Pasiphae gave birth to the monster Minotaur and was also the mother of Ariadne and Phaedra. She was the daughter of the sun-god Helios and the wife of Minos king of Crete. Πασιφαη — Pasiphae — the name means ‘all shining’ related to Greek ‘παν-‘, ‘all’ and ‘φᾰέθω’, ‘shine’ from Indo-European and ‘keu-3’, ‘To swell, vault, hole’ and ‘bheigw’, ‘to shine’ Note that ‘πας’ also means all in Greek but the only I-E root is the one indicated. It is hard to connect Pasiphae with the Minoan culture if the name is derived in this way.
Poseidon had given a wonderfully beautiful bull to Minos with the expectation that Minos would sacrifice it to him. This bull indeed certified that Minos was the rightful king of Crete. Rather than
sacrifice the bull to Poseidon, Minos kept it for himself. To punish
him Poseidon had made Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, fall madly in love with the bull. With the aid of Daedalus Pasiphae let herself become impregnated by the bull. Daedalus made a hollow wooden cow for her to get inside, so she could mate with the bull. The resulting offspring which she bore was a monster called the Minotaur.
The Titaness Selene is the Moon. She was the daughter of Hyperion
and she fell in love wth the shepard Endymion. She is sometimes called Pasiphae. An image of her and an informative web page is at: <a href=”http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Selene.html”>Click Here
Robert Graves has this to say of the activity in the Labyrinth: (White
Goddess, p. 360)
“It seems, then, that in the pesach a bull-cult had been superimposed on a partridge cult; and that the Minotaur to whom youths and
maidens (from Athens and elsewhere) were sacrificed had once represented the decoy partridge in the middle of a brushwood maze, towards which the others were lured for their death dance. He was, in fact, the centre of a ritual performance, originally honoring the Moon-goddess, the lascivious hen-partridge, who at Athens and in parts of Crete was the mother and lover of the Sun-hero Talus. But the dance of the hobbling cock-partridge was later transformed into one honoring the Moon-goddess Pasiphae, the cow in heat, mother and lover of the Sun-hero, the bull-headed Minos. Thus the spirally-danced Troy-game (called the ‘Crane Dance’ in Delos because it was adapted there to the cult of the Moon-goddess as Crane) had the
same origin as the pesach. The case is proved by Homer who wrote:
Daedalus in Cnossos one contrived A dancing-floor for fair-haired Ariadne
–a verse which the scholiast explains as referring to the Labyrinth dance; and by Lucian who in his Concerning the Dance, a mine of mythological tradition, gives as the subjects of Cretan dances: ‘the myths of Europa, Pasiphae, the two bulls, the Labyrinth, Ariadne, Phaedra [daughter of Pasiphae], Androgeuos [son of Minos], Icarus, Glaucus [raised aby Aesculapius from the dead], the magic of Polyidus, and of Talus the bronze man who did his sentry
round in Crete.’….”
Neither Pasiphae or Minos were involved with Theseus when he came to Crete to battle the Minotaur.
From Apollodorus, Library and Epitome (ed. Sir James George Frazer)
“Now if any woman had intercourse with Minos, it was impossible for her to escape with life; for because Minos cohabited with many women, Pasiphae bewitched him, and whenever he took another woman to his bed, he discharged wild beasts at her joints, and so the women perished. The danger which the women incurred, and the device by which Procris contrived to counteract it, are clearly explained by Ant. Lib. 41. According to him, the animals which
Minos discharged from his body were snakes, scorpions, and millipeds.”
Pasiphae has contemporary influences:
“Pollacks “Pasiphae” of 1943, which was originally entitled “Moby Dick.” It was retitled after the suggestion of a critic and friend, James Johnson Sweeney. Moby Dick was a symbol of the struggle with the dark animal nature of human beings in the period. The story of Pasiphae restates the struggle with the physical union of a Cretan queen and a powerful bull that leads tothe issue of the Minotaur, half human, half animal. While not identical, the two titles address the same idea from different angles… ” Click here
Pasiphae rides her bull lover.
The story of Pasiphae is totally outrageous. The initial part of the story is identical to the story of Europa and can be illustrated by Pasiphae riding a bull, purhaps naked. This could symbolize the conquest of a raging nature (the bull) by love and is a common enough theme. The second step involves Pasiphae actually trying to consumate her love. Daedelus made for her a wooden cow that she could fit into. To have sex she would have to fit into this cow with her sexual organs exposed. It seems unlikely that she would fit
into this cow without being fitted. So she would have to have made many visits to his workshop where she would disrobe and allow the parts of the cow to be fitted to her. It also seems unlikely that others would not become aware of this activity. In fact it would be quite a spectacle.
Pasiphae waits for her bull lover in the wooden cow.
Once the cow was complete she was placed in the cow with her naked butt exposed and placed in a field available to the bull. She was totally trapped in a dark cavern waiting for the bull to insert his mighty penis in her delicate vagina. Wouldn’t this hurt? How could she be sure that was all he might do? What if he decided to butt her? Maybe he would be confused and try the wrong hole? She might need lots of helpers to make sure this went all right. In fact it would be quite an event and quite a spectacle. She could have gotten rich charging admission to this event.
Pasiphae recovers her senses after the bull has impregnated her.
After the bull impregnated her she would have to recover, and she would soon realize that she was pregnant. But her sire was much bigger that she was How big would the baby be? In fact she might swell so large that she could not stand. Naturally her breasts would accomodate this baby by swelling to a huge size. Because the baby was so large delivery might be very painful. Fortunately a baby bull has no horns when he is born. But unlike the other mothers she might not be able to send this baby to a wet nurse, though a cow might work. Fortunately her shape would return after nursing the Minotaur for two years. Of course he remained a reminder of her indiscretion for many years. One has to wonder what she felt about his diet of little girls and boys.Watching him eat would have been quite a spectacle. Do you suppose that he bothered to remove their clothes when he ate them. Did he savour their screams?And what did his mother feel about all this?
Pasiphae lies pregnant with the Minotaur.
- The Religion of Orcinus
- Pasiphae’s story, a fictionaliszed account
- PASIPHAE IS PERSUADED, a fictionalized account
- PASIPHAE INSTRUCTS, a fictionalized account
- Pasiphaë, a poem
- Poem by André CHÉNIER (1762-1794)
- Women’s Voices
- Pasiphae, a Poem
- Huby, Peter, “Pasiphae”, Dewi Lewis Publishing, April 2002, Dimensions:
8.6″ x 6.12″ x 0.48″, Paperback, Category: Fiction/Historical – General,
ISBN: 1899235876, Based on one of the most powerful and haunting of the Greek
myths, this forceful and compelling novel deals with the extremes of passion,
power, and revenge.
Pictures of Pasiphae:
- Roman relief sculpture.
- Pompeii fresco of
Pasiphae, Daelalus, and wooden cow
- Salotto di Psiche
- artist unknown
- vasie painting
- Kermit Oliver
- artist unknown
- Pasiphae embracing an olive tree, Henri Matisse
- Procession(detail) illustration chalk/watercolour
To ask a question about this topic note the topic (Pasiphae) and
Pasiphae and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture
Questions and Answers
Question: Where can art representing Pasiphae be found?
Answer: Pasiphae was more a subject of Minoan Art than of Classical Greek. But we do not know how to translate Pasiphae into the context of Minoan art. The Minoans left much art but they were not as concerned with personalities as the Classical Greeks and we have not been able to translate their written language. It is possible there are many images of Pasiphae but they are not properly labeled.
Question: What happened to Pasiphae after she mated with the bull? Was she punished? did she kill herself, or go see her son?
Answer: Pasiphae was a daughter of the sun and sister to Circe. It is
unlikely that she was even mortal. Since she was a goddess only Zeus could have punished her and he did not. She was carrying out the punishment given to Minos by Poseidon. After she mated with the bull she became pregnant with the Minotaur which she carried to full term. After the Minotaur was born she nurtured and raised it until it was full grown. She probably did visit it. But just like Thetis, who could not prevent the death of Achilles, so Pasiphae could not prevent the death of the Minotaur. Since Pasiphae is and immortal goddess, she will never die.
Question: is there a document on her?
Answer: Pasiphae is not mentioned by Homer or Hesiod. She is mentioned by Pausanius and Apollodorus.
Question: Afterwards was Pasiphae proud or ashamed of what she had done? Did she blame her husband or claim she had done a pious act? For that matter did the curse end after the sexual encounter or did she countinue to lust after the bull (or bulls in general)? Finally did she enjoy the sex (did she orgasm) or when the bull mounted her did the curse go away and she was instead raped?
Answer: Pasiphae was proud of her relation to bulls, but the mainland Greeks told the story to shame her. She did not blame her husband because she saw the incident as part of a divine plan. The story about Dedalus making a wooden cow is a bit of a puzzle because as a goddess she could become a cow by shifting her shape. Zeus enjoyed Io when she was a cow by shifting his shape to a bull. The Bull may actually have been a priest of the Minoan Religion. It is almost impossible to rape a goddess without her consent. Since Aphrodite was involved in the incident one must assume that Pasiphae was greatly pleasured by whatever happened.
It seems unlikely that Pasiphae ever had sex with a bull. Rather it
would seem that her worship was closely related to the worship of bulls. Most likely having sex with a bull meant bull-leaping. Perhaps the successful bull leapers were rewarded with sex as heroes often are. Perhaps the minotaur was a monster birth, but more likely it was the bull in the ring. Sacrifice to the bull meant being gored by the bull or trampled and killed. One wonders if a bull would actually mount a wooden cow, but perhaps sacred semen was obtained this way.
Question: Another question: how was Pasiphae protrayed by the ancients? What characteristics were used to represent her in art? Was she vengeful and getting back at her husband, lustful, a victim, erotic etc? Has Pasiphae been used in modern art and if so what traits are mostly used, feminist transcending sexual boundries, adulteress, lustful, prideful,
Answer: Pasiphae is portrayed passively. One would expect more from her considering her experience. Her coupling with the bull is brutally described The Maze Maker by Michael Ayrton, 1967.
Question: I have heard different versions of the Pasiphae bull myth.
Some indicate that it was a brief fling, others say it was a life time
thing. Did Aphrodite’s curse work to make Pasiphae hunger after bulls even after the white bull or did mating with the white bull cool her lust?
Answer: The mating of Pasiphae with a bull is such a horrendous act that it is hard to find any literal truth in it. Archeological evidence points to bull worship in Crete and this is the clue to the bull myth. Remembering that Pasiphae was a goddess may also help. Aphrodite could influence a god or goddess in this way, but a goddess could accomodate her body to the demand. After all Zeus often transformed himself to an animal to have his way with women, even ones in animal form.
Question: The ordeal Pasiphae went through to mate the bull sounds humiliating. Is there a reason for this and how do you think she reacted to this after her mating?
Answer: There are a number of humiliating aspects:
- She had sex with an animal
- She could not perform the sex alone so it became a public spectacle.
- She had to be fitted to the wooden cow.
- Getting in the wooden cow was an act of bondage. She had to submit to being bound in the cow.
- She had to wait in the wooden cow while the bull decided what to do. She was bound so she would have to accept anything he did.
- She had to be removed from the remains of the cow after she was impregnated.
- She had to endure the likely difficulty of being pregnant with a calf. She would swell much larger and her breasts would swell much more.
The more you think about it the more ludicrous it becomes. She might not needed to have been totally naked so perhaps she retained some dignity, but I doubt it. The story seems designed to totally humiliate her. Yet she is a goddess. This allows her to endure these things. Nothing can kill a goddess, not even being raped by a bull. But the humiliation might remove her worship. This seems the point. Pasiphae was literally dethroned by this story. I cannot see how she could be happy about being dethroned. In fact she is probably still unhappy about it. But some people do these things for the thrill of it. Thrilling things seem to enhance sexual stimulation. Many sexual acts are humiliating but people do them anyway. Some cannot enjoy an activity unless it is forbidden. Pasiphae may have really enjoyed doing such a totally naughty thing.
One difficulty in the relation between the sexes is that men seem to
expect women to humiliate themselves. Often they feel that even behaving like a woman is humiliating. But they will pay a lot of money for a woman to behave in this way. In the Pasiphae story this humiliation is plainly present. But what is not clear is whether the humiliation is to be taken at face value or it is for the benefit of the voyeur. The main action is to punish Minos. But it is not clear whether the result is to pleasure Pasiphae, or to separate her from her worshippers. It seems obvious that the religion of the Minoans is
involved and is it because this religion was highly erotic, or because the eroticism of the religion was being supressed?
Answer: Minoans were fond of jewelry and made some of the finest ever made but Pasiphae may have been a Mycenaean rather than a Minoan. But what need had Pasiphae of jewelry? Would it have made her more attractive to her bull-lover. I picture her wearing neclaces and belts of hair. Oddly I read that sacrificial victims were decked in wool. There may have been a similarity between how Pasiphae decked herself and the way a sacrificial victim was
prepared. The problem with a sacrifice is to get a willing victim. But
Pasiphae was a willing victim for her ordeal. One of the reasons
crucifiction became so popular is that once the victim was crucified they were sufficiently restrained and yet displayed. But would the wool then be needed? Pasiphae was restrained in a cow. This is not so different from a crucifiction.
Question: What did Queen Pasiphae look like? Was she short, tall, dark haired?
Answer: Pasiphae may have been a goddess. In that case she was perfectly beautiful, and somewhat taller than a man. She could have changed her hair color at will.
Question: Have you read John Dempsey’s portrait of Pasiphae in his 1996 novel “Ariadne’s Brother: A Novel on the Fall of Bronze Age Crete”?
Answer: No, but I am happy you referenced it here.
Question: If Pasiphae was a goddess couldn’t she have fought her curse and not mated the bull thus avoiding the embarassment? Did she know at the time that the gods were mad at her husband and not her?
Answer: Yes, in fact a goddess cannot be cursed. She must have wanted to mate with the bull. It must have been part of her nature, because goddesses do not have to respond to temporal events. They live outside of time. This all just points out the sillyness of the story. For the purposes of the story Pasiphae has been demoted to a mortal. The purpose of this demotion is seemingly to slander the religion of the Minoans. By embarrassing their goddess Pasiphae the Mycenaeans wanted the Minoans to convert to the worship
of Zeus. This seems to have been accomplished. Notice that the story relates to Hera. Hera takes on the role of Pasiphae. Zeus has to rape Hera to get her to marry him. Perhaps the Minoans raped to conquer the Minoans. The myths form a continuous chain. Zeus as a bull rapes Europa to get her to Crete. Europa becomes Pasiphae and mates with a bull. Then Pasiphae becomes Hera and is raped by Zeus as a bird. And this is not all. The testicles of Chronos (the bull?) become Aphrodite. Aphrodite and Hera both come out of the same goddess in Crete.
Question: Who did the Queen trust to help her prepare for her fitting into her wooden cow and who trundled the cow out for her? Was it a public mating or private?
Answer: Daedelus, the first engineer, was worthy of the queen’s trust. But more that one person would have to oversee the mating process. I have to assume it must have been public, because anyone who knew about it would have to see it. She would have had to have been quite an exhibitionist.
Answer: I have to assume that only the mother of the Minotaur could nurse him. My assumption is that Pasiphae’s body rose to the occaision. My guess is that both her breasts and nipples swelled to enormous size and she nursed the Minotaur for at least two years.
Question: How do you think Pasiphae feels about all this attention paid to her sexual exploits with a bull thousands of years ago?
Answer: It seems hardly likely that the myths accurately describe the true situation. In fact the story seems to have been made up to humiliate. But the story is so outrageous that people tell it and relish it. It is the source of a great deal of humour and speculation. It is so interesting that some people actually learn from it. For this Pasiphae needs to be congratulated. It is obvious that she has risen above any humiliation. She seems as ravishing now as the day she was married.
Question: I have been doing research on the Pasiphae myth, in
particular looking for retellings of her saga, but I have found very little. The few stories I have found seem to want to degrade her and turn her story into one of pure humiliation. Granted the element of
humiliation is certainly a part of her ordeal, but most of the stories out there want to reduce Pasiphae to a mean little harlot who deserves what she gets. I have yet to see a story that tells her tale in a sympathic manner. It seems no one sees her ordeal with the bull as a tragedy or describe her coupling with the bull as an act of love making. Of the few stories I have found all of them seem to think
Pasiphae is a slut and describes her love making to the bull in sordid, violent terms and then leaves her as soon as it is over.
Your sight is one of the few informative ones I have found and I love your artwork. Greek myths are fascinating for the pysche and I wondered if you ever thought of delving deeper into this myth in particular and perhaps write your version of what happened to Pasiphae. I would be curious as to your take on her ordeal – was it a divine punishment for her husband and thus a tragic story, is she the slut deserving of her treatment as other authors on the web seem to contend, or was her act with the bull purely of her own volition and thus a beautiful act of love making? How would Minos, her husband react, would Daedelas readily help her, how desperate would she be to be with her bull, and so forth?
Just curious as you seem to be one of the few on the web who have given this myth serious thought.
Answer: This is an interesting myth. But you may be looking at Pasiphae a little too personally. It seems as though the myth is an attempt to demonize a certain aspect of the Minoan religion. If you think of her as a real woman the act is pretty ridiculous. If you think of her as a goddess not only can she get away with it but it makes sense in terms of other stories. Europa has a similar relation to a bull and this story seems to involve the importation of a certain brand of religion to Minoa. In particular Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite seem to come to Minoa with Europa. Then there is the story of the Minotaur. This bull is hard to distinguish from the other two. Included in the Minotaur story is the sacrifice of children from Minoa colonies. You can easily see that the colonies might want to demonize this part of the religion. The story of Andromeda suggests to me that the way the bull devoured the children was to place the bull in the ring with the children tied to stakes. The priestesses of minoa then danced in front of the chindren to enrage the bull who then gored the children. When Theseus came to Minoa he cleansed the religion of this evil part with the assistance of Aphrodite and Athena, who then went with him and Hera to Athens. Such gory sacrifices would no longer
be part of the Greek religion. So the story of Pasiphae is part of the story of cleansing the Greek religion of sacrifices to a bull.
Question:A few questions come to mind. What was Pasiphae’s
pregnancy like? Was she pregnant for very long? Did she know that her belly housed a monster and did she ever regret her affair? When she was pregnant did her husband know who the real father was? And after Minos found out the truth how did he react? Did he still
love his wife? Did they still have a loving physical relationship?
Answer: These are excellent questions that show you have grappled with the realities of the myth. Rationality demands answers and suggests that Pasiphae must have had a rough pregnancy because she was carrying a bull-man who would have been considerably larger as a foetus. She probably was not pregnant any longer than usual. She must have known she would birth a monster baby because of the difficult pregnancy. Minos would not have thought he fathered such a monster and he knew of the difficulty because this was his punishment after all. Minos tried to cover everything up by hiding Pasiphae but she was too powerful for him. His relation to his wife was very strained because she fixed it so his having sex with another woman would kill the other woman. If he had sex it would have to be with Pasiphae.
So Minos learned of the difficulties of having a goddess for a wife. The worst of it is that if you displease a diety, that deity can use your wife against you. Pasiphae did not really suffer throuh all this, after all she was a goddess. Each step in the lurid process was just another adventure for her. It was Minos who suffered. And the solution to his suffering was not to control his wife, which he could not do, but rather form a better relation to the deities.
Question: Your Pasiphae website seems to indicate that Pasiphae
was a pawn, or at least not responsible for her actions. Could she not have been using the idea of a curse as a way to justify her unnatural desire and shaming her husband unfairly?
Answer: Most sources agree that Pasiphae was not responsible for her actions. Sophocles wrote a play “Minos”, now lost, in which Pasiphae gives a speech to this effect. But Hyginus states that Pasiphae was punished for neglecting the rites of Aphrodite. This information is presented in Gantz (see Bibliography).
The story of Pasiphae is so ridiculous that it seems unlikely that if a curse was involved she was responsible. It seems likely that the purpose of these stories was to embarrass the Cretans. Prior to the Mycenean dominance of Crete the Minons may have been the masters of the Aegean and demanded tribute from Athens as the Minotaur story suggests. They may have even demanded slaves that they slaughtered in the bull ring. The Myceneans may have turned the tables on the Minoans and demanded tribute from them. These stories of Pasiphae may reflect the subjugation of the Minoans. The myths of Greece seem to support that Pasiphae was once a powerful goddess that was reduced by the Greeks to playing the humiliating role of a mortal.
The notion of a curse raises difficulties. Some current writers style Pasiphae as a witch. Christian writers then assume her power comes from the Devil. But Pasiphae is supposed to be a goddess and so capable of supernatural powers by herself. Christians generally demonize all deities other than their own. So one needs to make decisions within the Greek religion and not from the Christian point of view. But if Pasiphae is herself a supernatural being then how can unnatural urges be attributed to her since she is not, in fact natural. There is indication that the Greeks believed their deities cursed. But does it make sense that one deity can curse another? It seems unlikely that anybody cursed Pasiphae. But it also seems unlikely that anyone made Pasiphae do what she did since as a goddess she was capable of supernatural power. By the way, goddesses are incapable of acting unfairly so Minos must have deserved what he got from her.
Questions: 2. How long was Pasiphae in love with the bull before she was able to unite with it. 3. Did she try any other means of satisfying her lust before she turned to Daedelas? 4. Didn’t Pasiphae’s husband notice that she was acting strangely during this time period? 5. How long did the Queen-bull mating take – was it over with quickly or did the bull take its time and do with the Queen as it pleased? 6. What did Pasiphae’s subjects think of her when they saw her dressed up as a cow? For that matter what did they think of her when the bull was done with her?
Answer: My answer is that when you do critical thinking about Pasiphae, as you have done, she evaporates. There are different levels to the myth and you are assuming that the source of the myth was a story that in reality vaguely resembles the truth. But is is quite certain that there is no such story.
At the next level higher you can see that Pasiphae is in reality a goddess. The main myth seems to ignore this fact. But in this guise she was she can really do all these things. Pasiphae was only in love with the bull a short time before she consumated her love. Since she is a goddess she cannot be said to lust. A goddess can control what mortals see of her so Minos only heard of her exploits later. Both Pasiphae and the Bull are deities and so out of time. But the spectators of the event saw just enough to make it real for them. The Deities dallied to their hearts content. Not only did her subjects see
her in a cow but they saw her nude as well. And she could get away with it because godesses can. And she also knew that she would not be embarassed. It would be Minos who suffered as planned. After all he was mortal.
At the next level you realize that the bull is the symbol of the Minoan religion and Pasiphe is the goddess of the moon whose crown is two horns like a bulls. Perhaps the merging of the bull-cult and the moon-cult resulted in a demand on Minoan subjects that seemed monstrous. The mating was described in these weird terms to descredit it. We have no way of verifying the truth as the Minoan language has not yet been reliably translated. So we are left to
Question: It is a bizarre myth and the cow seems the most bizarre part of all. Can you tell me more about the cow? Was it at least made with the idea of comfort in mind?
Answer: The cow was designed by Daedalus. Can you imagine how many times Pasiphae must have come to his shop, undressed, and was fitted to the cow? What kind of measurements did he make to assure she was aimed properly? How were the trial runs made? Do you supposed he could keep these activities private? The cow was made of wood and fitted with wheels so on the fateful day it was easy to load a nude Pasiphae into the cow and wheel her into
position. She did not have to spend a long time with her bare butt exposed to the rays of the sun. All in all it seems likely that maximum humiliation was provided to Minos as a result of the whole affair.
It should also be noted that because cattle use the estrus cycle for sex and humans do not that it would be impossible for Pasiphae to cause the bull have an erection. Someone would have had to help her by manipulating the penis of the bull. This would have been a very dangerous activity. Only when he achieved an erection could he mount the wooden cow and have sex with Pasiphae. Even if his penis did not fit her vagina he could have been manipulated to an
ejaculation that could have gotten her pregnant. If his penis did fit her vagina then her action with her vagina could have produced an ejaculation in the normal way. Semen is often collected from bulls but I believe the bull is carefully confined when this is done. Pasiphae would have been a lot safer had she collected the semen from the bull in a cage and then injected his semen into her vagina with a syringe.
The trojan horse suggests the idea of the wheeled cow. It was common in those days to have an icon of a god or goddess mounted on four wheels. The Minoans may have had a favorite statue of a cow or bull mounted on wheels. The wheels represent both the universality of the deity and the mobility of the deity. By incorporating this icon in this lewd story the Greeks tried to humiliate the Minoans.