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Myth of Daedalus and Minos

Card extracted from the volume Cults and Myths of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero - Edizioni Centro Studi Helios - 2017 (ISBN: 9788894321913)

Legend has it that Daedalus, an Athenian by birth, was an expert architect and sculptor, famous for his ability to sculpt statues that, due to their naturalness, seemed alive. Daedalus had a young man named as a disciple Talus, son of his sister. The nephew, of high genius, invented various machines including the saw and the drill. His fame almost overshadowed that of his teacher who, blinded by jealousy, killed him. Daedalus, discovered and accused of the murder, was forced into exile, first in Attica and then in Crete where, admired for his skills, he became a friend of the king Minos. It was custom, in those times, that King Minos sacrificed, annually, a Poseidon the most beautiful among the bulls of his herds. One day, however, a beautiful bull was born, and Minos, struck by such beauty, refused to sacrifice it to the god, offering another one in its place. Angry Poseidon caused that Pasife, the king's wife, fell in love with the bull. Minos' wife was pining for the desire to mate with the animal, but this presented some small practical problems, as well as moral. Daedalus then built a statue in the shape of a cow, hollow inside, covered it with cowhide and, to complete the work, taught Pasife how to settle inside so that he could join the bull. From that union a horrible creature was born, the famous and mythical Minotauro, half bull and half man.

Daedalus and Pasife (Pompeii)

Minos did not have to appreciate much the help that Daedalus had given to Pasife, also because if the horns hurt, made by a bull they hurt even more. However, despite everything, Minos continued to keep Daedalus with him, but he had him build a labyrinth in which he hid the Minotaur to whom, periodically, human beings were sacrificed.

Kylix (ceramic wine cup) with the Minotaur - National Archaeological Museum of Spain

When the Athenian Teseo came to Crete to kill the Minotaur, Daedalus advised to Arianna, daughter of Minos, who had fallen in love with Theseus, to give him the ball of yarn that would allow him to get out of the labyrinth. Minos, having learned of this new intrigue of Daedalus, got very angry, and Daedalus decided to flee from Crete with his son Icaro, helped by Pasife who got him a ship to escape. Arriving on an island, when getting off the ship, Icaro, due to his bravado, fell into the sea and died. Daedalus, arrived in Sicily near the territory where the Sican king reigned Cocalo, who received him at court and became friends. This version of Daedalus' escape from Crete is told by Diodorus Siculus. Another, more famous version, mentioned by Diodorus himself, tells instead that Daedalus, unable to escape aboard a ship because they were all under the control of Minos, remained in Crete, hidden by Pasife, until he built, for himself and the son, wings modeled with wax. Applied the wings, they managed to flee from Crete but, while they were in the open sea, Icarus, despite being recalled by his father, flew too high, the wax that held the wings together (due to the heat of the sun) melted , fell into the sea and died. Daedalus, on the other hand, flying low to the sea and often wetting his wings, managed to arrive safely as far as Sicily [1].

As can be seen, in both versions the inexperience and youthful bravado are highlighted, as if to want to moralize young people so that they submit to the experience of adults.

The Myth in Sicily

Daedalus lived for a long time with Cocalo and the Sicilians, proving his talent and building many works in Sicily. Among the works attributed to him is the construction of an artificial cave near Selinunte, where the fumes that evaporated from the fire were such that they made people sweat slowly, leading to healing those who had some ailment in the cave. We also want to think that the steam baths were those of the Mount Kronio (Sciacca).

Icarus and Daedalus (Charles Paul Landon 1799)

Ad Erice, on a rock that rose overhanging where the temple of Afrodite, Daedalus built walls with which he enlarged the raised shelf on the ravine, which stood at the base of the temple and also built a golden ram of admirable beauty.

At Megaride built a kolymbethra (tub or pool) on the waters of the Alabon River. We wanted to locate this place with Megara Hyblaea one of the ancient Ible.

Ad Agrigento, on the Camico river, Daedalus built a city perched on a mountain, which would later become the strongest and most impregnable in Sicily, in fact, the ascent to its summit was narrow, twisted and could be easily defended by a few men. For this reason, Cocalo moved his royal residence from the city of Inico to the new city, to which he gave the name of the nearby river and in which he kept his treasures. We wanted to identify this fortress with the ancient town of Camico, whose site is believed to be that of S. Angelo of Muxaro 26 km north-west of Agrigento.

The king of Crete Minos, having learned of Daedalus' flight to Sicily, organized an expedition. Having prepared a fleet, he left Crete, landed with his ships in a locality in the territory of Agrigento (think of the Capo Bianco beach near Eraclea Minore), which was later named in his honor Minoa, and to find Daedalus he used a particular stratagem: he promised, in the places he passed, a reward to whoever would be able to pass a thread through the spirals of a snail shell. Cocalo proposed the solution to Daedalus who tied the thread to an ant pushing it into that new labyrinth. When Cocalo had Minos brought the shell, he understood that Daedalus must be nearby and sent ambassadors to ask Cocalo to return the fugitive to him. Cocalo, then, invited Minos and, after having promised to comply with his requests, invited him to his house, where he had wonderful bathrooms designed by Daedalus and allowed Minos to use them, but while the latter, not at all suspicious, washed himself served, according to the custom of those times, by the daughters of Cocalo, the girls, violating the sacred laws of hospitality, drowned him and kept him in hot water until he died. Cocalo returned the body to the Cretans, telling them that Minos had died accidentally slipping into hot water.

According to some versions of the Legend of Daedalus and Minos, the place where Cocalo buried Minos, before returning it to the Cretans would have been a cave identified with the Caves Gurfa (Alia)

Heraclea Minoa

The Cretans asked and obtained to bury their king sumptuously, built a two-story tomb where, in the part hidden from the earth they placed the bones and in the raised one they built a temple dedicated to Afrodite [2].

Daedalus, finally free, lived in Sicily until his death. According to another version Daedalus, after having lived for many years with the Sicilians, moved to Sardinia, where he built the nuraghi, also called dedalei.

 Minoan influence in Sicily

The legend of Daedalus and Minos in Sicily is, in some way, considered the myth of a phenomenon of colonization by some Cretans that occurred long before the eighth century. BC, an epoch corresponding to the arrival of the first Greek colonists. The hypothesis could be strengthened by the fact that the Cretan regime was of a monarchical type and Minos was probably not the name of a king but the title that was assigned to the kings of Crete.

Please note: The first important European civilization, the Minoan one, which reached its peak towards the 2500th century, saw the light on the island of Crete. BC It was characterized by an intense commercial and seafaring activity which probably led the Cretans to have commercial relations, even if perhaps not lasting, with the indigenous populations of Sicily. Around XNUMX BC, Indo-European populations descended from the Danube areas to Greece, including the Achaeans who, having come into contact with the Minoan culture, understood its characteristics; the culture that came out of it took its name from the city of Mycenae, a stronghold of the Achaeans, and was called the Mycenaean culture.

The newcomers spread an Indo-European language in Greece, which later became Mycenaean Greek. Around 1450 BC, the Achaeans extended their dominion over Crete by destroying what remained of the Minoan civilization. The maximum splendor of the Mycenaean civilization goes from 1600 to 1150 BC, and from 1400 to 1200 there is a great expansion of this civilization in the Mediterranean regions that also touches Sicily, as evidenced by the innumerable archaeological discoveries. Around 1150 BC a further invasion by Indo-European peoples, that of the Dorians, put an end to the Mycenaean civilization, causing a reduction of the Mycenaean presence in the Mediterranean, and opening the doors to the commercial presence of the Phoenician element in the area.

Archeology has now dispelled any doubts about the fact that the Greek influence in Sicily began long before the colonization, which took place in the XNUMXth century. BC A presence from the Aegean must have existed in Sicily in the Bronze Age, when the Minoan civilization was still flourishing in Greece. The type of presence had to be mainly of a commercial nature, therefore with superficial and not lasting contacts with the indigenous populations, even if the latest findings, which occurred in S. Angelo of Muxaro and Thapsos, would suggest, in some cases, a more stable form of permanence.

S. Angelo di Muxaro: Golden Cup - British Museum, London (copy in the Agrigento Museum)

The Minoan-Mycenaean influence is found in many areas of Sicily. A lot of material dating back to the Mycenaean period (Mycenaean IIIA and Mycenaean IIIB) has been found in Thapsos.

 

Please note: The chronology of Mycenaean pottery includes three periods, of which the third is the one involving southern Italy; it is divided into: Mycenaean III A (1425-1300), Mycenaean III B (1300-1230) and Mycenaean III C (1230-1025).

 

In this locality the Mycenaean influence on the indigenous cave tombs is also evident and a stone settlement has been identified, considered the largest and most important of the middle and late Bronze Age (XIII-XII century BC) not only in Sicily, but of the whole area of ​​the western Mediterranean. Mycenaean pottery has been found in various places in the Syracusan area and also in the Aeolian Islands where pottery dating back to the late Minoan period (XNUMXth century BC) was found and, therefore, among the oldest found in the West.

Another particularly rich area is central southern Sicily, especially S. Angelo di Muxaro, identified by some with the ancient Gown and linked to the legend of Cocalo and Minos. Here, in addition to some tombs resembling the Cretan-Mycenaean 'tholoi', four gold cups were found, of which only one is preserved in the British Museum. It is decorated with six cattle, whose heads are of the Cretan type attributed to a local handicraft of the Mycenaean tradition. The hypothesis is therefore reinforced that the legend of Cocalo and Minos may reflect a Greek presence starting from a pre-colonial period, that is, before the 3th century. BC In this regard it could be significant that the name of Cocalo appears on Linear B tablets found in Pilo, in the Peloponnese [XNUMX].

Please note: Linear B is a spelling system in which the symbols are mostly letters and derive from Linear A; while linear A was the system used by the Cretans, whose phonetics were different from the Greek one, linear B was instead used by the Mycenaeans who spoke Greek and from whom they had borrowed the spelling system; the linear B form of writing will disappear with the Doric invasion that ended the Mycenaean civilization.

The Myth in the IWB Register of the Sicily Region

The Sicily Region has entered the Myth of Daedalus and Minossee in the LIM register (Places of identity and memory) - Places of gods and minor divinities.

Places indicated on the IWB:

  • Fortress of Kamicos (S. Angelo Muxaro-prov. Agrigento)
  • Steam baths, Monte Kronio (Sciacca-prov. Agrigento)
  • Megalithic walls (Erice-prov. Trapani)
  • Beach of Capo Bianco (Eraclea Minoa-prov. Agrigento)
  • Caves Gurfa (Alia-prov. Palermo)
  • Kolymbethra, waters of Alabon (Megara Hyblaea-prov. Syracuse)

 

[1] Diodorus Siculus lib IV.77

[2] Diodorus Siculus lib. IV.79

[3] Sabatino Moscati: The Mediterranean Civilization p.374

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