Plato once said that Man was originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Perhaps that is why humans possess animalistic instincts and bind them under moral and ethical constraints. However, humans also cannot be totally separated from the beast. The mystical animals featuring in mythology – real or imagined- bespeak a close relationship between mankind and nature bound by mutual benefits in order to withstand the vicissitudes of life peculiar to each of the beings. In this regard, the ancient Greeks were the most observant and imaginative in incorporating the figures of the beast into the ways of human life in the most ingenious way with their poetic authority to create an aura of mysteriousness wonderfully anchored in the realistic surroundings of the culture and society the thematics were originated in, such as the following illustrations of the animals in Greek mythology.
- The Cretan Bull and the Minotaur
The story of a half-bull and half-man monster known as the Minotaur, which means the bull of Minos in Crete, epitomizes the primordial perspectives of mankind on the law of nature representing the mysterious force, which became a subject of belief tradition peculiar to its natural and cultural environs. The conflicting sentiments of reverence toward the awe-inspiring nature’s creatures and the ambition for domineering them as the ruler of the universe give birth to the bestial creature in the figure of the terrific Minotaur who was fated to be slain by the Athenian hero Theseus.
King Minos, a child of Zeus and a beautiful mortal princess Europa, betrayed Poseidon by keeping his beautiful snow-white bull, instead of sacrificing it to the expectant god, who in turn made his wife Pasiphae unquenchably infatuated with the Bull and copulate with it by taking herself into the form of a hollow wooden cow designed by the Athenian architect named Daedalus. The result was the Minotaur kept in a Labyrinth by the selfsame designer of the wooden cow. The Minotaur showed no human feelings or emotions as the mythology did not treat him any more than a horrible bestial creature from the unnatural union of a woman and a beast.
The figure of the Minotaur indicates that the Minoans regarded bestiality as an abomination and that the cult of a bull as a sacred rite of the power and the might. A bull in the ancient Greek culture was a chthonic animal associated with fertility and vegetation and also represented the sun and the might. In fact, the famous figure and paintings of bull-leaping are seen inside of the Minoan mausoleum in Knossos as first discovered by the eminent English archeologists Arthur Evans, who also found Linear A and B letters, the mother of the ancient Greek language, at the turn of the 20th century,
- The dog – the best friend of mankind
The perspective on the dog as the loyal canine companion collapses the millenniums between the ancient Greek’s time and ours. Even the Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Hades look tamable with a piece of sweet cake, making it look less of a menacing beast necessitating the blood and flesh of man. This goes without saying that it was Argos, the paragon of the faithful canine, who recognized his travel-weary employer Odyssey after 20 years of absence from home and put forth what might he had to approach him with a wagging tail and died as his long-waited boss in incognito passed by him with his heart pounded by a surge of pathos dubbed in warmth. Of all the gods, goddesses, heroes, and even his family, it was Argos who showed the true, artless unconditional affection to Odyssey and thus rendered his heroic owner all the more humane and sympathetic.
Speaking of loyalty, Laelaps, a Greek mythological dog that never failed to catch what it was hunting, also denotes how the ancient Greeks perceived the dog as their life companions. Laelaps was originally a gift to Europa from Zeus, then bequeathed to Minos, who gave it to his concubine Procris whose sister included Pandora. She gave the hound to her husband Cephalus as a token of her unbroken love for him as well as a gesture of reconciling with him after being bedded with the king, although forcefully. Cephalus used the hound to hunt the Teumessian Fox that could never be caught. However, during the never-ending hot chase of the Fox by the Dog, Zeus turned both of the animals into the stars as the constellations Canis Major (the dog) and Canis Minor (the fox)
Consequently, the use of the aforesaid animals in the thematic context of the Greek mythology evinces that man cannot exist alone as part of the nature in which he finds what it means to be a human and a purpose in life by imparting the values and precepts of natural law ascribed in the human consciousness to the meta figures of the mythology. The mythological animals, whether wild, imaginary, or ordinary, as depicted in the Greek mythology are therefore the reflection of the human traits interbred with imaginary creatures from the Elysium of Fancy that became the substratum of a belief tradition administering to the modes of human behaviors in society, and thus developed into an organized religion by way of syncretism in the era of Christianity.