the legend of the minotaur

while on crete, one has to visit knossos, to see the ruins of the palace of king minos, where – according to the greek myth – the minotaur lived in the labyrinth under the palace.

king minos of crete – the one of myth – was the son of zeus and europa, whom zeus had kidnapped and, presumably, also lain with while in the form of a bull. one day, minos wanted to honor his uncle poseidon, so he asked poseidon to send him a bull to sacrifice. poseidon caused a bull to emerge from the sea, but it was so beautiful that minos couldn’t bear to kill it. this angered poseidon, and perhaps for that reason, minos’ wife, pasiphae, developed an unreasonable passion for the bull. daedalus, the palace architect and resident genius, constructed a wooden cow for pasiphae to climb inside, and she mated with it. pasiphae subsequently bore the minotaur, a human with the head of a bull. not too pleased, minos locked the minotaur in the labyrinth, a giant maze under the palace.

later, minos’ son was killed while visiting athens. in retaliation, minos led an expedition against athens, sacked the city, and in a further act of revenge, he required the athenians to send seven boys and seven girls to knossos every year to feed to the minotaur. this went on until theseus, the son of king aegeus, killed the minotaur with the help of minos’ daughter.

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the ruins of knossos.

the reality is different, but close to the myth. king minos did sack athens in revenge for his son’s death, and he did require the athenians to send seven boys and seven girls each year to knossos. the tribute was a combination of the hunger games and jallikattu, however: the youth had to enter the ring with a bull and vault over its back, as depicted in the mural shown below. the labyrinth doesn’t refer to a maze beneath the palace – the only thing below the palace is a series of storerooms – but instead to the god “labyros” whose symbol was a two-headed axe. one can see the axe, a symbol of the king’s power, carved into the palace walls at various points.

the myth therefore tracks closely with the reality of the situation: there was no minotaur, but the children of athens were sacrificed to a bull every year. and with regard to the rumor about pasiphae and the bull, has debunked the more contemporary version of that one.

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what i’m doing during the week

20141103_Daily_007during the week, i volunteer at a food pantry, assembling (on mondays and wednesdays) and distributing (on tuesdays and thursdays) boxes of food for low-income families.  with the continuing economic problems in greece, many families who used to have decent incomes now need extra help, so the municipal service center for the poor operates a program, underwritten by one of the local private utilities, to assist 100 families with weekly groceries for a six-month period.  the boxes contain basic staples – juice, pasta, dried beans, cereal, tuna, and the like, as well as cleaning products: not enough to completely feed a family of five for the week, but it helps.

the clientele is a mix of greeks and legal immigrants. if yesterday’s demonstration was any indication of the size of the need, 100 families is just a drop in the bucket, but one drop is better than no drops at all, and the people who come in seem awfully grateful for the assistance they get.

το μεγάλο συλλαλητήριο – the big demonstration

on saturday, more than 900 groups (allegedly) convened on syntagma square, in front of the parliament building, for an anti-austerity demonstration. demonstrators called for increased employment, a living wage, income support, and free education, among other issues. i went down to take photographs with the expectation that there would be a sense of electricity and maybe danger in the air, tens of thousands of protesters just one provocation away from starting a massive brawl in the city center. my initial impressions didn’t disappoint me: certainly, the students’ union group promised a high degree of theater as they mustered outside the square.

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top, the student fighting front (rough translation) on the march; bottom, the panhellenic musicians’ union prepare to play “of struggle”, and the marchers’ flags were on staves thick enough to beat someone’s head in.

some of the other groups also had an ominous cast to them, such as the infrastructure workers’ union:

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soon, however, i got the sense that despite the size, this protest was not going to be particularly confrontational. yes, it was crowded, and yes, there was political theater (including the folk singers and che guevera posters) that you expect at demonstrations …

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… but the marchers included the press and social media professionals’ union, who just didn’t seem like the rock-throwing types, and also the old age pensioners (who might have been rock-throwing types at one point, but weren’t now). throughout the morning, the crowds grew thicker, but the energy didn’t grow to match: the demonstration leaders on the stage began calling out slogans in between snippets of protest songs, but the response was pretty tepid.

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play the video
for the first hour, the dogs couldn’t even bother to move themselves out of the square.

in the end, the local new york times affiliate only gave it two paragraphs, which suggests to me that for a lot of people, after seven years of crisis, this was nothing new.