The Bull of Crete, in Greek mythology, was a beast that lived on the island of Crete and was captured by Heracles in one of his famous labors. Other legends associate it with the Minotaur and the abduction of Europa.
The origin of the bull
Legend has it that the bull of Crete emerged from the Aegean Sea, sent by the sea god, Poseidon, at the request of Minos, son of King Asterius. Minos, whose succession to the throne was being contested, asked Posidon to intercede on his behalf by raising from the waters a sign of his legitimacy.
Posidon imposed on Minos the condition that the bull should then be sacrificed in his name. Minos, however, admired the beauty of the white bull, mixed it with others from his herd, and sacrificed an animal of lesser value.
This disobedience provoked the wrath of Posidon, who punished Minos by making the animal incredibly furious. As a result, his wife had sex with the bull, and the Minotaur was born. The bull proceeded to terrorize the island of Crete, attacking the population, who were forced to shut themselves in their homes.
Heracles and the bull
The bull was only defeated by Heracles, at the behest of Eurystheus, in what became known as the seventh of his labors. The hero landed in Crete, subdued the bull by the horns and took it to Argolis, where he handed it over to Eurystheus.
The latter wanted to give it to Hera, but the goddess, unwilling to accept a gift from Heracles, set the beast free again. Theseus later captured it on the plains of Marathon.
According to another tradition, part of Poseidon's punishment of Minos was to make Queen Pasiphae, his wife, fall in love with the bull and be seized by a mad impulse to be possessed by it. This desire came true through the ingenuity of Daedalus, who built a wooden cow, inside of which the queen could give herself to the bull.
The union between Pasifae and the bull resulted in the Minotaur, a monstrous being, half man, half bull. Overcome with shame, Minos enclosed the monster in a labyrinth that Daedalus built next to his palace in Knossos.
Then Androgeus, son of Minos, was killed by the Athenians, who envied his victories in the Panathenaic games. To take revenge, Minos launched a war against Athens, subdued it, and ordered that seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls be sent annually to be devoured by the Minotaur.
When the third sacrifice came, Theseus, an Athenian prince, volunteered to join the group. Helped by Ariadne, daughter of Minos, who had fallen in love with his beauty, Theseus entered the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur.
This myth historically symbolizes the fall of the Minoan Civilization and the end of Crete's supremacy over mainland Greece.
The Abduction of Europa
Yet another tradition associates the bull of Crete with Europa, the beautiful daughter of Agenor, king of Phoenicia. The best-known version of the legend tells that Europa was kidnapped by Zeus, who took the form of a beautiful white bull and took her to Crete, where she married Asterius.
Another version, however, rejects the metamorphosis of the god himself, and claims that Zeus actually sent the bull from Crete to seduce the princess.
The constellation of Taurus
In Greek mythology, the bull of Crete is associated with the constellation of Taurus, formed only by the head, shoulders and forelimbs of the animal, because when it abducted Europa and carried her to Crete by sea, its back was submerged by the waves.
The stars are represented as a bull in an attack position, with its huge horns lowered.