oracle at Delphi, and on the advice given had Daedalus create a labyrinth to hold the beast. This was based near his palace at Knossos.

During this time, Minos' other son, Androgeus was killed by the Athenians. This really got to Minos and he waged terrible wars against the Athenians and won. They were then made to pay reparations to Minos in the form of sacrifices to the Minotaur. This was in the form of 7 virgins and 7 young men, drawn in a lottery, hunger games fashion.

As the third year of sacrifices came upon the Athenians, Theseus offered to go and slay the Minotaur. His father, Aegeus, king of Athens agreed, and they made a pact that if Theseus was successful,in killing the monster, on his return he would put white sails on his boat to tell them that he had survived.

So off Theseus set, on arriving in Crete, he met Ariadne, and she fell deeply and madly in love with Theseus. She gave him a ball of string to help him navigate the labyrinth. Theseus managed to trick the Minotaur, sneaking up on him as he slept and killed the beast after a short battle. He lead the other Athenians out of the labyrinth, and he returned safely to Ariadne. Taking her with him on the ship to return, he turned in to a player and abandoned her on the island of Naxos (don't worry she found someone better).

In Theseus' haste to get away from Naxos, he forgot to put the white sails on his boat. At the sight of the ships return, Aegeus was filled with grief and committed suicide by throwing himself from a tower in to the sea, which was then named after him.

All in all, a sad tale, which I think the painting encapsulates wonderfully.


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