Recently, I started taking a class on ancient mythology, which I have always been interested in. This interest can be traced back to my book shelf where 60 Second Mythology or Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes could be seen next to all of my other readings, along with a copy of the Iliad I had borrowed from a friend for an ancient literature class. My least favorite of the three was The Iliad, no doubt about that. Maybe it was because I had been forced to read it, or more likely because I had been forced to read it multiple times in the past few years. Whatever the reason, when my mythology teacher announced we'd be reading The Iliad again but not talking about it in class until it was read in its entirety, I was wary of the class. I even entertained the possibility of dropping, maybe trying to take a different version of the class in my final semester.
I didn't drop the class, because I figured it would be a pain and I wanted to learn about mythology, I wasn't going to let The Iliad rob me of that. The next day in class we began talking about the myth of the Crete Minotaur. In case you don't know the tale, I'll give you a quick run down. Every year Athens had to send young boys and girls to Crete as a tribute. The rumor was that the children were put into a maze where a bloodthirsty Minotaur, part man and part bull, was kept. The children never returned and in the legend one of the king's sons, Theseus, was selected to be a sacrifice to the Minotaur. The princess of Crete gives Theseus the information he needs to kill the Minotaur and he does so, saving the other children and escaping back to Athens with the princess who had helped him.
The tale was familiar to me because of a small book my mom had given me as a kid with exactly that tale, but delving into the layers of the myth was intriguing to say the least. I'll share a few tidbits with you that you might not know about the classic myth. The Minotaur was born, according to the legend, because Minos (the king of Crete) had tried to trick Zeus by keeping the holy bull Zeus had given him and instead sacrificing a regular bull to the god. In retaliation Zeus made Minos' wife lustful for the holy bull he had originally given Minos and from their relations the Minotaur was born. Another interesting fact in the myth is the fact that the Minoans (what anthropologists call Crete's inhabitants of the time) worshiped bulls so the whole tale can be seen as an allegory for the Minoans culture and their fall to the next tribe, the Mycenaean, who take over with warfare.
Although, my teacher told us offhandedly that during recent excavations there have been relics found which bring the Minotaur story into a different light. Archaeologists found what they concluded to be bull masks on the island of Crete, along with what appeared to be sacrificial knives and chambers. With this new information, it is not too far of a leap to guess that priests who carried out sacrifices for their gods, while wearing bull masks, became morphed into savage half man half beast legends to outsiders.
This kind of telephone type morphing of real life events and cultures is what makes mythology such a rich and ever-changing field. If I have to sparknote the Illiad in order to get this kind of new information on topics I thought I was familiar with, it seems like a fair trade. Sometimes knowledge is acquired by a teacher's offhanded updates more than it is by a third read of Homer's work.