In Greek mythology, the Minotaur (Greek: Μινώταυρος) was a creature that was part man and part bull. It dwelt in the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze constructed by King Minos of Crete and designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the Minotaur (located at the actual historical site of Knossos). The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus.
"Minotaur" is Greek for "Bull of Minos". The bull was also known as Asterius or Asterion, a name shared with Minos's foster father.
Before Minos became king, he asked the Greek god Poseidon for a sign, to assure him that he, and not his brother, was to receive the throne. Poseidon agreed to send a white bull on condition Minos would sacrifice the bull back to the god. Indeed, a bull of unmatched beauty came out of the sea. King Minos, after seeing it, found it so beautiful that he instead sacrificed another bull, hoping that Poseidon would not notice. Poseidon was very angry when he realized what had been done so he caused Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to be overcome with a fit of madness in which she fell in love with the bull. Pasiphae went to Daedalus for assistance, and Daedalus devised a way for her to satisfy her passions. He constructed a hollow wooden cow covered with cowhide for Pasiphae to hide in and allow the bull to mount her. The result of this union was the Minotaur. In some accounts, the white bull went on to become the Cretan Bull captured by Heracles (also known as Hercules) for one of his labours.
The Minotaur had the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. It was a fierce creature, and Minos, after getting advice from the Oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. It was located under Minos' palace in Knossos. Now it happened that Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival. To avenge the death of his son, Minos waged war and won. He then demanded that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens be sent every ninth year (some accounts say every year) to be devoured by the Minotaur. When the third sacrifice came round, Theseus volunteered to go to slay the monster. He promised to his father, Aegeus, that he would put up a white sail on his journey back home if he was successful. Ariadne, Minos' daughter, fell in love with Theseus and helped him get out of the maze by giving him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur (with a magical sword Ariadne had given him) and led the other Athenians back out the labyrinth.  However Theseus forgot to put up the white sails, so his father, overcome with grief, lept off the clifftop from which he had kept watch for his son's return every day since Theseus had departed into the sea. Then it became known as the Aegean Sea.
Minos, angry that Theseus was able to escape, imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth. They were able to escape by building wings for themselves, but Icarus died during the escape as he flew too high and the wax which held the feathers in the wing melted as it was closer to the Sun.
Sometimes the Minotaur is represented as a bull with a human torso and head, like a bull version of the Centaur.
The contest between Theseus and the Minotaur was frequently represented in Greek art. A Knossian didrachm exhibits on one side the labyrinth, on the other the Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of small balls, probably intended for stars; it is to be noted that one of the monster's names was Asterius.
The ruins of Minos' palace at Knossos have been found, but the labyrinth has not. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace has led archaeologists to believe that the palace itself was the source of the labyrinth myth.
Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Greek adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the abolition of such sacrifice by the advance of Greek civilization.
According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god Zeus of the Cretans, who depicted the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain Pasiphae's union with the bull as a sacred ceremony, at which the queen of Knossos was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of the Tyrant in Athens was wedded to Dionysus. E. Pottier, who does not dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of Phalaris considers it probable that in Crete (where a bull-cult may have existed by the side of that of the double axe) victims were tortured by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot brazen bull. The story of Talos, the Cretan man of brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is probably of similar origin.
A historical explanation of the myth refers to the time when Crete was the main political and cultural potency in the mediterranean sea. As the fledging Athens (and probably other continental Greek cities) was under tribute to Crete, it can be assumed that such tribute included young men and women for sacrifice. This ceremony was performed by a priest disguised with a bull head or mask, thus explaining the imagery of the Minotaur. It may also be that this priest was son to Minos. Once continental Greece was free from Crete's dominance, the myth of the Minotaur worked to distance the forming religion consciousness from the island's beliefs.
- Plutarch, Theseus, 15—19; Diod. Sic. i. I6, iv. 61; Apollodorus iii. 1,15