Saturday 21 April 2012

Star Gayzing - Taurus

You could say today’s post is a lot of bull. The constellation of Taurus presents a gay cowboy’s dream of a herd of possible lgbt links. The constellation itself was pictured as a bull by the Babylonians, the fathers of all our western star mappers.

The Taurean bull has been identified with several legendary creatures which are connected in some way, and all of them are associated with Crete, home of the ancient Minoan civilisation that worshipped the bull. The Cretan Bull itself has no gay legends, but the main male protagonists in his story do. And – surprise, surprise -  they’re all ancient Greeks!

There are several different versions of the story of the Cretan Bull. Here’s mine.

Europa was a beautiful Phoenician princess. Zeus lusted after her and decided to abduct her. He created a tame white bull whose coat shone so brightly that Europa was instantly captivated. She climbed onto the bull’s back, at which point it leapt into the sea and swam to the island of Crete, where it deposited Europa in front of Zeus. There they spent several years together, with Europa giving birth to 3 sons, the eldest of whom was King Minos.

The Cretan Bull was given to Poseidon, the chief god of Crete, who ordered Minos to sacrifice the bull in his honour, but Minos couldn’t bring himself to kill it and sacrificed another in its place. Poseidon was furious. As punishment he put a spell of bestiality on Minos’s wife Queen Pasiphae.

Pasiphae fell in love with the Cretan Bull and persuaded the court inventor to construct a wooden heifer in which she could hide so that the bull could mate with her. The result of this mating was the famous Minotaur. In shame Minos asked the inventor to create a labyrinth in which to keep the creature prisoner.

Once again Poseidon asked Minos to sacrifice the Cretan Bull. Again Minos refused. This time Poseidon sent the bull mad and it rampaged across the island, trampling on crops and destroying harvests. There was only one man who could tame the beast – Hercules.

As one of his Twelve Labours Hercules was sent to capture the bull. Using cunning and strength he subdued the beast and transported it back to Athens to prove to his master that his labour was completed. The Cretan Bull, now tame again, was allowed to roam free in the countryside.

Several years later the son of King Minos went to compete at the Athenian Games (the precursor of the Panatheneaean games) and won every contest. This made the king of Athens very angry and had the prince killed. Minos immediately declared war on Athens, defeating them and forcing them to send an annual tribute to Crete of 7 boys and 7 girls to be fed to the Minotaur.

The story of how Theseus killed the Minotaur is well known. Beforehand, having been brought up away from his homeland, Theseus arrived at his father’s court in cognito. His father was suspicious of him at first. As a test he sent Theseus to capture and sacrifice the Cretan Bull. This he did with no great difficulty, and so the beast that was such a great symbol of the Cretan culture met its. In its honour Zeus placed the Cretan bull in the sky as the constellation Taurus. Theseus then revealed who he was and he volunteered to go to Crete and killed the monstrous son of the Cretan Bull, the Minotaur. And so the symbol of the bull that was so great in Cretan culture met its end at the hands of an Athenian, somewhat symbolic of the rise of the state of Athens filling the gap made by the decline of Crete.

That’s the myth, now the queer angle.

In mythology King Minos was the first man to have sex with another man. As I’ve said several times in the past same-sex activity wasn’t taboo in ancient Greece. One myth says that Minos was also the kidnapper of young Ganymede. This particular myth first appears long after the Minoan civilisation collapsed. Ganymede’s abduction is now generally regarded as having being by Zeus (see my post on Aquarius).

Even if Minos wasn’t the lover of Ganymede, several myths say he was the lover of Theseus. After Minos’s initial anger at killing the Minotaur he mellowed towards the hero, and after Theseus abandoned Minos’s daughter Ariadne (who helped him to escape from the labyrinth) he married Minos’s other daughter. This is when the two are said to have been lovers.

Then we come to Hercules. Well, where do I start? Perhaps it’s best not to. Hercules has his own constellation, and I think I’ll keep his gender identity crisis for another time.

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