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    King Minos and the Labyrinth

    CRETE. Cnossus. Ca. 280-270 BC. AR drachm (20mm, 4.88 gm, 12h). Choice VF, smoothing. Laureate head of Apollo left / ΚΝΩΣΙ[ΩΝ], male figure (King Minos?) seated left on square labyrinth, holding Nike in extended right hand and scepter in left, monogram on left. Le Rider, Crete, plate 35, 6 (this coin). Svoronos 82 (pl. VI, 15). BMC 28 (pl V,14) (this reverse die). Jameson 2519 (this reverse die). Very rare! Somewhat weak reverse strike, signs of smoothing on face below eye, repairing a delamination visible on Le Rider plate, otherwise a handsome specimen on a broad flan.

    From the Northern California Collection; acquired from Freeman & Sear, 2003.

    The figure on the reverse can confidently be identified as the legendary King Minos, sitting atop a representation of his creation, the Labyrinth. According to legend, the Cretan artisan and scientist Deadalus built the Labyrinth on orders from King Minos, who needed a place to keep his wife Pasiphae's monstrous son, the Minotaur. Pasiphae had fallen in love with a beautiful sacrificial bull and the half-man, half-bull Minotaur was the result of her cross-species passion. The Latin poet Ovid, drawing from tradition and oral history, said Deadalus built the Labyrinth so cunningly he nearly trapped himself within its winding passages. The Minotaur was placed at the center and Minos ordered that seven youths and seven maidens be sent by Athens, then subject to Crete, each year as a sacrifice offering to feed the beast. The Athenian hero Theseus volunteered as one of the victims and, with the help of Minos' daughter Ariadne, smuggled in a sword, which he used to slay the Minotaur, and a ball of twine to help him navigate the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth soon became the very symbol of Crete and is shown on the reverse of coins struck by Knossos, its largest city and Minos' capital. Some coins show the Labyrinth in a circular form, while others, such as this example, depict it as square. Archaeologists have found considerable evidence that the Labyrinth was not entirely mythical. Sir Arthur Evans proposed that the huge, sprawling Minoan palace complex of Knossos would have been viewed as an inescapable maze by anyone from backwards mainland Greece; more recently, an underground warren of tunnels and caves, some natural and others man-made, has been explored under Gortyna, providing another strong candidate for the Minotaur's home. 


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    3rd Thursday
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