In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monstrous creature with the head of a bull on a man's body. Like many other mythological monsters, the Minotaur had a ravenous appetite for human flesh. He was eventually slain by a worthy hero with the help of a resourceful heroine.
The Minotaur—which means "Minos's bull"—was born in the palace of King Minos of Crete, a large island south of Greece. Some time earlier, the sea god Poseidon had sent Minos a pure-white bull to be sacrificed in his honor. When the king saw the magnificent creature, however, he refused to kill it. This angered Poseidon, who arranged for Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. The offspring of their unnatural mating was the Minotaur. The king imprisoned the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, a maze built by a craftsman at his court named Daedalus.
In later years, after the people of the Greek city of Athens killed one of Minos's sons, the Cretan king called down a plague on their city. Only by agreeing to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every year could the Athenians obtain relief. These youths and maidens were sent into the Cretan Labyrinth, where the Minotaur devoured them.
Theseus of Athens was determined to end the slaughter of young people. He volunteered to go to Crete as one of the sacrificial victims, vowing to slay the Minotaur. When the ship carrying the Athenians reached Crete, Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, fell in love with Theseus. She gave him a plan of the Labyrinth that she had obtained from Daedalus and a ball of string. He was to tie one end of the string to the exit as he went in and then to follow the string to find his way out. Deep in the Labyrinth, Theseus met the bellowing, bloodthirsty Minotaur and killed it with a blow of his fist. He and the other Athenians then fled Crete, taking Ariadne with them.
Some scholars suggest that the myth of the Minotaur arose out of ancient rituals in which a priest or king donned a bull mask before performing sacrifices. The Labyrinth may have represented the ancient palace at Knossos on Crete, which was a sprawling complex of chambers and hallways.