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13 What was the Mythical Labyrinth?


This article is from the Greece FAQ, by Nikolaos (Nick) C. Fotis, nfotis@theseas.ntua.gr with numerous contributions by others.

13 What was the Mythical Labyrinth?

From: nextug@ac.dal.ca

There seem to be two schools of thought:

One is that the palace at Knossos was itself also referred to as The Labyrinth.
Gerhard Sasse in his book "Crete" (APA Publications, 1990) writes:

"The Greek designation of part of the palace, if not the whole of it, as
the Labyrinth, could also mean "House of the Double Axe", if the derivation
of the word labyrinth from the Anatolian word 'Labrys' (double axe) is

"In Knossos several of these artifacts were found, in the so-called
"Shrine of the Double Axe", and the holy sign of the double axe was scored into
pillars and on votive objects -- as in other Cretan palaces."

On the other hand The Labyrinth may have actually been a passageway of caves
in close proximity to Knossos. Lawrence Durrell in his book "The Greek Islands"
(Vicking Press, New York, 1978) writes:

"To revert for a moment to the vexing question of the labyrinth, it is
important to make a distinction between a man-made maze and a labyrinth
constructed by nature; and the natural geological labyrinth situated near
Gortyna has for long been a candidate for the honours of being the original
lair of the Minotaur. Sceptics have declared that it is simply an abandoned
quarry with a few corridors but, while I have not completely explored it
myself -- for lack of an Ariadne and a ball of thread -- I think it is more
suggestive than that.

"I can vouch ... for the fact that the place is known as "The
Labyrinth" in the local speech. To the best of my knowledge the whole of it
has never been explored, though the villagers thereabouts claim the internal
network of corridors span an area of some ten kilometers. One must, as always,
subtract a bit of peasant exaggeration, but nevertheless the place is
impressive ..."

A certain Reverend Tozer who wrote a travel book in the 19th century (haven't
the reference at hand) wrote:

"Our host, Captain George, undertook to be our guide and accordingly
next morning we started in his company and, fording the stream close
under the Acropolis of Gortyna, ascended the hills towards the north-west
and in an hour's time reached the place ... It is entered by an aperture of
no great size in the mountainside, where the rocks are of clayey limestone,
forming horizontal layers; and inside we found what looks almost like a
flat roof, while chambers and passages run off from the entrance in various
directions ... We were furnished each with a taper and descended by a
passage on both sides of which the fallen stones had been piled up; the roof
above us varies from four to sixteen feet in height. Winding about, we
came to an upright stone, the work of a modern Ariadne, set there to show
the way, for at intervals other passages branched off the main one, and
anyone who entered without a light would be hopelessly lost. Captain
George described to us how for three years during the late war (1867-9)
the Christian inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, to the number of
five hundred, and he among them, had lived there as their predecessors
had done during the former insurrection, to escape the Turks who had
burned their homes and carried off their flocks and herds ..."

If you wish to pursue this issue seriously I would reccommend you go to your
local library and do some research. A couple of books that might get you started
(in addition to the ones already cited):

AUTHOR: Bord, Janet, fl. 1972-
TITLE: Mazes and labyrinths of the world /
IMPRINT: London : Latimer New Dimensions, 1976.

AUTHOR: Matthews, William Henry, 1882-
TITLE: Mazes and labyrinths : their history and development /
IMPRINT: New York : Dover Publications, 1970.

AUTHOR: Doob, Penelope Reed.
TITLE: The idea of the labyrinth from classical antiquity through the Middle A>
IMPRINT: Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1990.

I don't know anything about the "Cave of the Cyclops" near Sougia. Are you
certain that it exists? I'd be surprised if there were any pictures of it
even if it does exist, let alone ones available via ftp.

Not far away (a few km from Asogires, to the west of Sougia) is the well known C
ave of Soure in which the 99 Holy Fathers lived. Also east of Rodovani (also
west of Sougia) is the Cave of Skotini in which ceramic remains from the
Classical epoch (550-67 B.C.) have been found. To the east is the world famous
Samaria Gorge and en route is the Tzanis Cave where legend has it that on
moonless nights a shepherd, enchanted by a water sprite, plays his lyre and
sings of sorrow ...

Good luck!

Christopher Majka.


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