Asterion, the starry Minotaur, Jorges L. Borges, the Labyrint and other.

…and the queen gave birth to a son who was named Asterion… Apollodorus

Phalaris’s Brazen Bull

Story goes that Phalaris, tyrant of Akragas, a Greek city on the southern cost of Sicily, in today’s territory of Agrigentum, commanded Perillos to invent and design a new torture  device for executing criminals. According to Diodorus Siculus, recounting the story in Bibliotheca Historica, Perillos of Athens proposed  to Phalaris a bull that was made entirely of bronze, hollow, with a door  in one side. The condemned was locked  inside the belly of the bull and fire was set under it, heating the metal until the person inside roasted to death.

The head of the bull was designed with a complex system of tubes and stops so that the prisoner’s screams were converted into sounds like the bellowing of an infuriated bull. Phalarys,  disgusted by Perillos’s invention, ordered the device to be tested on Perillos himself. Even Phalarys was said  to have been killed in the brazen bull when he was overthrown at the end of his tyranny.


Scholars often link the design of the brazen bull to statues of the Biblical Moloch in which children were sacrificed alive within a bronze, calf-headed statue by being placed on the hands of Moloch and sliding down into the furnace.

Recent researches have shown that the  story of Phalaris contains  esplicits references to the isle of Crethe and its mythology about Dedalus’s flight to Sicily after he had favoured   Pasiphae’s love affair with the celestial bull.

In western countries, most people have heard of the Minotaur: half man and half bull, also known  as the cruel man-eating monster hidden at the heart of the labyrinth. Born of queen Pasiphae, he was not simply a monster, he was a prince and a god-made-flash and his proper name was Asterion,”ruler of the stars”.


His story begins with his conception. King Minos of Crete was given a magnificent white bull by Poseidon who expected it to be sacrificed to his divinity. But Minos in place of of the finest bull offered a more ordinary animal. Pasiphae had a curse placed on her that caused her to lust after the white bull as punishment. The Queen had the inventor, Dedalus, ceate a hollow bull from wood to attract the one she desired. She climbed inside and conceived Asterion.

The half-man, half-bull was kept inside the center of the labyrinth and sacrifices of fourteen youth were brought to him periodically. At the end,Theseus, prince of Athens, went into the labyrint and slayed the Minotaur.

This is the version of the myth everybody knows, but digging  a little farther into available theories, we find more original versions that paint Asterion as a helpless victim, as a sympathetic and tragic figure that has generally been misunderstood. There are versions that portray him as a god, a deity in the form of a bull, a king and a ruler. He was a luminous star at the heart of the labyrinth. Upon him was conferred the hope of the return to light. Asterion’s death  was not simply the slaying of a monster  but an elaborated sacrificial rite.

Asterion did not end there. He was born again, completely unharmed in the form of a human to become the preserved repository of life. He was a representation of the meeting of divinity and flesh.(Kerenyi)

Cretan coin bearing an image of four meanders, standing for the labyrinth, at the center of wich resides a star: Asterion. Labyrinth and Svastika are the Flat Earth.

The Labyrinth and Jorge Luis Borges

There’s a modern famous writer who wrote a short novel about Asterion: Jorge Luis Borges.

Asterion, in this novel,  gives an interesting description of the labyrinth when he says: “The house  is as big as the world” and thus the labyrint becomes a symbol of the whole earth and we are able to understand the many coins and archaeological material evidences showing the  labyrinth as an image of the world where we live.

Borge’s Asterion presents himself as a sort of Dedalus, when he declares: “Maybe it was me to create the stars and the sun and this boundless house, but I don’t remember”. But there is a more impressive statement he pronounces: “I know my Redeemer lives and one day he will rise upon the dust….What will my Redeemer be like?” This is a clear quotation from the book of Job, 34:17 where we read the same and identical words.

Now a question arises: who is Asterion? Borge’s Asterion mentions his double, another Asterion he sometimes imagines coming to visit him.  He shows him the house playing with him.

From the quite simple development of the novel we could deduce different meanings:

1) Asterion as an image of humanity paying continuous tributes to death, the labyrint being a symbol of the earth.

2) Asterion as an image of Dedalus, the demiurge who made the earth and the sky.

3)Asterion as an image of our Redeemer.

The labyrinth and its mythology appear as pushing deep roots in the cosmogony of the earth, showing the necessity of a proper sacrifice  for humanity to be released from death. All this meanings can be deduced even from the story of Phalaris when Perillos (another image of Dedalus) has to be sacrificed by roasting in the belly of the brazen bull.Let’s consider some ethymology: Perilaos means “for the people”, i. e. a purification sacrifice offered for the  public benefit.

Taurobolium and Criobolium

To stay inside this kind of thinking, we could  introduce another type of sacrifice that was practiced in the second century in the pagan world. Prudentius described an orrible rite practise by the heathen: the Taurobolium and the Criobolium.Taurobolium was made to commemorate a Taurobolium, that is the sacrifice of a bull to the Magna Mater. There was an altar about four foot high, and one and a half broad. The ceremony was one  of the greatest and most barbarous excess of  superstition invented by the Romans and practised by them alone.

The person that performed the sacrifice on the “fossa sanguinis” thought himself actually cleared from the sins and he was regenerated by the means of the blood of the bull.The rite conferred upon the recipient the blessings of purification, preservation, health and well being.It was a birthday and the individual was described as “in aeternum renatus”, or , in other words, being reborn for for eternity. He was preserved for up to 20 years and he became,as a consequence of that “baptism in the blood” Pontifex Maximus for the following 20 years. Taurobolium was also performed on behalf of the Emperor, the imperial family, the Senate, the army, the city and the people of Rome.

Many times the Taurobolium was performed in conjunction with the  Criobolium, the sacrifice of a goat or ram.Heathen  attached  to the blood  shed a redemptive power like the blood of the divine Lamb. The sacrifice was performed in an evident rivalry with the Christian propaganda and the offerent was made an immortal.

As a matter of facts in the Jewish world the bull was offered as an atonement sacrifice representative of Jesus Christ death.

Please…read also this article:The marriage of the Earth and the Sky.

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