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<   No. 673   2004-11-29   >

Comic #673

1 {scene: Inside an ancient Minoan palace on Santorini. More bull statues line the richly decorated halls.}
1 Ginny: {walking down the corridor} The ancient architecture in this palace of the local ruler is extremely fascinating.
2 Ginny: Being Minoan, the style and motifs are very much like the Great Palace of Knossos on Crete.
3 Haken: Ja, ja... very interesting. But where is die Atlantean stuff?
4 Ginny: Wait until you see what's under the palace. It's a-maze-ing.

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According to Greek myth, the prince Minos of Crete petitioned the god Poseidon for a sign that he would take the throne rather than his brother. Poseidon sent a magnificent white bull, on condition Minos sacrifice it. Being ignorant of the usual outcomes of trying to pull a fast one on the gods, King Minos decided to keep the bull and sacrifice another in its place.

Understandably, Poseidon got royally pissed off and decided to seek revenge by cursing Minos' wife Pasiphae to fall madly in love with the white bull. Unable to control her unnatural desire, Pasiphae asked the incredibly clever inventor Daedalus for help. Not one to be fazed by the predilections of his queen, Daedalus came up with the brilliant idea of building a hollow wooden cow, inside which Pasiphae could hide. He then stuck this in a pasture with the white bull, put on some Barry White LPs, and let nature take its course...

(There is a point to all this... really...)

Anyway, Pasiphae got pregnant, which just proves that old Poseidon was pretty slick when it came to genetic engineering. King Minos was happy, until the baby was born, and didn't have his strong Cretan chin. At first Minos suspected the milkman, but it soon became clear that the kid was actually half-bull. Not wanting to murder his wife's child, Minos did what any self-respecting man of morals would do, and ordered Daedalus to construct for him the Labyrinth - a maze of such cunning that no man or beast could find his way out - and threw the kid in there. He grew up on a diet of virgins to become the Minotaur.

The story goes on, and on, and on... and on... as all Greek legends do, but that's enough for our purposes today.

The Palace of Knossos is a major archaeological site on Crete, and the largest relic of Minoan civilisation. It is indeed large and maze-like, and is believed to be a possible source for the legend of the Labyrinth. People have tried searching the vicinity for an actual Labyrinth, but haven't come up with anything beyond the palace itself. If there really was a Labyrinth, it may still be hidden somewhere under the palace.

Of course with only the one Minotaur to worry about, they'd only need one Labyrinth, but they might have built one on Santorini too, just out of habit.

2013-12-23 Rerun commentary: The word "labyrinth" has come into English from this legend. In casual usage, a labyrinth is essentially considered to be the same thing as a maze, a complex, twisty path with multiple branches which makes it difficult to navigate. The perfect sort of thing in which you'd want to trap a Minotaur, in other words.

However, certain scholars maintain a distinction between the definitions of "labyrinth" and "maze". A maze is as described in the previous paragraph, while a labyrinth is a single twisty path with no branches - just a single long, convoluted path from an entrance to a central point. Which makes a labyrinth trivial to navigate, and precisely not the sort of thing you'd want to throw a Minotaur into for safe keeping.

One cannot help but wonder why the word "labyrinth" has come (according to these scholars of English word meanings) to mean something which is clearly not the same thing as the Labyrinth. If the Labyrinth was such a "labyrinth", Theseus would not have need the thread given to him by Ariadne to navigate his way out of after having slain the Minotaur... (but I'm getting ahead of the thread of the original annotation, which carries on the story over the next few strips in this theme).

Anyway, it's always struck me as odd that this scholarly definition of "labyrinth" is clearly not the same thing as The Labyrinth, which must have actually been a maze.

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